Zechariah and Jewish Renewal

Chapter VII

The Restoration of Israel

Chapter VII

The Restoration of Israel

Many Restoration of Israel Passages Refer to the Future Messianic Age. However the Restoration of Twelve Tribes of Israel Literally Took Place in the Golden Age of the Silent Years.

Zechariah, who lived when the nation of Israel, the ten northern tribes, had long ago been lost as a political unit, speaks of the renewal of both Judah and Israel. He speaks of the restoration of the nation as including Israel and uses the synonyms of Joseph and Ephraim to plainly signify he means the ten tribes.

In Ezekiel 37 there is the fascinating vision of the "Dry Bones." The passage predicts the restoration of the literal nations of Israel and Judah. The Kingdom of David had been previously divided into two nations, which continued for about 300 years. Israel with its ten tribes was lost in 720 B.C.E. At the time of the prophecy (circa 550 B.C.E.) Ephraim was still a synonym for Israel and all the ten tribes which had lost their political identity. The Assyrians in 720 B.C.E. had invaded the north and taken Israel captive, (2Ki. 18:9-11) then deported the nation to the mountains of Media and settled mixed Palestinian races in Israel, who would be known henceforth as Samaritans. These ten tribes would never be a body politic again. When Ezekiel wrote this, almost 200 years had now passed and Ephraim had never been restored.

Judah had not heeded the warnings of the prophets that, like her sister Israel [or Ephraim, meaning the ten tribes], she would be punished because of her idolatry and other sins with severe discipline and exile for seventy years. At the time of the prophecy of the Dry Bones the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed for about twelve years and the whole nation of Judah had been in exile in Babylon for as long as thirty years. Judah was a desolation and the land and cities were uninhabited, and it looked as though there was no way the nation could be revived. Thus, the valley of Dry Bones describes the impossible position they were in. Israel and Judah as nations were both dead. Beyond death, they were disconnected, dry bones.

Then God shows Ezekiel that there is a marvelous restoration to look forward to. This nation will rise again and all the tribes, all twelve, will be restored to their land.

It is this portion of the prediction that has posed problems, since only Judah was restored and none of the other tribes were restored as a body politic. To solve this problem many flights into fanciful "last days" or "end times" theories have been proposed. Actually, the solution to the literal restoration of all twelve of the tribes is in verse 19 and there is no need to resort to the fantastic. Except that God's foreknowledge of future historical events is fantastic! We will look at verse 19 in three different versions.

(Eze. 37:19) I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in my hand. KJV

(Eze. 37:19) I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions; and I will put them with it, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in my hand. ASV

(Eze. 37:19) I am going to take the stick of Joseph - which is in Ephraim's hand - and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah's stick, making them a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand. NIV

The NIV, in this case, is much to be preferred because it makes clear the intent of the Hebrew. That is that the stick that represents the ten northern tribes represents the "Kingdom of Israel." The stick that represents Judah, Benjamin and Levi is to absorb the first stick and Judah will be left alone and contain, as a restored kingdom, all the tribes.

In the Old Testament prophecies the theme of coming punishment and exile of the nations of Israel and Judah is frequent. Just as frequent are the prophecies of their future restoration. Thus many restoration prophecies mention the restoration of Ephraim, as well as Judah, including this one in Eze. 37. Ephraim received the birthright instead of his older brother Manasseh; thus the tribe of Joseph contains the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. This prophecy and others like Jer. 31:9 where Ephraim is mentioned in a restoration passage as God's first born, have been used by cults to adorn their Anglo-Israel theories of eschatology. One of the major proponents of Anglo-Israel was Herbert W. Armstrong. In his view the ten lost tribes are white Europeans and the first born, Ephraim, is Britain, while Manasseh is the USA. As far-fetched as these solutions are they have many adherents even in so-called orthodox denominations. The presence of Ephraim in the restoration passages has always posed problems for interpreters because the restoration of the nation of Judah was literally fulfilled. Ephraim was never restored as a body politic.

