|Faith Strengthened||Chapter 7||Part 1|
Christians have raised the following argument against our restoration:—They say, in the captivity of Egypt you [Jews] have been kept four hundred years; in that of Babylon, seventy years; but in subjugation by the Romans your captivity has been prolonged more than 1500 years. Moreover, you had received predictions which determined with exactness the duration of your two former exiles, while that of the present time was not even revealed to the prophets, so that now it may be said, You are suffering under the curse written in Leviticus 26:38, "And ye shall be lost among the gentiles, and the land of your enemies shall consume you." The very length of your exile is a proof that God does not desire to lead you back to the land of your fathers.
Reply:— The communication made to Abraham of the period fixed for Israel’s captivity in Egypt was merely incidental, it being explanatory of the delay in the appropriation of the territory promised to that patriarch. When the Lord said to him, "Thou must know, thy seed shall be strangers in a land which shall not be theirs, and they shall make them serve, and shall afflict them four hundred years," it intimated that the land would only be allotted to the posterity of Abraham after the iniquity of the first inhabitants of Palestine would be full, and when, according to the unerring Divine prescience, the fit time for releasing the Jews from their taskmasters, and for punishing the Canaanites, would arrive. The long period for Israel’s humiliation in Egypt allowed, therefore, ample time for the nations of Palestine to repent and to abandon their evil doings. The length of the Babylonian captivity was, according to our humble view, limited to seventy years, because seventy sabbatical years had been neglected. The duration of the exile of the Jews was thus appointed to be equal to the number of years during which the divine ordinance of abstaining from husbandry and of giving rest to the soil, had been broken. Thus we read in Leviticus 26:34 and 35, "Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye shall be in your enemies’ land, even then shall the land rest and enjoy her sabbaths,. As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest, because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it." With this passage we compare the following of 2 Chronicles 36:21:—"To fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths, for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfill three score and ten years."
The special object of the captivity of Babylon had been attained by the short exile, the wider object of their present exile, however, requires a more prolonged period. We have now to expiate the sins committed from the time of Israel’s first entrance into the Holy Land, —sins which have created a division between us and the Lord; therefore, Divine Wisdom has ordained that we shall abide our time in dispersion until the approach of the latter days. Thus says Ezekiel 22:15, "And I will scatter thee among the gentiles and disperse thee in the countries, and will consume thy filthiness out of thee. To this captivity also alludes the promise in Lamentations 4:22, "Thine iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is ended; He will no more cause thee to go into captivity." We have already, in a former quotation from 2 Chronicles, shown the real cause of the second captivity, and are now enabled satisfactorily to infer from the above extract from Lamentations that troubles endured in our present exile have been decreed with the view of purifying us from our sins, and of bringing to pass the prediction of Deuteronomy 30:6, "And the Lord will circumcise thy heart and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul for the sake of thy own life." In regard to this present captivity, it is also said in Ezekiel 36:26, "And I will give unto you a new heart and a new spirit I will place in the midst of you." Again (ibid verse 27), "And I will make that you shall walk in my statutes and observe my judgments and do them." There are many other promises which have not as yet been realized, because the ancient sins are not completely eradicated. We have moreover to state that the time of the ultimate redemption is unrevealed, because the knowledge of it would not encourage the timorous if they were to perceive it to be at too remote a distance, to persevere in godliness, nor would it avail the refractory, who would be the more presumptuous if they were to notice that the approaching restoration is not delayed by their own evil ways. The founder of the Christian faith was himself of the opinion that the period of the restoration was to remain unknown to his disciples, and he gave, in the book of Acts (1:6-7), a striking proof that he was neither a messiah nor a divine being. We find there, "When they [viz., the apostles], therefore, were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power." The term of this captivity has indeed not been confided to any man, and is solely known to God, whose knowledge is unsearchable.
Our opinion, that our restoration depends on repentance, is founded on the following passage from Deuteronomy 30:1 to 6:— "And it shall come to pass when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and shall call to mind among all the nations whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee; and thou shalt turn unto the Lord thy God and shalt obey His voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children with all thine heart and with all thy soul: that then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity and have compassion on thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the uttermost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will He fetch thee; and the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed; and thou shalt possess it, and he will do thee good and multiply thee above thy fathers, and the Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart and the heart of thy seed," etc.
On our own will, then, depends our repentance, and consequently also the abbreviation of the period of our captivity.
From the verse in Leviticus 26:38, "And ye shall be lost among the gentiles, and the land of your enemies shall consume you," it must not be inferred that an irrevocable loss or a total perdition is meant. The Hebrew word expressive of loss, "Abad," alludes to the temporary state of despair,—a state in which a man is unable to escape the impending danger, though relief and deliverance may be his portion at some future day. Hence Isaiah 27:13, "And the lost ones in Assyria and those exiled in the land of Egypt shall come," etc.
If "Abad" (to lose or be lost) were to be taken in the sense of complete perdition or cessation of existence, it could not have been said in Leviticus 26:44, "And even this, when they shall be in the land of their enemies, I shall not reject them nor abhor them so as to consume them and to break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God." See also Isaiah 66:22, "For as the new heavens and the new earth which I am making remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain." Jeremiah 30:11, "For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee; though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, I will not make a full end of thee; but I will correct thee in measure and will not leave thee altogether unpunished."
The warning pronounced in Leviticus 26:38, "And the land of your enemies shall consume you," has, unfortunately been fulfilled in a grievous measure; many of our brethren have sealed with their blood their fidelity to the faith of their fathers, undergoing the penalties described in Psalm 44:22, "For thy sake we are slain all the day long, we are considered like sheep for the slaughter."
The argument, that the length of our present captivity is a proof of our total rejection from the special favor of the Almighty has no reasonable foundation whatever. The designs of the Almighty take their regular and unerring course through hundreds and thousands of years. They are most wisely conceived, although their working and ultimate completion escape our perception, or extend beyond our terrestrial existence. Besides this, their own history elucidates the truth of the saying uttered by the psalmist (Psalm 90:4), "A thousand years are in Thine eyes, only like yesterday which is past." The world had existed more than two thousand years before the Almighty revealed Himself, and chose a nation from the midst of a nation, with trials, and signs, and miracles, and warfare, and a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and awfully great doings."
Finally, we would remind those who taunt us with an everlasting abandonment, because of the restoration not having as yet been granted to us, that the salvation through Jesus, which forms their religious boasting, and which, according to their doctrines, saved the souls of the pious patriarchs from the dominion of Satan, did not come to pass till about four thousand years after the creation of man, why should they then object to our waiting for the time of favor when the appointed period of our restoration shall arrive?