Ancient Hebrew Stories
God exists. The soul survives death. And the wisest man who ever lived told us what to do with our lives. What more can be said? Quite a bit, say the ancient Hebrews. According to them, we have barely begun to scratch the surface. They tell us that their race has been favored with a number of special revelations. Those special revelations, they claim, bring a unique Jewish insight into the relationship between God and man.
What have we got here? Old wives’ tales? Myths? Legends? Jewish superstitions? Or could it be, there’s more to it than that?
Down through the centuries, many people, both gentiles and Jews alike, have agreed with the ancient Hebrews. They believed God has, for one reason or another, given the Jews certain “inside information.” Educated as well as uneducated people, intelligent as well as unintelligent people, and rational as well as irrational people have held this view.
Quite a few suffered and died for these beliefs. No one is willing to suffer and die for views they hold lightly. Since we know that to be the case, let’s take a closer look at what these ancient Hebrews have to say.
Fall of Man
One of the earliest stories tells about the fall of man. Here is the story: Disposable humans were not a part of God’s plan. The first people were designed as immortals. God granted them supreme authority on earth. They ruled over animals, plants, and everything else they found in their domain. God provided them with an ideal environment and satisfied all their needs. God, man, and nature lived in harmony. But it was not to last.
God didn’t want automatons. What would be the point? He wanted living, breathing, thinking beings who would obey him of their own free will. Of course, he knew he was taking a chance. Allowing them independent minds, they might rebel against him. And rebel they did.
A single act of defiance threw everything out of kilter. The close relationship between God and man broke down. Immortality was lost; everyone lived under a sentence of death. Nature turned against man producing thorns, thistles, and poison ivy. Animals turned to preying upon each other and upon man too when given a chance. Man was reduced to hard labor for his food. Woman suffered birth pains. Envy, jealousy, hate, murder, and a host of other problems soon beset mankind.
God’s Plan of Redemption
Those independent thinking humans quickly proved to be disloyal, ungrateful, and hardheaded. In site of that, God didn’t give up on them. He went to work steering, or attempting to steer humanity back on the right course. What did God do?
“He selected one particular people and spent centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and that He cared about right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
Over the centuries a number of Hebrew prophets arose claiming they were inspired by God. Were they just a bunch of religious fanatics with vivid imaginations and a taste for the limelight? When you read their stories, that is not the impression you come away with. In fact, you get the idea that running around telling people they are wrong and God is “going to get them” was not considered a plum job.
Moses wanted no part of it. He begged God to choose someone else. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, was timid by nature. He didn’t want the job. Jonah ran away and hid, trying to avoid making his prophecy. Elijah not only ran, he even asked God to kill him so he wouldn’t have to continue his prophesying. These men weren’t looking for fame and fortune. They would have much rather that God just leave them alone.
Perhaps you are wondering, just how good were these sometime reluctant prophets at predicting the future. You may be surprised. They were pretty good at it.
Suppose, just suppose for a moment, that around the middle of the eighteenth century, Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Poor Richards’ Almanac: “Eisenhower will liberate Europe.” What would Franklin’s readers think of that? Certainly, they would find it curious. “Who’s this Eisenhower?” they would ask.
Good question too. The man would not be born for another hundred years. Then he wouldn’t come to the public’s attention for another fifty years or so. And, why would Europe need liberating anyway? Europe during Franklin’s day was as free, probably more free, than any other place in the civilized world. That being the case, Franklin’s hypothetical prediction would stand out as a double oddity for well over a century and a half.
Then dramatic events begin to unravel. In the 1930’s and 40’s, Hitler’s military juggernaut rolls over Europe conquering the continent. Britain barely manages to hold on. Then it happens. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, leads the multi-national 1944 invasion liberating Europe form the Nazis.
What had been a long standing curiosity, suddenly becomes an amazingly accurate prophecy. How could Benjamin Franklin have known what would happen some two hundred years later? A lucky guess? No, it’s too detailed to have been a guess.
Had Benjamin Franklin actually made that prediction in 1750, we would still be talking about it today. A prophecy that exact and that correct would be remembered for centuries to come. However, if we go back to 700 B.C., we discover a prediction ever bit as curious as the one I devised for Franklin.
