THE
TESTIMONY

Article from Special Issue Vol. 45, No. 529, January 1975

ISRAEL: LAND OF PROMISE

Pages 55-61

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PHYSICAL CHANGES

IN ISRAEL IN PROPHECY

DAVID SUTCLIFFE

 

The Second Advent

IF AT HIS first coming Jesus performed the signs recorded in the Gospels, is it credible that he will return to transform the world without the use of such powers ? When God first took His people out of Egypt, He brought about the Exodus by miraculous events— “plagues”—that ruined the land; when He brought the nation into possession of the Promised Land, He caused the sun and the moon to stand still. When the Son of God was born there appeared an unusual “star” in the heavens; and when that Son died there was darkness in the middle of the day and an earthquake. It is not only credible, but it is clear from Scripture, that the powers manifested at these momentous epochs of world history will be openly manifested at the second coming of Christ.

The time of the coming of Jesus as Messiah the King is spoken of in Scripture as a focus of political trouble in the Middle East (Zech. 14:1-3), involving, first, a ring of Arab enemies around Israel (Ezek. 25-32 in context), and, second, the greater and more distant nations. Israel will have to realise that the power at work is of God; they must learn that they cannot rely on their own military strength, nor on that of supposed allies, for so long as they do, they do not trust in God.

But out of this “time of trouble” Jacob shall be saved. This is the intended result of the Second Coming of Christ. But what of the method by which it is brought about: the manner of transforming the earth ?

 

The shaking of the earth

When God says He will “shake the earth” (Isa. 2:21), it is clear from the context that a literal earthquake is intended, which will also shake down the world’s political systems. The earthquake will not be a mindless upheaval which does nothing but destroy and terrify; it will bring about specific immediate changes, with wide and long-term effects.

The two clearest and most detailed prophecies about it are in Ezekiel (chs. 38-39) and Zechariah (ch. 14). Ezekiel speaks of the way the revived nation (ch. 37) is attacked. When all seems hopeless, the earthquake occurs: “Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel” (38:19). An eight-fold statement of the consequences emphasises the literality of the disaster (vv. 20-22). Zechariah is even more detailed. When Jerusalem is taken and half its population are prisoners, God breaks His silence and intervenes “as when He fought in the day of battle” (Zech. 14:1-3). This statement is a code-signal which refers the understanding reader back to what happened in similar but lesser circumstances in Israel’s earlier history: as, for example, when an earthquake caused panic among the Philistines in the days of Saul and Jonathan (1 Sam. 14:15-16).

 

World Physical Disturbances

 Zechariah adds that there will also be confusion between day and night (14:6-7). Isaiah speaks of the ground yawning open with chasms, and of the earth rolling like a drunken man (24:17-20 RV). Ezekiel speaks of fire associated with brimstone, that is sulphur (38:22). And Habakkuk, in a corresponding context, speaks of the manifestation of God splitting the surface of the earth and opening up new rivers, causing mountains to tremble and generating a roaring tidal wave (3:3-11).

As soon as one credits these prophecies with simply meaning what they say, they immediately combine as descriptions of the various features of a gigantic physical upheaval on the earth.

 

 

Remarkably, the recent past has seen serious natural disasters which illustrate these very points. This was especially true of the Chilean earthquake in 1960. It was reported that a tract of land 25 miles long dropped 1,000 feet, and about a dozen volcanic sites became active. The shock generated a tidal wave which sped across the Pacific at a speed up to 400 m.p.h., and which is said to have killed more people in Japan than were killed by the original earthquake in Chile.

In 1883 the island of Krakatoa, between Java and Sumatra, disappeared in a series of stupendous explosions. The sound of these was heard up to 3,000 miles away, and the dust thrown into the atmosphere produced unusual sunrise and sunset effects for several years afterwards. The aerial shock wave is said to have travelled seven times round the earth.

In 1908, a large unidentified body came down in Tunguska in Siberia. The shock waves and dust clouds produced were similar to those which occurred at the disappearance of Krakatoa. For days afterwards it was possible in towns in Russia to read in the middle of the night without illumination, because of the light scattered around the earth by the quantities of matter in the atmosphere (compare the phenomenon described in Zech. 14:6-7). An area up to 40 miles across was desolated as if by explosion from the centre.

Jesus said of the time of his return: “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity . . . For the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (Lk. 21:25-26). Doubtless this has also a figurative meaning, but many Scriptures, including those already referred to, make it evident that Jesus meant that literal earth-shaking signs were also to accompany his return.

