Behold the Future is Now

March 7, 2024

Jeremiah lived in the tragic days of the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, leading to the exile in Babylon. That exile lasted only 70 years. Due to the timing of Jeremiah’s life, many scholars interpret his prophecies of the return from exile as referring to the return from the Babylonian exile. In other words, according to these scholars, Jeremiah’s prophecies of the exile and restoration of
Israel do not foretell the lengthy exile after the destruction of the Second temple and the restoration of Israel as an independent nation in our time. But a careful reading of the details of this verse shows this standard interpretation of Jeremiah’s prophecy to be mistaken.

Israel and Judah return

The first indication that this prophecy does not refer to the return from the Babylonian exile is the reference to “the returnees of My people Israel and Judah.” 

If the verse had simply referred to the restoration of “Israel,” without mentioning Judah at all, we would understand the word “Israel” as a reference to the Jewish people generally. In other words, had the verse spoken only of “Israel,” we could easily understand that Jeremiah was foretelling the return of Jews to the land, regardless of what tribe they are from. After all, Israel is the name of the entire nation.

Since the verse refers to “Israel and Judah,” we know that the name Israel is not to be understood according to its more expansive meaning – i.e. referring to the Jewish people generally – but rather according to the narrower meaning of “Israel,” namely, the northern tribes who had separated from Judah during the reign of Rehoboam. Otherwise, it would make no sense to refer to “Judah and Israel.” 

Why does this matter?

After the 70 year Babylonian exile, the only Jews who returned to the land were from the southern kingdom, the kingdom of Judah. They were from the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, in addition to some members of the tribe of Levi who lived in those areas. Put simply, the return of “Israel and Judah” did not happen at that time. Jews were not gathered from all the places of their exile. This prophecy was not fulfilled.

A second indication that Jeremiah’s prophecy was not referring to the return to the land after the Babylonian exile is the closing words of the verse, “and they will take possession of it.” This phrase is not about the physical return of members of the nation of Israel to their land. Rather, what is described here is Jewish sovereignty over the land as well. What else could “and they will take possession of it” mean? 

The return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel after the Babylonian exile was with the permission of Cyrus, king of Persia. Persia ruled the land of Israel at the time. In fact, for almost the entire period of the Second Temple, the land of Israel was ruled by foreign powers. The nation of Israel, or at least portions of it, did certainly return to the land, by they did not “take possession of it.”

Let’s sum up these points. When the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian exile in the days of Ezra and began building the Second Temple:

  1. Only Jews from the kingdom of Judah returned
  2. While the Jewish people returned to the land, they did not have sovereignty over the land

Based on these two factors, it makes no sense to say that Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled by the return to the land after the Babylonian exile. 

“Behold” means it’s happening

All this leads to a powerful point about this verse. The verse begins with the words, “Behold days are coming.” Throughout the Bible, the word “Behold” implies something that is readily visible or immediate. What’s more, the verse does not say “days will come” in the future tense, but “are coming” in the present tense. The implication of the words is that the full restoration of Israel to the land is either underway or is in the near future.

There is an important lesson here. As we explained, Jeremiah is foretelling the redemption and restoration of Israel that will not come to pass for thousands of years in the future. And yet, he describes this historical development as though it is already happening in the immediate present. Jeremiah is poetically conveying the proper attitude that we are meant to have regarding God’s plan for the future redemption. Even though it will come to pass far in the future, the fact that God has promised it makes it an absolute certainty. Because it is a certainty, we ought to see everything that happens in history as part of the story of the redemption of Israel. So even if the Jews are headed into exile, and even if that exile lasts two thousand years, all these ups and downs are simply chapters in the ongoing story of the restoration of Israel. The process of redemption is underway.

Even before the full redemption of Israel and the world is complete, we must always view the promises of God as certain and present in our own reality. We must be confident enough in God’s word that we can look to the future and say, “Behold!”

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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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