Professor J.R.R. Tolkien insisted that there was no hidden meaning behind his works on Middle Earth. Such was his assertion in his Foreword to The Lord of the Rings:
I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, Foreword to the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings
Yet there are allegorical elements throughout his writings, however unintended. Tolkien’s Catholic world view infused his work with well-known Christian concepts such as atonement, salvation, redemption, and fulfillment of prophecy. A consistent story line appears throughout his writing, repeated on several levels. It is the story of paradise defiled, of blessed people tempted by evil into betrayal of their calling, of their exile and dissolution, and their restoration at last after the struggles of their exile produce the required degree of contrition and of resolve to live up to their destiny. In The Silmarillion the tale plays out in the long defeat of the Noldor in their forlorn quest to regain the Silmarils from Morgoth the defiler of Middle Earth. The cycle ends and begins anew in their redemption beyond all hope by the Valar, the powers over the earth who had exiled the Noldor from the blessed realm of Valinor because of their rebellion. In The Hobbit it is the restoration of the House of Durin as the Dwarves under the leadership of Thorin Oakenshield set in motion the events that bring the death of the great dragon Smaug and the coronation of a new Dwarf King Under the Mountain. And in The Lord of the Rings it is the return of Aragorn as King Elessar of Gondor, restoring the long lost (and nearly forgotten) kingdom of the Númenóreans after the defeat of Sauron, Morgoth’s chief lieutenant.
Among the many things we learn from Tolkien is that things happen in cycles. Life is cyclical, not linear. What happens to the fathers happens to the sons, and what has come before will come again. Whether he realized it or not, that is the Hebraic way of looking at the world. And it is quite biblical. As Solomon, the son of David, teaches us:
That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NASB)
That is at least part of the reason why the Lord God can says this:
Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure”; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it. (Isaiah 46:8-11 NASB)
This is precisely why we study Torah and all the rest of Scripture. If we want to know what is in our future, then we must study our past. That is why the Apostle Paul exhorted us as followers of Messiah Yeshua to study the accounts of our ancestors of Israel (I Corinthians 10:1-13). That is also why YHVH gave us His Moedim, His Appointed Times, or Feasts, and told us to observe them forever throughout all our generations. Every year at this time we celebrate the feasts of Passover (Pesach), Unleavened Bread (Matzot), and Firstfruits (Yom HaBikkurim). They teach us what has happened before: the redemption of our fathers and mothers from bondage in Egypt, and the redemption of the world from bondage to sin through the sacrifice and resurrection of Yeshua. The Torah portions for these two weeks cover the Pesach story, beginning this week with Exodus 12:21-51. That is the account of the Passover Lamb, the Tenth Plague inflicting death on the firstborn of Egypt, and the people’s release from Egypt.
That is what happened long, long ago. Why do we study it today? What possible application could it have to us in this day? Very simply, we study it because it will happen again. That is the subject of the Haftorah portion for this week, Isaiah 10:32-12:6. How much clearer can it be than this:
Then it will happen on that day that the Lord will again recover the second time with His hand the remnant of His people, who will remain, from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. (Isaiah 11:11 NASB)
Who are the Lord’s people? Again it is abundantly clear from the testimony of Scripture: His people are Israel, both the Jews (Judah) and the non-Jewish Israelites of the House of Israel (Ephraim). We know who the Jews are, but who are these other Israelites? That, too, is clear from Scripture. If we may believe the word of the apostles Peter and Paul, these Israelites are those who have placed their faith, their lives, and their identity in the Son of David, Messiah Yeshua of Nazareth (I Peter 2:1-10; Ephesians 2:1-22; Romans 9:22-26, 11:1-34). If we are indeed Israelites, spiritual descendants of those people God rescued and redeemed from Egypt, then we are also the people Isaiah prophesied would be rescued and redeemed from all the nations where we are now scattered. It would therefore be to our advantage to pay attention to these prophecies about the regathering and restoration of all Israel, noting the patterns established in the First Exodus so that we may be ready for their repetition in the Second Exodus. With that in mind, consider the text of Isaiah 11. It begins with a well-known prophecy about Messiah, the Branch and Root of Jesse, noting that He is filled with the Holy Spirit (the Seven Spirits of God, Revelation 1:4, 3:1, 4:5, 5:6). Then Isaiah describes Messiah’s reign: the universal time of peace when the wolf dwells with the lamb and the lion eats straw like the ox. And then comes something not often covered in Christian teaching: the restoration of the Whole House of Israel. This is the prophecy of the Second Exodus, not only of the Jewish portion of Israel, but the House of Ephraim as well. Here is the entire chapter:
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist. 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. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious. Then it will happen on that day that the Lord will again recover the second time with His hand the remnant of His people, who will remain, from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And He will lift up a standard for the nations and assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. Then the jealousy of Ephraim will depart, and those who harass Judah will be cut off; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, and Judah will not harass Ephraim. They will swoop down on the slopes of the Philistines on the west; together they will plunder the sons of the east; they will possess Edom and Moab, and the sons of Ammon will be subject to them. And the Lord will utterly destroy the tongue of the Sea of Egypt; and He will wave His hand over the River with His scorching wind; and He will strike it into seven streams and make men walk over dry-shod. 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. (Isaiah 11:1-16 NASB)
