Previous article in this series: December 15, 2011, p. 138.
The reader will remember that, with a view to a study of the beginning of New Testament history, we were looking first at the end of the nation of Israel in the Old, not for its own sake, but for the light that the Old sheds on the New. Of special interest to us, for this purpose, is the testimony of the prophets—particularly now, with respect to the ten tribes, the prophets Amos and Hosea. We saw that the prophecy of Amos was clear. “The eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth” (Amos 9:8). Nothing uncertain about that. Destruction. From off the face of the earth. Israel’s (that is, the ten tribe’s) doom was sure.
What is this, then, that we read in the remainder of that verse (Amos 9:8)? “…saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the Lord.” And in Hosea:
I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as a lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return…,
Hosea 14:4-7.How can there be hope for Israel, if they will be destroyed from off the face of the earth?
The solution is to be found in this, that, though for the nation as a whole there was no hope of deliverance, God had preserved yet a remnant among an otherwise incurably apostate people. The “seven thousand” who were left in Israel during the days of Elijah had not disappeared by the time of Hosea. They were there, and would be so even to the day that the Lord would root Israel out of the land that He had given to their fathers. And the word of comfort through Hosea was that, though the true children of Abraham would necessarily be entangled in the consequences of the apostasy of the nation as a whole, they would not find themselves out of the reach of God’s mercy, nor would they find that His promises had failed. “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered…” (Hosea 1:10).
Wonderful comfort those words must have been to the elect in Israel. But were they, those words, intended only for the remnant? Or was the prophecy meant for all Israel? Undoubtedly the latter. All must hear it. Even apostate Israel. That is, even those who, while arrogating to themselves the right to determine how God might be worshiped, nevertheless considered them-selves to be Jehovah’s special people. They were, so they thought, children of Abraham. They knew what God had promised to Father Abraham. “Look now toward heaven,” the Lord said, “and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: …So shall thy seed be” (Gen. 15:15); and, “…in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore” (Gen. 22:17). Were God, now, to cast off Israel, so they thought, He would be untrue to His promise. Israel as a nation, therefore, cannot perish.
In anticipation of the objections of those who insisted that God could not cut Israel off, Hosea declared in effect that, though God would disown them, yet He will maintain His promise to Abraham.
But how can that be? “…ye are not my people, and I will not be your God. Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea” (Hosea 1:9, 10). How can God reject Israel…and be true to His promise to Abraham? The answer we find in verse 10. “And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.” In his inspired epistle to the Romans, Paul makes clear that this prophecy of Hosea refers, ultimately, not to the nation of Israel but to the church, composed as it is in the new dispensation of both Jews and Gentiles. “…that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As he saith also in Osee [Hosea], I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved” (Rom. 9:22-25). The people of Israel had imagined the power of God to be tied to the natural descendants of Abraham, but the Lord, through Hosea, repudiates such a notion. God can, if He chooses, raise up a new church. From what? In the words of John the Baptist: from “these stones” (Matt. 3:4). Gentiles. Spiritual children of Abraham. As the sand of the sea.
But then there’s this, in Hosea 1:11: “Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head….” Does not Hosea now, in verse 11, speak also of a national restoration?
We do well, in this connection, to look also at Hosea 3:5: “Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.” And Amos 9:14, 15: “And I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God.”
History proves, of course, that the northern kingdom was never reestablished. The Assyrian conquest of Israel marked the end of the ten tribes. “I will destroy it from off the face of the earth.” Do the prophets here, then, foretell the return of a remnant, not only of Judah but also of Israel, to the land of promise, to enjoy again peace and prosperity under one head, a king in the Davidic line? Or does this prophecy find its fulfillment only in the spiritual reality, the church, and not at all in a physical return of exiled Jews and a reuniting of remnants of all the tribes of Israel under one head?
Truth is, we need not make such a sharp distinction. Old Testament prophecy, more often than not, had a kind of double fulfillment. Or, better, there were stages in the fulfillment of many of the prophecies. A prophecy could find its fulfillment in a historical event, which event would in turn point to a spiritual reality yet to unfold. Sometimes, in a particular prophecy, that spiritual reality is on the foreground, and at other times the historical event. Calvin, interestingly, saw the latter to have prominence in Hosea 1:11. He says that the prophet here “confines his address to the natural race of Abraham. Why? Because God commenced a restoration with that people…because he had chosen them to be the first begotten.” In this verse, according to Calvin, Hosea assures the people of God in Israel that “God would at last deal kindly with them by restoring them to their first unity” and that He would “restore them from exile to their own country.”
Did this ever happen? The fact that the ten tribes as such were never reestablished in the land of Palestine does not mean that no Israelites of the ten tribes ever returned from captivity. The edict of Cyrus gave permission to all of the people of Israel to return to Palestine (Ezra 1:1-4). It is true that the overwhelming majority of those who returned with Zerubbabel and later with Ezra were descendants of citizens of the kingdom of Judah (cf. Ezra 2:1); but it cannot be doubted that members of the other tribes accompanied them. At the dedication of the new temple, sin offerings were offered “for all Israel, …according to the number of the tribes of Israel” (Ezra 6:17). It seems, too, that in future years more people of the ten tribes returned, for at the time of Christ Galilee and parts of Perea were populated by Israelites. And, according to Keil and Delitzsch, “this population cannot be traced back either to the Jews who returned to Jerusalem and Judea under Zerubbabel and Ezra, or to the small number of Israelites who were left behind in the land when the Assyrian deportation took place.” Evidently, then, people both of Israel and of Judah participated in the restoration of the Jews to the promised land. And no longer were they divided, but under one head.
It is clear, however, that this cannot exhaust the prophecies of Hosea and Amos that the children of Judah and the children of Israel will be gathered together; that they will return and seek the Lord God and David their king; and that they will be planted upon their land. The full realization of the promise is not to be found in Zerubbabel, or in any other earthly repre-sentative of the house of David. The prophecy must extend to Christ, the son of David, for in Him alone is there hope of the people being gathered. And as far as the land of Canaan is concerned, history has shown that the returning exiles were not “planted” there, never again to be “pulled up out of their land” (Amos 9:15). For from the return of the exiles to the time of Christ, Judea was but a pawn of the world powers. And within 40 years of their killing of the Messiah, Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple was left with not one stone on another, and the Jews were scattered.
“Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head” (Hosea 1:11). When? When the Gentiles have come in. When those of whom it was said “Ye are not my people” are made “the sons of the living God” (Hosea 1:10). “So,” says the apostle Paul, “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:26).
Next time: “This thing is from me.”