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By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons London) DD.
Ezekiel Chapters 33-39
The section begins with a reminder to Ezekiel that he is God’s appointed watchman for the house of Israel. Then the news comes through of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and Ezekiel is now released from his enforced dumbness and is free to speak again openly, and his ministry then transforms into one of warning and of hope for the future. God’s people must repent and seek Him, but His promise is that He will visit His people and will bless them abundantly, although there are still great events to come as the enemies of God’s people seek to destroy them. History must yet unfold but the end is sure.
Chapter 33 Ezekiel’s Position as A Watchman Is Re-emphasised - Sad News From Jerusalem.
Ezekiel Is Appointed A Watchman. Mercy Is Offered to the Repentant (33.1-20).
The ideas in these verses are repeated from earlier in the book. See 3.16-21 where Ezekiel was earlier appointed as a watchman and 18.21-29 where the promise of forgiveness to the repentant was made. Why then are they repeated here? The answer must be because Ezekiel is being prepared for and reminded of his pastoral task now that his earlier prophecies have been fulfilled, and in order to connect back with what has gone before.
33.1-6 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, speak to the children of your people and say to them, When I bring the sword on a land, if the people of the land take a man from among them and set him for their watchman, if when he sees the sword come on the land he blows the horn and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the horn and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. He heard the sound of the horn and did not take warning. His blood will be on him. Whereas if he had taken warning he would have delivered his life. But if the watchman sees the sword come, and does not blow the horn, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.” ’
‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying.’ Once again Ezekiel receives a direct word from Yahweh. ‘Son of man.’ A continual reminder to Ezekiel that he is but a mortal man, and yet also bordering on a title by its constant use. It thus also designates him in its use as one chosen of God.
First a general principle is stated. The setting of watchmen to watch for the enemy was a common occurrence. Every border would have its watchtowers, every city its watchmen. And, as soon as an enemy was seen to be approaching, the long curved horns the watchmen carried would be sounded as a warning to the people, and would go on being sounded until they were sure that the people had heard. This gave those in the fields the opportunity to flee within the walled cities for refuge, and enabled the defending troops to ready themselves.
The responsibility was a great one, and they would use men with sharp eyes. The safety of the people would depend on their early warning. But once they had given their warning their task was done. It was then up to others to take notice of the warning and implement what was necessary for deliverance, and for those in the fields to seek refuge. Any failure then would not be the responsibility of the watchman, but of those who heard the warning.
But if the watchman saw the enemy coming and did not give warning, then their blood would rest on him. He would have failed in his duty and would be to blame for all that followed. It was an awesome responsibility. They would be blood guilty in the eyes of the relatives of the dead, and in the eyes of God.
‘When I bring a sword on the land.’ In a sense every invader is under the hand of Yahweh. Nothing happens without His say so. But this also implies guilt on the part of the invaded nation. For some reason they are receiving punishment.
‘He is taken away in his iniquity.’ The punishment is being exacted on this person. But if it is the watchman’s fault, the watchman must also bear the blame. This is a hint of the application to follow. Note that in the illustration God has spoken of a land against which He has ‘brought the sword’, therefore it is a blameworthy land and its people sinful. But they might have been spared if the watchman had done his duty. Thus we are prepared for the fact that a watchman of Yahweh is to be looked for, to turn men to repentance so that they may escape punishment.
33.7-8 “So you, son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman to the house of Israel. Therefore hear the word from my mouth and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man will die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”
Ezekiel is reminded that he is God’s chosen watchman, appointed to watch on behalf of Israel on whom the sword has been brought. Now he must speak and give warning, for unless they repent, the sword will also come on Israel in exile. Indeed to the exiles God is saying, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die.’ It is now up to Ezekiel to warn them and call them to repentance, to a change of heart and mind, with the aim of turning them from their present way. And if he does not do so their blood will be on his hands and God will require it of him. Note that the call is to each individual. There is individual responsibility, and Ezekiel is responsible for each individual.
The same is true for all Christians. We have been made watchmen for the world. We know His truth and the judgments that will come on men. We too are therefore responsible to warn men and to seek to turn them from their evil ways, and if we do not we too will be held responsible for their final death and what they have to face.
33.9 “Nevertheless if you warn the wicked of his way, to turn from it, and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your life.”
But many individuals who are warned will not listen. They will refuse to change their ways. They will therefore die in their sin. But the watchman will have ensured that he is guiltless because he has warned them. No blame can then be laid at his door.
33.10 “And you son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus you speak, saying, ‘Our transgressions and our sins are on us, and we pine away in them. How then should we live?”
God puts a question in the mouths of Israel, a question which suggests a certain level of conviction of sin. It suggests that they have recognised that they deserve to be declared guilty, and that that causes them great grief. For they have recognised that it means that they do not deserve to live. Rather they deserve to die. Their thought is of a cessation of life because of their sins, a loss of all that is good. Their cry has in it a sense of hopelessness. They see no way of escape.
‘How then should we live?’ Their conviction of sin is such that they recognise that they do not deserve to live. They do not see how a righteous God can forgive them, especially as they now have no sacrificial system to turn to. the loss of their sacrificial system was probably no small one to many of them. It raised the question as to whether they could be properly forgiven without it. God will assure them that they can.
33.11 “Say to them, As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn yourselves, turn yourselves, from your evil ways. For why will you die, O house of Israel.”
These words should be written in large letters. God has ‘no pleasure in the death of the wicked’. His longing is that they turn from their wickedness and live. That is why He made the provision for forgiveness under the old covenant at Sinai, and that is why He sent His Son into the world that we might live through Him. There will be no pleasure for God in the judgment day. Only deep regret and sorrow as He passes His sentence on the majority of mankind. But nevertheless that sentence will be passed on all those who have not turned from their sins, for God is not only love, He is also light. He cannot overlook or deal lightly with unforgiven sin, for it reveals a heart set on evil.
But here He emphatically calls men to turn from their sins. He longs for their repentance. Then He will not have to judge them. Then they will not need to face sin’s punishment. Then they will not die the death of the wicked. His cry to His people is heart-rending. ‘Why will you choose to die?’
God’s reply reveals that the sacrificial system was not seen by Him as a final necessity. They were not in a position to offer sacrifices, but forgiveness was available. What was required was a heart that turned to Him in repentance. For He looked ahead to the one great sacrifice for sin that would replace all others, the sacrifice of Himself for man’s sin. It was that that enabled ‘the passing over of sin done aforetime’ (Romans 3.25).
33.12 “And you, son of man, say to the children of your people, ‘The righteousness of the righteous will not deliver him in the day of his transgression, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he will not fall by it in the day that he turns from his wickedness. Nor will he who is righteous be able to live by it in the day that he sins.’ ”
This is not talking about sins that we commit because we are sinful and cannot help it, even though we try, it is talking about presumptuous sin. It is talking about an attitude of heart and mind taken up and clung to. If the righteous man deliberately turns to sin and disobedience as a way of life, all his previous righteousness will be of no avail. A man is not saved by the amount of his righteousness. Looked at from the human standpoint he is saved by his response to God’s graciousness. And if that response ceases he is revealed as an unworthy sinner, and he cannot therefore count on any righteousness that he has done. For no amount of righteousness can save a man.
In the same way, if a man whose heart has been turned in the way of sinfulness has a change of heart and mind and turns to God and His graciousness, his past sins will be forgiven him. He will begin a new life in the mercy of God. All his past sins will have been done away.
This tends to raise many questions in the heart of a Christian concerning the fear of falling away, and what will happen to the one who does so. And its answer is that if a man falls away finally then he will not be accepted at the judgment. It will be no good pleading what he has previously done.
But the other side of things also has to be considered, the Godward side. God’s promise is to save a man out of his sins, not to save him in them. His promise is to transform men’s hearts and minds (2 Corinthians 5.17), to take them from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3.18), to work in His own to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). And He will not fail in those promises. He will confirm to the end those who are His (1 Corinthians 1.8).
A godly man was once asked, ‘Do you believe in the perseverance of the saints?’ And that godly man replied, ‘No. I believe in the perseverance of the Saviour.’ So those whom the Saviour saves will be persevered with. They cannot fall permanently back into sin, otherwise He would have failed. But it warns us that there is no peace in wallowing in sin on the basis of past experience. If Christ is truly at work within us our hearts will be right at the end, for He will ensure that it is so. There is no contradiction between Ezekiel and the Gospel.
33.13 “When I say to the righteous that he will surely live, if he trusts to his righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered. But in his iniquity which he has committed, in that will he surely die.”
The warning here is against one who has lived rightly and therefore is confident that he deserves the goodwill of God. So he feels that God now owes him something and that he can turn to sin without losing God’s goodwill. That is the belief that a man’s destiny depends on the quantity of his good works. But that is denied here. It is here clearly stated that God’s judgment on a man is not determined by the quantity of his righteousness but by his revealed attitude of heart.
In ancient days many believed that the sins of men were put in the balances on one side and the good on the other, and a man would receive according to which weighed the heaviest. Their view was that if a man had lived a righteous life he could get away with a bit of sinfulness. But Ezekiel gives a firm and emphatic denial of such an idea. It mattered not what the weight of a man’s sins was, nor what the weight of his righteous deeds. What mattered was whether his heart was set rightly towards God. And only a man whose heart was rightly set towards God could be sure that he would live and not die. Only he could look forward with confidence to the favour of God.
33.14-16 “Again, when I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die.’ If he turns from his sin, and does what is lawful and right. If the wicked restore the pledge, give again what he has taken by robbery, walk in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity, he will surely live, he will not die. None of his sins which he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is lawful and right. He will surely live.”
Note that this is spoken of one to whom God has spoken. It is speaking of a man who responds to God. And because of his genuine response to God his past sins will be forgiven him so that they are remembered no more, and he will begin to live to please God, to obey His commandments and to do His will. He will restore anything that he has wrongfully kept, he will return anything that he has stolen, he will walk in God’s ways seeking to please Him, turning from all that he knows to be wrong. Then he can be confident that he will receive life and not death. Not because his new goodness deserves it, but because he has responded to the mercy of God. He has been ‘converted’ and has found forgiveness.
33.17a ‘Yet the children of your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not equal (fairly weighed).’
This sums up man’s attitude. They cannot bear that a sinner can suddenly become acceptable to God. They cannot bear that one who has struggled to be righteous, building up merit, can ‘lose’ the benefit of it. They think that it is not fair. For they believe that God should give a man what he deserves. And they are confident that somehow they can earn merit with God to put in the scales to balance out any wrong they do. Thus to suggest that a sinful man can suddenly be put on a par with ‘the righteous’ is something that they cannot stomach.
They think that such a man ought to go through a long probation, build up merit to put in the scales against his former wickedness, and even then not catch up with the righteous. He must always be second best. Their view is that there is a medium level, and those who go above it are righteous, and those who go below it are sinful, and the only way that a sinful man can become righteous is by catching up by great effort and getting above the line.
But God tells us that there is only one level, and all go below it. For the truth is, of course, that we deserve nothing from God. ‘All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64.6). When we are righteous in our living we are only doing what we ought to do (Luke 17.10). We earn no merit. And when we sin we cancel out the fact that we have not sinned before (James 2.10-11; Galatians 3.10). And we have all sinned. It would have been no use Adam in the Garden pleading that he had only sinned once, for without the mercy of God his one sin condemned him forever. It was only because God came to him in mercy that he could begin again and not die. And so it is with us all.
Thus it was in this case. Repentance towards God and looking to Him for mercy was alone the way by which any, whether rated as righteous or unrighteous, could find favour with Him. The righteous found favour because he was looking towards God and making the necessary offering for sin, not because he was ‘righteous’. The unrighteous could find immediate favour when he turned from his sins, looked towards God, made the necessary offering for sin, and began to walk as God would have him walk. Thus both were in the same position, acceptable to God because they walked in the mercy of God. But let them turn from that in attitude of heart and mind and they were no longer acceptable.
33.17b-20 “But as for them their way is not equal (fairly weighed). When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he will even die in it. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he will by that live. Yet you say ‘the way of the Lord is not equal’. O house of Israel, I will judge you every one after his ways.”
God points out that it is their way that is not just, not His. He treats all the same. If their heart are responsive towards Him and they seek His mercy, He gives them life. If their hearts are turned away from Him and they do not seek His mercy, He gives them death. And if they turn again He again gives life. He is the same towards all. All will be judged according to their present ways and not according to some supposed merit which does not exist. They want to insist that there are some who deserve more than others, and therefore deserve different treatment on those grounds. But God treats all men equally.
Jerusalem Has Been Destroyed (33.21-33).
33.21 ‘And so it was that in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month one who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me saying, “Jerusalem is smitten”.
If we accept this dating, and accept it as being calculated on the same basis as others in Ezekiel, then it means that the first news of the fall of Jerusalem arrived eighteen months after Jerusalem’s fall which was in the fourth month of the eleventh year. Ezra would later make the journey in four months (Ezra 7.9). It is thus seen as strange that it took so long for the news to come through. But it may rather be that this was the first eye witness to tell them of what had happened, and that until that was so they were unwilling to accept it. Rumour was one thing, an eye witness who had experienced it another. With a ravaging army possibly still around Jerusalem it may not have been possible for any to escape who had the purpose of reaching the exiles, survival would have been their first consideration, and they may have remained hidden in the mountains and waited until it was possible to move freely again.
