Each year as the fall festival season arrives I am reminded of the greatest story rarely told.
Something begins prior to the Seven Trumpets that is more important to the success of the Millennium than all but a few events. This is a story well worth telling. We view the greatest events of this period as the return of Jesus Christ, the First Resurrection and the coming universal availability of the Holy Spirit—but these are stories we tell often. So, what is the story rarely told?
It is the story of the captivity. Maybe we skip over it because it begins before the Day of Trumpets, or because it doesn’t fit into the joyfulness of the Feast of Tabernacles, but it’s a story that needs to be told.
The story reminds me of “Groundhog Day,” a movie about a self-centered, opportunistic TV weatherman who becomes caught up in an endless time loop, waking up every morning at 6:00 a.m. to relive Groundhog Day until a drastic change occurs in his character. Israel has been living in its own Groundhog Day since the Exodus.
In Exodus 19:6 Exodus 19:6And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.
American King James Version×, God assigned Israel the task of being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Yet the physical nation of Israel has consistently not lived up to this commission. First it flunked the assignment as a unified nation. Then the House of Israel flunked it. Later the House of Judah flunked it. The Jews who returned from captivity flunked it and today modern-day Israel is flunking it—a perfect record. God designed the coming captivity to bring about an end to Israel’s Groundhog Day and its perfect string of failures.
When you understand the story of the captivity, you come to see that God has never abandoned His goal for Israel. God still wants what He wanted in the wilderness and He won’t quit until He gets it—a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
The story has a tragic beginning but ends as the most beautiful human drama of all times. It starts when God’s longsuffering ends and He calls once more for the captivity of His people. The account is found in multiple locations and speaks of a time when one-third of modern-day Israel will die by famine and disease, one-third will die of warfare and one-third will go into captivity. God will reserve to Himself a tithe of the people but it appears that even these He will further refine (Zechariah 13:8-9 Zechariah 13:8-9 8 And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, said the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein.
9 And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.
American King James Version×; Ezekiel 5:1-4 Ezekiel 5:1-4 1 And you, son of man, take you a sharp knife, take you a barber’s razor, and cause it to pass on your head and on your beard: then take you balances to weigh, and divide the hair. 2 You shall burn with fire a third part in the middle of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled: and you shall take a third part, and smite about it with a knife: and a third part you shall scatter in the wind; and I will draw out a sword after them. 3 You shall also take thereof a few in number, and bind them in your skirts. 4 Then take of them again, and cast them into the middle of the fire, and burn them in the fire; for thereof shall a fire come forth into all the house of Israel.
American King James Version×; Ezekiel 5:12-13 Ezekiel 5:12-13 12 A third part of you shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the middle of you: and a third part shall fall by the sword round about you; and I will scatter a third part into all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them. 13 Thus shall my anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest on them, and I will be comforted: and they shall know that I the LORD have spoken it in my zeal, when I have accomplished my fury in them.
American King James Version×; Amos 5:3 Amos 5:3For thus said the Lord GOD; The city that went out by a thousand shall leave an hundred, and that which went forth by an hundred shall leave ten, to the house of Israel.
American King James Version×; Isaiah 6:10-13 Isaiah 6:10-13 10 Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. 11 Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, 12 And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the middle of the land. 13 But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.
American King James Version×). The captivity will be the refining crucible in which God makes the determination of who will populate millennial Israel. He will work with the precision of a harvester sifting grain and promises that not one grain will fall to the ground unaccounted for (Amos 9:8-10 Amos 9:8-10 8 Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, said the LORD. 9 For, see, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall on the earth. 10 All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, which say, The evil shall not overtake nor prevent us.
American King James Version×).
When the sorting is completed, God will mercifully deliver the captives in such a dramatic fashion that it will pale nearly into insignificance the miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Jeremiah 16:14-15 Jeremiah 16:14-15 14 Therefore, behold, the days come, said the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD lives, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;
15 But, The LORD lives, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands where he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave to their fathers.
American King James Version×; Jeremiah 23:7-8 Jeremiah 23:7-8 7 Therefore, behold, the days come, said the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD lives, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; 8 But, The LORD lives, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries where I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.
