The Seven Great Revivals in Israel
The original meaning of “revival” is to make alive again, but this word has assumed a popular meaning signifying the turning, on the part of many, to God. It is with this derived meaning that I am using the word in the present discussion.
In the past, among Gentiles and in the Jewish community, there have been numerous turnings to God. Someone has well said that each generation needs a reformation or revival. Man seems to be prone to depart from his God and to walk in forbidden paths. Moses recognized this truth when he said to Israel, “But Jehovah hath not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day” (Deuteronomy 29:4). In view of this startling fact Moses could look out into the future and see nothing but periods of apostasies from God on the part of His people and then returnings to Him. In other words, he saw that there would be cycles consisting of apostasy from God, punishment from the Almighty, a crying to the Lord for deliverance, and His saving the people out of their predicament. There were six such cycles of experiences during the period of the judges alone.
In our present study however let us consider the seven great national revivals in Israel. Six are past. The last is yet in the future. Those in the past occurred in the days of Moses, in the days of king Asa, in the days of Jehoshaphat, in the days of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah, and in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. The final one will occur in the days of the Tribulation under the ministry of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, mentioned in Revelation 7.
In the Days of Moses
Israel developed into a mighty nation of approximately three million people when she was in Egypt. While there, the people worshiped the Egyptian idols (Ezekiel 20:7). God allowed Pharaoh to oppress His people so that they would turn to Him for deliverance. When they did, He sent Moses and Aaron proclaiming that they should turn from idols to serve the true and living God. Thus in the first thirteen chapters of Exodus we find this marvelous record. Moses preached the Word of God to Israel, and she believed it. Turning to the Lord she was delivered from her oppressions.
By miraculous power, Moses and Aaron brought Israel out of Egypt to Mount Sinai where the law was given and when Israel entered into covenant relationship with her Maker. This occurred in the year 2513 A.H.
In the Days of Asa
After the days of David, Israel continued to depart farther and farther from God. The ten northern tribes revolted under Jeroboam and instituted idolatrous worship in the northern kingdom. Asa, who was of the Davidic line, turned his heart to God when he realized the hopeless and helpless condition of the entire nation. He saw their predicament under the preaching of Azariah the son of Oded. When he heard the message “and the prophecy of Oded, he took courage, and put away the abominations out of all the land of Judah and Benjamin, and out of the cities which he had taken from the hill-country of Ephraim; and he renewed the altar of Jehovah, that was before the porch of Jehovah” (II Chronicles 15:8). So the people gathered together in the fifteenth year of Asa to Jerusalem and engaged in divine service, making sacrifices to the Lord and imploring Him for His forgiving grace and pardoning mercy. They were rather drastic in their measures, for they decided to put everyone to death who would not seek the Lord. The entire multitude swore with a loud voice, with shouting, with trumpets, and with cornets. They proved the earnestness of their purpose and sincerity in this manner. The Lord knew that they were really seeking Him. Hence they obtained divine favor.
The king even went so far as to remove his mother who was queen mother, because she had made an abominable image. He destroyed it. This was a wonderful revival but was not so very thoroughgoing as some of the others which later occurred, for the high places were not all removed.
We see from the study of II Chronicles 15 that the revival was brought about by the preaching of the Word of God. The message was given in a clear, concise manner and with force and power. It brought conviction to the guilty people, and they turned to God as a nation.
In the Days of Jehoshaphat
As stated in the beginning of this study, every generation needs, it seems, a revival and a reformation. After Asa instituted his reforms and the people renewed their covenant with God, the nation backslid again and walked in its own way. Upon Jehoshaphat's accession to the throne, he turned to the Lord with all his heart, strengthened the fortifications of the kingdom, and constantly sought the Lord.
In the third year of his reign he felt that there was the need of a great religious revival; hence he sent his princes with Levites and priests throughout the realm who taught the Law of the Lord to the people: “And they taught in Judah, having the book of the law of Jehovah with them; and they went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught among the people” (II Chronicles 17:9).
