The Past as a Guide to the Future
By Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1993
The Holy Bible is not a "history book," but it is a book with history as its principal ingredient. This is because everything in it was written within an historical environment and all its pages contain historical data. Even the doctrinal issues that are mentioned within its pages have historical meanings associated with them and one of the reasons that so much doctrine is misunderstood today by preachers and theologians is their lack of applying the historical meanings relevant to the contemporary periods to which the writings referred. After all, the early teachings of the prophets and the apostles were written within particular historical contexts and the words they used reflected the meanings of the societies and times in which they lived. Writing in this way is an essential reason why the Holy Bible can be considered an historical book, and people who study the Bible are "historians."
But there is something else that is historical about the Bible. Its prophetical teachings can be cyclical in their historical meanings within some sections. This is explained in one of the central books of prophecy: The Book of Isaiah. Notice it. Isaiah 41:21-22.
"Produce your cause, says the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, says the King of Jacob. Let them [Israel] bring them forth, and show us what shall happen: let them show the FORMER THINGS, what they be, that we may consider them [the former things], and know the latter end of them or declare [to] us things for to come."
The New Testament writers recognized the same principle of interpretation. The Apostle Paul stated in Romans 15:4: "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." It was customary for the apostles to refer to the experiences of the earlier prophets and kings as having relevance for people who lived at the end time period for prophetic fulfillment. "Now all these things happened unto them [the earlier biblical people] for types and they are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the eons are come" (I Corinthians 10:11 KJV adjusted).
The apostles were simply reflecting the Old Testament beliefs that historical events which were reckoned as having been caused by God were in themselves circular in occurrence. The Book of Ecclesiastes states most assuredly: "The thing that has been, it is that which shall be and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
And Solomon further said: "I know that, whatsoever God does, it shall be to the eon: nothing can be put [or added] to it, nor anything taken away from it: and God does it, that men should fear before him. That which has been IS NOW; and that which is to be HAS ALREADY BEEN; and God requires [again] that which is past" (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15 KJV adjusted "forever" is eon).
To King Solomon (whom the Bible shows was the wisest of men and whose writings in the Bible are inspired) believed that all things were to be reckoned in a circular fashion when the ultimate dimensions of things were being discussed. He began his philosophical discourse called Ecclesiastes by referring to the Sun which arises in the East and goes down in the West and then returns underneath the earth to where it started the morning before (Ecclesiastes 1:5). Analogous to the Sun was also the wind, Solomon spoke about it sometimes going toward the South and then turns towards the North and whirls around in circular fashion until it returns to the place where it had once been (Ecclesiastes 1:6).
Then he noticed that the rivers run into the oceans yet the sea level did not increase because of the excess waters from the rivers. Indeed, he noticed that clouds formed over the oceans and came over the land. Precipitation came down to the land which formed small streams that turned into rivers which then flowed right back into the ocean from whence the water came. "Thither they return again" (Ecclesiastes 1:7).
This circular phenomenon also applied to the activities of mankind, and this is where Solomon began his long discourse on the fortunes of man by stating the prime principle that all things are circular. This applies to things in history, and also to things in prophecy (which is nothing more than the knowledge of historical events before they happen). Even here, things have the tendency, so Solomon believed (as well as the apostles of Christ) of being circular in occurrence. Every event to happen in the future has a former event that was like it. This is the teaching of the Bible. "The thing that has been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the Sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
There is a prime example in the Bible and history which demonstrates what Solomon and the prophets/apostles had in mind when the rule of circularity in history and prophecy came into play. It is remarkable that the Temple of Solomon was destroyed the first time by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon on the evening of the ninth and into the tenth of the Hebrew month of Ab (a month that corresponds closely to our modern month of August) (Jeremiah 52:1214) and that the Romans destroyed the Temple that existed in the time of Christ and the apostles on the exact same day of the month and year Josephus, War VI,iv,5, 250).
This was a significant occurrence, and God must have intended it to be so. When the first Temple was burnt by Nebuchadnezzar, we find that Jeremiah the Prophet ordained that the Book of Lamentations was to be read by all Jews on the anniversary date of that occasion. It is interesting that in 70 C.E. (almost 600 years after the time of Jeremiah) the Jews throughout the world where they lived (from Spain to India) were officially reading the Book of Lamentations in their synagogues and homes at the very time the Temple and Jerusalem were being destroyed by the Romans. This ruin is what Christ had foretold in his Olivet Prophecy (Matthew 24:14).
Just how does the biblical teaching of the circularity of history (which we find in several prophetic contexts) actually work so that we can interpret the significance of the teaching? This requires an application of judgment which must be based on biblical principles clearly stated in the Scriptures. One must be careful in such interpretation because some overzealous people have made wrong judgments in this matter without due regard to the proper guidelines for an accurate understanding of Godís prophetical teachings. Indeed, there are several types of criteria for circularity in prophecy and one must be careful to select the correct one that God has in mind for the understanding of such teachings. While it is certain that factors involving intervals of TIME are essential ingredients in comprehending the principle, the interpreter must be careful to appraise correctly the benchmark incidents which begin and end those intervals of TIME. This is where a person needs the Spirit of God to help show what those proper benchmarks are and then one must dearly observe in the Bible what interval of TIME is applicable for the prophecy in order to understand it properly.
