With all of the controversy over the so-called "West Bank" (which the Lord will fully restore to Israel), it is easy to forget that there is another controversy over the "East Bank". No, you will not hear about this one on CNN or even the Israeli news, because very few people are aware that there is such a controversy. But when we look into the Word of God, we see that He is focused not only on the "West Bank" (Judea and Samaria) but is also wondering why Israel has not yet taken possession of the "East Bank"!
You may recall that during the time of Moses and Joshua, a large area on the east side of the Jordan River, in what is today the nation of Jordan, was given by the Lord to 2 1/2 tribes of Israel at the same time the remainder of the tribes received their inheritance on the west side of the river. This inheritance on the east side is still valid and intact, though not yet enacted in modern times since the return of Israel to the land.
So, the controversy over the "East Bank" persists, as yet unresolved in the mind of the only one who really matters, the Lord God Himself. He expressed this through the prophet Jeremiah:
"Concerning the Ammonites: Thus says the LORD: 'Has Israel no sons? Has he no heir? Why then has Milcom dispossessed Gad, and his people settled in its towns? Therefore, the time is surely coming,' says the LORD, 'when I will sound the battle alarm against Rabbah of the Ammonites; it shall become a desolate mound, and its villages shall be burned with fire; then Israel shall dispossess those who dispossessed him,' says the LORD." (Jeremiah 49:1-2 NRSV)
We know where the Ammonites lived. The name of the modern capital city of Jordan, Amman, is derived from Ammon, son of Lot. In fact, it stands on the site of the ancient city of "Rabbah" mentioned in this verse. So we have no doubt about the area to which this refers.
The question asked by the Lord, in somewhat sarcastic terms, is this: "Doesn't Israel have enough people to populate the East Bank of the Jordan? Why have others settled there instead?" The persons mentioned in the verse are Milcom, who was the god of the Ammonites, and Gad, one of the tribes to whom that area of land was assigned.
You see, it was not only offensive that certain groups of people had usurped the land assigned to Israel, but that they had done it in the name of a false god. This brings us to the present day. We know without any uncertainty that this prophecy has not yet been fulfilled entirely, because of the fact that Israel does not yet possess this land. And just as in the Jeremiah prophecy, the usurpers of the land are doing it in the name of a false god, Allah.
Apparently, the God of Israel takes personal offense at this, because His verdict is one of devastation for the peoples who have dispossessed Israel from the land He granted them. Will Amman, Jordan become a "desolate heap" after the Lord sounds the battle cry against her? There is much in the surrounding chapters 48-49, as well as Isaiah 15-16, that seems to elaborate on this.
The outcome, then is that Israel will "dispossess those who dispossessed him". While the world is focused on the West Bank, which also will be the object of Divine action to reclaim the land promised, God has a surprise in store for the unsuspecting world. He plans to reclaim the "East Bank" as well!
The next verse, while continuing to describe this process, has a curious and fascinating quirk to it. It contains an astonishing detail of Bible prophecy that we could not have understood until recently.
"Wail, O Heshbon, for Ai is laid waste! Cry out, O daughters of Rabbah! Put on sackcloth, lament, and slash yourselves with whips! For Milcom shall go into exile, with his priests and his attendants." (Jeremiah 49:3 NRSV)
If we indeed understand that these verses have a modern fulfillment as well, we see what will happen in the future. The people of Jordan will be wailing in anguish because of their predicament, as well as the predicament of their false god. Allah will not be sufficiently powerful to sustain their presence in that land because he is opposed by Yahweh. (Obviously, we understand that Allah is a fictitious, non-existant entity). The directive to "slash yourselves with whips" is a sarcastic confirmation of this as well, because the gruesome practice of flagellating themselves with whips until the blood pours is an annual Shiite Muslim rite to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein in 680 AD.
But until a few days ago, there was a detail of this verse that I had not noticed before. That is the curious and incongruous mention of "Ai". Bible commentators of the past had noticed it as well, and incorrectly assumed that there must have been another "Ai" on the east side as well as the city that figured prominently in the annals of Joshua. But there is no Biblical or extra-biblical evidence of this of which I am aware.
The IVP Bible Background Commentary takes a more accurate approach, saying, "The connection between Ammon and Moab in this oracle is clear: both kingdoms and their capital cities are put on notice of coming destruction. However, the mention of Ai seems out of place. The city of Ai (usually identified with et-Tell) is located near Bethel in Israel and has no direct relation to Heshbon or Rabbah."
The reference to Ai does seem out of place, until we consider the situation and geography today. Bethel and Ai were located about 12 miles north of Jerusalem. Do you know what city is today in very close proximity to their location? Ramallah!
Yes, Ramallah, the headquarters from which the Palestinians have been directing their campaign of terror against Israel. Now the mention of Ai makes perfect sense! If this passage is, as we understand it, referring to a future, impending war during which Israel regains territory on the East Bank, the Jordanians who are allied with the Palestinians, will, according to Jeremiah, wail and lament when Ramallah is laid waste! The mention of Ai in this verse, after the period when that city had any kind of relevance to the situation, is an encoded, symbolic reference to the modern city of Ramallah.
Once again, we see the wonders of God's Word, with specific details revealed many centuries in advance of their actual fulfillment. Jeremiah's own exclamation of praise is a fitting summary: "O great and powerful God, whose name is the LORD Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds.... You performed miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt and have continued them to this day, both in Israel and among all mankind, and have gained the renown that is still yours. You brought your people Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror. You gave them this land you had sworn to give their forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey." (Jeremiah 32:18-23 NIV)