Alternately it has been suggested that we read the twelfth year as ‘the eleventh year’ (with some LXX manuscripts and the Syriac. The difference in Hebrew would be only one consonant). Another suggestion is that the calculation was based on a different calendar using the autumnal reckoning. This would then also make for a much shorter period.
Whatever the solution the arrival of one who had actually escaped from the ruined city would have been a momentous event. The depth of feeling conveyed is indicated by the brevity of the announcement, ‘the city is smitten’. Nothing more needed to be said. What had seemed to many so incredible, and to Ezekiel so certain, was now a reality. It would change their whole way of thinking. Indeed they would have to rethink their whole theology.
33.22 ‘Now the hand of Yahweh had been on me in the evening before he who had escaped came, and he had opened my mouth by the time he came to me in the morning, and my mouth was opened and I was no more dumb.’
The arrival of the man had, for Ezekiel, been preceded by something equally remarkable. In an ecstatic state before Yahweh in the evening, his mouth had been opened, and his enforced dumbness, which had lasted for some years, had ceased (see 3.26). This in itself must have told him that something awesome was about to happen. And then the man came, and he was able to speak with him ordinarily. He was no longer restricted only to speaking when he had an oracle from Yahweh. It was the news that he had been expecting. Only the timing had been unknown to him. All he had said had been confirmed.
33.23-24 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, those who inhabit those waste places in the land of Israel speak, saying, ‘Abraham was one, and he inherited the land. But we are many. The land is given to us for an inheritance.’ ” ’
Those who now remained in the land, ‘the poorest of the land’ who were left to become vinedressers and ploughmen (Jeremiah 52.16), began to boast of their new inheritance. They were able to take over large tracts of empty land, land which had been wasted by war, and boasted that in comparison with Abraham they were many and were thus in a better position than he. They thus saw themselves as having been left there by God as inheritors of God’s promises, and indeed had some grounds for optimism had they been faithful to the covenant (Jeremiah 42.10-12).
33.25-26 “Wherefore say to them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘You eat with the blood and lift up your eyes to idols, and shed blood. And shall you possess the land? You stand on your sword, you work abomination, and you each defile his neighbour’s wife, and shall you possess the land?”
But they were not faithful to the covenant. They ignored the ban on eating the blood of slain beasts, they worshipped idols, they brought violence and death to the land. To ‘stand on the sword’ probably meant that they relied on it and resorted to it. To work abomination was to engage in the sins described in 18.10-13. And they especially engaged in illicit sex, probably connected with Canaanite religious rites. All these things meant that God would not allow them to possess the land, which in the end explains why they found refuge in Egypt against God’s express command after a short civil war (Jeremiah 41-43).
33.27-28 “Thus shall you say to them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Surely those who are in the waste places will fall by the sword, and he who is in the open field will I give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in the strongholds and in the caves will die of pestilence, and I will make the land a desolation and an astonishment, and the pride of her power will cease, and the mountains of Israel will be desolate, that none pass through.”
This is a vivid picture of the situation in the land. Those in waste places were those trying to reclaim the land that had been wasted by war, they would fall by the sword in civil war; those in the open fields probably scavenged for food and were themselves regularly attacked by hungry and scavenging beasts who had moved in to an area made empty of man; those in the strongholds had found refuge in holes and ruins in the devastated strongholds, those in the caves had returned to primitive ways of living. Both the latter would suffer pestilence because of the conditions. Thus the land would be desolated, an astonishment to all round about. ‘The pride of her power’ (7.24; 30.6), the authorities in the land, will be no more. The mountains will be empty and desolate, peopled no more.
33.29 “Then will they know that I am Yahweh, when I have made the land a desolation and an astonishment, because of all their abominations which they have committed.”
The people who remained continued in the abominations described above. So instead of returning to Yahweh and listening to Jeremiah, assassination and warfare continued among those remaining, and those who joined them. There was a short civil war and then those who remained left for Egypt taking Jeremiah with them (Jeremiah 41-43). Thus they learned Who and What Yahweh was, the moral Overlord, the One Who would not bless and protect them while they sinned against Him and His covenant.
33.30-32 “And as for you, son of man, the children of your people speak of you by the walls, and in the doors of the houses, and speak to each other, every one to his brother, saying, ‘Come I pray you and hear what word there is that comes from Yahweh’. And they come to you, as the people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words. But they do not do them. For with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goes after profit. And lo you are to them as a love song by one who has a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument, for they hear your words. But they do not do them.”
The people in exile were little better. They had now fully recognised that Ezekiel had bought the authentic word of Yahweh, they spoke of him with admiration, they discussed him, they came to hear him, declaring themselves the people of Yahweh, they exalted him, they enjoyed his messages like men enjoying a beautiful singer who sings of love, but they did not do what he told them. They were hearers but not doers. Their real love was mammon. Their hearts were fixed on profits and worldly gain. Thus the word fell on barren ground.
How many modern Christian campaigns follow the same pattern. Great outward response, enjoyment of the music and the preaching, but no genuine response. Lives are not changed. Men do not become doers. Their hearts are still set on mammon (often even the preachers’ hearts). By their fruits they must be known.
33.33 “And when this happens, behold it comes, then will they know that a prophet has been among them.”
‘This’ is the further desolation of the land after the fall of Jerusalem as described above. That will further evidence to them that a true prophet of Yahweh has been among them. But the question will continue to be, will the exiles now genuinely respond? As watchman to the house of Israel it was his responsibility to go on blowing the horn.
Others see ‘this’ as referring to the coming restoration.
Remarkably this is the last mention of Jerusalem in Ezekiel (apart from a secondary mention in a comparison - 36.38). Jerusalem, having been destroyed, is no longer of interest to Ezekiel. His emphasis is on the restoration of Israel as a whole. He is concerned with the people of God, not with the restoration of Jerusalem.
Chapter 34 The False Shepherds and the True Shepherd.
In this chapter God likens His people to sheep and describes and condemns those who have been false shepherds to His people. He then goes on to promise the restoration of His people, under Himself, and One from the house of David who will be a true shepherd to them.
34.1-2 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves. Should the shepherds not feed the sheep?” ’
We need not doubt that this has a backward reference to the shepherds of the past, the kings, priests and prophets who had failed His people, but it also very much included the present shepherds who now had responsibility for the people’s spiritual life and teaching in exile, as the later warnings make clear. And the charge was serious. They were guilty of looking after themselves, whereas a true shepherd would be looking after the sheep.
The idea of kings and leaders as shepherds to their people is a common one (1 Kings 22.17; Isaiah 44.28; 63.11; Jeremiah 2.8, linked with the priests and the prophets; 10.21; 23.1-6; 25.34-38 - more general; Micah 5.4, 5 see also Psalm 78.70-71). Also see more generally Isaiah 56.10-11; Jeremiah 50.6; Nahum 3.18; Zechariah 10.2-3; 11.8.
34.3-4 “You eat the fat and you clothe yourselves with the wool. You kill the fatlings. But you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the diseased, nor have you healed those who are sick, nor have you bound up what is broken, nor have you restored the ones who were driven away, nor have you sought that which was lost. But you have lorded it over them with force and with rigour.”
The charge is expanded on, a failure to look after the sheep in their many needs, while themselves obtaining as much advantage from them as they could. They were squeezing the flock dry but they gave them little in return. The general approach demonstrates that more than just past kings were in mind.
Thus they overlooked the basic necessities of those under their care. They did not help the weak, they did not restore those who were failing, they did not go after any who strayed or were snatched away. They left them to themselves except for when they wanted to benefit from them. And then they pursued their object diligently and with vigour.
It is a sad thing when pastors and preachers have a high opinion of themselves, and even sadder when their main aim is their own good and their own advancement rather than genuine concern for their people.
34.5 “And they were scattered because there was no shepherd. And they became meat to all the beasts of the field, and were scattered.”
This has definite reference to the past. They had had no true and worthy shepherd. That is why they were now scattered. Their kings, their official leaders, their official teachers and their official watchmen, had failed them and thus they had become meat for the hunters and scavengers round about. But not only had they been failed in the past, their shepherds were still failing them.
34.6 “My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill. Yes, my sheep were scattered on all the face of the earth and there was no one who searched for them and sought after them.”
The scattered sheep, His people, now wandered without guidance. No one cared, no one sought them out to help them. They were left to wander aimlessly without proper assistance because those appointed to be their shepherds were failing them.
34.7-8 “Therefore you shepherds, hear the word of Yahweh. As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, surely forasmuch as my sheep became a prey, and my sheep became meat to all the beasts of the field, because there was no shepherd, nor did my shepherds search for my sheep, but the shepherds fed themselves and not the sheep.’
The verdict is now given beginning with the accusatory facts. The sheep had not had proper guidance, they had not had protection, and no one had sought them out when they went wrong, and thus they had given way to false teaching and had been physically misused. And all because the shepherds were looking after their own interests and not those of the sheep. They were too busy making themselves well-to-do and advancing their own status.
34.9-11 “Therefore you shepherds, hear the word of Yahweh. Thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Behold I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the sheep. Nor will the shepherds feed themselves any more, and I will deliver my sheep from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. For thus says the Lord Yahweh, I myself, even I, will search for my sheep and will seek them out.”
In these remarkable word God lays out His plan for His people. First He will call the shepherds to account (‘require my sheep at their hand’) and remove them from being shepherds to His sheep, so that they cannot any more profit from the sheep. They will no longer be able to ‘eat’ them. Then He Himself will search for them and seek them out.
That He sought them out and brought them back to Palestine and Jerusalem we know from later history. But the calling to account and removal from under the shepherds did not fully take place then or later. Zechariah could still prophesy of the false shepherds over the sheep (chapter 11), and of His good shepherd who was coming (13.7).
It was only when One came Who could proclaim Himself as the good shepherd (John 10.11, 14), Who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 15.3-6; 19.10), that these leaders were totally replaced and the sheep were put under new shepherds. Thus this total change awaited the coming of the prince of the house of David (34.23). The so-called ‘church age’ is in mind here with a vengeance, when the new Israel will come under the new shepherds under the Great Shepherd.
34.12-16 “As a shepherd seeks out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep who are scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep. And I will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day (‘the day of clouds and thick darkness’). And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and their fold will be on the mountains of the house of Israel. There will they lie down in a good fold, and they will feed on fat pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will feed my sheep, and I will cause them to lie down, says the Lord Yahweh. I will seek that which was lost, and will restore those who were driven away, and will bind up what is broken, and will strengthen those who were sick. And the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in judgment.”
The prime point here is that because the shepherds failed God Himself would act more directly. He would be their king. In order to carry out His plan the first stage would be to bring His people back to the land of Israel. This He gradually did, and we have no reason to doubt that many from both Israel and Judah returned to the land. There were no lost tribes to Him. The ‘cloudy and dark day’ was past.
And there He promised to feed them lavishly, on the mountains, in the very place where they had regularly sinned against Yahweh, and by the rivers. In other words out in the open everywhere, not limited to sanctuaries. The old leaders had been replaced. Indeed it is significant that there is no reference here to the temple. The very point is that they will no longer be taught by the old shepherds, but by Himself throughout the land, and that their fold will be on the mountains of Israel where they will learn and be blessed.
We can hardly fail to see here the ministry of John the Baptiser and Jesus, literally by the rivers and on the mountains. And we are told by Isaiah that this ministry in Israel was to be an essential preparation for God’s ministry to the whole world through His Servant (Isaiah 42.1-4; 49.1-6 see Acts 13.47).
There is nothing more clear than the fact that this abundant sustenance was lacking throughout later centuries prior to the coming of Jesus. There were of course some faithful shepherds, and there were a remnant of those who were faithful to Yahweh, as there had always been. There were pockets of blessing. We must not denigrate or deny the work of godly men. But there was nothing that tied in with this triumphant picture. The Jews themselves admitted that prophecy had failed. All awaited the coming of the great Prophet Who would transform the situation (Isaiah 61.1-2), and the prince of the house of David (34.23-24; Isaiah 11.1-5), Who would send out his true under-shepherds, first to Israel (Matthew 10.5-15), and then to the world (Matthew 28.18-20).
‘I myself will feed my sheep, and I will cause them to lie down, says the Lord Yahweh. I will seek that which was lost, and will restore those who were driven away, and will bind up what is broken, and will strengthen those who were sick.’ God Himself will care for the sheep. This was also to be the ministry of the great coming Prophet (Isaiah 61.1-2) and Jesus makes clear that it was His ministry and that this was where the other shepherds had failed. They did not seek the lost, but He did (Luke 19.10; 15 all). They did not restore those who were driven away, but He did (John 10.12-14). They did not act as physicians to the sick, but He did (Mark 2.17). They did not bind up the broken-hearted, but He did (Isaiah 61.1). As a whole they mainly restricted themselves to their adherents. So He was fulfilling the task of Yahweh.
‘And the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in judgment (or ‘as is fitting’).’ The sleek and well fed, who had made themselves so at the expense of others, would face their judgment. Judgment would become their food. This is a vivid picture of what would happen to the leaders of Israel in the coming of Jesus and what followed in the destruction of the temple. They received what was their due. And it is also a vivid warning to preachers who make themselves rich at the expense of His people.
