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The Transitional Generation

by Douglas Berner

God has a way of testing men, individually and collectively, of trying their faith at key moments in time. This is particularly true of God’s relationship with the nation of Israel where He occasionally singles out a specific generation for testing, blessing, or punishment. God has presented Israel with challenging conditions or circumstances many times throughout the course of Israel’s history where God seems to have been looking for a response based upon a “leap of faith.” How Israel has responded, by rising to the challenge through faith in God’s word and past actions and keeping its focus on God, or by falling into a focus of self pity or self pride and trying to go it alone without God, has occasionally resulted in very critical and long term repercussions for Israel.

The Exodus and the 12 Spies

A case in point occurred during the Exodus from Egypt when the Israelites camped at Kadesh Barnea in the wilderness of Paran. God instructed Moses to send out twelve spies, one from each tribe of Israel, to reconnoiter the land of Canaan, which God promised to give to the people of Israel (Numbers chapters 13 and 14). God presented the Israelites with a task to search out the land of Canaan, to conduct a survey of the land, its harvest, cities, and occupants, in preparation for the conquest of the land and its peoples by Israel. The real test the Israelites faced was whether, having witnessed and experienced the Shechinah Glory as God’s chosen people, as well as God’s miracles and divine protection, they could accept God’s promise that the land would be given to them as an act of faith.

The twelve spies searched the land for forty days and returned with samples of bountiful produce and a glowing report regarding the fruit of the land. The twelve spies noted the great things about the land as well as the obstacles that an occupation of the land of Canaan presented. The cities in the land were well fortified, the various peoples in the land were militarily strong, and some were physically very large, as the spies reportedly observed Nephilim, who were giants. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, voiced faith in God and urged Israel to enter and occupy the land. However, ten of the spies turned their focus away from God by emphasizing the overwhelming strength of the people and giants within the land of Canaan. Their negative and fearful report frightened the people of Israel who rebelled against God and threatened to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb.

Did Israel rise to God’s challenge and enter the “Promised Land,” when the opportunity was first offered, on a giant “leap of faith?” No! We learn from the book of Numbers that Israel failed this test. God accused the Israelites of spurning him by their lack of faith, after having witnessed the Shechinah Glory of God’s divine presence and the signs and miracles that he had performed for them. God entered judgment upon that adult generation of Israel, comprising all Israelites age twenty and older.

God informed the people of Israel that they would wander in the desert for forty years, during which this entire adult generation would die, before the Israelites would be allowed to enter the Promised Land. The only exceptions to this judgment of death during the time of wandering were Joshua and Caleb. The faith and trust that Joshua and Caleb placed upon God saved them from the condemnation that God placed upon that generation of Israelites. By exhibiting this belief and trust in God, Joshua and Caleb represented the faithful remnant of Israel. Not every generation of Israel has received direct judgment from God, but in every generation there is a faithful remnant of believers which follow God regardless of how rebellious the nation of Israel becomes.

The people of Israel had fallen into a pattern of complaining and rebelling against Moses and God throughout the events and trials of the Exodus. This instance involving the twelve spies was noted by God as the tenth occurrence of Israel’s rebellion, and it marked the final act of trying God’s patience which resulted in God’s judgment of condemnation upon that generation on the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av.

9th Day of Av 

The 9th of Av (Tish’a Be’av) has become a day of fasting and a memorial to many historic events for the nation of Israel. Unfortunately, the vast majority of memorable events that have occurred on this specific day of the Jewish calendar have been ones bearing terrible consequences marked by judgment from God and devastation by various nations against the people of Israel. The following lists some of these events attributed to Av 9:

  1. The generation of the Exodus was condemned to die in the wilderness following the report of the 12 spies.
  2. The First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
  3. The Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.
  4. The second Jewish revolt led by Bar Kokhba was crushed by the Romans in 135 A.D.
  5. All Jews were ordered expelled from England on July 18, 1290.
  6. All Jews were expelled from Spain beginning on August 2, 1492.
  7. World War I began on August 1, 1914.
  8. Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait in 1990.

It is evident why the Jewish rabbis emphasize this date as a day of tragedy, a day of mourning. It is a day to remember the devastating tragedies of the destruction of both the First Temple built by Solomon and the Second Temple which Herod had renovated, as well as extreme political and religious persecution against the Jews. Is there any other nation that has experienced a series of tragic events such as these on the exact same date on that nation’s calendar? I am not aware of any nation that exhibits a historical pattern that even comes close to anything like this.

