The Impossible Prophecy

June 10, 2024

We read with modern eyes

Have you ever thought about what it would have been like to hear the Bible’s prophecies at the time they were first spoken? Imagine you were there, over 3300 years ago, when Moses spoke the book of Deuteronomy, a series of speeches delivered to the children of Israel in the five weeks before he died. How would these words have sounded to you at the time? 

When we read the Bible, whether we realize it or not, we read it through modern eyes. We read the biblical stories with the benefit of hindsight, knowing exactly how things turn out. And when we read prophecies of the future, we do so with knowledge of everything that has happened since the words were first spoken. Often, we understand details of the prophecies that those who were alive at the time could not have understood. 

But there’s also a downside to reading the Bible through our modern lens. Because of the changes that have taken place over the past 3000 years, the world we live in is not the same as the world in which the Biblical prophecies were spoken and written. As a result of how much has changed, we can easily miss the full power and intent of the words we are reading.

The context of Deuteronomy 30

Deuteronomy 30 is a perfect example of this phenomenon. To fully appreciate what this prophecy is saying, let’s review the chapters leading up to it.

In Deuteronomy 28, Moses related the blessings that would be bestowed on the nation of Israel as a reward for faithfully observing God’s covenant, as well as the terrible punishments that would befall them should they stray from God. The final verses of the punishments describe the nation of Israel being scattered into exile.

Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known — wood and stone. – Deuteronomy 28:64

Then, in chapter 29, Moses continues by telling the nation that when they are in exile, the land will lie desolate. Moses even describes how in the distant future people from other nations will see the destruction of the land and the exile of the Jewish people and conclude that God has done this because the Jews turned their backs on God. (Deuteronomy 29:22-28

Then comes Deuteronomy 30. Here, Moses tells the people that after many generations of exile, scattered to the four corners of the earth, the people of Israel will return to the land. 

The Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.Deuteronomy 30:3-5

Deuteronomy 30 is happening now

As I write this, I am sitting in a café in a crowded shopping mall in Bet Shemesh, a half-hour drive from Jerusalem. The modern state of Israel is prosperous and populated by millions of Jews from every corner of the earth. Every detail of the verses I just quoted has been fulfilled in our time. Think about that. Here is a biblical prophecy spoken over 3300 years ago. Ever since then, everyone who read the Bible read these verses as a future prophecy. And today, we live in a time when every word of these verses is a reality. The Jewish people have returned en masse to our land. We have taken possession of it in the form of Jewish sovereignty. Israel is a prosperous nation. And there are more Jews in the land than at any other time in history. 

How Deuteronomy 30 sounded back then

But what did the people who first heard this prophecy think? When Moses spoke these words, many nations existed that are no longer around. Where are the Hittites? Or the Assyrians? Or the Emorites? What happened to these nations? The answer is that they were conquered by invading empires. In what historians refer to as “the age of empires,” powerful nations swept across the earth, conquering smaller nations along the way. The Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans all conquered numerous smaller peoples. And after conquering them, these empires would not simply try to rule over these peoples in their native lands. They would first kill most of the men of fighting age. And then they would send the rest of the population, or much of it, into exile. Having conquered many peoples, these empires would mix the populations throughout their empires, teaching them a new language and culture, and absorbing them into their empires. 

The point I am making is that exile was a common feature of the ancient world. But here’s what never happened. None of the smaller nations that were conquered and exiled by these empires ever returned to their homeland after many generations scattered to the four winds. In the ancient world, going into exile meant the end of your national identity.

An impossible prophecy

With this context in mind, we can more fully grasp the enormity of Moses’ prophecy. Moses declared that the nation of Israel would go into exile, scattered to many different corners of the earth. To anyone living at the time who heard these words, this could mean only one thing: the end of the nation of Israel. When Moses then prophesied that the nation of Israel would return from this exile in the very distant future, he was describing something impossible. Who would still be around to return after thousands of years? How would a national identity be preserved as a scattered nation in exile over so many centuries? The absurdity of Moses’ prophecy would have been clear to someone hearing it at the time. And yet, this is exactly what happened. 

The miracle of Israel’s rebirth as a prosperous and independent nation after thousands of years of exile is on par with the greatest Biblical miracles that we read about in the Exodus story. Maybe even greater. 

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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