Let me give an example of how the benchmarks of a circularity prophecy can be different from another similar prophecy in the Bible. Some do have different benchmarks. Note that the Flood of Noah happened when the tenth generation of humans existed on earth from the first generation which was Adam and Eve our first parents. This is arrived at by counting the generations of what we might call the "righteous line" which culminated in Noah, the preacher of righteousness. That Flood was a judgment by God on people in the earth for their sins. Now note this factor. In the tenth generation AFTER the Flood, the great destruction by fire took place on the Cities of the Plain (Sodom and Gomorrah). Since God promised Noah and all humans on earth that there would not be more judgments by a catastrophic unleashing of water on a worldwide scale, the next judgment came in the form of fire. (Also, the final judgments on earth are in the form of fire as we read in other prophecies of the Bible.)
From the illustration above, we have the two benchmarks being judgments of destructions both occurring after an interval of ten generations. So, the use of generations is invoked by God (ten generations In this case) to provide the circularity factor in understanding the prophecy.
It could be interpreted from the above example that God could well bring on similar destructions of civilizations ten generations from the beginning of other new times of civilizations such as those which began with Adam and then Noah. There may be a reflection of this principle in the Law of Moses. We find that God would not allow illegitimate children or those descendants of Moab and Ammon into the civilization of Israel at the beginning of its national existence until the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:13). After that interval of TIME, then the Moabites and Ammonites could enter into the civilization of Israel. It is interesting that in the genealogies of Christ as recorded by Matthew and Luke, the tenth generation from Abraham (who was accounted as the head of the Israelite family) was Salmon who begat Boaz (the eleventh generation) who then married Ruth of Moab, the grandmother of King David. Israelites used inclusive reckoning in such matters and Abraham is to be counted as the first generation in the series. This means that God kept Moabites and Ammonites a full ten generations out of the official family of Israel.
This illustration may give a person some confidence that God views the tenth generation from the beginning of nations, civilizations, or even important families as a prophetic interval of TIME in the circularity of prophetic (or historical) events.
In regard to the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem by hostile forces, God told the prophet Ezekiel that there would be three such destructions in history. To see this fact, one should read all of Ezekiel chapter 21 because the whole of the chapter contains a prophecy about the overthrow and destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. God told Ezekiel to take a sword (which was to be a symbol of Godís divine judgment upon Jerusalem and the land of Israel). This symbolic sword was to be the instrument of judgment that God would use to destroy Jerusalem and Israel on three different occasions. Note God telling Ezekiel that this "sword" was reckoned as "a trial, and what if the sword contemn even the rod? It shall be no more, says the Lord God. Thou therefore, son of man, prophesy, and smite your hands together, and let the sword be doubled [Hebrew "twice even a"] THIRD TIME, the sword of the slain: it is the sword of the great men that are slain, which enters into their privy chambers. I have set the point of the sword against all their gates?" (Ezekiel 21:1215).
It should be noted that God told Ezekiel to let the judgment come twice (that is, "doubledí) and that it would finally strike "a third time" (verse 14). So certain was Ezekiel that Jerusalem would be destroyed three times in the manner that he was prophesying that he said the crown and diadem of the King of the Jews would be overthrown and perverted in three "overturns." "Thus says the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same [as it had been]: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it [to] him" (Ezekiel 21:26-27).
Thus, Ezekiel was told that the Temple, Jerusalem and the sovereignty of the Jews (as shown by the king who ruled the nation) would be overthrown by the sword of Godís judgment three times in the future. The first time would be that which would be witnessed by Ezekiel and those contemporaneous to him; the second overthrow would occur at some undesignated time in the future; and the third overthrow at a further undesignated time in the future (but after the third overthrow there would appear the prophesied ruler "whose right it is" to rule over Israel in a proper way). This was to be the rule of the Messiah who would introduce a Kingdom that would never end (verse 27).
Now look at what happened. The Temple, Jerusalem and the sovereignty of Israel on earth were all destroyed just as Ezekiel said when Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon accomplished the task in the time of Ezekiel. Then, on the exact day of the month and year, the Romans destroyed the Temple that Christ knew (along with the destruction of Jerusalem and the sovereignty of the Jews) in 70 C.E. But Ezekiel said there was to be a third time (a third OVERTHROW just like the former Ďoverthrowing?) that would occur at a further time in history. It is only logical to believe that the next (and final) destruction will also occur on the same day of the month and year that the former destructions took place. And after this third overthrow, the Messiah of Israel will arrive to claim his throne and set up a world kingdom that would never be overthrown again (Ezekiel 21:27).
What the circularity of prophetic history shows is that we should be looking for the same type of destruction on Jerusalem, along with a destruction of a new Temple that will be built in Jerusalem, and also the overthrow of the present sovereignty of Israel that now exists in the Middle East. After this, the true Messiah of Israel will arrive and he will introduce the Messianic Kingdom on earth that will bring universal peace and security to Israel and to all people on earth. That is what Ezekiel is clearly stating in this circular prophecy found in chapter 21 of Ezekiel.
Individuals in history and their ministries are also circular in occurrence. The Bible speaks of the importance of the first Adam and that a further Adam would appear at a special time in history. There was a first Moses, and a second Moses. There was a first Elijah, and also a second Elijah. Christ said that at the end of the age (and just before his Second Advent back to this world), there would be another Elijah to appear on earth who would be like the John the Baptist who introduced Christís first advent (Matthew 17:1013).
These are examples of the circularity of events (or of types of persons) at certain foreordained periods of time. That is why much of the Bible that gives us prophecies of past kingdoms and empires can also be showing the future prophecies about those same nations and peoples which will occur at the end of the age. To understand these things properly, we need an accurate chronology of the Bible. I am now working on a new book of Bible chronology that gives this information.
Ernest L. Martin
© 1976-2014 Associates for Scriptural Knowledge - ASK is supported by freewill contributions