Does Isaiah 11:11-12 refer to a distant return of Israel back to their land, or did it have a past fulfillment in view? No Jew reading Isaiah 11 in Isaiah’s day, during the time of the exile, and the return under the decree of Cyrus (2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4), would have considered such an interpretation given that the chapter mentions Assyria, Shinar, the Philistines, Edom, Moab, “and the sons of Ammon” (vv. 11, 14). These people groups existed at the time when the prophecy was given, and the fulfillment was expected when those people groups would still exist. New Testament scholar William Hendriksen writes:
“[T]hose who believe that now, in the twentieth century A.D. [and 21st century], these Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites must still be destroyed or plundered or subjected will have a hard time even finding them!”
This prophecy was fulfilled when the people of Israel returned to their land, rebuilt the temple, and reestablished the priesthood and the sacrificial system after their 70-year exile.
“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:2-3; cp. Ezek. 38:13).
Why does Bill Alnor skip over this history and claim that the prophecies regarding Israel’s return to the land were only fulfilled in the 20th century, specifically in 1948? Israel became a nation again after Isaiah’s prophecy when the Jews returned to the land as God had promised they would after 70 years (Dan. 9:1-2; 2 Chron. 36:21-22; Ezra 1:1-4; Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10; Zech. 7:5).
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Note what Isaiah 11:1 states: “Then it will happen on that day that the Lord will again recover the second time with His hand the remnant of His people. . .” If what was revealed to Isaiah was to be the “second time,” then when was the first time? Alnor and other futurists argue that the first time was when the Jews returned after the captivity, and the second time is when Israel became a nation again in 1948.
Isaiah tells us in the same chapter something about the first time:
And there will be a highway from Assyria
For the remnant of His people who will be left,
Just as there was for Israel
In the day that they came up out of the land of Egypt (11:16).
If the second gathering of the remnant back to the land comes by way of Assyria, and Assyria does not exist today, the first return was when Israel “came up out of the land of Egypt.” Alnor and other dispensationalists dismiss or don’t consider the Egyptian exodus as the first-time Israel was recovered and brought into the Promised Land. Hendriksen comments:
The fact that Isa. 11:11 refers to a second recovery has nothing whatever to do with recent events, for according to the context the first recovery or exodus was the one under Moses. It was the return from the house of bondage (11:16). Hence, the second recovery was fulfilled when in stages, the Jews returned from the Assyrian-Babylonian captivity, and were established in their own land. All this took place long, long ago. There is, accordingly, no justification for interpreting these prophecies as if they referred to events happening in the twentieth century.”
We know that Israel returned in belief from their post-Babylonian and earlier Assyrian captivity in the events recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah. “The sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man in Jerusalem” (Ezra 3:1). The Jews considered themselves to be an “escaped remnant” by God’s grace.
But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem (Ezra 9:8-9).
This is a description of a believing remnant returning according to God’s promise a second time. They admit their “great guilt” (Ezra 9:13-15): “behold, we are before You in our guilt, for no one can stand before You because of this.” This can’t be said about what took place in 1948 or what’s going on in Israel today.
Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly. Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, said to Ezra, ‘We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be courageous and act.’ Then Ezra rose and made the leading priests, the Levites and all Israel, take oath that they would do according to this proposal; so they took the oath (10:1-5).
God would not have regathered Israel if they had not first been faithful:
Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, “If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell” (Neh. 1:8-9).
The people were so moved because of God’s loving kindness to them that they “were weeping when they heard the words of the law” (Neh. 8:9-10). No such thing happened in 1948. Israel did not return believing. In fact, the Jews returned with no regard for Jesus Christ. Compare this with what we read in the book of Acts of how the remnant of Israel embraced Jesus as the promised Messiah (Acts 2:21, 37-47).
The “four corners of the earth” or “land” in Isaiah 11 presents no difficulty since the Israelites that were taken into captivity were often sold to other neighboring nations (Ezek. 27:13; Joel 3:7; Amos 1:6, 9). The use of “four corners” means the same thing as it does today—the four points of the compass.
