The Destiny of the Nations Divinely Foretold
GOD DECLARED through the prophet Isaiah: ". . . I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" (Isa. 46:9-10). This, then, is one of the peculiar attributes which distinguishes the divine nature: the power to foretell accurately, centuries and millennia in advance, the destinies of men and nations.
"A noise shall come even to the ends of the earth; for the Lord hath a controversy with the nations, he will plead with all flesh..." (Jer. 25:31).
Thus divine prophecy, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures, is, in reality, history written in advance, because God "calleth those things which be not as though they were" (Rom. 4:17). So perfect is God's foreknowledge of human affairs that we find recorded not only the main outlines of the destinies of the nations but often remarkable details as to the exact way in which those destinies will be worked out.
When we come to study the Scriptures we find that God has a purpose in revealing His foreknowledge to man: it is written that "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb. 11:6) but man cannot develop faith in Him unless he has some evidence of God's power in the earth. God has, therefore, provided the evidence in the most telling and lasting form by declaring ages in advance what He is about to do, so that men in all subsequent times can study His word and compare it with the actual unfolding of human history.
It is only possible in the brief compass of this booklet to consider a small fraction of the prophecies recorded in the Holy Scriptures; sufficient, nevertheless, to serve as an outline for private study.
The Lord Jesus Christ declared: ". . . Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22) and the nation of Israel is, therefore, the natural starting point. In Deuteronomy we read: "When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord's portion is his people: Jacob (Israel) is the lot of his inheritance" (Deut. 32:8-9).
THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES
Israel is the pivot of the divine purpose with the nations. Through this nation, and it alone, God has declared His purpose, revealed His wise laws and precepts and manifested His own character in the person of His son, the Lord Jesus Christ. But Israel, as a nation, has not been a willing instrument and the Lord charged them repeatedly with being "a stiffnecked people." Israel has always been slow to appreciate its privileged position and God (who is no respecter of peoples) has punished this nation terribly for its disobedience - not to destroy it, but to discipline and prepare it for the great destiny for which it has been chosen.
Now the long and terrible history of Israel was declared to them in detail, by the Lord through His servant Moses, before ever they set foot in the Promised Land, and they were warned, in advance, of the long period of punishment which would befall their race if they forgot God and forsook His laws (Deut. 28 to 32). For example, Israel were expressly warned that if they were disobedient, God would turn them out of the land of Palestine; that they would be scattered amongst the Gentile nations; that their own land would remain desolate during this long period referred to as "The Times of the Gentiles" but that afterwards God would regather them and complete His great purpose with them.
This divine warning, recorded by Moses in Deuteronomy, was given to Israel about 1450 B.C. Israel soon forgot and for generation after generation God, who is merciful and infinite in patience, pleaded with them through his servants the prophets; but, eventually, He carried out the long-threatened punishment and caused them to be driven out of their land. It was about 588 B.C. that the last king of Judah was carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Seventy years later, when the Babylonians had been overthrown by the Medes and Persians, God moved Cyrus, the Persian king, to permit the Jews to return to their land as a subject race, and so we find them there at the time of Christ. But Israel had not yet learned to keep God's laws and they filled up the cup of their iniquity by opposing and ultimately crucifying His son. By this further act of disobedience to the divine will, they brought upon themselves that final scattering of their nation which Christ himself foretold:
"When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. . . and they (the Jews) shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:20-24).
As we look back from our own days, we can behold how truly, how remarkably and how terribly this declared purpose of God has been fulfilled, for only in our century has Israel been permitted, in any numbers, to begin to return to the land of their fathers. Yet in spite of all that has befallen them, the majority of the returning Israelis do not perceive that herein is the sign (for all who have eyes to see) that they have come at last to the time when their long-promised Messiah will appear to re-establish the throne of Israel.
Now let us turn for a moment to consider that other great span of the Divine programme - "the times of the Gentiles".
In the second chapter of Daniel we have what is probably the simplest and most compact prophecy concerning the destiny of the Gentile nations, for it covers the whole period from about the year 603 B.C. (when it was delivered), down to our own days and beyond.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had been the instrument, under God's hand, for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Judah, and God gave to him a dream in which the destinies of the kingdoms of men were represented by a mighty image. This image was, however, unlike those to which the king was accustomed for it was composed of a number of different metals, declining in value from the head downwards: a head of gold; breast and arms of silver; belly and thighs of brass; legs of iron and feet part of iron and part of clay. As the king watched the image in his dream he saw a stone fall upon the feet of iron and clay, breaking them to pieces, and as the image fell it was crushed and ground by the stone until it was no more than dust, which the wind blew away, but the stone itself grew until it filled the whole earth (Dan. 2:27-45). From the interpretations which Daniel the prophet gave to the king, we learn that the divisions of the image foreshadowed those four world Empires which successively exercised dominion over the earth from that time onwards: the Babylonian; the Medo-Persian; the Greek and the Roman Empires, followed by a divided state amongst the nations represented by the breakdown of the fourth component, iron, into a mixture of iron and day.