34.17 “But as for you, O my flock, thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I will judge between cattle and cattle, as well the rams as the he-goats. Does it seem a small thing to you to have fed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the residue of your pasture. And to have drunk of the clear waters, but you must foul the residue with your feet? And as for my sheep, they eat what you have trodden with your feet, and they drink what you have fouled with your feet.”
The wider under-leadership are likened to the rams and the he-goats, lords of the flock. They fed themselves on good pasture and clear water and then trampled the pasture down and muddied the water. They did not care what happened to the remainder of the flock. So God’s people continually received tainted teaching and the harder side of life, while the rich prospered.
33.20-21 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh to them, “Behold I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and the lean cattle, because you thrust with side and with shoulder, and push all the diseased with your horns, until you have scattered them abroad.”
The leaders and the wealthy were like the fat cattle that made use of their strength and bulk and thrust and push until the weak moved away and were scattered. They did not care about those for whom they were responsible, especially the sickly. They wanted to move them out so that there was more for themselves.
So God was making clear His displeasure at the current leadership of Israel, and the well-to-do, because they were like the rams and fat cattle. They had no time for the poor of the flock. And it is clear that He expected things to go on like that as He now revealed. He was under no illusion about the hearts of His so-called people. Indeed he recognised that there was only one hope, the raising of a man, a chosen man, a unique man, at His behest, to bring about His will.
There are many Christians today who also behave like this. They push people out of the way. They arrogantly exert their authority over others (often claiming to be humble). They too must recognise that God knows their hearts and will call them to account.
33.22 “Therefore will I save my flock, and they will no more be a prey. I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he will feed them, even my servant David. He will feed them and he will be their shepherd. And I Yahweh will be their God, and my servant David prince among them. I Yahweh have spoken it.”
No solution will be found to the problem of false shepherds and bad leaders until there arises one appointed by God, one out of the house of David, one who is like David, to be prince over them. He will feed them rightly and be a good shepherd to them. And that is what Yahweh intends to bring about. Note that he is a ‘prince’. Yahweh is God (and king).
God intends to save His flock, and deliver them from being continual victims (‘a prey’). He will separate the good from the bad, judging between cattle and cattle (see on verse 17). And He will establish over them the shepherd of His own choosing. It is clear that this shepherd was going to be a powerful and striking figure, and we can see why people began to look forward to the coming of a son of David, of a Messiah. And this promise was certain. It was the word of Yahweh.
This idea of the raising up of a son of David (and thus of Judah) is found throughout the Old Testament. The very suggestion indicated that there could be no solution until He came, that nothing would finally be settled until His arrival, otherwise why was He needed? It began in Genesis 49.10, continued in Numbers 24.17, and grew as an idea throughout the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-10; 55.3-4; Jeremiah 23.5-6; 31.21-22; Hosea 3.5; Micah 5.2; Zechariah 9.9; Daniel 7.13-14). There is no wonder that many Psalms came to be interpreted in the light of the Messianic hope (see Psalms 2; 72; 110). It was clear that Israel’s destiny could not be settled until He came on the scene. But note that He would introduce an everlasting kingdom with everlasting promises. This is no ordinary prince, no mortal man. His success and authority go on beyond the end of time. The thought of everlastingness clings to Him (Isaiah 9.6-7; 55.3; Daniel 7.13-14; Micah 5.2). It is the vision of an eternal future which cannot be put into words.
So none of them, Ezekiel included, could have literally put into words what He would achieve. It was outside their experience and their knowledge. It was beyond their comprehension. And thus they all without exception necessarily had to express their prophecies in terms of what they could understand, of their own ideas of perfection. They knew that He would bring in the perfect everlasting state, but they inevitably had to express it in terms of their own present understanding, and in terms that their hearers and readers could understand. So the remainder of this chapter deals with that conception in terms that Ezekiel’s hearers would appreciate. New Testament ideas would have been totally incomprehensible to them.
How far then should it be taken absolutely literally? Are these promises necessarily to be completely fulfilled in the literal mountains of Israel, in a literal Jerusalem, restricted basically to Jews? Or is their fulfilment put here in these terms simply so that people who had no conception of a living world beyond the grave could grasp and appreciate them. In other words, is it in the final analysis wider reaching than having just a literal meaning, to convey lessons about the heavenly to those who had no conception of eternity?
The choice is not necessarily an either/or. The people of Israel would (to a certain extent) certainly be gathered back to the land. There would certainly be enjoyment of these promises to some extent by the literal mountains and rivers of Israel. The Shepherd would come to Israel. But the perfection implied in them was never attained, and could never be attained, and the New Testament applies that partly to the invisible Kingly Rule of God on earth, and finally to the everlasting state in ‘a new Heaven and a new earth’. This is clearly brought out in 37.24-28 which speak of an everlasting state, but in terms of the land of Israel.
Our view is thus that it must not, indeed cannot, all be taken literally. There can be no everlasting state on earth. Thus it is a vision of a perfect world to come depicted in terms of the day. The New Testament takes this up and reveals that it was the church which was the new Israel, continuing as the people of God, with the old Israel cast off, and that the promises to Israel were to be fulfilled in the church, the new Israel (something Paul emphasised), first in the suffering church, gathered from among all nations, and then in the glorified church, thus themselves following in the footsteps of the suffering and glorified Messiah. This is what the message of Revelation especially makes clear.
Those who would apply the ideas to the old Israel, simply restored, are taking a backward step. They are partly missing the glory of what happened through the death and resurrection of Christ, when He, as the One Who was the chosen of God and incorporated Israel within Himself, and as the representative of the true Israel, established the new Israel, based on His Apostles, after which the old order was finished and destroyed in 70 AD. Such interpreters are trying to revive what in Christian terms has been put aside for ever. (See Romans 9-11; Galatians 3.7, 28-29; 6.15-16; Ephesians 2.12-13, 19-22; James 1.1; 1 Peter 1.1).
We have only to see what the result would be if we took all the Old Testament promises literally. We have an earthly temple and an earthly Jerusalem erected after they have been replaced by the heavenly temple and Jerusalem (Hebrews 12.22; Galatians 3.26; Revelation 21.2, 10; 1 Corinthians 3.16-17; 6.19; 2 Corinthians 6.16; Ephesians 2.21; Hebrews 8.2; 9.11-13; 10.19-21; 13.10; Revelation 6.9; 8.3-5; 11.1, 19; 14.15, 17; 15.5, 8; 16.1). We have the restoration of literal blood sacrifices when Hebrews has made clear that they have been replaced by something far better (see Hebrews 10.12; 13.10). Indeed to commence earthly sacrifices is to do exactly what Hebrews forbade us to do. We have a so-called ‘gospel of the kingdom’ which is a sideline, and debased, compared with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and offers lesser benefits, a poor shadow of the great reality.
And we could go on to demonstrate how impossible it is that all the descriptions of the so-called ‘coming kingdom age’ can be woven together, for if taken literally they conflict with each other. Does anyone really believe that we will have spears and bows and arrows in use in the last days, and that all the people of the whole earth will be required, or able, to gather at Jerusalem and Judah for the feast of Tabernacles, using seething pots (Zechariah 14)? Indeed that all nations will gather at Jerusalem for worship week by week on the Sabbath and will go out and look at the dead carcasses in the valley of Hinnom (Isaiah 66.23). What a contrast, if taken literally, with the glorious picture in Revelation 21-22. But how meaningful if seen as indicating the glorious fulfilment of all the promises of God and restoration of full harmony with Him in His covenant.
And can we believe that anyone in an age of glory, would gather at the slaughter of thousands of beasts and have their blood sprinkled on them in the presence of Christ, at a time when the animal creation was at total peace and killing was no more (Isaiah 11.6-9), and the sacrifices were not really necessary? Why should they have their eyes turned to the slaying of brute beasts when the Lamb is present? Men who take all the Old Testament literally (or largely literally) have to believe it, but few surely do so without some doubts or questionings in their hearts.
Furthermore in 37.26-28 it is made clear that what Ezekiel is describing has eternal dimensions. It is not for a thousand years but for ever. Can we believe that this world will go on for ever? For that is what is involved.
However, we must recognise that there are many godly men who do hold these views in various measure, as I once did when as a young man I used the Scofield reference Bible, before I gained the knowledge to see the greater application, and I would point out that I honour these men for their true faith in Christ, and look on many of them as faithful and beloved fellow-servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, and have been blessed through their ministry. I recognise that they do so because they take literally words which in my view were intended to convey ideas which if expressed otherwise would not have been comprehended. They are therefore seeking to be faithful to the word of God.
But I cannot accept their ideas on this matter, which appear to me to be retrograde, and not in accordance with New Testament revelation. It is my view that they have missed the point, something that all readers must judge for themselves. (But for His sake let us do it in Christian love. Our views will not change what will really happen).
In order to be literally fulfilled they require not only the present return of Israel to their own land, but also that, in some way, literal Israel are to be differentiated from the true Israel as described by Paul (the true ‘foreknown’ Israel which grew out of the old Israel - Romans 9-11) in the purposes of God. For the latter is not just to be seen as a ‘spiritual Israel’, the stress in the New Testament is that it is the real Israel, being incorporated into the covenant as renewed in the new covenant.
Now if the argument is that God is gathering unbelieving members of that Israel, who have been cut off, back to their land in order that they might be converted in the final days and become incorporated back into the true Israel, the genuine church of Christ, we can only say ‘amen’ to that. But to go back to restoration of the old Israel, a mixture of belief and unbelief, building failure upon failure, re-erecting the temple, establishing a sacerdotal order, and dealing with separate issues than those of the Gospel, is such a backward step that it is incomprehensible why it should be so. Indeed it seems to suggest that the Gospel has not been successful, and that the shadow is more important than the reality. But the Scriptural truth is that the church is the Israel of God. There is surely now therefore no place for another Israel in the divine reckoning, except as being re-grafted into the new Israel (Romans 11.23). For Paul the only future for the old Israel was to become part of the new Israel.
So we see these verses (and similar verses throughout the prophets), as pointing forward to the days when His Kingly Rule began first to be established, and concluding in the perfection which will be finally achieved in the new Heaven and the new earth.
34.25-27a “And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause evil beasts to cease out of the land, and they will dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. And I will make them and the places around my hill a blessing, and I will cause the shower to come down in its season. There will be showers of blessing. And the tree of the field will yield its fruit, and the earth will yield her increase, and they will be secure in their land.”
‘A covenant of peace.’ That is a situation where they are surrounded with all the blessings of God’s promises in union with Him, because He and they are at one (Ephesians 2.13-15; Colossians 3.15), and they are walking with Him in obedience. There will be peace between man and God.
The picture is one of peace, contentment and blessing. It is Ezekiel’s idea of a perfect life based on an agricultural environment, and presented to people who thought in terms of such an environment. Wild animals will be no more (they were clearly a constant problem in the past), it will be safe to sleep anywhere, whether wilderness or wood, the rains will fall abundantly in due season, and trees and earth will be abundantly fruitful And all this is promised finally to the people of God ‘around My hill’.
‘My hill.’ In view of the fact that Ezekiel never mentions Jerusalem after its destruction and thinks rather in terms of Israel and its mountains we should probably see ‘My hill’ as referring to the whole mountain range which was the backbone of Israel (regularly elsewhere called ‘the mountain’) spoken of in this way to bring out its smallness, almost like a pet name. This is a most unusual use which suggests that the insignificance is intended. The word used here is regularly used in parallel with ‘mountain’, signifying smaller heights, and is only once used of Jerusalem, and then in parallel with ‘Mount’ as a synonym for it (Isaiah 10.32). Mount Zion was not thought of as ‘a hill’, indeed it was exalted above the hills (Isaiah 2.2; Micah 4.1).
Should we however see it as signifying Jerusalem, it is surely in the context to be seen as the new eschatological, everlasting Jerusalem, which in Revelation is in ‘the new earth’. In 37.26-28 this same covenant is put in the context of eternity. (As we shall see later, Ezekiel pointedly ignores Jerusalem by name. It is peripheral to his main theme).
The same picture is presented differently in Revelation 21-22, also symbolically, because the great reality is beyond men’s minds to comprehend. But the basic thought is the same. Redeemed man will have all that he needs, will know a glory beyond telling, and will be at peace and dwell securely in the presence of God. There will be no more tears, no more crying, no more lack, for all these things will be done away (Revelation 21.4). It is a picture of what men think of as ‘Heaven’ (signifying by that the final ideal existence with God) depicted in earthly terms.
34.27b-28 “And they will know that I am Yahweh when I have broken the bars of their yoke, and have delivered them from those who made bondservants of them. And they will no more be a prey to the nations, nor will the beast of the earth devour them, but they will dwell securely and none will make them afraid.”
These words had added meaning to those who had just heard about the final destruction of Jerusalem, and who lived in enforced exile in a foreign land, subject to foreign authorities, and wondered if they would ever know peace and security again. They longed for liberty and freedom. The promise was that God would one day set all this to rights for His own, and that in the end His true restored people would find true and total liberty in the presence of God, safe from all that could harm them.
34.29 “And I will raise up for them a plantation for renown, and they will no more be consumed with famine in the land, nor bear the shame of the nations any more.”
It would be a time of abundance and plenty. They would have a place for growing fruit and grain which was a wonder to all, and there would be no more famine, nor would the nations be able to mock them for their lack. They would have everything that a man could want. The idea of being in Heaven (in the sense of the ideal existence with God) continues. It is the overflowing abundance of all that a man can want.