The prophet’s name is Isaiah and his prophecy was: “Cyrus will permit Jerusalem to be rebuilt, and the temple foundation laid.” As you can well imagine, the people of Isaiah’s day found the prediction a bit odd.
“Who’s this Cyrus” they asked. Good question too. The man would not be born for another hundred years. Then he wouldn’t come to the Jewish public attention for another fifty years or so. And, why does Jerusalem need to be rebuilt and the temple foundations laid?
Jerusalem, during Isaiah’s lifetime, was already there. And the temple, built by Solomon, was still standing. Both Jerusalem and the temple would remain intact for over one hundred years after Isaiah uttered his prediction. That being the case, Isaiah’s prophecy stood as a double oddity for well over a century. Then events begin to take place.
Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. He carried off Judah’s King Jehoiachin and a number of the city’s leading citizen’s into exile. In 586 B.C., the Babylonian king returned and destroyed both Jerusalem and the temple.
Cyrus II came to the Persian throne in 558 B.C. Nineteen years later, he took Babylon on October 13, 539 B.C. In his first year, 538 B.C., Cyrus issued a decree permitting the Jews to return from exile and reconstruct the Jerusalem temple.
What had been a long standing curiosity, became an amazingly accurate prophecy. How could Isaiah have known what would happen some 160 years later? A lucky guess? No, it’s too detailed to have been a guess. Isaiah must have been privy to certain “inside information.” Something or someone gave him the message: “Cyrus would order Jerusalem to be rebuilt and the temple foundation laid.” The prophet isn’t secretive about his source. He informs us: “This is what the Lord says.”
A written prophecy that becomes history 160 years later should make us sit up and take notice. That is something out of the ordinary. But is this an isolated case? No. A number of Hebrew prophets demonstrated the same uncanny ability to look into the future and predict what will happen. Some of the most profound prophecies were long range predictions for nations and their people.
Prophecies for Cities, Nations, and Peoples
Obadiah (probably 8th century B.C.), speaking of Edom, says flatly, “There will be no survivors from the house of Esau.” Zephaniah (640 – 609 B.C.) tells us “Moah will become like Sodom, Ammon will become like Gomorrah. That is a poetic way of saying, both nations will be completely destroyed. Zephaniah discarded the poetic touch when it came to Philistine. Quoting God, he says: “I will destroy you and none will be left.” That’s about as plain as you can get.
What do we know about these ancient civilizations? Quite a bit. Let’s start with Edom. Beginning with Joel in the 9th century B.C., seven Hebrew prophets announced Edom’s doom. Edom was a long mountainous strip about one hundred miles long and twenty miles wide with mountain peaks as high as 5,700 feet.
They were related to the Jews. They could trace their heritage back to Isaac by way of Esau, whereas the Hebrews descended through Esau’s brother, Jacob. Despite their common heritage, Edomites were constant enemies of the Hebrews. Consequently, prophet after prophet saw nothing but disaster for Edom.
Given so much prophetic attention, how did history treat the Edomites? They didn’t fare too well. Between 550 and 400 B.C., Nabatean Arabs gradually forced the Edomites from their homeland. During the Maccabean period, around 120 B.C., John Hyrcanus and Simon of Gerasa attacked and conquered Edom. The providence was renamed Idumaca, and they were subjected to Judaism. About the time of the fall of Jerusalem, A.D. 70, Edomites disappear as a separate people. And seven Jewish prophets were proved right.
To the north of Edom, bordering the Salt (or Dead) Sea, lies Moah. Moabites descended from Lot, nephew of Abraham. So they were also relatives of the Hebrews. And they too were condemned by the Hebrew prophets. Amos said Moah will be destroyed for desecrating the bones of the king of Edom. And Zephaniah, as we mentioned before, prophesied that Moab would become like Sodom.
Moab was subdued by Nebuchadnezzar. Later Persians controlled it, then various Arab groups dominated Moab. The Moabites ceased to be a nation although they were still known as a race during the post-exile period. Alexander Jannaeus defeated them in the second century B.C.