The preaching of the Word of God had the desired effect, and there was a mighty revival. The blessing of the Lord rested upon the kingdom in such a manifest way, the surrounding nations realized that God was with them. They had therefore the very highest and most wholesome respect for Israel. Some of them even sent presents to the king in order to entreat his favor.
Unfortunately, Jehoshaphat made affinity with Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, and was persuaded to go with him to Ramoth-gilead to battle. This was a fatal mistake. Of course, no good came of it. The Lord reproved Jehoshaphat for his doing this. Nevertheless there was good in him, and the Lord continued to bless him.
Finally, Jehoshaphat went out personally among the people from Beer-sheba to the hill country of Ephraim and brought the people back to Jehovah their God. Then he sent judges throughout the land in all their fortified cities, impressing upon them the fact that they were judging for God and that they should make righteous decisions in the fear of God. Thus it seems that the revival begun in the third year of his reign was heightened by the king's personal supervision in leading the people back to God.
In the Days of Hezekiah
Approximately two hundred years passed before there was another awakening in Israel. There was, however, an ebb and flow of the spiritual life of the people according to the character of the ruling monarch. Under the good kings the people seemed to take on spiritual life; but under the lax and wicked ones the people lapsed into many evil and sinful practices, oftentimes adopting idolatry. Hezekiah came to the throne, succeeding his father Ahaz. Upon his accession he gathered the priests and Levites together and urged them to sanctify themselves unto Jehovah and to cleanse the house of God, for his fathers, he confessed, had trespassed and done that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah their God. He called their attention to the fact that the doors of the porch of the house of Jehovah had been closed, the lamp had been put out, and the regular Temple services had been discontinued. He was, therefore, convinced that the wrath of God was threatening them because they had been unfaithful to Him. He concluded his message by urging them to return to God and to resume the worship. The priests and the Levites were electrified by the king's reasoning and appeal. They began to cleanse the house of Jehovah and to prepare for the resumption of the worship. The proper sacrifices and offerings were made at that time. The spirit of the occasion gripped the people and one of the most marvelous services ever held was conducted, to which the people brought innumerable offerings and sacrifices.
Then Hezekiah wrote letters and sent them by special messengers to the people of the northern kingdom, urging them to come to Jerusalem that they might observe the passover.
Though it is not stated specifically that these messengers went out and preached the Word of God to the people and taught them, nevertheless we are certain that the Law was observed. The time seemed ripe for this mighty revival. All that was necessary was an invitation from the king to the people to come to Jerusalem. Then they began the services, commanded by Moses, as we see in II Chronicles 30:16. Everything was done according to the Word of God as reiterated in chapter 31:3.
This mighty revival was the result of the teaching and preaching of the Word of God. Everything seems to indicate that this time the spirit of revival reached higher in the national life than on the two former occasions.
In the Days of Josiah
Approximately a hundred years passed before there was again another great awakening in Israel. On this occasion it occurred in the eighteenth year of Josiah (II Chronicles 34-35). He was preceded on the throne by his father Amon, who was possibly the most wicked king ever to sit upon the throne of David. His reign was preceded by the long, unprecedented rule of Manasseh, who also was one of the most wicked, profligate kings of Judah. During these two reigns, the spiritual life of the people had sunk to a very low ebb, but the young king was assisted and encouraged by Hilkiah the high priest, who found it in his heart to repair the house of God. The spirit of revival seems to have swept over the nation. The Levites received money from the people and delivered it to the high priest and the proper authorities for the repairing of the house of Jehovah. When the workmen were cleaning the rubbish from the Temple, they found the lost book of the Law of Moses. It was immediately sent to the king. Shaphan, the scribe, read therein before him. When the king heard the words, he rent his clothes. He then commanded Hilkiah, Ahikam, Abdon, Shaphan, and Asaiah to inquire of the Lord concerning the situation. These went to the prophetess Huldah concerning the matter. Then the word of the Lord came to her stating that wrath was resting upon the people because of their having violated the terms of the covenant and disregarded His will. But to the king whose heart was tender this warning was a message of love, of consolation, and of hope.
