Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I do not usually post articles about Bible prophecy. However, I have recently been thinking a lot about the prophecy in Isaiah 11:11-16, and I want to share my thoughts on it with my readership in order to “get it out of my head.” I do not claim to be an expert on Bible prophecy. Please feel free to comment about anything you think I may have overlooked or misinterpreted.
I THINK THIS PROPHECY DESCRIBES OUR CURRENT DAY
Isaiah 11:11-16 is a relatively detailed account of Israel’s second return to the promised land. I believe that these events occur before Christ’s millennial reign(11:1-10), even though they are mentioned after it. Verse 10 says that these events will happen “in that day” meaning the day of the Lord’s return to Israel. I do not think this is not a literal day, but general proximity. These verses cannot happen during the peaceful millennial reign because they describe warfare taking place in the Holy Land (verse 14). But rather these events lead up to and culminate in the millennial kingdom. I believe that the millennial kingdom begins at the end of verse 16.
The reason why I believe that this prophecy concerns our present day is because it specifically says it is talking about the 2nd return of the children of Israel (verse 11). The first return, of course, happened under Ezra and Nehemiah hundreds of years before Jesus was born. After Jesus ascended to heaven the Jewish people were once again scattered from their homeland after a series of disastrous rebellions. Only recently, since the late 1800s, have they started returning to their land en masse, and they are still coming. I believe that this return must be the 2nd return mentioned in Isaiah, because it is too big to be ignored. There are now more Jews living in the promised land than there have ever been at any previous point in its history.
MOST OF VERSE 11 WAS FULFILLED IN THE 1900S
Isaiah chapter 11 is a very long verse. It predicts the return of the Jewish people from specific regions of the Earth. They are: Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, the islands of the sea, the four corners of the Earth (verse 12).
The following statistics, based on data from Wikipedia, shows that much of this verse was fulfilled in the 1900s. Below is a brief analysis of how many Jewish people have left each of the lands mentioned above to return to Israel, and how many remain.
Assyria: Ancient Assyria was based in present-day Northern Iraq. There were 120,000 Jews in Iraq in 1948. Today there are about 100. This is a 99.91 % exodus.
Egypt. There were about 75,000 to 80,000 Jews in Egypt in 1922. There were under 100 left in 2004. This is a 99.87% exodus.
Pathros. Ancient Pathros was a part of Modern day Egypt known as upper Egypt. I have found internet sources claiming that there were hundreds of Jews living in the towns of Asyut and Aswan in the early 20th century. These towns seem to be part of the region which the Bible calls Pathros. I assume that they left with all the other Jews in Modern day Egypt in the 1900s. It is hard to come up with an exact percentage, but it is probably very high.
Cush. It is hard to say where ancient Cush was. It could be in Modern Day Sudan, or Ethiopia. There used to be a few hundred Sudanese Jews, all of which have left the country, most to Israel. There used to be many thousands of Jews in Ethiopia, the vast majority of which left the country and migrated to Israel in the 1970s and 1980s. There are about 120,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel today. It is hard to say for sure how many Jews have been left behind in Ethiopia, because the line between Jew and Gentile has been somewhat blurred over the years. Also, there are some Ethiopians that practice a mixture of Judaism and Christianity.
Elam. Ancient Elam was located in the southwestern part of Modern day Iran. There were about 150,000 Jews in Iran in 1948. Today there are under 40,000 left. This is about a 70% exodus.
Shinar. Shinar is located in modern-day Iraq, though a different part than ancient Assyria. Nevertheless, going by the same numbers, 99.91% of the Jews in Shinar left in the 20th century.
Hamath. Hamath is located in modern day Syria. There used to be many Jews in Syria, but most of them left in the 20th century. About 25 Jews remain in Syria. This is at least a 99.9% exodus.
Islands of the sea. This phrase probably refers to Islands in the Mediterranean such as Cyprus. The story of the Jewish residents of Cyprus is long and complicated. Most Jews were forced off of Cyprus by various governments in the first millennium AD. By 1900 there were under a hundred left. However, after World War II 50,000 Jews were interred on Cyprus by the British. Within a few years virtually all of them were living in Israel. There are other islands in the Mediteranean that have been home to significant numbers of Jews from time to time. I have not researched them all.
The four corners of the Earth. This phrase presumably refers to the entire world. There were about 13.4 million Jews in the world as of 2010. About 5.7 million of them live in Israel. This is a 42% return.
Conclusion: it is amazing how much of verse 11 has been fulfilled in the last 100 years! Many of the places mentioned in these verses have seen upwards of 99.9% emigration of Jews! However, this prophecy is not yet complete, because it predicts the eventual return of all Jews worldwide to Israel. Also, some of the Jews that left the Muslim countries mentioned above went west to the United States instead of Israel. Still, the amount that have returned to Israel give strong support to the fact that the 2nd return prophesied by Isaiah is taking place in our day.
WHAT ABOUT THE BANNER?
Verse 12 says that God will “raise a banner for the nations” when He “gathers the exiles of Israel.” I do not know for sure what this is referring to. I have not studied ancient Jewish culture and language in detail, therefore I do not know all the possible connotations of this phrase. However, maybe it is referring to the current flag of Israel. After all, the star of David may unwittingly be the emblem of Jesus’ future millennial kingdom.
ISAIAH PROPHECIES A SINGLE JEWISH NATION
Verse 13 of this prophecy says:
“Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish,
and Judah’s enemies will be destroyed;
Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah,
nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim.”
This is a reference to the fact that ancient Israel existed as two countries–Israel and Judah–during the years that Isaiah penned this prophecy. The northern kingdom of Israel is sometimes referred to as Ephraim, since the tribe of Ephraim inhabited the central part of that kingdom. Isaiah predicted that when the Jews returned a second time they would be united as one nation. Such is the case today.