Modern-day prophecy writers who believe that Israel becoming a nation again, returning to their land in unbelief, is a fulfillment of Bible prophecy do not rightly interpret Scripture. If such a singular prophetic witness is so significant, we must wonder why Jesus and the New Testament biblical writers never mentioned a third return.
If the land was so important to Jews after the “it is finished” (John 19:30) work of Jesus on the cross and His subsequent resurrection, ascension, and enthronement, then why did “all who were owners of land or houses” sell them? (Acts 4:34; 2:35). The world was now open to the gospel. Jews and Gentiles were now one new person in Christ:
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:11-22).
Being in Christ means that Gentiles are included in the “Commonwealth of Israel.” Dispensationalists want to rebuild the wall and divide Jews and Gentiles and make Gentiles strangers once again. This is a false gospel.
What should we make of the earlier section of Isaiah 11 about animals—predators and prey—being reconciled?
And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little boy will lead them.
Also the cow and the bear will graze,
Their young will lie down together,
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
Animals are often used to represent people and nations. Jesus is the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Jesus the Lamb (Rev. 14:1) is contrasted with the Beasts of Revelation 13:2, 11. Paul mentions “savage wolves” that “will come in among [the Ephesian church], not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29; see Ezek. 22:27). Jesus warns, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Jesus described Herod Antipas as “that fox” (Luke 13:32).
The book of Daniel depicts the nations as wild and ferocious animals. There is the vision of the four beasts in Daniel 7 that represent “four kingdoms that will rise from the earth” (v. 17). Nebuchadnezzar is turned into an animal because of his rebellion against God (Dan. 4:28-33).
That animals, most of them unclean, represent nations is made clear when Peter encounters an array of unclean animals that he is told to “kill and eat” (Acts 10:13). These unclean animals—the nations—were now designated by God as clean: “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (10:15). What was Peter’s response?: “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (10:28). This was confirmed when “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the nations also” (10:45). The animals represented people.
There’s also this: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you” (Luke 10:19). Adam Clarke comments:
“To tread on serpents, etc. — It is possible that by serpents and scorpions our Lord means the scribes and Pharisees, whom he calls serpents and a brood of vipers, Matthew 23:33, … because, through the subtlety and venom of the old serpent, the devil, they opposed him and his doctrine; and, by trampling on these, it is likely that he means, they should get a complete victory over such: as it was an ancient custom to trample on the kings and generals who had been taken in battle, to signify the complete conquest which had been gained over them.
Therefore, Paul could write, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Rom. 16:20; see Josh. 10:24).
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What’s being revealed to Isaiah is a time when the nations will embrace the promised Redeemer and be reconciled. They will do so because of the “shoot [that] will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit” (Isa. 11:1). Jesus is the “horn of salvation” for Israel “in the house of David” (Luke 1:69) that will result in “salvation” from Israel’s enemies, … from the hand of all who hate” Israel (1:71, also v. 74). Jesus was to be “a light of revelation to the nations, and the glory of … Israel” (2:32; Isa. 9:2).
After citing several Old Testament passages of how the Gentiles fit into God’s redemptive plan (Rom. 15:7-11), Paul references Isaiah 11:10: “Again Isaiah says, ‘THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE, AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE NATIONS, IN HIM SHALL THE NATIONS HOPE’” (Rom. 15:12). And what follows in Isaiah 11 are the verses about prey (Jews) and predators (the nations) lying down together and not devouring one another.
How will this happen? Because being in Christ makes us new creatures:
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Cor. 5:17).
The nations are fellow heirs with Israel, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6). There is no Jew or Gentile in Christ Jesus (Rom. 10:12-13; Gal. 3:28, 5:6, 6:15-16); “the dividing wall of hostility” has been broken down (Eph. 2:14).
 William Hendriksen, Israel and the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1968), 21.
 Hendriksen, Israel and the Bible, 21.