34.30 “And they will know that I, Yahweh their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel are my people, says the Lord Yahweh. And you my sheep, the sheep of my pasture are men, says the Lord Yahweh.”
Compare Revelation 21.22-23; 22.3-5. His people will know the presence of Yahweh. They will know that they are His. And they will know that they are ‘men’, spiritual beings made in His image and likeness, and not brute beasts of the field.
Notice the change of phrase. Not ‘they will know that I am Yahweh’. That could spell judgment. But ‘they will know that I, Yahweh their God, am with them.’ A guarantee of blessing. The fact of Yahweh being with His people is always central to conceptions of perfection and glory. For the title ‘their God’ compare verse 24. It signifies here the Divine King and Lord.
Chapter 35 The Denunciation of Edom.
The question must be asked as to why the denunciation of Mount Seir (Edom) is found in the midst of these chapters about deliverance? The answer must lie in the fact that it is in deliberate contrast with Israel’s fate and restoration. Note how ‘Mount Seir’ (the mountain range of Edom) is in contrast with ‘the mountains of Israel’, the mountain backbone of Israel (35.3, 7, 15; with 35.12; 36.8. Also compare 35.8 with 36.6). And how ‘Behold I am against you, O Mount Seir’ (35.3) contrasts with, ‘O mountains of Israel, -- behold I am for you and I will turn to you’ (36.8-9).
Furthermore 36.1-16 are directly connected with chapter 35 by the fact that ‘the word of Yahweh came to me saying’ (Ezekiel’s way of dividing the oracles) occurs only in 35.1 and then in 36.16. The whole was seen as one oracle.
While the blessing of Yahweh will come on His people, it will be accompanied by judgment on others who have despised His people. And Edom as the bitterest enemy of Israel were selected for the contrast, partly because they shared a similar situation to Judah in their connection with the Jordan rift and its surrounding mountains, and largely because their betrayal was most recently in mind. And even more because they thought that they could take possession of Yahweh’s land which He had given to His people. It demonstrated that it was always dangerous to meddle with the people of God even when they also were under chastening.
The despicable behaviour of Edom during and after the invasion, in that they turned back fleeing refugees to the swords of the Babylonians, probably to earn the commendation of Nebuchadnezzar and so that they could possess the land, and then later plundered the suffering land as a result, was still warm in the memory and merited their being especially remembered in this way. It is a stark warning that when God is blessing not all will receive the blessing. God blesses His own and punishes their enemies. Their enemies will reap what they have sown, especially when they have been so vindictive. For God is the God of all nations and is not to be thwarted by any.
35.1-4 ‘Moreover the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face against Mount Seir, and prophesy against it, and say to it, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I am against you, O Mount Seir, and I will stretch out my hand against you, and I will make you a desolation and an astonishment. I will lay your cities waste and you will be desolate, and you will know that I am Yahweh.” ’
Mount Seir (Edom) had no doubt gloated over what was happening to Judah, but now they learn that it would also happen to them. They too would suffer as Judah had previously done at the hand of Yahweh (compare 33.28; 12.20; 19.7). Their betrayal would not save them from the hand of God. There would be total devastation.
‘Mount Seir’ refers especially to the continuation of the Jordan rift valley after it passes the Dead Sea, the land where Petra (Sela) is to be found. It was in that mountainous region that the Edomites lived and revealed their almost perpetual enmity towards Judah and Israel.
35.5 “Because you had a perpetual enmity, and have poured out the children of Israel to the power of the sword in the time of their calamity, in the time of the final iniquity (iniquity of the end).”
This is the reason for their condemnation, their perpetual enmity towards the people of God, vividly again revealed in recent days. In mind therefore is their perpetual enmity and betrayal. It is clear continually that Edom did have a perpetual enmity against Israel and Judah. See Genesis 25.22-34; 27.1-41; 36.1; Numbers 20.14-21; 24.15-19; 1 Samuel 14.47; 2 Samuel 8.13-14; 1 Kings 11.14-22; 2 Kings 8.21; 14.7; 2 Chronicles 20.1-23; 28.17; Psalm 137.7; Isaiah 1.11-16; 34.1-17; Jeremiah 49.7-22; Lamentations 4.21-22; Daniel 11.41; Amos 1.11-12; Obadiah 1.10-14; Malachi 1.2-5). They were constant enemies.
But especially in mind are their cold, cynical acts when Judah desperately needed help. Ammon received refugees, Egypt received refugees, but Edom did not. They turned them back at the frontiers. This is probably what is in mind in their ‘pouring out of the children of Israel to the power of the sword’. It may, however, refer to their subsequent invasion of the land (see verse 10).
‘In the time of their calamity, in the time of the final iniquity.’ This almost certainly refers to the fall of Jerusalem, and the subsequent events that followed when Israel perpetrated their final iniquity.
35.6 “Therefore as I live, says the Lord Yahweh, I will prepare you for blood, and blood will pursue you. Since you have not hated blood, therefore blood will pursue you.”
Edom have not hated the shedding of blood, but have delivered God’s people to death. Therefore God will prepare blood for them, that is will arrange for their slaughter, just as they arranged for the slaughter of God’s people. And this is guaranteed by the fact that God, the God whom they have opposed, is the living God. Notice the fourfold mention of blood. The word for blood is related to that for Edom (mentioned in verse 15), so this may be a deliberate play on words. But Edom were kin to Israel, and were therefore blood guilty.
35.7-9 “Thus will I make Mount Seir an astonishment and a desolation, and I will cut off from it the one who passes through and the one who returns. And I will fill his mountains with his slain. In your hills and in your valleys and in all your watercourses they will fall who are slain with the sword. I will make you into perpetual desolations, and your cities will not be inhabited, and you will know that I am Yahweh.”
This is a clear contrast to what has happened to Israel. Compare 36.4. The hills and the valleys and the watercourses of Israel had been desolated. They had been made a desolate waste and their cities had been forsaken. They had become a prey and a derision. And Edom had taken advantage of it. Now they will suffer similarly themselves. Thus will they know Who Israel’s God is.
‘And I will cut off from it the one who passes through and the one who returns.’ A Hebraism to signify everyone without exception.
‘I will make you into perpetual desolations.’ Compare Isaiah 34.5-15. It is the final sentence from which there is no recovery.
35.10-13 “Because you have said, ‘These two nations and these two countries will be mine, and we will possess it’, whereas Yahweh was there. Therefore as I live says the Lord Yahweh, I will act in accordance with your anger, and in accordance with your envy which you have shown in your hatred against them, and I will make myself known among them, when I judge you. And you will know that I, Yahweh, have heard all your blasphemies which you have spoken against the mountains of Israel, saying, ‘They are laid desolate, they are given to us to devour’. And you have magnified yourselves against me, with your mouth, and have multiplied your words against me. I have heard it.”
Edom were guilty of two major crimes. They considered that they could annex the land that belonged to Yahweh, His possession, and they had magnified themselves (and their gods) against Yahweh. The two nations here are Israel and Judah. But the land belonged to Yahweh. ‘Yahweh was there’, as they well knew. Thus in saying what they did they were despising Yahweh.
Furthermore their acts were acts of anger and jealousy against their ‘brothers’, acts which therefore drew on them Yahweh’s retribution. Thus when the retribution came Israel and Judah would recognise in it the hand of Yahweh, ‘I will make myself known among them when I judge you’.
And their words against the mountains of Israel were blasphemy, because while those mountains were Yahweh’s, they considered that they were now given to them (by their gods). The implication may also be that they had actually stated openly and constantly that Yahweh’s land was now given to them and their gods. That would be the view of an ancient nation. And it would make the blasphemy even more outrageous.
‘I have heard it.’ All is open to Him. No word can be spoken without Him hearing it. Thus He wanted them to know that He had overheard their words and would call them to account. Men are justified or condemned by their words (Matthew 12.37).
35.14-15 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “To the rejoicing of the whole earth, I will make you desolate. As you rejoiced over the inheritance of the house of Israel, because it was desolate, so I will do to you. You will be desolate, O Mount Seir, and all Edom, even all of it. And they will know that I am Yahweh.”
The whole earth is pictured as rejoicing over Edom’s desolation, just as Edom had rejoiced over Israel’s desolation. They had rejoiced over the fact that Israel had lost their inheritance, so they too will lose their inheritance at the hand of Yahweh (what of their gods then?). They will be a stark warning to all who afflict God’s people.
‘You will be desolate, O Mount Seir, and all Edom, even all of it. And they will know that I am Yahweh.’ The desolation will affect the whole of Edom and will be such that all who see it will recognise in it the hand of Yahweh. They will recognise His being and His power.
These predictions against Edom were literally fulfilled. Edom was first subjugated by Babylon, then by Medo-Persia, and then in 126 BC by John Hyrcanus, the Hasmonean ruler of Israel, who compelled them to become Jews and forcibly circumcised them (compare Obadiah 1.18). There is no trace of the Edomites in the modern day, although their desolate cities can still be identified (compare Jeremiah 49.13). Indeed the wonders of Petra have made it a tourist attraction.
Chapter 36 Israel Will Be Restored.
This glorious picture of the restoration of Israel emphasises their spiritual restoration in the land, a restoration which will make the nations recognise that He is Yahweh. This in the end is always God’s purpose for Israel, that through them and their witness all nations will come to the light of Yahweh (Genesis 12.3; Exodus 19.6; Isaiah 2.2; 42.6; 49.6-7; 56.7; 60.3; 66.18; Zechariah 14.9, 16-21).
The idea of ‘Israel’ has always been both inclusive and exclusive. Those of any nation who sought to enter the covenant with Yahweh were welcomed and adopted into Israel (Exodus 12.48). Those who disobeyed His covenant would be rejected (Exodus 32.33; Leviticus 20.6; Hosea 1.9; Zephaniah 1.4-6; Romans 11.20. That indeed was the significance of the death penalty for many transgressions in the Law. They were cut off from Israel). Thus the stranger was officially always welcomed and could become an Israelite by adoption, circumcision and commitment (Exodus 12.48; Deuteronomy 23.3 also assumes it with reservations). Indeed a great multitude from many nations were so adopted in Exodus 12.38, and entered into the covenant at Sinai. Throughout Israel’s history the same happened, and thus we have such people as Uriah the Hittite clearly recognised as Israelites.
The Jews in the period before the birth of Jesus also recognised Gentiles who turned to Israel’s God, and were circumcised, as on equality with them (in theory at least). And the great controversy over circumcision in the early church was precisely because Christians were seen as becoming a part of the true Israel, as Paul regularly stressed (Romans 11.17; Galatians 3.7, 29; 6.16; Ephesians 2.13-14, 19). Indeed he saw Israel as an olive tree into which branches could be grafted, and from which branches could be cut off. Believing Gentiles were grafted in, as they always had been. Unbelieving Jews were cut off. And if unbelieving Jews wished to be restored to being Israelites they must be grafted in again by believing (Hosea 2.23; Romans 11.17, 23). It was the church which was now the true Israel (Galatians 6.16; Revelation 7.4-8; 12.17).
Thus Peter and James could describe Christians as ‘the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion’ (James 1.1) or as ‘the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion’ (1 Peter 1.1) (the Dispersion was the name given to Jews scattered around the world). Neither give any hint that they are distinguishing between Jewish and Gentile Christians, which would be remarkable if it were so, especially as Peter in his letter refers to Gentiles as non-Christians.
So ‘Israel’ has always been a fluid conception and the church was seen to be Israel in truth, not just some vague idea of a ‘spiritual Israel’. Indeed the above facts exclude anyone else as being finally seen as Israel by the church. The Jews were the Jews. The church was the true Israel, foreknown by God (Romans 11.2 compare 8.29). It is true that Paul calls the Jews ‘Israel’ in Romans 9-11, but he also specifically says there that they were not really Israel (Romans 9.6). The elect were Israel. The rest were blinded. Indeed all who are truly Israel will be saved (Romans 11.26). So he did not see the old Israel as really Israel any more. It was not a question of Israel being superseded by the church, the church was seen as the true continuation of Israel. We must bear this in mind as we consider this chapter.
The first part of the chapter splits into two parts. Verses 1-7 reflect on God’s judgment on the surrounding neighbours, and verses 8-15 confirm the blessing that is to come on Israel.
36.1-2 “And you son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel, and say, ‘You mountains of Israel, hear the word of Yahweh. Thus says the Lord Yahweh. Because the enemy has said against you, “Aha!”, and “The ancient high places are ours in possession”.
Having spoken words of doom to Mount Seir, Yahweh now spoke to the mountains of Israel. He gave as the background against which He was going to work in restoration the cynicism of Edom, which reflected on Himself. Firstly they had said, “Aha!” in a knowing way. They had cast doubts on what Yahweh was doing, and had hinted that He was powerless and unable to help His people. And secondly they had claimed that Yahweh’s inheritance was theirs to take possession of.
That they recognised that they were acting against Yahweh comes out in that they saw themselves as taking possession of ‘the ancient high places’. This was ironic. To them the ancient high places were the heart of Israel’s religion (compare 2 Chronicles 32.12; Isaiah 36.7 for a similar misconception). They had seen the fervid activity there and had thought that it was central to Yahwism. Now they gloated, they and their gods would take possession of them. The use of ‘ancient’ might suggest that they felt that Israel and Yahweh had usurped them in that they were there before Israel arrived. So this was intended to be a direct attack on Yahweh.