 

Physical Disturbances in and around Israel

Zechariah says not only that the Mount of Olives will split to produce a huge valley (14:4-5)(Footnote 1), but also that the area of Jerusalem is to be elevated, making it “beautiful for situation (RV: cin elevation’), the joy of the whole earth” (Psa. 48:1-2). Further, the city will apparently be flanked, down the western side, by a valley (14:10) stretching from Geba (about five miles north of Jerusalem) to Rimmon (about 28 miles south-west).

More explicitly, a volcanic eruption is to occur in the territory east of the Arabah, that is, the prolongation of the Jordan valley south of the Dead Sea towards the Gulf of Aqaba (Isa. 34, esp. vv. 8-10 ; see also Fig. 1). Isaiah describes this in quite unmistakable language (note that this is in the area where occurred the exactly similar destruction of the cities of the plain in the days of Abraham— Gen. 19). This is the land of Edom (Esau), and the desolating eruption is a token of punishment for the perpetual hatred shown to his brother Jacob (Israel).(Footnote 2)

Zechariah states that the earthquake will release perennial springs of water from Jerusalem, which are to flow both to the eastern (“former”) and western (“hinder”) seas (14:8). Twin rivers are to issue from the sanctuary built on the transformed hill of Zion, rapidly deepening and going down to the Dead Sea and making it swarm with fish (Ezek. 47: 1-12).

 

Judgement on Egypt

As to God’s judgement on Egypt, Scripture is specific, and the events are directly related to those that happen in Israel. The great river Nile is to dry up completely (Isa. 19:5-10; cf. Ezek. 29:10 and 30:12 in context). A brief look at the geology of the area may suggest how this is to happen.

The Jordan Valley could be described as a geological freak, in which the land has dropped to form a “rift valley” between parallel systems of faults in the strata. And this formation not only extends northwards into present Turkey but also southwards as the modern Wadi Arava, to the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. It then follows approximately the line of the Red Sea, and links up with the rift valley structure of East Africa, including the Lakes Nyasa, Tanganyika, Albert, and Rudolf more recently renamed (Fig. 2). A colossal earthquake shock in Israel is sure to have associated effects elsewhere in and near the system. Looking at Fig. 1, one immediately sees that Aswan (“Syene”? Ezek. 29:10; 30:6) in Egypt, where Nasser built the High Dam with Russian finance and technology lies near to the fault. If the dam were to be destroyed some 40 cubic miles of water would sweep out westwards into the desert rather than down the Nile Valley into the Mediterranean. If this disaster occurs Egypt will be broken as an enemy to Israel.

In addition to this, Scripture says (Isa. ch. 11 in context), that God will “dry up the tongue of the Egyptian sea” (11:15). Here surely is a reference to the Gulf of Suez (Fig. 1), by allusion to the crossing of the Red Sea at the Exodus (Exo. 14). We suggest, therefore, that the earthquake may cause a buckling of the land around the northern end of the Red Sea, such that the sea coast retreats southwards and both gulfs around Sinai become dry; and the stress opens up the line of the Arabah rifts to form a new valley into which the diverted Nile then flows. Remarkably, there is an Arabic tradition that the Nile used to run out into the Red Sea, not the Mediterranean.(Footnote 3)

 

The Former and the Hinder Seas

 As for the twin rivers from Jerusalem, one of which, as both Ezekiel and Zechariah make clear, will flow to and enliven the Dead Sea, Zechariah says that half the waters will go to the “former” or eastern sea (the Dead Sea), and half to the “hinder” or western sea, and, unlike the seasonal and fickle wadis (streams of the rainy period), they will flow continuously.

The western sea is evidently the Mediterranean: “the great sea toward the going down of the sun” (Josh. 1:4). To find an outlet there, the water will have to raise the level of the Dead Sea until effectively the Jordan is sent into reverse.(Footnote 4) And then, perhaps, the Jordan would find a northern outlet to the Mediterranean by breaking into the Orontes valley (Fig. 1) in the land of Hamath, which is specified as being the future border of Israel (Ezek. 47:15-16; 48:1).