Now let us look at the matter in more detail. At the time this dream was given to Nebuchadnezzer he had established the highest form of human imperialism-- ". . . whom he would he slew ; and whom he would he kept alive" (Dan. 5:19). This first dynasty was represented by the golden head. Nebuchadnezzar's son and grandson followed him on the throne of Babylon. If ever there was a city that seemed to defy any prediction of its fall, that city was Babylon. Its massive walls and its great brazen gates were counted amongst the wonders of the ancient world. Yet 160 years before any enemy set foot within its walls the God of Israel through the prophet Isaiah had pronounced its doom: proud Babylon was not only to fall but to be utterly destroyed and never rebuilt and its people to be scattered and lost amongst the nations of the earth (Isa. 13:1-22 and 14:4-23).
In accordance with these prophecies, about 539 B.C. the Babylonians were overthrown and, in their place, came the Medo Persian empire. Here was another despotic monarchy but one in which the king was tied by those "laws of the Medes and Persians which alter not", and this empire therefore was represented by the less valuable metal, silver. It was also to be a dual power (Medes and Persians) as indicated by the breast and arms of the image.
Just over 200 years later (334 B.C.), this empire fell before the all-conquering Alexander the Great, the leader of the Greeks, whose dominion was represented in Nebuchadnezzar's dream by the brazen part of the image, and for 300 years Greece ruled the whole of the then known world. Then, in 30 B.C., as the prophecy required, there appeared that terrible fourth world dominion: the imperial power of Rome, foreshadowed by the legs of iron.
And here again we notice the fitness of the symbol: the prophecy foretold, "as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: (so) shall it break in pieces and bruise"; and indicated by the two legs of the image, that Rome would ultimately divide her dominion into two parts: The Western Roman Empire with its capital at Rome and the Eastern Roman Empire with its capital at Byzantium (later called Constantinople).
As the centuries passed, the power of Rome, too, declined under the pressure of successive invasions of the barbarian nations of the north: the Visigoths under Alaric, the Vandals under Genseric and, later, the Huns under Attila. These gradually broke down the despotic power of Rome and her territories became divided amongst a number of smaller states which, as the prophecy had clearly foretold, were never able thereafter to form one united kingdom, or to act in unity:
"As the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken . . . but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay" (Dan. 2:42-43).
It is not because men have made no further effort to weld the symbolic metals representing the Gentile nations into one world Empire-Charlemagne tried with his "Holy Roman Empire"; Napoleon tried; in more recent times the Kaiser tried and so did Adolf Hitler. The nations themselves have tried to unite by means of "The League of Nations" after the first world war and "The United Nations Organisation" after the second, but all these efforts have been doomed to failure, because God has reserved that work for another to accomplish.
The prophecy in the second chapter of Daniel concludes:
THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL
"And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but IT SHALL BREAK IN PIECES AND CONSUME ALL THESE KINGDOMS, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that THE STONE was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king (Nebuchadnezzar) what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is CERTAIN AND THE INTERPRETATION THEREOF SURE" (Dan. 2:44-45).
What, then, does this stone power represent? In the Kingdoms of Men, all the kings, leaders and great men have had to be drawn from the fallible and mortal members of the human race; for this reason their policies have always been changing and failing, whilst even the best of leaders could not give continuity of service because of their limited period of office; but, in the Kingdom which the God of Heaven will establish upon the ruins of all earthly kingdoms, this will give place to a permanent order of kings and priests, each one of which will be an immortal and infallible Son of God, under the supreme command of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The prophecy in Daniel required that THE STONE be "cut out of the mountain without hands". The reader will remember the special circumstances of Christ's birth: born, not by the will of man, but begotten by the Spirit of God and born of the Virgin Mary. He may also recall that Christ referred to himself as a stone. Speaking to his enemies, he said:
"Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? . . . Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Matt. 21:42-44).
The leaders of the Jews encompassed Christ's death, but they discovered that the result of their action was to bring upon Israel the wrath of God: the destruction of Jerusalem, and the scattering and downtreading of their nation. That was the effect of FALLING UPON this "stone". But the nations have still to witness the second phase of Christ's prophecy: "upon whomsoever IT SHALL FALL, it will grind him to powder".