That does not mean that all tribal identity was lost as can be seen in Luke 2:36. Anna, the prophetess, was of the tribe of Asher. But the tribes were never restored to their land areas as separate political units. The prophecy we are looking at says as much and is the solution to the problem posed. It also does away with the concept of "Ten Lost Tribes."

The Hebrew is not as clear as the NIV rendering but would be so to a Hebrew-speaking person. The idiom says that the stick of Ephraim is to be given TO the stick of Judah and they will become one stick. The subsequent verses show the intent is that Judah will from now on contain all the tribes within itself and there will be only one nation, not two. Furthermore that nation is to be Judah. Judah will have all the tribes as companions and from henceforth all Israelites will be called Jews no matter what tribe they originate in. We will see that Zechariah viewed the restoration of the nation of Judah in his day in just this way.

(Eze. 37:21) Behold, I will take the children of Israel [all twelve tribes] from among the heathen, where they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land; (Eze. 37:22) And I will make them one nation [namely Judah] in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all.

The Septuagint translators lived at the time that this fulfillment was a reality (285 B.C.E.). Judah was restored as a nation, the Shekinah presence was long ago restored to the Temple and nation, and all tribes dwelt together under the restored tribe of Judah which had returned from Babylonian captivity in 536 B.C.E. Ephraim and his companions were present but not as a body politic. The ten tribes of Israel ultimately becoming a part of the restored nation of Judah is the subject of chapter 10.

The Septuagint translators felt the passage in Eze. 37:19 referred to Judah being the one nation containing all the tribes. They added the word "Jouda" to the text to make their interpretive translation plain. The Hebrew text of the last part of verse 19 reads, "and they shall be made one stick, and they shall be one in my hand." The LORD is speaking. In the Septuagint this phrase reads, "and they shall become into one stick in the hand of Judah."

Because in 285 B.C.E. Judah was restored and did contain the remnant of the tribes, the Septuagint translators may have been influenced by the reality of the fulfillment that was apparent to them, to make the passage plain by substituting "hand of Judah" for "my hand." However, a reading of the Hebrew text also gives this eventual meaning. Thus here is the clear prophecy that the literal restoration of all the tribes of Israel would be contained in a single tribe and that tribe would be Judah. So says Ezekiel here and so indeed did it happen. Consequently, at one stroke, do we dispose of "Anglo-Israel."

It is obvious that the passage has other more far reaching projections that would take us to the Messianic period. That is, that the one nation and Davidic King spoken of reach much further than just the restoration begun under Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest. That does not preclude the prediction of a literal restoration of the nation after the Babylonian captivity without which restoration Messiah's kingdom could not come. The nation in that case is necessary, and, furthermore, is a vehicle for Messiah's coming. Therefore, Messianic prophecies are often joined to restoration passages which were literally fulfilled in the return of the Jews from Babylon. Because the Messianic kingdom is the predetermined and intended end of the, soon to be, restored nation of Israel, therefore the Messianic kingdom is also meant to be the ultimate and final stage of the restored nation of Israel. This is why Messianic themes permeate prophecies that point to the literal restoration of the nation, which was fulfilled after Ezekiel and others wrote, but before the coming of the Messiah. As the nation of Judah contained all twelve tribes after the return from Babylon, so does Messiah's kingdom contain the remnant of all the twelve tribes after the advent of the Messiah.

Thus, according to James the brother of Jesus, Messianic prophecies like Amos 9 are fulfilled in the church calling the spiritually dispersed back to the reborn spiritual nation of Israel. Those prophecies speak of the restoration of Israel as a people revived to nationhood. This is also the figure used to apply after the Babylonian captivity to the restoration of Israel. Just as Israel was contained in the restored nation of Judah after the return from Babylonian captivity, so Israel is contained in the kingdom of the Messiah after the crucifixion of Jesus and the ingathering that has been going on since. See notes on Zec. 11:14 where this is explained further.

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