To Israel’s east lay Ammon. The Ammonites descended from Lot’s younger daughter. So they are closely related to the Moabites and more distantly to the Hebrews. To extend their borders further west, they went to war with Israel.
On one occasion, the Ammonites threatened to gouge out the right eye of everyone living in Jabesh Gilead. Only King Saul’s quick action prevented the Ammonites from carrying out their threat. Another sore point was when Israel requested their help, Ammon refused.
In general, these people opposed the Jews whenever the opportunity arose. Both Ezekiel and Zephaniah predicted their complete destruction. Their last stand appears to have been against Judas Maccabeus 166 – 160 B.C. Judas won, and nothing more is recorded about the Ammonites.
The Philistines lived along a small area on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. They weren’t Semites. They came from Caphtor which may have been Crete or the islands of the Aegean. Joel, between 840 and 830 B.C., warned the Philistines that what they did to Israel would be done to them.
They had stolen the Hebrews’ gold, silver, and treasures. Worse than that, Philistines sold Jews as slaves to the Greeks. Amos, between 760 – 750 B.C., predicted the Philistines would be completely annihilated. A century later, Zephaniah said a remnant of Judah will inherit their land.
Here is how history has dealt with the Philistines. In his 734 to 732 B.C. campaign, Tiglath-pileser of Assyria defeated the Philistine cities of Ashkelon and Gaza. All of Philistine was bought under Assyrian rule. Then in 711 B.C., the Philistine people revolted against paying Assyria any further tribute. Sargon III put down the revolt with a vengeance.
Trouble continued for the Philistines. About 630 B.C., Scythians broke out of Caucasus and invaded the fertile crescent. They plundered the temple at Ashkelon and dominated the area for twenty-eight years. Later, Chaldeans destroyed Philistine. Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs have all claimed the territory at one time or another after the demise of the Neo-Babylonia empire. Today, what was once Philistine cities are a part of Israel. Philistine is no longer with us.
Those once strong, vigorous nations have long since become completely destroyed or absorbed into some other group. Today no distinct Edomite, Ammonite, Moabite, or Philistine exists. Not a trace of them can be identified in modern populations. Obadiah, and Zephaniah’s chilling predictions have become indisputable facts of history. Now contrast those dismal prophecies for Edom, Moab, Ammon, and Philistine to the reassuring long range forecast for Israel.
Abram (Abraham) moved to Canaan in 2091 B.C. The Lord said to Abram, “Look around you, north, south, east, and west. All the land you see I will give to you and your descendents forever.” (Genesis 13:14-15) About 1,335 years later, Amos adds his prophecy. Quoting God: “I will bring back my exiled people Israel, they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them . . .” (Amos 9:14) “I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:15)
So what does history tell us about the Jews? Between 597 and 586 B.C., Judah and Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. Some were killed and many of the more affluent were carted off into exile. Compliments of Cyrus and later Persian rulers, Jewish exiles were allowed to return between 537 and 445 B.C. They stayed in their restored homeland for the next 515 years.
Then in A.D. 70, Titus and his Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem scattering what was left of the Jews. Dispersed throughout the world, Jews somehow clung onto their distinct ethnic identity for the next 1,878 years.
May 14, 1948, the Jewish sate of Israel was reborn. Jews from practically every nation on earth returned to their homeland. They haven’t stopped yet. Although vastly outnumbered, they beat back their Arab foes in the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Holy-Day War.
As Amos predicted 2,750 years ago, the remnant of Israel is still with us. Once again, Jews live in their own land – the same land God promised Abram and his descendants over four thousand years ago. Against all odds, Amos’ prophecy came true a second time.
Man cannot look into the future. No one knows what is going to happen tomorrow, much less what will occur hundreds of years from now. That’s just plain common sense. Be that as it may, solid evidence convinces us that several ancient Hebrews did have insight into the future.
They told us what was to become of specific cities, nations, and peoples. Occasionally, one of these prophets would name names and give timetables for future events. What they said would happen, did happen, just as they said it would. They told the truth. None of these prophets took credit for their predictions. To a man, each prophet claimed God as his source. Apparently, God has no difficulty communicating with man when he chooses to do so.