ISAIAH PREDICTED THE 6-DAY WAR
Perhaps the most interesting part of this prophecy is verse 14 which says:
“They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west;
together they will plunder the people to the east.
They will subdue Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites will be subject to them.”
I believe that the first half of this verse has already been fulfilled, but the second half is still future. Geographically speaking, the “slopes of Philistia to the west” obviously refers to the Gaza strip. More than that, the modern word “Palestine” is actually derived from “Philistia,” so one could say that the Gaza strip today is populated by self-declared “Philistines.” Therefore the first line is probably referring to the Israeli conquest of the Gaza strip on June 5th 1967. The second line might very well be describing the conquest of the West Bank that took place over the next few days. However, the conquest of Edom and Moab have not happened yet. All of Moab and part of Edom are located in territory that presently belongs to the country of Jordan.
WHAT ISAIAH DID NOT PREDICT
There are several familiar scenes from the Arab Israeli wars that Isaiah does not mention at all. One of these is the conquest of the Sinai Peninsula in 1967. Another is the October war of 1973. I think maybe the reason why these two events were not mentioned is because they had no long term effect on Israel’s borders (The Sinai was returned to Egypt in the early 1980s), and because they did not involve the capture of populated regions.
THE COMING WAR BETWEEN ISRAEL AND JORDAN
The second half of verse 14 predicts at least one future war between Israel and Jordan: “They will subdue Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites will be subject to them.”
This verse predicts that Israel will “subdue” i.e. occupy the southern and middle parts of Jordan, and at least exercise political control over the more populated region of Northern Jordan. The “Ammonites” being referred to here almost definitely include the population of Jordan’s capital “Amman.” Amman is not only named after Ammon, but it is located directly on top of the ancient Ammonite capital of Rabbah.
WHEN WILL THIS FUTURE WAR HAPPEN
There is no way of predicting exactly when this war will take place. One cannot attach a hard date to this war without ignoring the doctrine of the imminence of Christ’s return. This war is the next step in the chronology of this passage after the six-day war, which is already fulfilled. It could happen a day from now, or a hundred years from now. I believe that it will probably happen before the tribulation begins, but I cannot prove this. I am pretty certain, however, that it will take place before the mid-point of the tribulation, based on prophecies from Daniel and Revelation.
THE ESCHATOLOGICAL IMPORTANCE OF THE WAR BETWEEN ISRAEL AND JORDAN.
I am guessing that the reason God will give Jordan into the hands of the Israelis is to provide a haven for the Jewish people during the 2nd half of the tribulation. The Apostle John predicted in Revelation 12:14 that the Jewish people will take refuge in a location in the desert for three and a half years where God will allow them to be “nourished.”
I believe that the desert haven that John is talking about is the southern Jordanian wilderness. This is because the timing of the flight of the Jewish people corresponds directly with the coming of the Antichrist into Israel at the midpoint of the tribulation. The prophet Daniel clearly says that the land of Jordan will successfully escape conquest by the Antichrist at this time:
“He shall also enter the Glorious Land, and many countries shall be overthrown; but these shall escape from his hand: Edom, Moab, and the prominent people of Ammon.” (Daniel 11:40).
Therefore, based on these verses I suspect that Israel will conquer Jordan sometime between now and the abomination of desolation, and that millions of Jews will flee into the Jordanian wilderness during the midpoint of the tribulation (Matthew 24:16), where they will be divinely protected.
POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVE INTERPRETATION TO VERSE 14.
However, I could be wrong about this. It is conceivable that verse 14 is not referring to the six day war or the conquest of Jordan by Jews in a pre-tribulation/early tribulation war. One alternative meaning is that verse 14 is actually the Battle of Armageddon, which takes place at the end of the tribulation. I do not think this is the case, however, because the wars described here do not seem to perfectly fit the battle of Armageddon.
JESUS WILL GATHER THE PEOPLE
After the tribulation Jesus will gather all remaining Jews from all over the world to the holy land. I believe that this is what Isaiah is talking about in verses 15-16:
“The LORD will dry up
the gulf of the Egyptian sea;
with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand
over the Euphrates River.
He will break it up into seven streams
so that anyone can cross over in sandals.
16 There will be a highway for the remnant of his people
that is left from Assyria,
as there was for Israel
when they came up from Egypt.”
This passage refers to God supernaturally drying up bodies of water in order to make the return of the Israelites easier. John mentioned in Revelation 16:12 that the River Euphrates will be dried up near the end of the tribulation in order to gather the “kings of the east” to the great battle of Armeggedon. But apparently this will also serve to create a travel route for the last Jews left in Asia at that time to return to Palestine. Likewise, God will dry up the gulf of the Egyptian sea. This could be the Red Sea or the Nile. Verse 16 implies that this miracle will be separate but similar to what occurred in 1440 BC when Moses crossed the Red Sea.
WHAT ABOUT THE TRIBULATION?
There is no mention in this whole passage about the tribulation period. Why does this passage ignore, for instance, the fact that the Antichrist will temporarily conquer Judea? I think maybe the reason is because the Antichrist’s conquest will be temporary. This passage, coming on the heels of a millennial prophecy, is meant to highlight the ultimate victory of God’s people, and ignores their defeats, since they will overcome them any way. This passage was not written in order to explain every possible aspect of the tribulation period, but rather to explain how God will gather His people together in preparation for the Millenium.
I think that this passage is referring to the current gathering of the people of Israel, the 6 day war, the future conquest of Jordan, and ultimately the begin of the Millenium period.