There were of course ancient high places such as at Bethel, Shechem, Gibeon and Gilgal, to name but four, which had had an honourable (as well as a dishonourable) history (see Genesis 31.13; 35.7; Joshua 24.1, 25-26; 1 Samuel 1.3; 9.13-14, 19; 10.8; 11.15; 1 Kings 3.4). They were local sanctuaries where men had felt that they could meet with God and offer sacrifices other than before the tabernacle, probably places where they considered that God had recorded His name (Exodus 20.24). And some therefore see this verse as indicating a deliberate attempt by Edom to take over the genuine ancient sanctuaries of Judah and Israel. Then ‘ancient’ is seen as signifying that they had been given to them by Yahweh long ago so that it was blasphemy to seize them. But the ‘high places’ had become a source of Israel’s downfall, as Moses had realised that they would, and elsewhere in Ezekiel ‘high places’ always has a bad sense, so that that would suggest we see it as having the same sense here.
Others however see ‘high places’ here as simply indicating the hills and mountains of Israel (compare Amos 4.13; Micah 1.3; Habakkuk 3.19) which Edom purposed to take over, seeing the verse as indicating Judah’s longstanding right to be there as having been given the land by Yahweh. Its use elsewhere in Ezekiel, however, tends to be against this interpretation.
36.3 “Therefore prophesy and say, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, because, even because they have made you desolate and swallowed you up on every side, that you might be a possession to the residue of nations, and you are taken up on the lips of gossips, and the evil report of the people. Therefore you mountains of Israel hear the word of the Lord Yahweh, Thus says the Lord Yahweh to the mountain and to the hills, to the watercourses (streams and rivers) and to the valleys, to the desolate wastes and to the cities which are forsaken, who are become a prey and a derision to the residue of the nations who are round about, therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, Surely in the fire of my jealousy I have spoken against the residue of the nations, and against all Edom, who have appointed my land to themselves for a possession, with all joy in their heart, with malice of soul, to cast it out as a prey.”
Note the continual use of ‘therefore’ (see also verses 6 and 7) and the way the sentences pile up. It is intended to indicate the depths of feeling behind the words. The words were spoken in passion.
God was angry because His people, having been made desolate, had been made further desolate by what was left of the scavenging surrounding nations, who had swallowed them up and sought to take possession of them. He was also angry that they had become the subject of casual conversation and rumour and evil reports (verse 3). So He in turn has spoken against those nations (verse 5), and He declared to the land of His inheritance (‘My land’) (verse 5), which those nations were trying to possess, that He would take further action (verse 7).
‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh to the mountain and to the hills, to the watercourses (streams and rivers) and to the valleys, to the desolate wastes and to the cities which are forsaken, who are become a prey and a derision to the residue of the nations who are round about.’ Note the complete description taking in every part of the land. It indicated that He was fully aware of its position and was concerned for every part of it. Not one part would be ignored.
‘Surely in the fire of my jealousy I have spoken against the residue of the nations, and against all Edom, who have appointed my land to themselves for a possession, with all joy in their heart, with malice of soul, to cast it out as a prey.’ Indeed He was so concerned for the land that He had given His people, for ‘His land’, that he had passed sentence on the aggressors in the ‘fire of His jealousy’, that is, in His deep concern over what was His. Note too that He points out the attitude of the aggressors. They acted with a fierce joy and with deep malice. They had no scruples. They enjoyed taking their revenge. This more than justified the action against them.
Note too the point that He was protecting Israel’s land ready for their return. It could not be given to the nations because He yet had a purpose there for His people (verse 8).
36.6-8 “Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say to the mountains and to the hills, to the watercourses and to the valleys, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I have spoken in my jealousy and in my fury, because you have borne the shame of the nations (those outside of the covenant), Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, I have lifted up my hand, saying, Surely the nations who are round about you, they will bear their shame, but you, O mountains of Israel, you will shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they are at hand to come.”
The whole section from verse 3 to this point is one long expression of passion and concern. It was bringing out God’s deep concern for His people, and how they had been treated by those who were not the rod of His anger. He could chastise them for their good, but woe betide anyone else who sought to chastise them for the wrong reasons. Now we come to the crunch point. Those nations will bear their shame as they have shamed Israel, while Israel will eventually be restored.
‘Behold I have spoken in my jealousy and in my fury.’ That is His deep passion and concern for His people and anger at the sinfulness of men who oppose them.
‘Because you have borne the shame of the nations (those outside of the covenant).’ The word for ‘nations’ includes the idea of being those outside the covenant. ‘The nations’ were those who were in contrast with the chosen people, the covenant people of God. And now the local nations had shamed Israel by their treatment of her, by sneering at her, by degrading her God, and by possessing her land.
‘Surely the nations who are round about you, they will bear their shame.’ What they have done to Israel will rebound on them. They too will be sneered at, their gods will be revealed as nothing, and their land will be taken from them.
‘But you, O mountains of Israel, you will shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they are at hand to come.’ In contrast Israel’s land, indeed Yahweh’s land, will yet prosper and be fruitful on behalf of His own people Israel. For while they may yet be absent, they will return, ‘they are at hand to come’. They are nearby awaiting the call, once they have received their deserts for their past sins.
36.9-10 “For behold I am for you, and I will turn to you and you will be tilled and sown, and I will multiply men on you, all the house of Israel, even all of it. And the cities will be inhabited and the waste places built”
The reason that the land would one day again be Israel’s was because Yahweh was ‘for them’, on their side and acting on their behalf. For He would again turn towards them and be their God. And the land would be possessed again by people from all the twelve tribes (‘all the house of Israel’ - and note the stress on this, ‘even all of it’), and would be farmed and well populated. The cities would be rebuilt and inhabited.
That this occurred history demonstrates. While there were Jews who had become disconnected from mainstream Judaism, intermarried or disowning their old nationality as they were absorbed by the nations, or wandering far away and losing contact, members of all twelve tribes were permanently resident in the land up to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and were among the exiles in Babylon, and others would undoubtedly have returned to it from other places once it began to prosper again. (The concept of ‘Israel’ was ever fluid. Still today ‘Israel’ is only a small portion of Judaism). And the land would again be populated and prosper, inhabited by those who acknowledged the covenant.
But why was the actual land so important? It was promised to Abraham (Genesis 12.7 and often) to whom the possession of a future land was very important, it was given to his descendants and those who had joined with them in the covenant, and it was essential for the development of a people who would be witnesses to Yahweh as one people. Without the land they would have become divided and fractionalised, and their witness would have been watered down and have disappeared. But once that witness was established and crystallised through the writings of the Old Testament, and the son of David had come, and the Spirit had been poured out, the land ceased to be important and was taken away from them (Luke 21.24). The message had replaced the land.
But the graciousness and faithfulness of God is revealed in that God has not forgotten His promises concerning the land so that it has now, in our day, been returned to those who see themselves as the earthly sons of Abraham. We must not overstress His purpose in this, but His purpose for the future in bringing them back to the land is possibly so that, having brought them together, He can do a great work among them in the eyes of the world by bringing large numbers of them to Christ their Messiah. While Scripture does not specifically require this there are suggestions that this might be so. So we can hope that their receiving again of the land is a preliminary to their finally enjoying the working of the Spirit, as God calls what were once His people to once again become part of His people and accept the Messiah (Romans 11.25-29). The land has become secondary, the blessing of all nations is primary, but this reminds us that God fulfils all His promises, even the secondary ones.
36.11-12 “And I will multiply on you man and beast, and they will increase and be fruitful, and I will cause you to be inhabited after your former estate, and will do better than at your beginnings, and you will know that I am Yahweh. Yes I will cause men to walk on you, even my people Israel, and they will possess you, and you will be their inheritance, and you will no more henceforth bereave them of children.”
As regularly in prophesy there is a nearer more literal fulfilment and a further fulfilment which is more in terms of idea. We have seen this, for example, with regard to the prophecies to the nations. There was the near literal fulfilment in terms of invasion and the later fulfilment in terms of the idea of final everlasting desolation (e.g. 26.7-14, which was completed in stages. Nebuchadnezzar humiliated Tyre, but he did not take the island fortress. That was left to Alexander the Great. And it was still later that it became a deserted place for the spreading of nets). The same applies here.
After the return of the exiles the land did gradually blossom and flourish, population and flocks and herds increased, things were even better than they had been before. Israel walked over the land (contrast 35.7) and they possessed it, and accepted it with gratitude as their inheritance. And the people rejoiced and thanked God and lived at peace (1 Maccabees 14.4, 8-15). But the further idea is of final blessing and rest, not for a thousand years, but forever. ‘You will no more henceforth bereave them of children.’
‘You will no more henceforth bereave them of children.’ Some see this as the avoidance of bereavement that results from drought, famine and wild beasts, others see it as referring to death by enemy invasion, and this already then suggests the perfect land, but surely the prophet has gone into even more idealistic mode, and the idea is of an ideal land, a land where people do not die for any cause, (compare Isaiah 65.20 where the lifespan of all is an idealistic one hundred years. Ezekiel goes even further), a land truly of blessing, which we know will never be found in this world. It looks to the world beyond. It is Ezekiel’s vision of immortality (compare Daniel 12.2).
36.13-15 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because they say to you, ‘you are devourer of men, and have been a bereaver of your nation,’ therefore you will devour men no more, nor bereave (another reading is ‘cause to stumble’) your nation any more,” says the Lord Yahweh, “nor will I let you hear any more the shame of the nations, nor will you any more bear the reproach of the peoples, nor will you cause your nation to stumble any more,” says the Lord Yahweh.”
These words are still spoken to ‘the land’ as representing Israel. In Numbers 13.32 the land of Canaan is described as a land that ‘devours its inhabitants’. The idea there would seem to be that it was seen as a land of trouble and unrest, a land where death was commonplace. Here the parallel ‘bereaver of your nation’ would confirm this. But in the future there will be no more violent or premature death, nor will there be any reproach or shaming, nor will men stumble. Again we are carried into the environment of eternity with God, when all death and sin is done away.
The alternative reading ‘cause to stumble’ may well be correct. It is repeated in verse 15 and Ezekiel is fond of repetition. But the overall meaning is the same. The word signifies weakness, and therefore here stumbling morally through weakness. Compare Jeremiah 18.15; 31.9; Hosea 14.9 for parallel thoughts.
Israel’s Inglorious Past and Their Glorious Future (36.16-38).
As we consider this section we should pause to consider the nature of Biblical prophecy. A Biblical prophet was not a foreteller like Nostradamus is seen as being, who declared events that would happen in the future so that people could mark them off and satisfy their curiosity about particular future historical events, he was rather one who declared what God was going to do. In his prophecy he was concerned with ends rather than specific historical events, except is so far as those events brought about the ends. Thus he would describe processes and then the end result, and the processes might occur at different points over periods of time, and the ends would not necessarily all occur at the same time. There were partial fulfilments followed by deeper fulfilments.
God does not split history into time periods (‘ages’) like we do, He sees the whole process going through from beginning to end in a continual line. Thus to the Apostles the time that they were living in was ‘the end of the ages’ (1 Corinthians 10.11; Hebrews 9.26-28; 1 Peter 1.20), ‘the last days’ (Acts 2.17). There was nothing beyond but eternity. And His way of salvation was always the same, obtained through grace, by faith, and revealed by response to Him and seen as resulting from the work of the Spirit (18.31; Psalm 51.10, 11, 12; 139.7; 143.10). That the outward manifestation of that faith altered through the ages is true, beginning with the primitive worship of Adam and Seth (Genesis 4.26), continuing with the family worship of Abraham (Genesis 12.8), moving on to the covenant worship resulting from Sinai, and then the Christian worship resulting from the new covenant, but at the heart it was the same and through it men came to God in responsive faith.
Thus prophecy took in all elements of this activity of God. And as the prophets looked forward, guided by the Spirit, they saw that certain things must be because of Who and What God is. But they did not attempt to present them chronologically, or in a time scale. What mattered was that they would happen, not the sequence or time schedule in which they would happen. Some they saw clearly, others they described pictorially, because they prophesied of things that were beyond their ability to put into words or to fully appreciate. They had no concept of Heaven, or of an afterlife, or of eternity. They saw the future as life continuing for ever as it was in the present, but at a different level. And they prophesied in those terms. It was the New Testament writers who were able to take those descriptions and demonstrate how they dealt with ideas that the prophets could not even have dreamed of. This will come out in the passage we are now to study.
Israel’s Past (36.16-20).
36.16-17 ‘Moreover the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their way and by their doings. Their way before me was as the uncleanness of a woman in her separation.”
The blood that was poured out through violence is here likened to a woman’s menstrual flow. The menstrual flow of blood was looked on with something akin to horror by the Israelite male. According to the Law it rendered the woman ‘unclean’ (Leviticus 15.19-24), so that anyone who touched her was unclean. So here the defiling of the land by their behaviour could be looked on as similar to the menstrual discharge. It rendered the land unclean before God, as ‘unholy’, and therefore not touchable by Him. Thus God withdrew in horror and kept apart. (The menstrual flow was presumably used as an example because the behaviour of the people included the wrongful spilling of blood).