There is much here that I do not understand, but what I do understand says that Israel will become a complete nation again – all of Israel, not just the Jewish part. The accomplishment of that restoration will be Messiah’s great triumph, ranking with His redemption of mankind through the shedding of His blood on Passover long ago. Jeremiah testifies to this:
“Therefore behold, the Days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when they will no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up and led back the descendants of the household of Israel from the north land and from all the countries where I had driven them.’ Then they will live on their own soil.” (Jeremiah 23:7-8 NASB; see also Jeremiah 16:14-15)
This is the crowning achievement of God’s glory. No wonder the apostles asked Yeshua just before His ascension when He would restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). We have the same question. The Lord does give us clues throughout His Word, but He reveals the answers only as the time comes for those who will walk out the fulfillment to have the instructions on how to do so. We have seen much revealed in recent years, and the revelation seems to be accelerating as this world system accelerates toward self-destruction. How close are we to Israel’s restoration and Messiah’s coming in power? Perhaps it is this year, or perhaps it is many years yet. We can only watch and wait and pray, remaining faithful in obedience to the Word. Yet with each passing year He gives more understanding to those who are watching and praying to know a little better how to obey, and what to expect in these Last Days.
Although I cannot say with any degree of confidence when all these things will come to pass, I would like to pass on an interesting connection that occurred while studying this Pesach Torah portion. The Exodus account tells us this:
Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:40-41 NASB)
Our ancestors were not actually in Egypt the entire 430 years. That time period dates from God’s call on our father Abraham (Genesis 12). From that point on, Abraham and the nation God established through him lived as strangers in a land not their own. The oppression of Egypt began 30 years after that, when Abraham’s Egyptian son Ishmael began to persecute Isaac, Abraham’s son and heir (Genesis 21:1-20). Abraham’s descendants moved to Egypt long after that, and actually lived in Egypt about 215 years. All of this and more is summarized in “How Long Were the Israelites in Egypt?” at Answers in Genesis.
Now for the connection: this number 430 is the same number of days the Prophet Ezekiel laid on his side as a sign of the judgment on Israel and Judah.
Now you son of man, get yourself a brick, place it before you and inscribe a city on it, Jerusalem. Then lay siege against it, build a siege wall, raise up a ramp, pitch camps and place battering rams against it all around. Then get yourself an iron plate and set it up as an iron wall between you and the city, and set your face toward it so that it is under siege, and besiege it. This is a sign to the house of Israel. As for you, lie down on your left side and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel on it; you shall bear their iniquity for the number of days that you lie on it. For I have assigned you a number of days corresponding to the years of their iniquity, three hundred and ninety days; thus you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. When you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side and bear the iniquity of the house of Judah; I have assigned it to you for forty days, a day for each year. Then you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem with your arm bared and prophesy against it. Now behold, I will put ropes on you so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have completed the days of your siege. (Ezekiel 4:1-8 NASB, emphasis added)
Ezekiel completed 390+40 days in this visual prophecy, equaling the same number of days (430) as the years Israel was oppressed in a land not their own before the Exodus. Is there a connection, or is this just a coincidence? It is a Divine connection; God does not do things by accident. In the First Exodus our ancestors were delivered at the time that the occupants of Canaan had filled up the measure of their iniquity and were ripe for God’s judgment (Genesis 15:13-16). In the Second Exodus, God will deliver us (or our descendants) after the judgment for our own iniquity is complete. Obviously it has been much longer than 430 years since our fathers and mothers were exiled for their rebellion, but their rebellion, and our own, has been so great that the provisions of Leviticus 26:14-39 have come into effect: God’s sentence of judgment has been extended seven times longer. By that standard, 430 years become 3,010 years. But when did the sentence begin? Was it with the division of the Kingdom after the death of Solomon? Or was it at in the Assyrian conquest of Northern Israel? Or perhaps with the Babylonian conquest of Judah? And are the sentences of Judah and Israel concurrent (running at the same time), or consecutive (running in one long sequence of 390+40 years, seven times)?
I do not have the answers to these questions, but I can hope that someone does, or will as the Lord reveals them. The answers will tell us something more about how close we are to Messiah’s coming to claim His Kingdom, and to our final redemption. In the meantime let us celebrate this Feast of Passover with great joy, knowing that as our King delivered our fathers and mothers long ago, He will deliver us in this day.