The apparent origin of this date as a day of tragedy lies in Israel’s climatic act of rebellion against God at Kadesh Barnea. God’s judgment upon that generation mandated that Israel’s Exodus would last for forty years, and that all unfaithful adults would perish before Israel could enter and possess the Promised Land. Even though God allowed and assisted the subsequent generation of Israelites to conquer the land of Canaan, it is evident that God marked this particular date as a day that Israel would never forget. God used this event and this date as a lesson for Israel, and for the rest of the world. God’s message is that rebellion against God results in God’s judgment. Sometimes rebellion results in death. Sometimes rebellion results in a delay of fulfillment of God’s promises, but a promise made by God is always ultimately fulfilled. Repeated rebellion results in further and often more severe judgment. Finally, God’s lesson teaches that history repeats itself, if the lesson of history is not fully learned and heeded.

Forty Years Wandering in the Wilderness

The Exodus began when the Israelites fled Egypt on the 15th day of Nissan in the 2448th year from the creation of Adam. The dispatch of the twelve spies occurred on the 29th day of Sivan in the year 2449, and the spies returned forty days later on the 9th day of Av. Joshua later led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land on the 10th day of Nissan in the year 2488, which officially ended the wanderings of the Exodus.[i]  From these dates we can see that the total period of the Exodus lasted just a few days short of a full forty years. This is counted as the time that Israel wandered in the wilderness. From the beginning of the Exodus until the incident of rebellion after the report of the twelve spies on the 9th day of Av in 2449 there had elapsed a period of one year and 113 days or a period of fifteen to sixteen months. From the enactment of God’s judgment on the 9th day of Av 2449, until Israel entered the land of Canaan, an extended period of thirty-eight years and eight to nine months of wandering took place.

We see this referenced in Deuteronomy 2:14 where Moses states, “Now the time that it took for us to come from Kadesh-barnea until we crossed over the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until all the generation of the men of war perished from within the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them.” The total time of the wandering was forty years, while the actual time period of punishment lasted thirty-eight to thirty-nine years.

God’s Prescribed Punishment under the Law

Why was the period of punishment only thirty-eight to thirty-nine years after God decreed a forty year judgment?

First, we encounter the concept of “forty times” or forty lashes associated with punishment in Deuteronomy 25:1-3. “If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. He may beat him forty times but no more, so that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these and your brother is not degraded in your eyes.” In The Living Torah, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan renders this passage as referring to a fixed number of lashes and emphasizes that the number of lashes is not to be exceeded. “Do not go beyond the limit and give him forty lashes.” Kaplan notes, “Thus, in practice, no more than 39 lashes could be given (Makkoth 22a; Sifri; Targum Yonathan; Josephus, Antiquities 4:8:21).”[ii] What experience does the apostle Paul recount in 2 Corinthians 11:24? “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.” Thus, we see that according to Jewish tradition the prescribed forty lashes for punishment is reduced to thirty-nine lashes to prevent a miscount or over-punishment. This is symbolic of God’s mercy and compassion intermingled with His judgment.

Second, according to Jewish interpretation, a partial year can be counted as an entire year. The thirty-eight years and eight to nine months spent wandering counts as a full thirty-nine years. Thus, Israel was given a forty year judgment of wandering by God and served thirty-nine years of that sentence.

Considering this concept of punishment by thirty-nine lashes, I find it interesting that following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on the 9th of Av in 1990, Israel was struck by a total of 39 Scud missiles during the Gulf War. Was that a symbolic message for Israel from heaven?

The Second Generation

God promised the Israelites that their children would be allowed to enter the Promised Land. God presented this second generation of the Exodus with a leap of faith challenge to enter and take control of the Promised Land. Under the leadership of Joshua, the Israelites rose to the challenge, crossed the Jordan River, and experienced a day of miracles. It was the second generation during the time of the Exodus which experienced the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Does history repeat itself? Do we see a circumstance in Jewish history when a similar situation or a leap of faith challenge is presented to Israel by God, which then results in a day of miracles or a generation under judgment? If Israel fails is Israel’s failure followed by a thirty-eight to forty year period of judgment on a generation of Israel?

Israel was in possession of Holy Scriptures which predicted the future coming of a Messiah. At the beginning of the first century, Israel was expecting the arrival of the promised Messiah. The people of Israel had expectations of the Messiah breaking the yoke of Rome from their necks. When Jesus finally made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and symbolically presented Himself as the Messiah, He was accepted by some (the remnant) and rejected by the leadership and many others. Jesus posed a threat to the Temple leadership, even though he did not come proclaiming the overthrow of Rome.

