A ROAD MAP OF GOD’S WORK
The Old Testament history books are a literary road map of the work of God in the affairs of this world. God has recorded this history for the sake of His people. When Paul reminded both the disciples in Rome and Achaia of this recorded history, he surely wanted them to remind them of the fact that God was still working in the lives of His people at the time he wrote both Romans and the two Corinthian letters (See Rm 15:4: 1 Co 10:11). We too would give heed to his exhortation in order to do the same. Old Testament history was not simply recorded to give us a historical narrative of Israel, but to give us sign posts of the work of God in the affairs of this world. He thus expects us to conclude that since He worked in such a manner in times of old, then He is doing the same in these times.
From the day the Israelites were baptized unto Moses in the Red Sea (1 Co 10:2), to the time when about 3,000 were baptized into Christ for the remission of sins 1445 years after the Red Sea baptism (At 2:41), God worked among His people in order to bring about the cross of redemption and the phenomenon of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30 (At 2:1-4).
Israel was purified through the wilderness wanderings. After they were purified of their rebellious spirit and bondage mentality, they were placed in the land of promise. All went well until the people began to fall under the influence of the Canaanites they failed to eradicate from the land. They were then consigned to suffering their deportation into all the world. In being scattered throughout the land of their captors, they were again purified. They were spiritually prepared to again participate in the eternal plan of God to preach the gospel to the world.
A. The scattering:
Because of their rebellion against God, Israel was taken into the wilderness of Assyrian and Babylonian captivity. But we must not forget that God was working in their struggles of captivity in order to turn their rebellion into repentance and to accomplish His plan to bring the Savior into the world. He was working in order to lay the foundation to take the message of the Savior into all the world.
The foundation for world evangelism was first laid when the northern ten tribes of Israel were carried away into Assyrian captivity in 722/21 B.C. Nineveh was the old capital of the Assyrian Empire. As biblical historians, we often make the mistake of viewing the expanse of the empire of Assyria to be from Nineveh to the west, since this is the only history we have of the Empire in the Bible. But we must view the empire to have also expanded far to the east. We do not know how far east the Assyrians extended their empire, but we can make some guesses. It surely extended as far east as it did west, and thus the territory of the Empire could have extended to the eastern part of modern-day Iran, and possibly into Afganistan and Pakistan.
In the context of the vastness of the Assyrian Empire, we wonder concerning the extent to which the Jewish captives were carried away when the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722/21 B.C. We wonder because we must understand that God was setting the stage for some awesome that would come centuries later in the history of Israel. So when we read historical statements as the following, we must see God at work for the salvation of man:
For the children of Israel [the northern kingdom] walked in all the sins of Jeroboam that he did. They did not depart from them until the Lord removed Israel out of His sight as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day (2 Kg 17:22,23).
This deportation of Israelites also affected other peoples over which Assyria reigned, for other peoples were brought into the land of Canaan.
And the kingdom of Assyria brought people from Babylon and from Cuthah and from Ava and from Hamath and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel (2 Kg 17:24).
Now keep in mind that in all this movement of peoples, God was establishing a foundation upon which world evangelism would later take place over seven hundred years after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel.
In order to continue the laying of the foundation for world evangelism, a little over 130 years after the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel, the same process of deportation started with the southern kingdom of Israel, Judah. By the time of this deportation, the Babylonian Empire had conquered the Assyrian Empire. In reference to Judah, it was the same story of taking Jewish captives and spreading them throughout an empire. These captives were being planted in order to bring forth fruit centuries later.
“Now the rest of the people [of Jerusalem] that were left in the city, and the fugitives who fell away to the king of Babylon, with the remnant of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away” (2 Kg 25:11).
Jeremiah prophesied during the last days of the southern kingdom. In his prophecies, God promised through Jeremiah that He would scatter His people throughout the nations of the world. At least one thing is certain when we read these prophecies of Jeremiah. In reference to the scattering of the southern kingdom as a result of their sin, God was using Israel’s rebellion as the foundation upon which He would universally crush Satan. Jeremiah recorded that the Lord said, “And I will cause them to be moved into all kingdoms of the earth …” (Jr 15:4; see Jr 9:7). This global movement of Israelites was presupposing that God would centuries later commission the disciples to “go into all the world” where He had scattered His people (Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15). They would go into all these lands to which Jews were scattered in order to preach the gospel of deliverance from the bondage of sin.
