About the time that Gideon of Manasseh delivered Israel from oppression of the Midianites and Amalekites (Judges 6:1-8:35), a war of (literally) epic proportions took place on the northwest coast of what is now Turkey. The Trojan War really did happen, but the conflict was already wrapped in myth and legend when a Greek poet known only as Homer published The Iliad sometime around 750 BCE, four centuries after the war’s generally accepted dates of 1194-1184 BCE. Homer’s epic inspired a number of classical works telling the tales of the Greeks and Trojans, including a sequel published in Latin seven hundred years later. When the Roman poet Virgil wrote The Aeneid, he probably had a political agenda in mind. His story is that of Aeneas, a Trojan hero of the royal family who escaped the destruction of the city and led a band of refugees in a journey that eventually resulted in their settlement at the mouth of the Tiber River in Italy. There they became part of the story of Rome, a city which began as a colony of Alba Longa, the capital of the new kingdom Aeneas and his descendants founded. Thus Rome could trace its origins at least in part to Troy. More importantly, the family of Julius Caesar traced its genealogy to Aeneas, giving it a claim to royalty that helped Caesar’s nephew Octavian consolidate his power as Caesar Augustus. Whether true or not, Virgil’s epic, written early in Augustus’ long reign, cemented the link of the Caesars with Aeneas and Troy in the minds of Romans, making it one of the most successful pieces of literary propaganda ever published.
Even if the Caesar’s claims were falsified, and even if Aeneas never existed outside of classical literature, his tale is an illustration of the remnant: those who remain. Whether it is Ishmael surviving to tell the story of Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, or Job’s servants fleeing disaster to report to him (Job 1:13-22), fact and fiction throughout the human experience have featured a fortunate few who escape. The remnant has the task of carrying the memory of those who went before, of rebuilding what they lost, and of achieving their ultimate destiny. These remnant tales would have little impact on us if they were not a common feature in reality. The remnant is a continuous reminder in Scripture that God’s judgment is tempered with mercy in the expectation that a people will at last be able to step into the fullness of the promises YHVH has spoken from beginning of time.
Noah and his family were heirs to those promises. Those eight people were the remnant of the entire population of the earth prior to the Flood. That statistic puts into perspective a very serious matter: Holy God is indeed merciful, but the vast majority of people through the ages apparently do not avail themselves of His mercy. We see a similarly bleak statistic in Sh’lach L’cha (Send For Yourself) (Numbers 13:1-15:41), the Torah portion which tells of the twelve Hebrew spies sent to investigate the land of Canaan. They bring a glowing report of the land, but they also tell of the strength of the fortified cities and the power of the people living there. Ten of the twelve, therefore, speak in despair, saying that the people of Israel cannot possibly invade and conquer the land. Their report is what the people accept, even though Joshua of Ephraim and Caleb of Judah insist that YHVH is well able to come through with His promises and enable Israel to defeat the Canaanites and take possession of the Land. The Lord’s response is well known:
The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition. I, the Lord, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die.’” (Numbers 14:26-35 NASB, emphasis added)
This is where we come to that very uncomfortable statistic regarding the remnant: over 603,000 men left Egypt, but only two stepped into the Promised Land.
Of course there were more than two people who entered Canaan forty years later. The next generation numbers over 601,000 men of war (Numbers 26:51), and it is possible that many older women who did not agree with the bad report of the ten spies were spared the judgment. However, Caleb and Joshua were the only two men of the Exodus generation to survive and see the conquest of the Land. Yet this brings up another question: why did YHVH allow anyone of that generation to survive? He was ready to destroy the entire population and start all over again with Moses (Numbers 14:11-12), prompting Moses to intercede and plead for mercy for Israel in the same way Abraham had interceded for Sodom (Genesis 18:22-33). There is much we should learn from the terms of his prayer:
But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for You, O Lord, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, ‘Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” (Numbers 14:13-19 NASB)
Moses is not making up anything. He is reminding the Sovereign Lord of the Universe of what He Himself had said, both about His promises and about what happens to those who refuse to take Him at His Word. Moreover, Moses reminds the Lord that His very own glory is at stake: should He not bring the people into the Promised Land, then Egypt and the other nations of the earth will have no reason to regard YHVH as anything more than a fraud.