This last sentence indicates a phase of Christ's work on this earth which has yet to be revealed, and it is a phase which will take the world by surprise.
The apostle Paul exhorted us to consider both the "goodness and severity of God" (Rom. 11:22). If the reader knows only the teaching of the orthodox churches of Christendom on this subject, it is probable that he has never considered Christ as other than "gentle Jesus"; but Christ reflects the character of his Father in every respect. The word "Christ" means "Anointed One". Like his great ancestor David, he has been anointed by God, in advance, to become the great King of Israel. As we read in the second Psalm:
"I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen (nations) for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel" (vv. 7-9).
Christ knew that this prophecy referred to himself and in his last message to his disciples he promised --
"He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: EVEN AS I RECEIVED of my Father" (Rev. 2:26-27).
Here, then, is that stone power which in the very near future will grind to powder the powers of the Gentile nations represented in Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the image. But how and when?
The doctrines of the majority of the churches of Christendom have long since deviated from the simple truths taught by Christ and his apostles. Their adherents now look for their reward "beyond the realms of time and space", but the Bible teaches the literal restoration of the throne of David over a re-established kingdom of Israel with Christ and his glorified saints as the immortal rulers thereof. It is because of this purpose of God with Israel that we, today, behold that small nation rapidly growing in power and becoming an important factor in world events. The regathering of Israel to their own land is a modern miracle and (for those who have eyes to see) it provides unquestionable evidence of the Hand of God at work in our own times. God declared through the prophet Jeremiah:
"Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say: He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock" (Jer. 31:10).
In 1948, when Britain gave up the Mandate for Palestine, it looked for a moment as if the far more numerous Arab nations would sweep the little nation of Israel into the sea; but in three successive wars Israel has been victorious over her enemies. The speed of her conquest in the "6-days war" of 1967 astonished the nations, but that is because they do not recognise the "signs of the times" in which they are living.
In Ezekiel ch. 37 that prophet records a vision which he was shown by God of the ultimate regathering of his people. He was shown a valley full of dry bones and he was told that that would represent the condition of his people for a long period - hopeless, helpless and nationally dead. And then he saw the spirit of God exerted to cause these bones to come together "bone to his bone", to clothe them with sinews and flesh, and to cause the bodies to stand up as a mighty nation:
"Then said he unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost.' . . . Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God: 'Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of lsrael . . . then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord" (Eze. 37:11-14).
It was not to be expected that the nations who have occupied Israel's land during the centuries of her dispersion would welcome this rapid immigration of Jews from all over the world. Moreover, the Arabs, and their Turkish rulers before them, have not been an industrious people and had let the land fall into decay; while the returning Jews, with that vigour, mental ability and capacity for hard work borne of ages of oppression, have put the Arabs to shame by the vast improvements they have made and the prosperity they have achieved in so short a time.
RUSSIA'S ATTACK UPON ISRAEL
These factors have led to steadily mounting antagonism, but attempts by the various Arab nations to reach agreement amongst themselves for a united front have signally failed, for the simple reason that it is not God's purpose.
One of the most violent and vociferous of the Arab opponents of Israel has been the late Gamal Nasser of Egypt, but he only succeeded in making himself and his people look weak and foolish. Had he done himself the honour of studying what the God of Israel has determined concerning Egypt, he would have known that he was doomed to fail. In the time of the early Pharaohs, in the days of Joseph, Egypt prospered as a result of her friendship with God's people; but when, centuries later, she turned against Israel God inflicted those ten terrible plagues upon her and broke her power. Centuries later still, when Egypt interfered again in God's purpose with Israel, God pronounced perpetual judgment against her. The words are recorded in Ezekiel 29:
"Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord God, 'Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt . . . and the land of Egypt shall be desolate and waste . . . It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations' " (Eze. 29:3, 9, 15).
Those words were spoken by Almighty God about 589 B.C. No human being could have foreseen such a strange and unlikely destiny for such a nation as Egypt which, up to that time, had been one of the great powers of the earth. But from that time Egypt was to meet one defeat after another and she never recovered. The Egyptian "fellahin"-the poor cultivators of the soil-today have a standard of living which has been assessed by the United Nations' investigators as the lowest in the world. In spite of their leaders' bombast, they know that they are no match for Israel.
David, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, foretold these days of Israel's regathering and the opposition that they would experience from the Arab peoples. In Psalm 83 we read:
"Keep not silence, O God . . . for they have taken crafty counsel against thy people; they have said, 'Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.' For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee: the tents of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes; Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot" (Psa. 83:1-8).
From those words "Assur also is joined with them", taken in conjunction with other scriptures mentioned below, students of God's Word have anticipated for many years past that in these last days a northern power would be a party to the Arab intrigues against Israel.
The 38th chapter of the prophecy through Ezekiel shows that the initial colonisation by Israel of their ancient home-land will be quickly followed by further aggression by the Gentiles, as they look enviously upon "the desolate places that are now inhabited, and the people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land" (Eze. 38:12).
The opening words of the 38th chapter of Ezekiel (Revised Version) reveal the identity of Israel's assailants: "The prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal" or to give their modern names: Russia, Muscovy and Siberia. As long ago as 1640, Bochart in his researches into sacred geography pointed out that "Ros" is the most ancient form under which history makes mention of the name of Russia; and concerning this passage in the scriptures he said, "It is credible that from Rosh and Meshech of whom Ezekiel speaks descended the Russians and Muscovites." The name "Tubal" is probably preserved in the name Tobolsk, the metropolis of Siberia, on the river Tobol.
In the subsequent verses mention is made of a number of satellite nations, and the prophecy continues: "thou shalt come from the uttermost parts of the north, thou, and many peoples with thee . . . and thou shalt come up agamst my people Israel as a cloud to cover the land" (Eze. 38:15-16 RV). With our knowledge of modern warfare we can understand the import of that reference to an attacking force coming "as a cloud to cover the land."
It is apparent from the prophecy that this Russian attack upon the young state of Israel does not go unchallenged. Other nations, friendly to Israel and with forces already in the vicinity of that land, endeavour to defend her:
THE SECOND COMING OF JESUS CHRIST
"Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou COME to take a spoil? Hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?" (Eze. 38:13).
Can we identify these nations? Sheba and Dedan are districts of S.W. Arabia which have had a long association with Britain. Tarshish is mentioned earlier in this same prophecy through Ezekiel: In chapter 27 he states that Tyre, the capital of Phoenicia, traded with the people of Tarshish for silver, iron, tin and lead. Now history records that the earliest known contact with these British Islands was the coming of the Phoenicians to trade with the people of Cornwall for those very commodities. When we add to that the fact that Israel's allies against Russia are spoken of as a "merchant" people having "young lions", or dominion powers allied to the mother power (the lion is Britain's emblem), there can be little doubt that the British power is indicated. (This interpretation of the verse is not new-it appears in published works on the subject of more than a century ago.)
The same prophecy reveals, however, that Israel and her allies are unable to stem the onrush of the aggressors, for in the parallel prophecy in the 11th and 12th chapters of Daniel we are informed that ". . . The king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over. He shall enter also into the glorious land (Israel), and many countries shall be overthrown . . . and the land of Egypt shall not escape" (Dan. 11:40-42).
It is when Israel's human allies have failed to save her that God will intervene, as He has done again and again in the past, to save this people whom He has set aside for Himself.
Nineteen centuries ago, when Jesus was crucified, Pilate, the Roman governor, wrote the accusation against him and caused it to be nailed to the cross: "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews". Pilate had carefully interrogated Christ as to his claims and, although he did not understand them, he was convinced of his sincerity. The true import of Christ's words will soon become apparent to the modern rulers of this earth.
When Russia overruns Israel they will encounter a force with which they will not have reckoned. In Ezekiel chapter 38 we read:
"Thus saith the Lord God; Art thou he of whom I have spoken in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, which prophesied in those days many years that I would bring thee against them? And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord God, that MY FURY SHALL COME UP IN MY FACE . . . the earth shall shake at MY PRESENCE . . . and I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood. Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord" (Eze. 38:17-23).
Thus Israel's long promised Messiah will have come to save his people in the way foretold in the prophets:
"At that time shall Michael (Hebrew: 'Mi-cha-el' = 'who is like God') stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever" (Dan. 12:1-3).
This reference to the resurrection of the dead enables us to identify the occasion as the time of Christ's second coming (Thess. 4:16).
Here then, in the briefest outline, is God's purpose with the nations as declared by Him from the beginning and as it has been working out in detail over the ages. His object in revealing these things in advance is that we may recognise His hand in the earth and, believing in Him, we may turn to learn from His Word, the Holy Scriptures, the way to eternal life.
If we would have a part in these good things of Israel, we must take action whilst the opportunity remains open to us. Christ declared--
"He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16).