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11. The exiles who returned

11-1 Ezekiel’s Temple: Based Upon Solomon’s Temple || 11-2 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-2-1 Conditional Prophecy || 11-2-2 Human Response || 11-2-3 Tyre in Ezekiel 26 || 11-2-4 Delayed Prophecies || 11-2-5 Prophecies With Changed Fulfillment || 11-2-6 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-3 Command More Than Prediction || 11-4 The Contemporary Relevance Of Ezekiel's Temple || 11-5 The Restoration: Potential Kingdom Of God || 11-6 The Potential And The Reality || 11-6-1 The Weakness Of Judah Under Nehemiah || 11-6-2 Isaiah's Prophecies Of Restoration || 11-6-3 Jeremiah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-4 Ezekiel's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-5 The Cherubim And The Restoration || 11-6-6 Zechariah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-7 The Restoration Psalms || 11.7 “The prince" in Ezekiel || 11-7-1 " The prince" : Potential Messiah || 11-7-2 Zerubabbel- Potential Messiah? || 11.8 The Potential For The Surrounding World || 11-8-1 Haggai 2 || 11-8-2 Meshech And Tubal || 11-8-3 Joel Chapter 3 || 11-9 Different Sequences Of Prophetic Fulfillment || 11-10 Zechariah And Malachi: More Chances || 11-11 The Returned Exiles

11-2-2 Bible Prophecy And Human Response

There are some prophecies that will not come true because they depended upon human response which was not forthcoming. Some prophecies simply won’t come true because they refer to what God had potentially prepared for His people, but they disallow Him from giving them what He had intended.

- Thus Eli was told of “all the wealth which God would have given Israel”, which his behaviour had now disallowed (1 Sam. 2:32 AVmg.). Knowing this, women like Hannah clearly hoped and prayed that their sons would be Messiah (1 Sam. 2:10 = Ps. 89:24); for they perceived that God’s purpose was open to such a thing. 

- “The Lord doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel” (Ps. 147:2) is alluded to by the Lord in Lk. 13:34, where He how He would fain have gathered together the children of Jerusalem, “but ye would not”. The words of the Psalm speak as if this is what the Lord God is going to do. But Jesus understood it as being impossible of fulfilment if the outcast children would not allow themselves to be gathered. Likewise the statement that the Lord will build up Jerusalem was made in a restoration context; but again, it was dependent upon the Jews’ obedience for its fulfilment. God was and is potentially ready to work with us.  

- Ex. 14:13 could appear to be prophecy: “The Egyptians…ye shall see them again no more for ever”. But it is understood as a command not to return to Egypt in Dt. 17:16- and because of Israel turning back to Egypt in their hearts, they would be taken there again (Dt. 28:68). So we must be prepared to accept that what may appear to be prophecy is in fact commandment, which we have the freewill to obey or disobey.  Ez. 43:7 likewise is more command than prediction: “The house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name” (RV). It isn’t saying ‘this is a prophecy that they will not do this’- for they did. Rather is it a plea, a command, that they are not to do this any more.  

- Passages like Dt. 7:1 confidently proclaim that "When the Lord your God shall bring you into the land... and shall pluck off / cast out many nations...". Yet this casting out was dependent upon Israel doing this work; if they did it, God was eager to work mightily with them. But the reality is that they didn't drive out all the nations. This doesn't falsify Scripture; rather does it indicate the positive hope of God that His people will work with Him to make His potentially true prophecies turn into reality. Even the promises to Abraham were to some extent conditional- Israel would no longer be "as the stars of heaven for multitude; because you would not obey the voice of the Lord" (Dt. 28:62). Hence the fulfillment of those promises was dependent to some extent upon the obedience of the promised seed.

- Elisha told Joash: “Thou shalt smite the Syrians… till thou hast consumed them”. But Elisha then went on to lament that Joash’s lack of spiritual vision would mean that he could have consumed them, but actually he would only win three victories over them (2 Kings 13:17-19). So the prophetic statement that Joash would “consume” the Syrians was only true potentially.

- The Lord’s promise that whatever the disciples asked, they would be given seems never to have been fully realized in them (Jn. 15:16). Likewise the ‘prophecy’ that they would do greater works than done by the Lord, once they received the Comforter (Jn. 14:12), and possibly the promise that they would be taught “all the truth” about “things to come” (Jn. 16:13), were all likewise promises / prophecies whose potential it seems the disciples never fully rose up to.