36.18-19 “Because of this I poured out my fury on them, for the blood which they had poured out on the land, and because they had defiled it with idols, and I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. According to their ways and according to their doings I judged them.”
The consequence of their behaviour was that God expelled them from the land so that it could be purified. Stress is especially laid here on two things, violence and idolatry. They shed blood wrongly, defiling the land, and they introduced idols which were an abomination to God. And He stresses that their judgment was based on their behaviour. They had brought what happened on themselves.
36.20 “And when they came to the nations to which they went, they profaned my holy name in that men said of them, “These are the people of Yahweh, and have come forth out of his land.”
But the other consequence was that it reflected on God’s name and reputation. By what had happened to them they had brought God’s name into disrepute, because the nations saw that they had had to leave the land and thus assumed that Yahweh their God could only be weak and helpless. Thus they degraded Yahweh to being a minor god of no importance.
God Will Restore His Reputation By What He Will Do In Returning the People to the Land and Pouring Out His Spirit on Them (36.21-38).
36.21-23 “But I had pity for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they went. Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, I do not act for your sake, O house of Israel, but for my holy name which you have profaned among the nations to which you went. And I will sanctify my great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in the midst of them, and the nations will know that I am Yahweh,” says the Lord Yahweh, “when I am sanctified in you before their eyes.”
A ‘holy name’ is a name set apart by its uniqueness, distinctiveness and power, as well as by its righteousness. But none of this was apparent to the nations as a direct result of what had happened to Israel. They saw rather the opposite. So Yahweh was about to act so that the nations would recognise both His uniqueness, distinctiveness and power, and His righteousness. His uniqueness, distinctiveness and power because of the restoration of His people, and His power because of what he would do in them, and His righteousness because they would recognise why Israel had been expelled from the land, and would see the new righteousness resulting from the activity of Yahweh.
This brings out how Israel had failed so badly in their responsibility to be a kingdom of priests to the nations (Exodus 19.6). They had instead profaned His name before the world. But it was important for the world to know the living God, the Creator. So Yahweh Himself would perform the function of revealing Himself to the nations by His activities on Israel. He did not do it for their sakes but for the world’s sake, so that the world might know Him as He is.
His name would be set apart as holy and distinctive by two things. By the restoring of His people to their land, a land which He had ensured would still be available to them when they returned, and by indwelling His Spirit within their lives in a total moral transformation. These were two separate activities, and certainly there is no reason to argue that the second would only happen once (and indeed the first has also happened more than once). In a sense it would be a continual process through which He would separate out a people for Himself.
‘I do not act for your sake.’ This is a vital lesson to learn. They, and we, deserved nothing. They had failed Him in every direction, and they had failed themselves. But far more important than them, and us, is that God should be known and revealed to the world. Without that there could be no salvation, no deliverance. Without that the saving purposes of God would fail. So by their own folly Israel had ceased to be important except as a means by which the world could see the glory and love of God, for they had forfeited their right to any privilege. That is why the concentration had now to be on redeeming the situation by using them as a means to reveal that love and glory.
36.24 “For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you to your own land.”
This gathering of the people of Israel back to the land began as a relative trickle on the decree of Cyrus (Ezra 1), and continued over a long period, with more and more people returning from all over the known world, until Israel was a recognised nation again established in its own land with its own capital city, relatively free from idolatry and worshipping in its own way. Interestingly enough the same is true of the present day restoration of Israel to its land. That too has been a slow process which is still going on. So neither was a once for all event. Both were continual events, in the first case at least, taking centuries.
36.25-26 “And I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. From all your filthiness and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will also give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.”
Let us first consider what was here on offer. ‘Clean water’ is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. The ancients did not think in terms of clean water and dirty water. The only clean water could be caught in the falling mountain springs, and was comparatively rare, and they mostly bathed and drank with what we would call dirty water, but which they saw as relatively clean. Thus this description must be seen as having a special significance, and that significance was that it was ‘cleansed water’, water that had been (at least theoretically) made clean through sacrifice, sprinkled with blood or with the ashes of a heiffer.
In Leviticus the cleansing of a defiled house required sprinkling with a mixture of blood and ‘living’ water, the bird having been slain over the water (Leviticus 14.51), and in Numbers 8.7 and 19.2-22 the ‘water of separation’ (19.9, 20 - this was also called ‘living water’ - 9.17) is mentioned. It was water that had been sprinkled with the ashes of a red heiffer (Numbers 19.2), and was kept aside for the purifying by sprinkling of those who had touched a dead body. Thus in both cases the water had been cleansed by sacrifice and the shedding of blood.
So when the priestly Ezekiel spoke of ‘clean water’ he had in mind water that had been cleansed by sacrifice. And indeed this was the only kind of water that was ever sprinkled. Thus the cleansing was to be through the blood of sacrifice, applied through the sprinkled water. This was probably also what the Psalmist had in mind in Psalm 51.7 (note the parallel phrase).
But this water was here to be sprinkled by God Himself acting as the high priest. Before anything else the people need to be cleansed, by the divine water of separation sprinkled on them by God, from their defilement brought on them by their sinful ways and their idolatry. There is no cleansing without the shedding of blood. This pointed forward to the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness (Zechariah 13.1), and its efficacy depended on the One Who would be slain as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, Whose benefit reached backwards to ‘sins done aforetime’ (Romans 3.25).
It should be recognised and acknowledged that to the priest Ezekiel there could be no entry back into the promised land, now cleansed from defilement by time, without such a cleansing. Otherwise what purpose in the exile?
(We should note that washing with ordinary water never cleansed. It was only preparatory, and was regularly followed by the phrase ‘and will not be clean until the evening’. It only represented the washing away of ‘earthiness’ preparatory to cleansing (see 44.18). It did not itself cleanse).
Then they were to receive a new heart and a new spirit, indeed God’s Spirit (verse 27). The heart included the mind, the will and the emotions, it was the whole of the inner man. The spirit was the life principle within, the inner impulse, and while it could include the activities of heart, mind and will, it was also that which was Godward (Ecclesiastes 3.21; 12.7), and was affected by God’s Spirit. So the idea here is of the renewing of the whole inner man, and of awakening towards God.
Its effect is then described. ‘And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.’ Instead of hardness there would be tenderness, instead of obduracy there would be yielding, instead of coldness there would be warmness, instead of disobedience there would be obedience. The law would be put in their inward parts and in their hearts, and they would ‘know Yahweh’ individually through the new covenant (compare Jeremiah 31.33-34).
These wonderful words must not be restricted to any particular moment in time, important though Pentecost was. This is the nature of Biblical prophecy. We need not doubt that it began on the first returning exiles, and it continued in the time of Haggai and Zechariah, when God worked through His Spirit in the life of Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4.6). It was continually on offer to His people (18.31). But it certainly had a full expression at and after Pentecost (2 Corinthians 5.17), and through the ministry of Jesus (John 3.1-6; 4.10-14, 24; 6.63; 7.37-38; 20.22), and continues today and will continue to the end. What began to be fulfilled at the return from exile has continued through the ages. The cleansing is constantly needed.
36.27-28 “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them, and you will dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you will be my people and I will be your God.”
Now quite unequivocally we have mention of the work of the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit. It was to be through God’s Spirit that this great work would come about. It is He Who would cause them to walk in His statutes and keep in their hearts and in their lives His judgments. God’s Spirit has been at work through all ages. He was at work in the time of Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4.6). When John spoke of ‘the Spirit’ as being ‘not yet’ (John 7.39) he was referring to the mighty experience in the upper Room and at Pentecost, but he was not denying that the Spirit was at work before that. For Jesus Himself had made clear that the Holy Spirit had already been available through His ministry (John 3.1-6; 4.10-14, 24; 6.63; 7.37-38; 20.22).
Strictly speaking these words of Ezekiel are not parallel to such promises as Isaiah 44.2-5; Joel 2.28 where a great outpouring of the Spirit in the future is mentioned, although containing similar elements (but see 39.29). This is not so much a promise of such an outpouring, but of a steady work of the Spirit in men’s hearts as men are cleansed by God. We must not, however, be too pedantic when dealing with such prophecies. The same Spirit works in all.
Mention is often made of the connection between the outpouring of the Spirit and the coming of the Messiah in the Messianic age. And that is true. But we must not limit the work of the Spirit to one event. In a sense Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4.6-14) was probably himself seen as a minor Messiah (before the Messianic idea had taken full root), and the Spirit was certainly seen to be at work through him, although of course the great fulfilment of the promises was at the coming of the Messiah, which resulted in Pentecost and after, when as the ‘drencher (baptiser) in the Holy Spirit’ He ‘drenched in the Holy Spirit’ those who were His. And it may well be that there will be a further pouring out of the Spirit in the final days of the age. But we must beware of being dogmatic about the latter. Things may not occur in the way that we expect.
“And you will dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you will be my people and I will be your God.” This confirms that this work of the Spirit was to begin when the exiles returned in faith to the land of their inheritance. The words were spoken to the true Israel, the Israel within Israel, as Paul explains (Romans 9-11). Those whose hearts were true would be truly His and He would be their God.
It also has application to all Christians in that they have become citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3.20), residents in a better land, God’s greater land, being His people and knowing Him as their God, something beyond the conception of Ezekiel and therefore having to be prophesied pictorially in the form of an idea (see on 37.26-28). He could not know then that the land of God’s inheritance would become a heavenly land. That would be revealed in the future, and the final words are specifically applied in Revelation 21.3 to the new Heaven and the new earth
36.29-30 “And I will save you from all your uncleannesses, and I will call for the corn and will multiply it, and lay no famine on you. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field, that you receive no more the reproach of famine among the nations.”
The application is twofold, as ever the near and the far. The near refers to the fruitfulness of the land once the return from exile was complete, a fruitfulness which would bring joy and blessing. But its deeper significance is again the idea of the perfect world to come, when all needs would be met, all that a man could want would be available, and there would be no lack for anyone to draw attention to, so that no one could criticise God’s provision for His own. God was offering His people perfection.
36.31-32 “Then you will remember your evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and your abominations. Not for your sakes do I do this,” says the Lord Yahweh, “be it known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.”
That there were such periods of repentance after the exile we need not doubt (e.g. Ezra 10.1; Nehemiah 9). By the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile a deep lesson was learned by Israel, especially the true Israel. So His true people mourned over their past sins, and loathed themselves for what they had been. They really were ashamed and confounded to think of what had been. The same should be true for true Christians today. They rejoice in their forgiveness, but they loathe what they were and wonder how they could ever have been like it.
36.33-36 “Thus says the Lord Yahweh, In the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited and the waste places will be built. And the land that was desolate will be tilled, whereas it was a desolation in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, ‘The land that was desolate has become like the Garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are fenced and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left about you will know that I Yahweh have built the ruined places, and planted that which was desolate. I Yahweh have spoken it and I will do it.”
One significance of this passage is that the nations who had observed the fall of Israel would also observe her rise. This again confirms that there is here a near fulfilment of the prophecy. Note that the cleansing is connected with the restoration. There can be no restoration without cleansing. Then the land and its cities would be restored, and the land be fruitful ‘like the Garden of Eden’. It is an idealistic picture.
But mention of the restoration of the Garden of Eden may also be seen as taking us on to the end of time and the heavenly land. It is there that there will be the tree of life (Revelation 22.2) and no more curse (Revelation 22.3). It is there that the true and better Garden of Eden will flourish.
There are those who argue that this whole passage refers solely to the end times, and to the Jews as ‘Israel’. They seek a literal fulfilment in the last days. They claim that what is described here was never literally fulfilled as described because they look for fulfilment to the letter. But that claim is two-edged. There is the problem for those who would apply it to the ‘end days’ that this, a return and a building of cities and restoration of desolation following exile, is promised to take place AFTER Israel’s cleansing, while in the present day the return of the Jews to Palestine and the buidling of their cities has already taken place before Israel is cleansed. Thus we could argue equally that the current return to Israel cannot be in mind here. Nor are cities now fenced. Or are they suggesting that Israel will need to exiled yet again awaiting a further restoration?
These are not problems for a combined interpretation, for it reasonable to accept that there was a purifying of the remnant of Israel before they returned to the land. That was indeed why they were so desirous of returning. But they are a problem for a literal one applied to one situation. Furthermore it is inconceivable that God would speak through Ezekiel to these people in exile and have nothing to say about their own future. We may happily take great chunks of the Old Testament and apply it to what we see from our perspective as the end days, ignoring the past, but to these people Ezekiel was declaring a message of hope for their future and we do him an injustice if we transfer most of what he said to ‘the end days’ ignoring all that has gone between.
End of note.
36.37-38 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “For this moreover will I be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them. I will increase them with men like a flock. As the flock of holy things, as the flock of Jerusalem in her appointed feasts, so will the waste cities be filled with flocks of men, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”
This final touch emphasises the closeness of the connection between the promises just given and the people to whom Ezekiel ministered. God was open to their enquiry on these matters so as to do it for them. And His promise was that just like sacrificial sheep and goats (‘the flock of holy things’) were brought in large numbers into Jerusalem ready for various sacrificial rituals at the feasts (compare 2 Chronicles 35.7), so would men be gathered together in large flocks in what had been the waste cities of Jerusalem. There is possibly a hint here that His people are to be seen in the restoration as entering in as offerings to Yahweh, a holy people for His own possession.