Babylon, the capital of the Babylonian Empire, was south and further east of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. We would presume, therefore, that the captives of the Babylonian captivity were carried further east than the captives of the Assyrian deportation. These captives may have been deported as far east as the region called “India” in those days.
The Babylonian Empire was eventually conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire, whose borders extended from India to Ethiopia. This was a massive empire, an empire throughout which Jews had been deported by the previous empires of Assyria and Babylonia, which kingdoms had been conquered by the Medes and Persians. During the reign of Ahasuerus, one of the kings of the Medo-Persian Empire, Esther 1:1 states that King Ahasuerus “reigned over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia.” When a letter of deliverance was sent throughout the kingdom that the Jews be allowed to deliver themselves from the wicked plan of Haman, this letter went to scattered Jews who were living from India to Ethiopia (Et 8:9). We would conclude, therefore, that by the time of Esther, there were Jews living as far east as India and as far south in Africa as Ethiopia.
B. The prophecy of the plan:
Now that we have taken a brief tour of Jewish deportation throughout the world, we must consider what this meant in reference to world evangelism and God’s eternal work to take the gospel into all the world. A very significant prophecy of Isaiah lays the foundation upon which the world would be evangelized through the scattering of the Jews throughout the ancient world. This prophecy was made at the time the northern ten tribes of Israel were initially taken into Assyrian captivity in 722/21 B.C. It was made by Isaiah who prophesied from about 740 to 700 B.C.
With the carrying away of the first Jews into world captivity, God wanted these Jews to know that something would happen in their future that would turn their captivity into a blessing for all the world. He wanted them to know that He was still working in Israel regardless of their captivity and deportation throughout the world. Isaiah wrote the following historical prophecy:
And it will come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established on top of the mountains, and will be exalted above the hills. And all nations will flow to it. And many people will go and say, “Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. And He will teach us His ways and we will walk in His paths,” For out of Zion will go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Is 2:3,4).
The Passover/Pentecost feast was a time when the Israelites came before the Lord to celebrate their independence from Egyptian captivity. It was an annual event where as many Israelites as possible would be assembled before the Lord. When we combine this annual event with the prophecy of Isaiah 2:2,3, something wonderful was to happen in the future. From the time Isaiah made the prophecy, the thought of his message was in the minds of the Jews for centuries. However, Isaiah had stated something that they could not possibly have understand. It could not be understood until after it was fulfilled. And it would not be fulfilled until over 700 years after Isaiah made the prophecy.
During this 700 years, God was laying the groundwork for world evangelism through the captivities of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. He was scattering His people throughout the world and permanently planting many of the Israelites in the economic culture of the nations to which they were taken as captives. Throughout the centuries, the Jews embedded themselves in the culture and economic structures in whatever nation they lived from Ethiopia to India, and beyond. They were building synagogues as religious/cultural centers in order to maintain their identity in the lands where they lived and prospered for over seven centuries. God did not want them to lose their identity as Israelites, for when the prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled, God wanted the world to know that He had kept His promises to His people. God knew what He was doing.
The Israelites surely had no idea that God was working through them as displaced captives. We can come to this conclusion because we have the opportunity of reading the recorded history in the Old Testament, and the final outcome in the New Testament. But when Israel was struggling through the captivities and living the history, they were certainly puzzled as to how God would turn their calamity into their good, but particularly into the good of the world. It is certain that they had no idea that all the scattering of the captives was connected with the mystery of God that even the prophets could not understand when they recorded their inspired prophecies concerning the matter. The prophets knew something was up, but they had no idea of the mystery that God had in His mind for all the world. The predicament of the Old Testament prophets is clearly stated by Peter in 1 Peter 1:10-12:
Of this salvation the [Old Testament] prophets have inquired and search diligently, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ who was in them did signify, when He testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow. To them it was revealed, that not to themselves, but to you they ministered the things that are now reported to you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven, which things angels desire to look into.
C. The fullness of the times:
“But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son …” (Gl 4:4). On the Passover/Pentecost feast of A.D. 30, God had a surprise for those travelling Jews who came to Jerusalem from Italy, north Africa and the Far East. Acts 2 is a record of the beginning of the fulfillment of Isaiah 2:2,3.