- The fact Ezekiel gave prophesies- or what sound like prophesies- of a restored temple doesn’t mean that they would come true regardless of Israel’s obedience. 19th century Christians looked at the prophecies relating to Israel’s return to the land and worked to enable them to happen- by financially supporting the Jews etc. It is therefore no mere coincidence that we read that the prophets who ‘prophesied’ of the rebuilding of the temple helped physically to rebuild the temple (Ezra 5:2). They worked for the fulfilment of their prophecies. Likewise Mary was blessed for believing, because therefore and thereby there would be a fulfilment of the things spoken to her (Lk. 1:45 RV). Without her faith, would those things have been fulfilled? She had to do her bit. And this is why she was called blessed. The Lord basically told the disciples to go into the world and preach in order that the prophesies of repentance being preached among all nations would come true (Lk. 24:48). Paul’s preaching to the whole world was likewise driven by a desire to fulfil the prophecy that Christ would be a light to the Gentiles (Acts 13:47).  

- “The children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince…”- but only in that they were represented by Hosea’s wife who was to “abide for me many days…not play the harlot…not be for another man” (Hos. 3:3,4). Hosea’s wife and Israel as a whole were not faithful- they were all adulterers and “breaking faith” (Hos. 4:2 RV); “your brides commit adultery” (Hos. 4:13 RV). So the statement that Israel “shall abide many days…” was a command, not a prediction- and thus could not come true.  

- One wonders why  the ten tribe Kingdom was to cease being a people within 65 years of Isaiah’s prophecy; yet we note that Ahaz was told in the same context: “If ye [the two tribe Kingdom of Judah] will not believe, surely ye shall not be established” (Is. 7:8,9). Was the prophetic outline of events in Isaiah 7 not conditional upon the faith of Ahaz and the wide reaching repentance of Judah? The demise of Israel happened 15 years later, but perhaps it was somehow possible that it would have been delayed, up to a maximum of 65 years, depending on human response? 

- The land promised to Abraham was from the Nile to the Euphrates. Ezra was empowered to teach all “beyond the river” Euphrates the laws of Israel’s God (Ezra 7:25). Note how often the phrase “beyond the river” occurs in the records of the restoration. It was made potentially possible for the whole land promised to Abraham to come under Yahweh’s dominion- but yet again, Israel would not.  

- Jer. 34:2 was surely a conditional prophecy, even though no condition is given at the time: “I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire”. But the Jews made some sort of repentance, releasing their slaves…and the Babylonian armies retreated (Jer. 34:21,22). Then they enslaved their brethren again- and, v.22 says, only because of this did the Babylonian armies return and burn Jerusalem. Thus the initial prophecy of burning with fire was conditional. And the Jews realized this and therefore repented. In similar vein, “the king of Babylon shall certainly come and destroy this land” was capable of not being fulfilled, if Judah would only have repented (Jer. 36:3,7,29).  

- Israel “will dwell in a place of their own, and move no more” (2 Sam. 7:10). But this was a conditional, even though the condition wasn’t stated at the time: “Neither will I remove the foot of Israel from off the land which I have appointed for your fathers; if only they will observe to all that I have command them” (2 Chron. 33:8 RV).  

- Ex. 4:16 states of Aaron that “he shall be thy spokesman unto the people”. But the plans / intentions for Aaron seem not to have worked out- for Moses ended up doing everything in reality. “It shall come to pass that he shall be to thee a mouth” (RV)- but it didn’t so come to pass. Aaron flunked it. The statement was evidently conditional.  

-          When we read that those who were to die in the land due to the Babylonian invasion would not be buried “neither shall men lament for them” (Jer. 16:6), this sounds like a prediction. But actually it’s a command- for Jeremiah was told “Neither go to lament nor bemoan them” (Jer. 16:5). But he did lament them- and God didn’t ignore that, but rather inspired the record of the book of Jeremiah’s Lamentations! Likewise God told Jeremiah not to pray for the people, but when Jeremiah insisted on doing so, God did in fact hear him. So we must be careful to discern what is prediction and what is command or intention. And even then we have to recognize that God’s purpose is to some extent open-ended- if men and women wish to walk with Him but don’t strictly follow His preferred intentions, He may still walk and work with them in the extension of His purpose.

- 1 Pet. 2:12 defines the "day of visitation" as that of the Lord's return to earth to establish His Kingdom. But a similar idea is to be found in Lk. 19:41-44. Because Jerusalem knew not "the time of your visitation", she didn't perceive the things of "her peace" "in this day" (RV), therefore days of destruction would come upon her in AD70. The implication surely is that had Jerusalem accepted Jesus as Messiah, the events of AD70 need never have happened, and His first coming could have been the day of "visitation" to establish God's Kingdom. Of course God's program functioned differently because this never happened; but that doesn't take away from the fact that it was truly possible.