If the Nile were then also to flow northward through the newly-opened rift valley of the present Arabah, it would unite with the new waters from Jerusalem approximately at the present location of the Dead Sea. Astoundingly, there is an indication that this state of affairs existed in earlier ages: species of fish in the East African lakes (Fig. 2) are found at only one other location on the face of the earth—the Sea of Galilee. This suggests that these waters were once linked.(Footnote 5)

 

Joel, also describing these events, says that when there is the roar of the earthquake (3: 16), with Egypt a desolation (3:19, as Isa. 19), and Edom a desolate wilderness (3:19, as Isa. 34), then “a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim” (3:18). Now this valley of “acacias” (Rvm) is the valley in which Israel camped, under Joshua, before they crossed the Jordan, when, representatively, they were on the brink of resurrection and the possession of the Land. Thus it seems that the new water from Zion, flowing down through the Judaean wilderness and bringing life all the way to the Dead Sea, will there meet the waters of the redirected Nile and will raise the level of the water until it not only reverses the Jordan and finds an outlet in the north, but also flows up the Valley of Acacias east of the Jordan. If the water keeps rising up this (or any other) valley east of Jordan, it would be likely to break through the steep line of hills running north-south in Moab and Ammon, and then flow down smoothly eastwards into the Persian Gulf—called anciently “the sea of the sunrising”. Imagine water breaking through these mountains, and perceive, surely, the fulfilment of an otherwise challenging prophecy: “I will open rivers on the bare heights” (Isa. 41:18 RV). In this way the whole area of what is presently the Syrian desert would be transformed into a lush paradise—for this is Eden, in the east of which the eternal God originally fashioned a garden, or park (Persian “Pardes”; Gen. 2:8; Isa. 37:12; 41:19).

 

Blessing and Healing Waters

And what is to be the name of this never-failing watercourse flowing from Jerusalem? Surely, it is the Gihon. In ancient times only small and unpretentious, but, as representing the operation of the life-giving Truth of God to the nation, it was entirely adequate for all their needs. It was the spring at which the heir of the kingdom of David, even Solomon, was anointed (1 Kings 1:33,34,45). It fed the pool of Siloam, the waters “sent” of God (John 9). In ancient times Judah rejected the Messianic waters of Shiloah in favour of the waters of the Euphrates which represented “the King of Assyria” (Isa. 8:5-8), but in this age to come, the Messianic power of God for blessing and healing and life is fully manifested (Rev. 22:1-5), and these waters well up and burst forth, not as a quiet spring, but as a mighty, irresistible stream: “I will extend peace (shalom) to her like a river” (Isa. 66:12). Small wonder that the revealing angel demanded of Ezekiel as the prophet surveyed the rising power of the river: “Son of man, hast thou seen this?” (Ezek. 47:6). And if, as suggested, this final river is formed by confluence with the then diverted Nile, and flows north and east from the Dead Sea, here again is the Gihon, which as in former times “compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia” (Gen. 2: 13); for God purposes to bring all things back to the state of good which there was at the beginning.

Part of the Arabah (or Arava) which stretches 106 miles between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.

 

The Glory of the Millennium

Among the population that survives all these upheavals, life is greatly prolonged, and the power that healed disease when Jesus was here before is operative again, openly in all the earth (Isa. 65:17-25; 11:1-9). And the earth becomes fruitful beyond all imagining.

Suddenly, perhaps, one realises that the Scriptures are saying that, as a specific result of the earthquake and its associated upheavals, the climate will be changed. “Behold the days come”, says Amos (the prophet of the earthquake), “that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt” (with general abundance—Amos 9:13 in context; cf. Jer. 31). And David, in a Psalm so often used to expound the future glory, says that there will then be a handful of corn (that is “by the handful”, “abundance” RV) upon the top of the mountains, so that places now barren will then be heavy with grain (Psa. 72:16).

All the prophets speak of these things with a beauty and power beyond the wit of man to counterfeit. This is the true Christian hope: the glory of the Kingdom of God, and the transformation of the earth. This is the hope, believed in by the patriarchs, pointed to by the prophets, confirmed in the bond of an everlasting covenant by the sin-covering death of the Son of God, and proclaimed to all the earth with irrepressible joy by the apostles: “That denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the Glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:11-14 RV). How could anyone fail to respond to the greatness of such goodness? Let alone trade it for anything else.

Hallelu-Yah !

 

FOOTNOTES

1. There is geological evidence in the Mount of Olives of a fault, discovered in 1927.

2. Cf. Obad. Esp. v. 10, and Ezek. 35:5-6.

3. This point was made by H. Sulley in the last section of The Temple of Ezekiel’s Prophecy.

4. Remarkably again, the Arabs also have a tradition that the Jordan used to flow in a south-north direction. Cf. Sulley’s book again.

5. Earlier editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica contain this information, and R. Cheshire (Heckmondwike) confirms that it is a common belief among people living around the East African lakes.




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