Prophecy: To be or not to be

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Art by Elhanan

With all the turmoil and uncertainty currently on the face of our planet, especially that churning around the Land of Israel and Jerusalem in particular, there is much discussion, speculation, and even divisions among believers occurring regarding the possible prophetic significance of these events. 

There are many Bible believers that sense that the current negotiation over the Land of Israel is not merely another real estate transaction, but is highly significant regarding the scenarios we see written in the prophecies of the Bible, and the final unfolding of events and the coming of Messiah. There are some sincere souls who have mapped out exactly what they believe are the inevitable near-future sequence of events, and some who have even set their clocks by them. I would like here not so much to take a look at those possible scenarios, but at the nature of biblical prophecy, and the heart of God in prophetic utterance.

One aspect of prophecy is the divine warning of the consequences of unlawful, ungodly behavior: that which will surely come to pass if that behavior continues unchanged. Within that warning is the implication, arising from the heart and nature of God, that He would have the object of that prophetic utterance turn around, repent, change behavior in order that the negative consequences will not follow. I say arising from the heart of God in that we see written, “Say to them, as I live, declares YHVH God,  I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11; 18:23; 18:32).

And to complement that revelation, we hear from the mouth of the Messiah, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). God takes pleasure in sharing the goodness of His kingdom with His obedient children, and takes no pleasure in punishing the wicked and disobedient.

We often see in prophecy the consequences of un-repentance described in full detail, as if it has already happened before our eyes. And yet it could be a mistake to assume, considering the heart of God our Father, that the picture of catastrophe painted is inevitable in its coming to pass. Though it is pronounced with certainty from the Lord Himself, we see occasions that God, in the face of sincere intercession, or repentance, in effect changes His mind. 

A classic example is the commission by God of Jonah to the Ninevites, for him to declare the destruction of that great city in a matter of three days.  But the open repentance of the king and the people of Nineveh after hearing the prophecy turned the hand of events entirely (even to the prophet’s dismay). 

Another occasion is the prophecy of Isaiah (a bona fide prophet of God) to King Hezekiah that the king would surely soon die (and surely God is the one to know that for certain). But the king’s tears and discussion with God actually changed the course of events to where a second prophecy was immediately given, and Hezekiah was given another fifteen years to live (Isaiah 38). We see also the case where the Lord declared to

Moses that He would surely wipe Israel off the map for their      transgressions, but the sincere intercession of Moses to God for the people of Israel stayed the wrath and changed the mind of God and the history of the world (Exodus 32:10-14,32).

Another important example worth considering is in the Prophet Joel chapter 2, which describes in frightening and vivid detail the “Day of YHVH,” “a day of darkness and gloom,” which begins with, “Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on my holy mountain!” The prophet is to write the decree of the Lord and sound the alarm. In the midst of what seems to be the chilling portrayal of the outpouring of destruction from the Lord come these words, “Yet even now, declares YHVH, return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning, and rend your heart and not your garments” (an opening and changing of the heart, and not religious ceremonies), and the Lord will be “relenting of the evil”, and will “leave a blessing behind Him”. Then follows a call for a second trumpet to be blown in consecrating a fast of repentance, and then He will “remove the northern army far from you” and destroy it,  rather than it destroying them.

So it would appear that part of the unfolding of prophecy is somewhat in our hands, as we are informed in the Torah which states, “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants” (Deuteronomy 30:19). 

The same dynamic precedes the Torah, in the very Garden of Eden, in the choice given between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And certainly in the choice given us to accept or reject the King Messiah.

As to the good promises of God, in the first chapter of Deuteronomy in the second verse we read that it is an eleven days’ journey from Horev to Kadesh-barnea, but that it took instead forty years for the children of Israel to finally arrive there to the Promised Land. Their poor choices and disobedience delayed the fulfillment of the promise, but the good promise would surely be fulfilled, even if it was by the longer, harder route.

We see that God lives, and is not a machine fixed on iron tracks, whose heart hears our prayers and intercessions, and would that all men would turn and be saved (though there may be a point of no return). 

Last week I stood in Samaria looking across the green hills from a Jewish town, gazing across hostile Arab villages out toward the two biblical mountains of Eval and Gerizim, upon which those blessings and cursings of Deuteronomy were pronounced by the Tribes of Israel under Joshua. And I thought of those words in Joel and prayed for us all that we would, especially as we seem to be nearing the circumstances described in the next chapter of Joel (3), choose those blessings, that the good promises of the Lord would come to us sooner than later, and turn away from the curse while there is yet time, back to our merciful Father in Heaven.

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Elhanan ben-Avraham, born in 1945, is a professional artist, poet, writer and father of two, grandfather of four, living in Israel since 1979. He has served in the IDF, taught the Bible internationally, published five illustrated books of poetry, painted two large Biblical murals in public buildings in Jerusalem, and most recently produced THE JERUSALEM ILLUSTRATED BIBLE, among many other works. He and his wife live in a quiet village in the Mountains of Judah.