In yesterday’s post, “Joshua 21:43-45 and the Promise of Land,” I concluded with a question about how Deuteronomy 30:1-10 is interpreted by those who see no future fulfillment of the land promise given to the nation of Israel. More specifically, I asked how and when the promise of Deuteronomy 30 will be fulfilled. In response, Expository Thoughts reader Joe asked the question: “Was Israel not restored to the land after the Babylonian captivity?” In other words, weren’t the promises of restoration to the land fulfilled prior to the close of the OT, and isn’t it therefore futile to await a future restoration of Israel to the land?
The simple answer to Joe’s question is that yes, some of the Jews did indeed return to the land after the Babylonian captivity, specifically under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. At the same time, however, none of these three returns to the land constituted a fulfillment of the restoration promises found throughout the Old Testament. As I have written elsewhere, I say this for ten reasons:
1. Several of the restoration promises speak of the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) being reunited with the two tribes of the Southern Kingdom (Judah), and this simply did not occur under the previous returns from exile (Isa 11:11-12; Jer 3:18; 23:5-6; 31:27: Ezek 37:21-22; Hosea 1:11; Zech 10:6).
2. Several of the restoration promises speak of the spiritual renewal and wholehearted obedience of the nation, and this cannot be reconciled with the sinful state of the nation during the previous returns (Deut 30:1-3, 6; Jer 3:17; 24:7; 32:38-40; Ezek 11:19-20; 36:26-27).
3. Scripture indicates that when the nation of Israel is restored, her land will be renewed and her cities will be rebuilt, and this did not happen during the previous returns (Ezek 36:29-30, 33-36a).
4. According to some of the restoration promises, the return of Israel will be so astounding that it will eclipse and overshadow the exodus out of Egypt and make it seem small in comparison, and such was clearly not the case with the previous returns (Jer 16:14-15; 23:5-8).
5. The prophet Zechariah held out the promise of restoration to the land even after the returns under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah (Zech 8:4-8; 10:8-10; 14:1-21).
6. Several passages indicate that, at the time of the promised return to the land, the Jews will be as numerous as they were prior to the exile. In contrast, the population of the post-exilic period was small (Ezek 36:37b-38a; Jer 33:22; Zech 10:8).
7. Scripture indicates that Yahweh will destroy the nations to which He has scattered the Jews at the time that He restores the nation of Israel, but this did not happen in the previous returns (Jer 30:10-11; 46:28).
8. In key OT passages, the promised return to the land is presented as an integral part of the New Covenant, which was not inaugurated until Christ’s first coming (Jer 31:27-40; Ezek 36:24-36).
9. The OT is clear that once God restores the Jews to their land, they will not be uprooted again from their everlasting possession (Amos 9:15: Jer 23:5-6; Ezek 34:28; 37:25).
10. The Bible teaches that God’s ultimate purpose for the promised return is the vindication of His name among the nations (Ezek 36:16-38), and this purpose was not met in the previous returns.