Did Israel rise to the leap of faith challenge posed by God and accept Jesus as the Messiah? No! We know from history and the writings of the New Testament that Israel failed this test. What happened? God imposed a thirty-eight to forty year window of judgment upon that generation which was immediately followed by the second generation being conquered by Rome and expelled from the Promised Land. They were expelled to wander from place to place, without a homeland of their own, for many hundreds of years. Many scholars date the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus Christ to 30 A.D. while others date it as occurring in 32 A.D. Since we know that the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome took place in 70 A.D., we can see that both of these dates fall in a window which began a period of thirty-eight to forty years which ended in the downfall of Israel and the destruction of the Jewish Temple on the 9th of Av in 70 A.D.

The Modern Second Generation

When Israel was finally reborn as a nation through much travail in 1948, many biblical scholars proclaimed that the final generation had arrived. Some envisioned that within a period of forty years the generation of 1948 would see the fulfillment of God’s promises and the arrival of the Messiah. However, it did not happen. Israel was reborn as a secular nation separate from God, not as a spiritual nation returning to God. Did the first modern generation of Israel begin in 1948? Or, is there another historical focal point that may have a greater bearing on a thirty-eight to forty year time period?

During the Six Day War in 1967, Israel regained physical control of East Jerusalem and the location of the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount was the historical location of the first and second Jewish Temples and is currently the site of the Moslem Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic shrine, the Dome of the Rock. At the moment that Israel regained possession of the Temple Mount, it was presented with a leap of faith challenge by God. Would Israel leap to that challenge, rebuild its Temple on the Temple Mount, and renew its spiritual relationship with God? Or, would this generation of Israel fail this test?

We know that during the summer of 1967, Israel relinquished control of the Temple Mount to the religion of Islam. Israel had just miraculously won a major war with the Arab-Moslem nations which surround it, and had gained a tremendous amount of territory, but the leadership of Israel was still fearful of the reaction of the larger Moslem world. Israel, as a national entity, was not putting its faith in God. This is an exact parallel to the situation at Kadesh Barnea during the Exodus. Out of fear for the overwhelming size and strength of the giants and people in the land of Canaan, the Israelites refused to enter the Promised Land. Out of fear of the Muslim world, Israel gave up full control over its most holy of religious sites. Jews were promptly banned from entering and praying on the Temple Mount.

What has happened to Israel since that fateful decision in 1967? It has slid further and further from a faithful relationship with God, as it has divided the land that God entrusted to it, and compromised the security of its people. The leadership of Israel has tried to appease the governments of both the Western World and the Moslem World, by entering into and trusting agreements under the concept of land for peace, instead of placing their reliance and trust in God. As a result, all of these agreements and compromises have completely failed in every respect to bring any increased security or safety to Israel. Is it any surprise that exactly thirty-nine years after that fateful decision in 1967, to relinquish control of the Temple Mount back to Islam, Israel finds itself at war again?

Is Israel facing another leap of faith challenge by God? Is this the beginning of the real second generation of modern Israel which will see the prophetic promises of God fulfilled? Is this the second generation of Israel that will see the second coming of their promised Messiah? Will Israel rise to this challenge, reverse its course of compromise with the world, and reestablish its national spiritual relationship to God? Or, will Israel fail so miserably that God will have to intervene to save Israel from complete destruction?

Regardless of how successful Israel is at neutralizing Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon, the nations of the Middle East and the world at large will capitalize on the opportunity to clamor for Israel’s punishment. Israel’s incursion into Lebanon is finalizing the dynamics which will make it easy for Russia and Iran to activate the alliance of Gog and Magog.

God provides the ultimate answer through the prophet Ezekiel. Because Israel and the world profane the character and name of God, God sets hooks in the jaws of a nation called Magog and drives that nation to lead a multinational invasion of Israel. God uses that invasion as His opportunity to intervene; to reveal His presence to Israel and the world for the sake of His own name; to save Israel from utter destruction; and to set the world stage for the drama of the End Times. The prophecy of Ezekiel 38 and 39 is about the beginning of the end, when God finally breaks His heavenly silence and imposes His presence on the world in the form of His Day of the Lord judgments.

The question for Israel now is:  How long will God wait before He chooses to act, now that thirty-nine years have passed since Israel’s fateful failure to make that leap of faith in 1967?

The concept of how God breaks His silence and intervenes in the affairs of the world is the subject of my book:  The Silence is Broken! God Hooks Ezekiel’s Gog & Magog.

[i] Rav Shlomo Rotenberg, Am Olam: The History of the Eternal Nation, Volume One, (Brooklyn: Keren Eliezer, 1988), pp. 49-51.

[ii] Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Living Torah, (New York: Maznaim Publishing  Corporation, 1981), pp. 984-985.