When we think about the big picture, the real question is whether we believe God or not. First we have to decide whether we believe He is there (Hebrews 11:6). Assuming we come to the conclusion that He does exist, then we have to decide whether He is worthy of our trust. That is the whole point: is God trustworthy? Does He come through on His promises? Will He do what He said He would do? Does He ever change, or does He change His mind? If God is not trustworthy, then we have no basis for a rational existence. But He is trustworthy, and that is the whole point of this drama He has set in motion regarding the nation of Israel. If He can establish this nation, redeem it, sanctify it, ensure its continued existence through millennia of tribulation and exile, reestablish it, put it back into the Promised Land, and the whole time carry out the process of maturing it to the point that it is able to live out His example of righteousness, then all the nations of the earth will recognize that He has done it and will come to the light of His glory. That is precisely what we learn from Moses and Ezekiel:
The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them. (Deuteronomy 7:7-11 NASB)
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.”’” (Ezekiel 36:22-28 NASB, emphasis added)
Now we know why YHVH did not annihilate all the Hebrews when the ten spies incited the people to reject Him, and we understand why the two spies survived. Joshua and Caleb believed the Lord and did their best to help the people believe, so it is only right that they should have been rewarded with their lives and the ability to enter the Land. But there is something more to the story. Their survival was not just a reward for good behavior, but an essential part of YHVH’s plans for the next generation and for all generations to come. The two of them would be witnesses to God’s greatness, His goodness, His mercy, His power, in fact, to everything God says He is. The Lord requires that every testimony be confirmed by two or three witnesses, a principle Yeshua and the Apostles upheld (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Matthew 18:16; II Corinthians 13:1; I Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28). Yeshua, in fact, defended Torah by referring to heaven and earth, the same two witnesses Moses had invoked to testify that our Hebrew ancestors had accepted God’s covenant and agreed to obey His Torah (Deuteronomy 4:25-26, 30:15-19; 31:26-29; Matthew 5:17-19). In this case, Joshua and Caleb are the witnesses, testifying not only to the Lord’s greatness, but also to the sin of the people in rejecting Him, and to the justice of the Lord in sentencing the entire nation to 40 years of wandering because of that sin.
Joshua and Caleb witnessed as well the application of the principle that the Lord does not clear the guilty, but visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations. This is hard to accept, but think of it this way: the fathers who rejected the Lord’s promise to take them into the Land incurred His anger, and the consequence of their sin was born by the entire nation, including their innocent children. There was no way around this; the children needed parents, but the parents were condemned to wander the desert for four decades, and therefore the children had to stay with them. Even in this there was mercy. Every day during those years of wandering those young people experienced the attitudes of their parents that had resulted in their exile. They also witnessed the limitless provision of the Lord in the form of food, drink, clothing and shoes that did not wear out, and protection from every adversary (Nehemiah 9:19-22; Psalm 78:24-72; I Corinthians 10:1-7). All of that prepared that generation for the conquest of the Land, going places that, quite literally, their parents were not able to go. When the Conquest began, it was under the leadership of Joshua and the inspiration of Caleb, and as long as they lived, the nation of Israel remained true to the Lord (Joshua 2:1-24; 14:6-15; 24:31).
There is no accident or coincidence in the tribes these men represented. As an Ephraimite, Joshua came from the birthright tribe, the one which carried the name of Israel and the inheritance of the firstborn (Genesis 48:8-22; I Chronicles 5:1-2). As a Yehudi (Jew), Caleb represented Judah, the royal tribe which would produce Israel’s kings and Messiah (Genesis 49:8-12; John 4:22). Ephraim and Judah would be the leading tribes in the division of the nation into two Houses which would be dispersed throughout the earth to bear witness of the Lord to every tribe and tongue and nation. That division reflected the original division of the patriarch Jacob’s family into two camps as protection against his brother Esau, ensuring that his adversary would not destroy the entire family and, with it, the as-yet-unformed nation (Genesis 32:6-8, 33:1-3). The division and diaspora of the Two Houses resulted from their rebellion against YHVH, but it was a rebellion He anticipated, and He has been able to turn even that evil into redemption for the entire world and magnified glory for His Name.
Revelation 11:1-13 tells of two witnesses who testify to the entire world about the sovereignty of YHVH and pronounce judgment on the nations for their rebellion against Him. A common interpretation in Christian teaching is that those two witnesses are Moses and Elijah. Scripture testifies that Moses and Elijah appeared with Yeshua and talked with Him at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). Yeshua even spoke of the testimony Moses would present in judgment against the people of God who refused to believe Him (John 5:39-47). As for Elijah, we have the testimony of Malachi that the Lord would send him to earth before the great Day of the Lord to turn the hearts of the people back to their fathers – and to the Law of Moses which their fathers agreed to obey (Malachi 4:4-6). As Yeshua explained, that Elijah task was the mission of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:14, 17:10-13; Mark 9:11-13; Luke 1:17; John 1:21).
