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The Rise and Fall of Ancient Israel

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One of God's most remarkable claims is found in Isaiah 46:9-10 Isaiah 46:9-10 9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 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:
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: “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand …'” (emphasis added throughout).

Here God not only says that He can reveal the future; He also claims the power to bring it to pass!

God's promises to Abraham, while astounding in their magnitude, nevertheless started small—with the promise of a son, Isaac, to be born to him and Sarah (Genesis 17:19-21 Genesis 17:19-21 19 And God said, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son indeed; and you shall call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear to you at this set time in the next year.
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; 21:1-3). Isaac, in turn, had two sons, Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:19-26 Genesis 25:19-26 19 And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham begat Isaac: 20 And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian. 21 And Isaac entreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. 24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. 26 And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was three score years old when she bore them.
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). Jacob had 12 sons, from whom the 12 tribes of Israel are descended.

Prophesied birth of a nation

image But long before this, before Abraham even had a son at all, God revealed to Abraham the fact that his descendants would go through one of the most remarkable “birth processes” a people could go through—they would be enslaved in a foreign land before emerging as a nation.

We find this prophesied in Genesis 15:13-14 Genesis 15:13-14 13 And he said to Abram, Know of a surety that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not their’s, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
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: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.”

This is referring, of course, to the Exodus. The remarkable chain of circumstances leading to the fulfillment of this prophecy is spelled out in Genesis 37-50 and Exodus 1-14.

While the Exodus itself is one of the Bible's best-known stories, the events that led up to it aren't so well understood. In brief, Jacob's favorite of his 12 sons, Joseph, was sold as a slave by his jealous brothers and ended up in Egypt (Genesis 37). There, through a series of events and God's blessings, Joseph thrived and amazingly rose to the highest position in the Egyptian government under the pharaoh (chapters 39-41).

When a famine struck the region, Joseph's family migrated to Egypt, which, thanks to Joseph's foresight, had stored enough grain to survive the famine (chapters 42-47). Joseph recognized that God had been behind all these events and that things had worked out this way so that his family would be spared and God's prophecies fulfilled (Genesis 50:19-20 Genesis 50:19-20 19 And Joseph said to them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it to good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
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The 12 sons of Jacob—progenitors of the tribes of Israel—thrived in Egypt (Exodus 1:1-7 Exodus 1:1-7 1 Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob. 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan, and Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. 5 And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already. 6 And Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation. 7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.
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). But then “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (verse 8). The new pharaoh, feeling threatened by the growing number of Israelites, enslaved them and “made their lives bitter with hard bondage” (verse 14).

God called the son of two of these Hebrew slaves, Moses, who through miraculous circumstances had himself been a prince of Egypt but was later a fugitive, to lead Israel out of their enslavement. “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” He announced to Moses (Exodus 3:6 Exodus 3:6Moreover he said, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look on God.
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God then followed with a remarkable prophecy of what He intended to do with Moses and his countrymen: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey … Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (verses 7-10).

What God proposed to do was stunning —to deliver a people from enslavement at the hands of the greatest superpower of their day! The following chapters— covering the 10 plagues and the awesome parting of the Red Sea—show how God indeed miraculously delivered the Israelites, even down to the detail of fulfilling His promise to Abraham that “they shall come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:14 Genesis 15:14And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
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; compare Exodus 11:2 Exodus 11:2Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbor, and every woman of her neighbor, jewels of silver and jewels of gold.
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; 12:35-36).

Israelites in the Promised Land

Following Israel's miraculous deliverance from Egypt came the periods of the 40 years in the wilderness, the conquest of the Promised Land and the period of the Israelite judges. Many specific minor prophecies were given and fulfilled during this time as recorded in the biblical books of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges.

When we come to the establishment of the Israelite monarchy, we find that the dynasty of Israel's most famous king, David, had been prophesied to arise from the tribe of Judah centuries before, while the Israelites were still in Egypt (Genesis 49:8 Genesis 49:8Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise: your hand shall be in the neck of your enemies; your father’s children shall bow down before you.
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, 10). Like many prophecies, this was dual—meaning it had more than one intended meaning or fulfillment—in that it also foretold that the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, would come from the tribe of Judah (compare Hebrews 7:14 Hebrews 7:14For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.
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Because of space limitations we won't go into the dozens of specific prophecies that were given and fulfilled during the several centuries that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah existed, but will touch on only the most significant.

After righteous King David's passing, his son Solomon ascended the throne. Solomon had it all—a powerful kingdom he inherited from his father, humility, and wisdom and wealth granted to him by God (1 Kings 3:11-13 1 Kings 3:11-13 11 And God said to him, Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked for yourself long life; neither have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies; but have asked for yourself understanding to discern judgment; 12 Behold, I have done according to your words: see, I have given you a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like you before you, neither after you shall any arise like to you. 13 And I have also given you that which you have not asked, both riches, and honor: so that there shall not be any among the kings like to you all your days.
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). Under his reign the kingdom of the combined tribes of Israel grew even more powerful, dominating the region.