So Ezekiel’s vision of the future can be summarised as follows. (1) The preeminent motive in Israel’s redemption is the honour of God’s name (verses 22, 32). (2) Israel will know ultimately that He is truly Yahweh, the God Who acts (verse 38). (3) There will be an abhorrence of their previous sins (verses 31-32). (4) They will receive full cleansing from their sins through the divine ‘water of separation’, which is connected with a sacrificial offering (verse 25). (5) They will be totally transformed spiritually (verses 26-27; compare 11.19; 18.31). (6) The gift of the Holy Spirit will be granted to them (verse 27; compare 37.14). (7) This will result in obedience to God's laws (verse 27; compare 11:20). (8) They will finally enjoy a place of great blessing and fruitfulness.
This sequence could be applied equally to every true conversion, both of post-exilic Israelites becoming true Israelites by response to God, and of Christians today. That it occurred in many exiles at the restoration is surely certain. They returned to great hardship because of their love for Yahweh. That it occurred during the ministry of Jesus and of the Apostles is manifest in the Gospels, Acts and epistles. It continues to happen today. And it may well be that it will also happen during a great turning to Christ among unbelieving Jews in the future (although we must be careful not to enforce our ideas on God). But all are part of the one great fulfilment.
Chapter 37 The Valley of Dry Bones and The Uniting of Israel/Judah Under The Coming David.
The first part of the chapter (1-14) is a vivid description of the restoration of God’s people by the activity of His Spirit, as previously described in 36.26-27. The second part (15-28) is a promise of the restoration of God’s people under their Davidic king.
The Vision of The Valley Of Dry Bones (37.1-14).
This vision is not directly an illustration or promise of physical resurrection. Ezekiel nowhere gives any indication of expecting a resurrection of the dead. It is a pictorial representation of the coming spiritual revival of Israel, given to spur on the doubting, fearful and disillusioned people to whom Ezekiel was ministering..
37.1-2 ‘The hand of Yahweh was on me, and he carried me out in the Spirit of Yahweh and set me down in the midst of a valley (or ‘plain’), and it was full of bones. And he made me pass by around them and behold there were a great many in the open valley, and behold they were very dry.’
Once again Ezekiel experienced a remarkable vision, resulting from ‘the hand of Yahweh’ being on him, connected with the Spirit (compare 3.22-23; 8.1, 3). He was borne to a battlefield. We can possibly presume that it was one where many Israelites had died, although it may have been simply a visionary battlefield. The valley or plain was full of the remains of skeletons. And the bones were very dry. They represented a totally dead and desolate Israel, without a shred of life in it. It was a valley of hopelessness.
37.3 ‘And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord Yahweh, you know.”
Then God questioned Ezekiel as to whether he thought that anything could bring the skeletons to life. The reply would have seemed obvious. But Ezekiel had seen many wonders and was cautious. So he gave a humble and evasive reply. It was solely in the Lord Yahweh’s hands. (His guarded reply helps to demonstrate that he had no belief in a resurrection, otherwise he would have mentioned it).
37.4-6 ‘Again he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, O you dry bones, hear the word of Yahweh. Thus says the Lord Yahweh to these bones, Behold I will cause spirit (or ‘breath’) to enter into you and you will live. And I will lay sinews on you, and will bring up flesh on you, and cover you with skin, and put spirit (or ‘breath’) in you, and you will live, and you will know that I am Yahweh.” ’
Ezekiel was then told to prophesy over the bones. God was telling him that this was his mission, to prophesy to the dried out house of Israel in exile. They were like these bones, dry and lifeless. And he had to proclaim to them that God was going to do all that was necessary to enable them to again enter the land, and that He would revive them spiritually.
We may well parallel this with Genesis 2 and see in this a new beginning, almost a new creation. But the parallel is not quite as clear as it seems, for different Hebrew words are used for ‘breath’ and the first man was made of dust of the ground.
‘And you will know that I am Yahweh.’ This may have been directed at Ezekiel, but more probably it was directed at the people Through what would happen they would recognise the living power of Yahweh.
37.7-8 ‘So I prophesied as I was commanded, and as I prophesied there was a great noise, and behold an earthquake (or ‘shaking’ or ‘rattling’), and the bones came together, bone to his bone, and I beheld and lo, there were sinews on them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above. But there was no breath in them.’
Ezekiel did as he was bid and prophesied to the bones. The vision is vivid. There was an earthquake and the bones began to move as the earth moved, and each sought its companion forming a skeleton, and then sinews and flesh came on them, followed by the covering of skin. But they were still lifeless.
The message must have been somewhat discouraging to him. It was saying that although his preaching could lay a foundation ready for life, it would not give life. More would be needed.
37.9 ‘Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the spirit (wind, breath), prophesy, son of man, and say to the spirit (wind), Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Come from the four winds, O spirit, and breathe on these dead men that they may live.” ’
But then he was to call on the spirit/breath/wind calling it to breathe on the dead that they might live. There is a strong play on the different meanings of ruach, which can mean spirit, breath or wind. The winds are seen as providing lifegiving breath so that the corpses might live, but we must remember that Yahweh comes on the wings of the wind (1.4; 2 Samuel 22.11; Psalm 18.10; 104.3). And the wind is elsewhere closely connected with the activity of the Spirit of God (2 Samuel 5.24; Acts 2.2), and thus it is clear that what happens here is the result of the work of God’s Spirit. It is like a new creation (Psalm 33.6).
So Ezekiel learned the important lesson that we must all learn, that His work manward must be paralleled by his looking Godward, and that without the latter the former will be useless.
37.10 ‘So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up on their feet a huge army.’
Ezekiel fulfilled God’s commands. He prophesied to the spirit, and life came into that great army of men and they lived. Note the emphasis on the many, the ‘huge army’. It would be important in the interpretation to those who heard.
37.11-14 ‘Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold they say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost. We are cut off for us (or ‘our thread of life has been cut off’).’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Behold I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O my people, and I will bring you into the land of Israel, and you will know that I am Yahweh when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O my people. And I will put my spirit within you, and you will live, and I will place you in your own land, and you will know that I Yahweh have spoken it and have performed it,’ says Yahweh.” ’
God explains the parable. The dry bones were the whole house of Israel, wherever they were. And they were in a state of despondency and hopelessness. They felt that they were like totally dried up skeletons. They had lost hope. They saw themselves as cut off from their land and cut off from God. They had lost any vision of life. They were in process of giving up. The destruction of Jerusalem had dashed their hopes completely.
But through Ezekiel God spoke to them and told them that they need not think like that, for it was as though He would raise their dead bodies from the grave. He would restore their spirits, and lift them out of the graves that they had dug for themselves in their minds, and give them life, and He would bring them back into their own land.
The context of these words and their connection with the prophesying of Ezekiel confirms that we are to see this picture as applying to the post-exilic people of God and not directly to some future age. It is they who would be restored and returned to their land, and would enjoy new life in the Spirit. And it was guaranteed by the word of Yahweh, and He would therefore certainly do it. They had His word for it. We must not underestimate the work of the Spirit in the people of God after the exile.
The picture can of course be applied spiritually to His people in every period. It is a picture of rebirth, of new life in the Spirit of God. But its essential message was to the people of Ezekiel’s day, and it reminds us that we do the words of Ezekiel an injustice when we do not recognise their application to his own day. It was, however, something that would in essence be repeated in the future, for God’s supposed people have often become like dry bones and spiritually dead, and have needed to be revived again.
‘We are cut off for us’ can be rendered ‘our thread of life has been cut off.’ The alternative rendering results from using the same Hebrew consonants but dividing them differently. (In ancient scripts there was no word division and almost no vowels).
The Uniting of the Nation and the Coming King (37.15-28).
In this passage Ezekiel is shown that Judah and Joseph (Ephraim/Israel) will be made one and that David will arise to be their shepherd. This must be seen as confirming that Israelites will return from many lands, not only from Babylon, although not necessarily in large numbers, or else there would be no necessity for any mention of this. Those of Joseph who had lived in Jerusalem/Judah previously would probably already have been united. (However, it could be that strong feelings existed between different sections which were known to Ezekiel).
Israel had originally split into two in the days of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. That too was because of idolatry, and resulted in idolatry (1 Kings 11.30-39; 12.1-20, 28-31). Now this split was to be remedied.
The idea and emphasis is on the unity of God’s people. There is to be no distinction or separation, they are all to be one in the covenant. We can compare how this was Jesus’ emphasis for His people as well, that they might be one (John 17.20-23), and the emphasis of Paul that we might be one in Christ (Galatians 3.28). God’s constant purpose is oneness between His people.
The Two Sticks and The Uniting Of Israel.
37.15-17 ‘The word of Yahweh came again to me saying, “And you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write on it ‘For Judah and for the children of Israel his companions’. Then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions’. And join them for yourself, one to another, into one stick, that they may become one in your hand.” ’
The wording on the sticks would seem to confirm that Israelites associated with Judah were included in the first stick, and therefore that the second included people of the northern kingdom scattered throughout the known world. However in Ezekiel the term ‘Israel’ is very flexible and also includes Judah so that we cannot be sure. The reference may be to the combination of tribes that originally made up Judah. But whichever is so the emphasis is on the necessity for the people of God to be one in heart, mind and spirit.
The sticks were presumably ‘joined’ in prophetic mime by the bottom end of one and the top end of the other being pushed into the closed fist so as to look one, a stick coming out from each side.
37.18-20 “And when the children of your people speak to you saying, ‘Will you not show what you mean by these?’, you say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh. Behold I will take the stick of Joseph which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions, and I will put them with it, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in my hand.’ And the sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes.”
The sight of the two sticks ‘made one’ in their eyes was to be a vivid message. Just as the sticks were ‘made one’ in Ezekiel’s hand so Yahweh intended both peoples to be taken into His hand and become one. Tribal jealousies were to become a thing of the past. We can compare the similar idea in Zechariah 11.7-14, which was probably based on this prophecy, where the unity was broken because of sin.
37.21-22 “And say to them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them to their own land, and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel, and one king will be king to them all, and they will no more be two nations, nor will they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all.”
The world had been divided at Babel (Babylon - Genesis 11.1-9). Then later God’s covenant people had been divided. Now the process of healing and restoration was to begin by their being restored to their land and cemented together as one nation in the land. Then they would come under one king, a son of David ruling over formerly divided Israel. Note the rare use of the word ‘king’ by Ezekiel in relation to the rulers of Israel. Elsewhere it is only used where captivity was in mind or where they are demeaned (1.2; 7.27; 17.12-16; 43.7). For it was Yahweh and His chosen future representative who were truly king over Israel.
The fact that they were to be ‘gathered in from every side’ again confirms that Israelites were expected to return from many lands. And the purpose of this was that they may be made as one under one king. And when Jesus, the son of David, came, proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God this was His aim, ‘that they may be one even as we are’ (John 17.22).
37.23 “Nor will they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions, but I will save them out of all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. So will they be my people, and I will be their God.”
The verse has a twofold application. It firstly found fulfilment in the fact that when Israel came back to the land they were basically cured of idolatry. ‘Idols’, ‘detestable things’, ‘transgressions’ can all be taken as having idolatry, and what accompanied it, in mind, and their foreign dwelling places had witnessed their continued love of idols. Thus there was the promise that they would be fully cleansed from these and would worship God alone (this latter links back to 36.28).
It then found a second fulfilment at the coming of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, when men of all nations turned from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from Heaven (1 Thessalonians 1.9-10).
But it will find its greater fulfilment when all sin is done away and the greater Israel dwells in the presence of God and of the Lamb for ever (Revelation 21.3-4; 22.3-5). In the end Ezekiel was thinking of total purity.
The Future, Both Temporal and Eternal.
37.24-25 “And my servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will also walk in my judgments and observe my statutes, and do them. And they will dwell in the land which I have given to Jacob my servant, in which your fathers dwelt. And they will dwell in it, they, and their children, and their children’s children, for ever. And David my servant will be their prince for ever.”
This verse is very important in determining our view of what exactly Ezekiel’s prophecy is all about and how to view it. It stresses that ‘they will dwell in the land which I have given to Jacob my servant, in which your fathers dwelt’. This would seem to make crystal clear that it is speaking of the actual land of Israel. That was what was given to Jacob. Their fathers dwelt in it. So it might be asked, what could be clearer?
But then it goes on to say that they will dwell in it for ever, and that David will be their prince for ever. Now we can understand Ezekiel, with no concept of eternity, thinking in terms of everything going on without changing, into millennium after millenium, and never ceasing. (Although he certainly does not have in mind here a mere millennium). So we must either see this as teaching that this world will go on forever, unchanging, or we must recognise that there is here something here that goes beyond Ezekiel’s ability to conceive and which he can only express vaguely in idealistic terms. He knew that they would return to the land, and he knew that they would find everlasting rest. And he combined the two pictures together, because he had no other way of emphasising that God’s people would dwell in a place given to them by God for ever.
Thus from our viewpoint we must say that the first aspect will become literally true, they will return to the land, and the second aspect is his way of describing what is beyond his ability to conceive, the eternal future. He knows that God’s people will enjoy everlasting peace and rest, and that God will always have ‘a land’ available for His people.