That Moses and Elijah, or the spirits of those men, are the witnesses of the Last Days seems to be the correct interpretation. But is it possible that these two witnesses may be connected to the House of Ephraim and the House of Judah? Could the two divisions of the nation of Israel be the vehicle by which YHVH proclaims His greatness and His judgment on the earth in the Last Days? Yes, there is a connection. It is rooted in the careers of Joshua and Caleb after their good report of the Land. Joshua became Moses’ successor, receiving the authority of Moses and the spirit of wisdom which had rested on him (Numbers 27:15-23; Deuteronomy 34:9). He was not a king, but he had authority to organize and lead the tribes. That was and remains the anointing of the sons of Joseph, particularly of Ephraim (Genesis 49:22-26; Deuteronomy 33:13-17). In time the last and greatest judge of Israel, Samuel of the tribe of Ephraim (I Samuel 1:1-20), carried out the Lord’s mandate to provide a king for the people: David of the tribe of Judah (I Samuel 16:1-13). Later still, Ephraimites came to resent the fact that Judah held the scepter. In jealousy they grasped at that scepter, resulting in the rebellion of Jeroboam and the division of the kingdom (I Kings 12). When Ephraim returns in humility, it will be to continue in this spirit of authority and wisdom to proclaim the Word of the Lord and turn the people toward His Messiah. Humility, however, is the key. Moses was able to wield such authority only because he was the most humble man on earth (Numbers 12:3). The 2,700 years of Ephraim’s exile have been a humbling experience. We will know that sentence is coming to an end not only when Ephraimites begin to awaken to their identity, but when they began to walk in humility toward all people, and especially toward their brethren of Judah.
But what of Caleb? Did he prefigure the prophet Elijah? Like Joshua, he was not a king, but he did wield great authority as a prince of Judah, and it was he who captured the royal city of Hebron, tomb of the Patriarchs and the city where David was first named king (Genesis 23:17-20; 49:28-33; Joshua 14:6-15; II Samuel 5:1-5). There is something of an Elijah task in this. It was Elijah who prophesied before kings, and who deposed and raised up kings at the word of the Lord. We first hear of him when he confronted the wicked King Ahab of Israel (I Kings 17:1-4). He is described as a Tishbite of the settlers of Gilead, which may mean that he came from the town of Tishbe in the territory of Manasseh east of the Jordan River. At the Lord’s direction he anointed Elisha as his successor, a man from Abel-meholah, which was in the territory of Manasseh on the west side of Jordan (I Kings 19:15-18). In time Elisha received a double portion of the spirit of Elijah, and he prophesied before the kings both of Israel and of Judah (II Kings 3:1-27). John the Baptist, the man who, like Elisha, operated in the spirit of Elijah, prophesied before Herod Antipas, Tetrarch (ruler) of Galilee (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 3:18-20). It was he who called the people to repent, meaning return to the commandments of the Lord first given by Moses, and he who inaugurated the ministry of Messiah Yeshua (Matthew 3:1-17; Mark 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-18; John 1:6-36). We can expect a similar ministry of Elijah at the end of this age.
These are the Two Witnesses. The revelation John the Apostle received about them was amplification of a revelation the prophet Zechariah received centuries earlier:
Then the angel who was speaking with me returned and roused me, as a man who is awakened from his sleep. He said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.” Then I said to the angel who was speaking with me saying, “What are these, my lord?” So the angel who was speaking with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’” Also the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel—these are the eyes of the Lord which range to and fro throughout the earth.” Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?” And I answered the second time and said to him, “What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?” So he answered me, saying, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.” (Zechariah 4:1-14 NASB)
Zerubbabel was a descendant of King David and an ancestor of Messiah Yeshua (Matthew 1:6-16). He presided over the return of the exiles of Judah from the Babylonian Captivity, even as Messiah Son of David will preside over the return of the exiles of all Israel at the end of this age. At that time Messiah will reunite both Houses, according to Ezekiel 37:15-28. As for the witnesses, those who have studied the prophecies have expected two individuals to step into the roles of Moses and Elijah, and that may be the case. Yet it may be that the prophetic tasks of calling the world back to God’s Torah and proclaiming the Messiah are the tasks of the whole nation, in which case the people of both Houses will serve as witnesses to the entire world (Revelation 7 and 14). We have a long way to go before we are ready for that task. We can at least take the first step: let us believer the Word of the Lord so that we may be counted among the remnant.