During His ministry, Jesus attended at least three Passover/Pentecost feasts. During the last feast, He was crucified, and the fulfillment of Isaiah 2:2,3 began. Of the 3,000 thousand who were obedient to the message of the apostles on the A.D. 30 Passover/Pentecost, some were from the far corners of the Roman Empire, which Empire now encompassed all the preceding world empires of Assyria, Babylonia, Medo-Persia and Greece (See At 2:8-11).
The travelling Jews who experienced the message of the apostles of the A.D. 30 Passover/Pentecost, returned to their homes in far off lands. They went home with a tremendous message on their hearts of what they had heard and seen, and experienced in obedience to the gospel (At 2:38,41). But we must not forget that there was another Passover/Pentecost a year later in A.D. 31. When this Passover/Pentecost came, those who were at the A.D. 30 feast a year before said to their fellow Jews who were not in Jerusalem the year before, “Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord …” (Is 2:2,3).
And they went, year after year to the annual Passover/Pentecost feasts. And it was in Jerusalem where the apostles stayed and preached the gospel to the world through those who came. They heard the message of the gospel. The visiting Jews saw the miracles of the apostles. They heard and obeyed the gospel. They then returned home also with a message on their hearts. The change of the paradigm of faith was so great that the early Christians turned the world upside down as the message of the gospel went from synagogue to synagogue, and nation to nation as returning Jews from the Passover/Pentecost feasts in Jerusalem returned to their homeland nations throughout the world (See At 13:5,14; 14:1; 17:1,10,17; 18:4,19; 19:8). The system of evangelism was so effective that Paul could write in A.D. 61,62 that the gospel “was preached to every creature that is under heaven” (Cl 1:23). God’s system of world evangelism through the deportation of His people throughout the world centuries earlier had worked.
D. Initial fulfillment of the plan:
So what would we conclude from this planned system that God worked out over seven centuries? There is certainly at least one important conclusion we must make. God is always working things together for good to bring about His eternal purposes. We are sure that the Jews who suffered during the seven centuries of social turmoil did not understand God’s redemption plan, for it was a mystery to everyone. The system by which God would evangelism the world was a mystery. The redemption through His Son was also a mystery. Though the Jews experienced the captivities, they did not understand what God was doing in allowing them to be scattered among the nations of the world in order to get His redemption plan preached. We must not forget this point.
In order to reestablish the identity of Israel, a remnant of Israel eventually returned to Palestine after the captivities. This return of the remnant was in fulfillment of the promises that were made to the fathers. But the majority of the Jews had to remain scattered throughout the world. God was planning to use their settlement in the lands of their former captors as a means to take the gospel into all the world. God works, and His work in these global matters is often never detected by those who must live through them by faith.
We must conclude that He is working even today through national calamity in order to bring about good for His people and the finalization of His eternal plan. He is simply not finished with His eternal plan for our existence. Our speculations concerning His work can only be based on the assumption that as He worked in the past He will work in the present and future. Since those things that were written before were written for our learning (Rm 15:4), then we conclude that we must learn from those recorded workings in the past in order to determine how He is working in history today. However, we would be cautious about adding details to His mysterious workings that He is now working out in the affairs of the world. We serve a mysterious God, one whose ways are past figuring out. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out” (Rm 11:33). We would never assume that we understand His “unsearchable judgments” as some modern-day prognosticators would, and subsequently make millions of profit at the expense of the ignorant and curious.
We believe in a God who knows the future. Since He knows the future, then even before He delivered Israel from Egyptian captivity, He knew that the Jews would eventually rebel and go into Assyrian and Babylonian captivity. His eternal purpose was always to use Israel as the medium through which He would preach the gospel of Jesus to the world.
As Israel, we are free to make our own moral decisions. But in our freedom to make bad decisions, God can use our failures for His purpose. He did this with the nation of Israel. He can do the same today with us. Though we would be tempted to despair because of the wickedness of the world in which we live, we must continually remind ourselves that God is working everything together for the good of His people. As we stated before, God did not stop working in the affairs of the world at the cross. There is yet the crown that will complete His eternal plan for the creation of this world.