The king therefore gathered all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem together with the priests, Levites, and the people, who went to the house of God. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that was found in the house of Jehovah. Then in the presence of the assembly, the king entered into a covenant with the Lord to observe the statutes, commandments, and laws of the book and caused all that were in Jerusalem and Benjamin to take the same stand. Thereupon he took away all the abominations (idols) which the children of Israel had worshiped and made all that were found in Israel to serve Jehovah their God. At the proper time they observed the regular passover according to the way it was written. Such an observance had never been known in all the annals of Jewish history. Thus a mighty revival swept over the nation, and the people continued faithful to God as long as this king lived.
In the Days of Ezra and Nehemiah
After the return of the exiles from captivity, they met much opposition. They were hindered from rebuilding the Temple, after having started the work, for a period of fifteen years. In the second year of the reign of Darius Hystaspes, they resumed their task and completed it in the sixth year of that monarch. By his twentieth year the enthusiasm of the people for Jehovah had dampened, and many evil practices had crept into their ranks. By the permission of Darius, the Medo-Persian king, Nehemiah, who was his cup-bearer, returned to Jerusalem and found appalling conditions among the people. He and Ezra the scribe were used of God in bringing about a mighty revival that turned the whole nation back to God. The account of this great awakening is found in Nehemiah 8 and 9. It was brought about by the reading of the Word of God to the people: “And they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading” (Neh. 8:8). Great indeed was this revival — the sixth one that moved the nation back to God.
In the Days Lying Ahead
In our study we have seen that every revival that has swept over the nation of Israel was brought about by the reading or the preaching of the Word of God. I admit that providential circumstances entered into each situation, but the giving of the Word of God to the people, accentuated by His chastisement, is what brought about each of these revivals. In view of past history, the assumption is that the next revival which occurs in Israel will be brought about in a similar way. We must accept this implication unless there is positive evidence showing that it will be different from the former ones.
Jesus declared that the Word of God is the seed of the kingdom (Matthew 13:1-23) “... it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe” (I Corinthians 1:21). Paul spoke of God's having committed unto him and others “the ministry of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:18-21). Men have always been saved by faith, but faith comes by hearing the Word of God. We can be certain therefore that the future revival in Israel will come by the same means — the preaching of the Word of God.
In certain quarters there is a misunderstanding on this point due largely to the faulty translation of Zechariah 12:10 in the Common Version, which has this statement: “And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced.” This prediction is interpreted as affirming that Israel will be converted by looking visibly upon the Lord Jesus Christ when He returns personally at the end of the Tribulation. This misunderstanding has led hosts of earnest, sincere people to conclude that we now have little or no responsibility to the Jew in giving him the gospel. God will, the argument runs, convert him at the return of the Lord, and it is not our responsibility now to give him the gospel.
This argument seems conclusive — if there were no other statements indicating otherwise. The Revised Version, however, renders the Hebrew of this passage most accurately; “... and they shall look unto me whom they have pierced.” This translation gives an entirely different meaning and is what one finds in the Hebrew.
The word, in certain connections, rendered look, does mean to look with the physical eyes, but it also in many instances can and does mean to regard; to pay attention to; to consider. For instance, in Isaiah 22:8 it has this latter meaning. One sees it also in Isaiah 22:11 and 51:1,2. But the preposition, translated in the Common Version upon, should be rendered unto, for such is its primary meaning. This rendering shows that the Jews will put their faith in Him. This latter translation is absolutely confirmed by the prediction made concerning the Lord Jesus and His return to heaven after the crucifixion and His refusal to come back until after Israel acknowledges her sin or offense against Him: “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me earnestly” (Hosea 5:15).
The Lord Jesus said to the Jewish Sanhedrin that He would go away and never come back until the Jews confessed Him:
0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:37-39).
These scriptures indicate that Israel must be given the facts concerning the Lord Jesus, be convinced of the truthfulness of His claims, and acknowledge her sin before He will ever leave heaven and return to them.
There is no other way to do this than to preach the gospel to Israel so that she can repudiate her national sin and accept Him, pleading for Him to return. When she cries, He will answer (see Acts 3:19-21).