But, regrettably, while Solomon knew what he should do, he lacked the personal character and conviction to carry it out. His heart was turned from serving the one true God to serving the pagan gods and idols of the lands around him (1 Kings 11:4-8 1 Kings 11:4-8 4 For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. 7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. 8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed to their gods.
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The kingdom divides

image Solomon's ill-chosen path set the kingdom on a road from which there would be no recovery. Because of Solomon's sins, God announced that He would tear the kingdom away from him and give it to one of Solomon's subjects (verses 11-13). Indeed, most of the kingdom would split away to follow a rival; only a minority would remain to follow Solomon's son and the kings of David's line.

This prophecy was fulfilled a few years later at Solomon's death when most of the tribes broke away to follow Jeroboam, leader of the northern kingdom, Israel. The rest remained with Solomon's successor, Rehoboam, leader of the southern kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 10-11). The two kingdoms would become rivals—and sometimes enemies—for the next two centuries.

Most people assume that the Jews and Israelites are one and the same. But this is clearly not true. Any look at history and these relevant Bible chapters shows they were two separate kingdoms, the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah (from which the term Jew is derived). As an interesting historical note, the first time the word Jews appears in the Bible, it is in 2 Kings 16:5-6 2 Kings 16:5-6 5 Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him. 6 At that time Rezin king of Syria recovered Elath to Syria, and drove the Jews from Elath: and the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelled there to this day.
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(King James Version) where Israel is allied with another king and at war with the Jews.

Israel's first king, Jeroboam, quickly established a pattern of idolatry and syncretism (mixing elements of true and false worship) from which the northern kingdom would never depart (1 Kings 12:26-33 1 Kings 12:26-33 26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: 27 If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. 28 Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said to them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt. 29 And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. 30 And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even to Dan. 31 And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi. 32 And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like to the feast that is in Judah, and he offered on the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. 33 So he offered on the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast to the children of Israel: and he offered on the altar, and burnt incense.
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). God sent many prophets to warn the Israelite kings of the destruction that would come their way if they didn't return to Him.

The first of these was Ahijah, who gave this warning to Jeroboam's wife: “For the LORD will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water. He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the River …” (1 Kings 14:15 1 Kings 14:15For the LORD shall smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water, and he shall root up Israel out of this good land, which he gave to their fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the river, because they have made their groves, provoking the LORD to anger.
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This was a clear pronouncement of the northern kingdom's fate if they wouldn't repent—they would be taken captive “beyond the River” (the Euphrates) at the hands of the coming Assyrian Empire.

Many other prophets followed, repeating God's warnings to the Israelites and their kings, pleading with them to repent lest they suffer that awful fate. Among these prophets were Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah, whose messages are recorded for us in the biblical books that bear their names.

But the messages of these prophets went unheeded. Finally, in 722 B.C., after a series of attacks, invasions and deportations, the northern kingdom was crushed and its people carried away into captivity at the hands of the Assyrians—“beyond the River” as God had warned their first king two centuries earlier.

Judah follows in Israel's footsteps

The story of Judah, the southern kingdom, is somewhat different though equally tragic. Both kingdoms quickly abandoned the true God and sank into moral and spiritual depravity. While the northern kingdom never once had a righteous king, Judah at least had a handful who turned to God and instituted religious reforms aimed at turning the people to proper worship of the true God.

These righteous kings were somewhat successful, at least for a while. As a result, the kingdom of Judah outlasted its northern neighbor by more than a century. Yet eventually those in Judah, too, would pay a heavy price for rejecting their Creator.

image They should have learned a lesson from the captivity of the 10 northern tribes, especially since some of the same Assyrian invasions devastated much of Judah. In Hezekiah's day virtually all of Judah except for its capital, Jerusalem, was conquered by the Assyrians—and Jerusalem, too, would have fallen had God not supernaturally delivered the city (2 Kings 18-19).

The prophet Isaiah, speaking to Hezekiah, was the first to reveal the specific enemy that would subjugate Judah if they, too, refused to change: “… 'Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,' says the LORD. 'And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon'” (2 Kings 20:16-18 2 Kings 20:16-18 16 And Isaiah said to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD. 17 Behold, the days come, that all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have laid up in store to this day, shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, said the LORD. 18 And of your sons that shall issue from you, which you shall beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.
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God sent many other prophets—including Micah, Zephaniah, Habakkuk and Jeremiah—to warn Judah, but to no avail. As the Assyrians vanquished the Israelites in several waves of invasions and deportations, so the Babylonians took away the Jews in several deportations before and after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Many details of the biblical accounts of the downfalls of Israel and Judah are confirmed by Assyrian and Babylonian records from the time, demonstrating again the accuracy of the biblical record.

Judah's exile and return

The outcome of Judah's exile, however, was far different from that of the northern kingdom. Israel was deported to the far reaches of the Assyrian Empire and its people lost their national and ethnic identity (for more details and to understand who they are today, request or download our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy ). But God gave Judah an encouraging promise through this prophecy from Jeremiah:

“For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity …” (Jeremiah 29:10-14 Jeremiah 29:10-14 10 For thus said the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, said the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. 12 Then shall you call on me, and you shall go and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart. 14 And I will be found of you, said the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places where I have driven you, said the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place from where I caused you to be carried away captive.
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Here, too, we find a remarkable prophecy that was fulfilled to the letter. This 70-year period appears to have begun with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon's temple—the center of Jewish worship—in 586 B.C. and to have concluded with the completion of a new Jerusalem temple in 516 B.C. The biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the return of many of the Jewish exiles from Babylon.

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