JERUSALEM, Israel – Nearly 3,000 years ago, Hebrew prophets wrote of how the land of Israel would be transformed. Now, a new book shows remarkable and even prophetic changes in the 70 years since the rebirth of Israel as a modern nation-state.
On a visit to Israel 150 years ago, famed author Mark Twain described it as a "desolate country" and a "silent and mournful expanse."
"He talked about in the Jezreel Valley [where] you could walk 10 miles in any direction and not see a single person," author Doug Hershey told CBN News.
"So one of the towns we did photography was of a small town of Afula, which was really off the map as far as many westerners were concerned, but it was established in the early 1900s, so 50 [to] 60 years after Mark Twain, there's a small settlement. Today it's a booming Israeli city that we've been able to match, you know, some side-by-side perfect photography with it."
Hershey and his team chose 200 photographs of Israel from the 1880s to the 1940s. In his new book, Israel Rising: The Land of Israel Reawakens, Hershey chronicles the changes that time span until today.
"That's been part of the joy. We have these old photos, photos of Tel Aviv of less than a hundred years ago – of shacks on sand dunes with camel caravans on the beach. Compare it to the same angle today, it's just stunning," he said.
The book follows the prophet Ezekiel's promise in chapter 36, verse 8, where he declares, "But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they are about to come."
"We think of prophecy being to kings or people or nations," Hershey continued. "But he [is] prophesying to the land when Israel returns as a nation – branches will put forth fruit, waste cities will be rebuilt, the people, people and beasts will be multiplied on the land [and] the land will be cultivated and sown."
The book's side-by-side photos show the transformation. There's one of Jerusalem near the King David Hotel in the 1930s and the same view today.
Another pair shows Hebrew University Mount Scopus in 1925 and what it looks like now. From the northern port city of Haifa to Beersheva in the south, Hershey says the pictures show the prophets' words coming alive.
Hebrew University Mt. Scopus 1925 -1945
Hebrew University Mt. Scopus 2016
'It's Happening Right Now'
"We're living in a really profound time in history. We're living in a time where 26 [to] 2,700-year-old prophecies from Isaiah and Ezekiel and Jeremiah, they've been lying dormant for about that long and many of them are coming to pass," he said. "The most repeated promise in the scriptures is that God will bring His people back to the land and when they do, there's going to be these dramatic changes and we're seeing those."
Hershey says the land itself seemed to be waiting for its ancient people to return.
"To me, it's one of the most profound things here, this land has been conquered 15, 20 different times; it never becomes a homeland for any other people group and the land would never produce for any other people group and Israel moves back in and suddenly the vast desert wastelands are producing flowers, they're producing fruit," he said. "Isaiah 27 talks about how that when Israel returns, Jacob will take up root and fill the earth with fruit. And for many centuries believers would read that and look at that as allegorical or spiritual, but as we're finding today, it's very literal. It's happening right now."
Hershey says the book provides a visual opportunity for those who have never visited Israel, and it's also struck a chord with the younger generations.
"Most millennials are ready for something real, they want to see something practical, as far as much of perhaps theological Christianity they've been raised on more ideas, they're ready for something solid, they're ready for real," he said. "So even now when I speak in the States, I'll have questions about theology or questions about the Land and usually my answer revolves around 'let me show you, come with me to Israel, I'll show you myself.'"
As Israel prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary, Hershey sees a miracle.
"Absolutely. I mean, Israel is the time clock as many people have heard and have said and I believe that as well," he said. "There's so much that is happening here in a very short amount of time and to me it's one of the most profound miracles of our day."