-          The temple vessels “shall be carried to Babylon, and there shall they be until the day that I visit them” (Jer. 27:22) sounds clear enough- but actually Jer. 27:18 states that prayer should be made so that those vessels would not be taken to Babylon! There was a real, meaningful possibility God would hear such prayer if it were fervent enough. And yet He speaks as if the vessels will definitely be taken to Babylon. Clearly even that dogmatic statement was bound by conditions which weren’t directly stated in the same breath as the apparent prediction.

- The concept of conditional fulfilment of prophecy leaves us with the exciting prospect that God is willing to change His stated purpose in accordance with human behaviour. God’s plan of salvation was, apparently, through a seed of David, i.e. a man of Judah. But in 1 Kings 11:38, God is willing to end the Davidic succession and transfer the promises to David (“I will build thee a sure house”) to Jeroboam, a man of Ephraim. This is all reminiscent of how God was prepared to destroy Israel and make of Moses a greater nation- and he too was not of the line of Judah but of Aaron.  

The way conditions are not stated within the actual prophecy is similar to how blanket statements are made in Scripture, and yet there are exceptions to them. Thus Jn. 1:11 says that “his own received him not”, but v. 12 makes it clear that some of them did receive Him. Reflect too how the Lord sought to kill Moses in Ex. 4:24. If He had done so, all His previous statements about delivering Israel by the hand of Moses would not have come true. God only didn’t kill Moses because Zipporah intervened. She did this purely of her own freewill and according to the depth of her spiritual vision. Thus the earlier prophecies about delivering Israel by the hand of Moses actually had at least one major, though unspoken, condition: If Moses himself remained faithful. “But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue” (Ex. 11:7) was in fact conditional on Israel remaining indoors. But that condition isn’t then stated. Even the old covenant, which was in a sense “eternal”, was made with Israel “upon all these conditions” (Ex. 24:8 RVmg.). It was eternal, potentially, because it had conditions. But the conditionality of it isn’t always brought to the fore when, e.g, we read of the sabbath as being an eternal ordinance. 

Conditional prophecy empowers us to understand how the Holy Spirit at times made statements which can superficially contradictory. Thus Paul was advised both to go to Jerusalem and not to go; the sea journey to Rome was going to result in loss of life (Acts 27:10) and yet later on Paul was assured that there would be no loss of life if certain conditions were followed (Acts 27:24,31,34). Why these statements appear contradictory to us is that the conditions attached to the statements aren't always recorded, but we can infer from later statements that in fact there were conditions attached.

Refinement In Babylon

It seems that God intended the 70 years in Babylon to be the time when the Jews would come to a fullness of repentance whereby they would be able to return, rebuild the temple, and usher in a Messianic Kingdom. Ps. 126:1,6 speak of how the Lord would bring back the returnees to Zion (RVmg.), and thereby he who went forth into captivity weeping, bearing the precious seed of the next generation as little children, would in that sense return to Zion with joy, bringing his sheaves with him. Jer. 24 speaks as if the “good figs” were to be those who went to Babylon and through that experience there became “good figs”. Micah speaks of the same process. Zion was to be plowed and Jerusalem become heaps, which happened in the Babylonian invasion. But then afterwards- 70 years afterwards- the temple was to be rebuilt, “the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains” (Mic. 3:12; 4:1). “In that day…will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather that has been driven out…and I will make her that was cast off a strong nation: and the Lord shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth even for ever…the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem”. A Messianic Kingdom could then have come. This whole situation would be brought to pass because the daughter of Zion was to “go forth out of the city” of Jerusalem “and come even to Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered [RV rescued]: there shall the Lord redeem thee” (Mic. 4:10). How was the travailing daughter of Zion to be delivered / rescued in Babylon after having been taken captive there from Jerusalem by the Babylonians? Surely in that there, God intended a spiritual revival of the people, there they would hear Ezekiel’s appeal to repent, which if responded  to would enable them to build the temple which he had described (Ez. 43:10,11) and thus usher in a Messianic Kingdom. 

But there are several reasons to believe that this intended Divine programme didn’t work out- due to the lack of human response. For one thing, the majority of the Jews chose to remain in Babylon. They didn’t return when they had the chance. And there is extra-Biblical evidence that they soon arose from their weeping by the rivers of Babylon, and wholeheartedly adopted the surrounding Babylonian beliefs and values. Further, in Esther’s time, a decree was made to “destroy…and cause to perish” the Jews throughout the provinces of Persia / Babylon (Esther 3:13; 7:4). This phrase uses the two Hebrew words which we find together three times in the list of curses to be brought upon a disobedient Israel (Dt. 28:20,51,63). There evidently is a connection. And yet by her wonderful self-sacrificial meidation, Esther brought about the deferment and even anulment of those justifiable curses. God’s prophetic word was again changed- due to a mediator, who of course pointed both backwards to Moses, and forwards to the Lord Jesus.