†he Burros of Berea

Isaiah 66:8 in 1948? Dispensationalism’s Warp Speed Hermeneutic

Isaiah 66:8 in 1948?  Dispensationalism’s Warp Speed Hermeneutic


Copyright © Robert E. Cruickshank, Jr (December 7, 2023)

All Rights Reserved

Daniel E. Harden (Editor)


Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things?
Can a land be born in one day?
Can a nation be given birth all at once?
As soon as Zion was in labor, she also delivered her sons.
 – Isaiah 66:8


In a recent video which instantly generated over 121,000 views in a little over a week, Jack Hibbs told his audience: “Right next to Isaiah 66:8, you can write down, May 14, 1948…there is no other nation on the face of the earth that has had its rebirth in one day, except Israel, no other nation…the moment that that happened, God’s stopwatch started again…which means God is about to go to work with Israel, if you know your Bible, and He’s about ready to be done with the Church on earth. It’s a remarkable time you and I are living in, and we ought to be looking up as Jesus told us to be.”[1]

Anyone who is familiar with science fiction knows about warp speed, and anyone who is familiar with Dispensationalism knows that it’s a lot like science fiction.  Fittingly, when Dispensationalists like Jack Hibbs see a Biblical prophecy like Isaiah 66:8, they immediately make a hyperspace jump and zoom right past the prophecy’s historical fulfillment. Gary DeMar puts it this way:


“It always amazes me that prophecy pundits skip over so much of biblical history to get to 1948 claiming modern-day Israel is the fulfillment of so many OT texts when the timeline from Isaiah to Malachi is the history we should focus on because of its proximity to the promises made…It’s important to note that Isaiah was written before the events of the Babylonian exile and return. The natural or ‘literal’ interpretation would apply the prophecy to more immediate events of those living under the Old Covenant. If not then, the NT is the next option rather than the modern-day Zionist movement to Israel.”[2]


Much like a rift opening up in the space-time continuum, Israel’s establishment as a nation is considered the “super sign” or the “great miracle” of 1948.[3]  But interpreting Scripture in light of the headlines, be it today’s headlines or the headlines of 1948, is not the soundest interpretive principle. As everyone agrees, the number one rule for understanding the Bible is: Scripture interprets Scripture. This being the case, wouldn’t it be wiser to see if Scripture itself has anything to say about the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words before we make the Dispensational quantum leap – almost 2,800 years from the prophet’s own time?

Trying to keep Dispensationalists focused on the text and its historical context is often a difficult task. Historical documentaries are far less thrilling than Sci Fi feature films, after all.  Nonetheless, we need to focus on the historical backdrop of the Scriptures if we are to truly understand the Scriptures.  Tempting as it might be for some readers to just want to get “Back to the Future,” it would behoove them to pay attention to the lyrics of the song that played over the ending credits of the film by that name:

Gotta get back in time

Get me back in time

Gotta get back in time

Gotta get back in time

Get back, get back

(Get back Marty!)[4]



The Miracle of 536 BC

While Isaiah 66:8 does indeed speak of the miracle of Israel’s rebirth, that miracle happened when the nation was reborn in 536 BC – under Cyrus’s decree. In that year, the Persian King called God’s people “throughout all his kingdom” back home (Ezra 1:1-4; see also: 2 Chr. 36:22-23). Upon receiving this proclamation, Ezra tells us that “all Israel” was once again in their own “cities” (Ezra 2:70) and “the people were gathered together as one man” (Ezra 3:1).  And the clincher is that Isaiah himself had prophesied that Cyrus would be the one who would make it all happen:


26 Confirming the word of His servant
And carrying out the purpose of His messengers.
It is I who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited!’
And of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built.’
And I will raise her ruins again.
27 I am the One who says to the depth of the sea, ‘Dry up!’
And I will make your rivers dry up.
28 It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd,
And he will carry out all My desire.’
And he says of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’
And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid’ (Isaiah 44:26-28).


Cyrus, in turn, attests to the fact that he was consciously fulfilling this prophecy:


“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to rebuild for Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.  Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with 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” (Ezra 1:2).


It seems that when the Dispensational Starship made that warp speed jump it ended up in an alternate reality as well. Unless the Dispensationalist wants to argue that the name “Cyrus” is somehow code for the mid-twentieth century United Nations, and the events recorded in the book of Ezra never happened, this prophecy has been fulfilled. The Jews were regathered into their land, the temple was rebuilt, and the nation was reborn.  The Dispensational leaders zip right past the Restoration period, at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, as they boldly go where no theologian had gone before 1830.


The Restoration Period

Just as Cyrus understood his role as the instrument of prophetic fulfillment, Ezra also clearly understood that he and his contemporaries were witnessing Isaiah’s words coming true. In fact, he purposely used many of Isaiah’s own words to drive home the point. The intuitive reader can’t miss it, and it would seem that Ezra expected his readers to be intuitive ­– and familiar with the Scriptures.