American King James Version×). While the deliverance is spectacular, even more significant will be the change of the hearts and minds of the returnees.
Israel’s deliverance will be a time of relief, joy and tears—tears expressing the widest range of emotions—tears of shame and humility for what they have done, tears of awareness of how unworthy they are to be returning and tears of joy to be free and going to a place of permanent safety and peace. Their tears express an attitude critical to the success of a mission Israel has flunked repeatedly—tears of total repentance (Hosea 5:14-15 Hosea 5:14-15 14 For I will be to Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him.
15 I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offense, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.
American King James Version×; Ezekiel 20:42-44 Ezekiel 20:42-44 42 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up my hand to give it to your fathers. 43 And there shall you remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein you have been defiled; and you shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that you have committed. 44 And you shall know that I am the LORD when I have worked with you for my name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O you house of Israel, said the Lord GOD.
American King James Version×; Jeremiah 31:8-9 Jeremiah 31:8-9 8 Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travails with child together: a great company shall return thither. 9 They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
American King James Version×, 18-20; 50:4-5; Zephaniah 3:11-12 Zephaniah 3:11-12 11 In that day shall you not be ashamed for all your doings, wherein you have transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of the middle of you them that rejoice in your pride, and you shall no more be haughty because of my holy mountain. 12 I will also leave in the middle of you an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD.
American King James Version×).
Amidst all that is happening, this critical element is often overlooked. God once more will perform a final sorting of the people just as He did when the spies returned from searching out the Promised Land and He will exclude all the stubborn, faithless and unrepentant (Ezekiel 20:33-38 Ezekiel 20:33-38 33 As I live, said the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you:
34 And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein you are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out.
35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face.
36 Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, said the Lord GOD.
37 And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant:
38 And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and you shall know that I am the LORD.
American King James Version×). None but the fully repentant, humbled and willing to follow God will be returning and at that point God will provide them the same help He has given us—His Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-33 Jeremiah 31:31-33 31 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband to them, said the LORD: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
American King James Version×; Ezekiel 39:25-29 Ezekiel 39:25-29 25 Therefore thus said the Lord GOD; Now will I bring again the captivity of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and will be jealous for my holy name; 26 After that they have borne their shame, and all their trespasses whereby they have trespassed against me, when they dwelled safely in their land, and none made them afraid. 27 When I have brought them again from the people, and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations; 28 Then shall they know that I am the LORD their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them to their own land, and have left none of them any more there. 29 Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I have poured out my spirit on the house of Israel, said the Lord GOD.
American King James Version×; Hebrews 8:7-10 Hebrews 8:7-10 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. 8 For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: 9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, said the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
American King James Version×). Can you grasp the impact of all this? Returning from captivity will be a people filled with first love—fully contrite and humble, willing to learn—in fact, eager to learn. Into their hearts and minds God will pour His Holy Spirit, converting the returning remnant of people.
Have you ever witnessed first love? Have you ever watched it at work? It is alive, relentless and it can’t help but share what it knows and feels. The love of God shown by those returning from captivity will be infectious, eventually influencing the whole world.
God will finally accomplish what He has always wanted to accomplish—to have a people model loyalty, commitment and the love of God to the whole world, demonstrating everything God stands for in the way they talk, think and live (Deuteronomy 4:1-8 Deuteronomy 4:1-8 1 Now therefore listen, O Israel, to the statutes and to the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers gives you.
2 You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
3 Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD your God has destroyed them from among you.
4 But you that did join to the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day.
5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do so in the land where you go to possess it.
6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
7 For what nation is there so great, who has God so near to them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call on him for?
8 And what nation is there so great, that has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
American King James Version×; Isaiah 61:4-6 Isaiah 61:4-6 4 And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. 5 And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. 6 But you shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: you shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall you boast yourselves.
American King James Version×; Zechariah 8:20-23 Zechariah 8:20-23 20 Thus said the LORD of hosts; It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: 21 And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts: I will go also. 22 Yes, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD. 23 Thus said the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.
American King James Version×).
This is the greatest story rarely told—a story of profound sorrow, total refinement and true conversion, leading to a people who will serve God as a kingdom of priests, a holy nation and a light to all the world.