The final chapters of Isaiah, especially, bear such a close resemblance to the Restoration period that many scholars believe these chapters couldn’t possibly have been written by Isaiah himself in 760 BC. These scholars argue that chapters 56-66 were added by a later redactor in support of the reform efforts by Ezra and Nehemiah between 520 BC and 445 BC.[5]  For an Evangelical with a high view of Scripture, the restoration language of Isaiah 56-66 isn’t a problem. Isaiah was a prophet, after all.  But the key takeaway here is the recognition that these chapters are a clear reflection of the Restoration period.  Those who argue that the events didn’t begin to transpire until 1948 AD completely sidestep the events of the Restoration and how those events coincide with Isaiah’s prophecy.

With that said, let’s take a look at Isaiah’s mission and ministry and the way in which his words dove-tail with the mission and ministry of Ezra at the time of the Restoration.


From Isaiah’s Prophecy to Ezra’s Fulfillment 

The prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah during the time of the Restoration can be seen by comparing several keys phrases in Ezra that are lifted from the pages of Isaiah. Ezra is plugging in the same coordinates as Isaiah and their ship lands in a completely different time zone than does the Dispensational ship.

From the very beginning of Isaiah’s commission, it’s evident that his prophetic message was to cover more ground than simply the events of his own day in the 8th century BC. But it’s equally evident that he wasn’t opening a worm hole to the 20th and 21st century AD. Isaiah asks, “How long Lord?” (Isa. 6:11a), and the Lord replies by forecasting the two-fold fate of His ancient people:


11b Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant,
Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate,
12 The Lord has completely removed people,
And there are many forsaken places in the midst of the land.
13a Yet there will still be a tenth portion in it,
And it will again be subject to burning,
Like a terebinth or an oak… (Isaiah 6:11b – 13a).


Verses 11 -12 correspond to the conquest of northern ten tribes by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and verse 13 corresponds to the devastation brought to the remaining two southern tribes by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Then, verse 13 speaks of a remnant as a “stump” and a “holy seed”:


13b    …Whose stump remains when it is cut down.
The holy seed is its stump (Isaiah 6:13b).


Regarding the phrase “holy seed,” the word “holy” is used 382 times in the OT, and the word “seed” is used 204 times. Yet, these two words occur together only one other time in the entirety of the OT.  In Ezra 9:2, Ezra refers to the returning exiles of his own day as “the holy seed.” 

Marvin Sweeney captures the significance of Ezra’s choice of words: “Indeed, Ezra-Nehemiah portrays Ezra’s return to Jerusalem as fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies, particularly the restoration of the ‘holy seed’ of Israel (Ezra 9:2; Isa 6:13) and the new exodus from Babylonia…”[6]  The possibility of this precise phrase being a mere coincidence in these two places is so unlikely that critics argue that it was added to Isaiah by a later “editor” as a “final late-post-exilic addition to the pericope.”[7]  But this is to portray things backwards.

As John N. Oswalt states, “…the book [of Isaiah] asserts that Isaiah ben Amoz (1:1) was solely responsible for the book.”[8] Isaiah (8th century BC) isn’t drawing from Ezra (6th to 5th century BC); Ezra is drawing from Isaiah. The problem is that textual critics don’t believe in predictive prophecy, i.e., they don’t believe in miracles. Isaiah’s sole author, Isaiah himself, had predicted the fall of Israel, the fall of Judah, and the return of the remnant – the “holy seed.”  Ezra was living out what Isaiah predicted, and he knew it. He was well-versed in the word of God (Ezra 7:10), and his word choice was intentional.

This intentional, conscious effort to identify the returning exiles with the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy is transparently noticeable in Ezra’s next phrase selection describing them.  Looking prophetically forward to the return from exile, Isaiah depicts the “holy seed” (Isa. 6:13) as “the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped…” (Isa. 10:20).  Accordingly, Ezra repeatedly refers to the “holy seed” (Ezra 9:2) of his own time as the “escaped remnant” (Ezra 9:13-15).  The parallels are unmistakable.

While many more intertextual connections can be and have been made,[9] the most striking would be Ezra’s reference to “everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel” (Ezra 9:4), and “those who tremble at the commandment of our God” (Ezra 10:3).  The word, “tremble” (ḥārēd), is only used in four other places in the Old Testament.

The first two usages of the word come to us early on in the Biblical narrative and aren’t particularly relevant. It’s used in Judges 7:3 with regard to those who were “afraid and trembling” at the thought of facing the Midianites. And it’s used again in 1 Samuel 4:13 of Eli, whose “heart trembled for the ark of God.” The Judges passage is about Israelites who were afraid to fight the bad guys, and the 1 Samuel passage is about a priest who was afraid that their enemies would steal the ark. Thus, these passages aren’t really germane to the Ezra text. But the final two Old Testament usages of “tremble” (ḥārēd) come to us from Isaiah, and they are especially germane.

Ezra is specifically speaking of those who “tremble” at the “word” and “commandments” of God. With this in mind, the relevancy of Isaiah’s usage of the term in conjunction with Ezra’s is self-evident:

“For My hand made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being,” declares the Lord.
“But to this one I will look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit,

and who trembles at My word” (Isa. 66:2).


“Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word:
Your brothers who hate you, who exclude you for My name’s sake,
Have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy.’
But they will be put to shame” (Isa. 66:5).


These verses come from Isaiah’s final chapter, a chapter which the textual critics again argue was either heavily modified or completely added by a later editor “from the early Persian period.”[10]  Why? Because of the undeniable “connection”[11] that “exists”[12] between the Ezra text and the Isaiah text. As Marvin Sweeney puts it, “‘those who tremble’ (ḥărēdîm) at the word of YHWH points to the interrelationship between Isaiah and Ezra-Nehemiah.”[13]

This “interrelationship” and “connection” between Ezra and Isaiah again leads the textual critics to conclude that the phrases in Isaiah were added later in reaction to the words in Ezra. For the Evangelical, Ezra (being the student of God’s word whom he was) was relying on the predictive prophecy of Isaiah, rather than a later editor of Isaiah plugging the words of Ezra into Isaiah’s prophecy.  Ezra was keenly aware of the fact he was living out fulfillment of Isaiah’s words, and as such it was time for God’s people to tremble at God’s word.  The textual critics see the connection but make the connection in reverse, thinking that the Isaiah text borrows from the Ezra text, but at least they see the connection to begin with. The Dispensationalist is too busy flying at light speed to even notice it.

For Ezra, those who trembled at God’s word were the escaped remnant, the holy seed of whom Isaiah spoke.  They returned under the decree of Cyrus, as Isaiah had foretold. Ezra knew this. Cyrus knew this. The modern-day prophecy pundits either don’t know this or they are intentionally ignoring it to keep their narrative going and the book sales flowing. May 14, 1948 was not the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Cyrus’s proclamation in 536 BC was the fulfillment. It’s recorded on the very pages of Scripture itself, and the book of Ezra is filled with Echoes of Isaiah if we only have the ears to hear those echoes. Those echoes, in turn, should drown out the theme song of the Dispensational show.


The Dispensational Shipwreck  

The believers of Ezra’s time trembled at God’s word, and today’s believers should tremble at how the Dispensational leadership misuses and abuses that word. It’s a good thing for Hibbs and his copilots that they’re not living in Old Testament times (Deut. 18:20).  Hibbs misidentifies prophetic fulfillment and informs his audience that “we ought to be looking up” for the Rapture. When the Dispensational command and control originally made their calculations based on the year 1948, the ship’s 40-year mission was projected to end in success in 1988. Unfortunately, their ship was more like the USS Minnow than the USS Enterprise and their crew in pews never got beamed up.

Today, we have the next generation of Dispensational stars steering their followers on the same trek. It’s time for believers to change the channel. Sci Fi is great, but historical documentaries are far more educational. Check out the one that’s playing in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in your Bible. You just might learn something. And while we’re at it, let’s put the USS Dispensationalist out of commission. That ship is going nowhere fast. It’s only headed for more failed predictions…at warp speed.



[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=beSxWBAZ8Ic , 15:00ff

[2] https://americanvision.org/posts/does-isaiah-66-8-predict-the-1948-modern-state-of-israel/

[3] https://www.icej.org/understand-israel/israel-updates/the-miracle-of-israels-rebirth/#:~:text=The%20great%20miracle%20of%20Israel’s,sovereignty%20in%20their%20ancient%20homeland.

[4] https://genius.com/Huey-lewis-and-the-news-back-in-time-lyrics

[5] For example, Sweeney dates the “final form of the book of Isaiah to the period of Nehemiah and Ezra…” (Marvin A. Sweeney, Isaiah 40-66 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2016), ePub/PDF version, p. 61). For a good overview of the issues involved, see: John N. Oswalt, “WHO WERE THE ADRESSEES OF ISAIAH 40-66?.” Bibliotheca Sacra 169 (2012): 33-47 https://charlotteawake.com/talkingnotes/isaiah/handouts/Who_were_the_addressees.pdf ; Dr. Michael S. Heiser, “Naked Bible 217: Authorship and Date of the Book of Isaiah,” https://nakedbiblepodcast.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/NB-217-Transcript.pdf

[6] Sweeney, Isaiah 40-66, p. 60.

[7]Szamocki, Grzegorz. ” Holy Seed” in Isaiah 6: 13: Echo of an Exclusive Concept of Israel’s Identity.” Verbum Vitae 40.4 (2022): 1055-1074., p. 1057.

[8] “Who Were the Addressees,” p. 33.

[9] See: Berges, Ulrich. “TRITO-ISAIAH AND THE REFORMS OF EZRA/NEHEMIAH.” Biblica 98.2 (2017): 173-190, pp. 175-176.

[10] Joseph H. Blenkinsopp, Ezra-Nehemiah (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1988), p. 178.

[11] Blenkinsopp, Ibid.

[12] Blenkinsopp, Ibid.

[13] Sweeney, Isaiah 40-66, p. 63.