So we would argue that it is quite clear that the near partial fulfilment of this took place when Israel were again gathered in Jerusalem with a temporal Davidic king over them (Zerubbabel), who was called ‘My servant’ (Haggai 2.23), and rejoiced in the triumph of God, the ‘day of small things’ (Zechariah 4.6-14), and when (for a time) they turned back to His ways. That it went on when Jesus, the son of David, became Shepherd of His people and led them into the ways of truth and righteousness and began to establish the Kingly Rule of God. And that it finally goes on to reveal that this will in the end result in a perfect existence in an eternal land, where God’s will will always be done and an eternal king will rule over them
For in the end it is quite clear that the everlasting kingdom is in mind here, the everlasting kingdom ruled over by an everlasting king, and resulting in everlasting obedience. Living in ‘the land’ has been changed into something idealised, something far better for them to enjoy; and it is eternal, as is David their prince. It is Ezekiel’s way of portraying the glory of ‘the new earth’ in the only terms available to him. They would be given all that God had promised, and more, under an eternal ruler, (compare Daniel 7.14. No earthly millennium could fulfil this promise). This is thus clearly an ‘idealistic future’, expressed in the terminology of his day, but awaiting further revelation.
We can compare here the words of the writer to the Hebrews about Abraham. He tells us that Abraham dwelt ‘in the land of promise’, but that he ‘looked for a city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God’ (Hebrews 11.10). He is crystallising what was probably a vague thought in the mind of Abraham. There is the near view and the far view. It gives a more practical explanation of what Abraham vaguely looked for, a hope that he could not fully understand, and that he would have been totally unable to describe. On his part he just believed that God had a future for him, a future he could not put into words.
The portrayal of the coming eternal king as ‘my servant’ and ‘one shepherd’ portrayed the coming of God’s chosen one who was both faithful to God and would watch over His people.
‘My servant’ was a distinguished title and ever the description of the specially chosen of Yahweh. It was used:
But only Moses and David were spoken of as ‘my servant’ after their deaths. They were seen as His servants par excellence, and they were the archetype of God’s perfect Servant (Isaiah 52.13-53.12). This ties in with the fact that another Moses (Deuteronomy 18.18) and another David (34.23-24 compare 1 Kings 9.5; Isaiah 9.7; 11.1-5; Hosea 3.5; Jeremiah 23.5; 30.9; 33.15, 17, 20-26; Zechariah 12.10-13.1) were expected to come in the future, a new lawgiver and a new king, a promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The ‘one shepherd’ represents the new David (34.23) acting in cooperation with Yahweh (34.13-16; Psalm 23.1; 80.1; Isaiah 40.11). The idea of a shepherd was regularly applied to Near Eastern kings (compare 1 Kings 22.17) who liked to see themselves as benefactors to their people, even when they were far from being so, and Yahweh described Cyrus as His shepherd because he would perform His pleasure as regards Israel (Isaiah 34.28). But the son of David would be the true shepherd, Yahweh’s shepherd (even though he would be smitten while caring for the sheep (Zechariah 13.7) and would care for them for ever.
37.26-28 “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them. It will be an everlasting covenant with them, and I will give to them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also will be with them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. And the nations will know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary will be in their midst for evermore.”
The vision of eternity continues. The setting up of the Sanctuary reminds us firstly that the Davidic king Zerubbabel did rebuild and establish the temple as God’s sanctuary, as a witness to the nations. But again that was but the earthly prototype of the heavenly reality. For what was to be finally established here is eternal, the sanctuary of God in Heaven (Revelation 8.3-5; 11.19; 14.17; 15.5, 8; 16.1). Indeed finally God Himself will be their sanctuary (Revelation 21.22).
The covenant of peace was brought by Jesus the Messiah, the new covenant, and God did indeed ‘give to them’ and ‘multiply them’ as the Gospel went out to the world and the new Israel grew strong and numerous. He established His sanctuary among them because His people were His sanctuary (Ephesians 2.20-22). And God was with them and they were His people (2 Corinthians 6.17). The nations also saw and were amazed, and recognised the power of a God that they did not know. And He established an everlasting covenant of peace (Ephesians 2.14, 17).
The ‘covenant of peace’ mentioned here had already been mentioned in 34.25, which emphasises that what we saw there as referring to the eternal future is in fact the correct interpretation. For here the covenant is eternal against an eternal background, eternal peace between God and His own. The result will be that He will reveal Himself as a giving God, will make them abound and will establish His permanent sanctuary with them eternally. Indeed God Himself will dwell (tabernacle) with them and be their God and they will be His people. This is expanded on in Revelation 21.3, which may well be based on this verse, and Revelation 21.22-24; 22.3-5 which reveal the same ideas.
‘And the nations will know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary will be in their midst for evermore.’ Many from the nations will recognise in the new Israel the ones who are sanctified by God, and will themselves learn to honour their God, for many of them too, having recognised that the true Israel was set apart by Yahweh for His own, and having been made a part of that Israel by faith, will walk in the light of God in eternity (Revelation 22.24). Thus will Israel’s responsibility towards them have been fulfilled through the witness of the Servant, the new Israel (Acts 13.47). There may also be here the further suggestion that even the nations who come under judgment will also be made aware at that judgment of what God has done for His people in giving them everlasting life (Matthew 25.31-46). Thus the earthly blessing for the people of God continues into the heavenly.
Chapters 38-39 The Oracle of Gog and Magog.
This oracle may have been originally placed here at what was the end of Ezekiel’s first book, for Josephus tells us ‘Ezekiel left behind him in writing two books concerning these events’, and many think that the second book was 40-48. It is a dark cloud on what has gone before, a reminder that before the final end of peace and contentment, before the eternal tabernacle could be enjoyed, there would be a period of great struggle which would, after a torrid time, end in victory for the people of God. We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14.22).
And this is regularly confirmed throughout Scripture, and nowhere more so than in Revelation, where the great Enemy of God and man would make his final attempt to prevent God’s purposes under the names of Gog and Magog used here, pictured in terms of warfare (Revelation 20.8-9).
The Old Testament writers were ever aware of some dark force at work behind the world scene. There was the one who lay behind the actions of the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). There was the mysterious adversary who opposed Job (Job 1.1-2.7). There was the Adversary who moved David to number Israel contrary to God’s will (1 Chronicles 21.1). There were background ‘princes’ responsible for different countries (Daniel 10.13, 20). There was the Adversary who challenged Joshua the High Priest before Yahweh (Zechariah 3.1-2). Always there is the recognition of a great Adversary behind the world scene without any detail being entered into.
And like these writers Ezekiel had a problem. He lived in a time when people believed in many gods. He did not want to write in such a way that people would see what he wrote as supporting such an idea or as a battle between gods. Thus he firmly rooted the enemies of God in this earth. And yet he soon makes it apparent that he was not actually writing about an ordinary ruler, for continual hints are given of the other-worldly character of these enemies of God and His people. They are not gods, but they are certainly other-world beings. We may see it as possible that what Ezekiel describes has a near fulfilment, a spiritual fulfilment in the days of the Messiah (Jesus), an a final fulfilment towards the end of time.
He centres attention on ‘Gog of Magog’. Many identifications have been made of this mysterious figure. Suggested identifications have been Gagi, ruler of Sakhi, mentioned by Ashurbanipal, and Gyges the king of Lydia (c 660 BC), who is the ‘Gugu’ of the cuneiform inscriptions, a name which ties in with the Hebrew for Gog (but if so why ‘of Magog’?). Or more likely it may have in mind their descendants, bearing the dynastic name. Possibly it is connected with the Sumerian gug meaning ‘darkness’. It may be that it was a name based on the idea of ‘darkness’, deliberately obscure, so as to represent all the forces of evil.
Magog could be simply ma(t) gugu (land of Gog), a land based on his name. This might be seen as supporting the idea of a deliberate mystery. Or on the basis of the Sumerian it could be ‘land of darkness’. Or alternately it could be a cryptogram for Babylon. If you reverse Bbl it becomes Lbb. Move one letter up in the Hebrew alphabet and it then becomes Mgg (Magog). This was a regular form of cryptogram. In mind then could either be the end of the Babylonian empire, or the rise of the Persian empire, for Persia saw itself as succeeding to the Babylonian empire, and their kings called themselves ‘Kings of Babylon’ (Ezra 5.13; Nehemiah 13.6).
This Gog has under his umbrella Meshech and Tubal, fierce, independent tribes to the north, who by reputation would probably be thought of as particularly ferocious, and who were well known as traders in slaves. Ezekiel is probably reaching beyond known enemies to those far off, those who were almost a legend to Israel rather than a reality. ‘Rosh’ probably here means chief (‘head’).
But it is significant that according to the account here Gog's army would also include in its numbers, as well as ‘Magog’, Meshech and Tubal, Persia, Cush (either the Cassites or the Sudanese), Put (Lybia), Gomer (the Cimmerians?), and Togarmah from the extreme north. These are more solidly on earth, but are the tools of Gog whom he will use in his activity against the people of God. They are represented as a vast mixed horde from the ‘far-off’ parts of the north, the limits of the horizon, combined with far off southern enemies from Africa, nations with whom Israel had previously had directly had little to do, completely armed and equipped for war. It is a ‘worldwide’ attack under this powerful figure. Egypt is not included because its downfall as a major force had been declared. However, the mention of Cush (although Cush could be the Cassites) and Put may simply indicate the presence of north African mercenaries in the armies of Babylon or Persia.
The invasion will take place ‘after many days -- in the latter years’ (38.8), ‘in the latter days’ (38.16), but this may simply indicate some time ahead. The non-mention of Babylon may be seen as indicating that the Babylonian empire will by that time be no more, unless of course, as suggested, we do see Magog as a cypher for Babylon by reversing the characters and moving one letter up, a regular method used in cyphers, i.e. bbl is written as mgg. It may be seen as signifying the last great attack on the people of God indicated regularly by the prophets. Compare Isaiah 29.1-8; Jeremiah 4.6-31; Joel 1.2-2.14; 3.9-14; Amos 5.18-20; Zephaniah 1.7-18; Zechariah 14.2.
But if so it is unlike any previous invasion. The people of God are not cowering behind walls but are safe in their unwalled towns and villages. This could well indicate the period after the destruction of Jerusalem or following the return of exiles under Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1.11) when the returnees lived in towns and villages without protective walls, prior to the erection of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah, and were in safety as subjects of the kings of Persia. Unfortunately there are gaps in our knowledge, both of the last years of the Babylonian empire, and of much of Persian history at that time. But in Ezra/Nehemiah there are indications that the returnees from exile may well have suffered reverses at the hands of their enemies. We have, for example, to account for the mysterious replacement of the Davidide governor (e.g. Zerubbabel), by a Persian governor Bagoas (by the time of the Elephantine papyri), which might suggest that the returnees had been suspected of involvement in plots against the empire, without necessarily being finally involved, thus having their Davidide ruler removed. Such plots took place around the time of the accession of Darius I, while late in his reign there was trouble in Egypt. His successor, Xerxes had to deal with this and also with a rebellion in Babylon, while the king who followed him, Artaxerxes I, faced great problems at the commencement of his reign, first in Egypt, and then as a result of a rebellion by one of his generals, Megabyzus. Suspicion of involvement in some of these plots (possibly enhanced by their unscrupulous enemies - Ezra 4.1, 5-6) might explain why it was that Nehemiah received the information that the people in his day were suffering ‘anguish and reproach’ (Nehemiah 1.3). All was not going well for the returnees. Such involvement may have been one reason why the Persians prevented the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem around the time of Ezra (Ezra 4.19-23). There is a gap in our knowledge about the returnees from 516 BC when the building of the second Temple was completed, until the arrival of Ezra (458 BC).
It will be noted that the enemy are smitten down, not by the armies of Israel, but by the power and judgments of God, and it is further noteworthy that from their first commissioning to the final burial of their clean-picked bones not a blow is struck, except by Yahweh and by the self-infliction of wounds. A Persian incursion may well have experienced some kind of catastrophe which could be depicted in these terms, as a consequence of extremely inclement weather (compare Joshua 10.11), and internecine fighting among themselves. But compare also Revelation 19.11-21; 20.7-9 where we again have a battle without warfare. The whole picture is of God ‘at war’ against this mysterious enemy.
So in ‘the latter days’ (some time in the future) Ezekiel sees that the people of God will be put under major pressure by the evil forces of darkness, and unless we see these two chapters (38-39) as a separate oracle, this is closely connected with the coming Kingly Rule of the Messiah (37.24-28). In this regard the New Testament makes clear that ‘the last days’ (Acts 2.17), ‘the end of the ages’ (1 Corinthians 10.11; 1 Peter 1.20; 4.7; Hebrews 1.2 compare Romans 13.11-12; John 9.4) commenced at the time of Christ, the Messiah, when the Kingly Rule of God began to be established. Thus in part at least we may see the persecutions faced by the church and the attacks of Rome on the people of God, and indeed all similar attacks which have followed since, as mirrored here. It is Satan’s last great stand, seeking to destroy the people of God and the Kingly Rule of God (Revelation 12).
The point behind Ezekiel, and the other prophets who prophesied doom, is that as Yahweh prepares His people for the end, and has in mind for them great blessing under His kingly rule in eternity, the forces of darkness will continually intervene and seek to bring His plans to nought. They had no way of presenting this other than as attacks upon Israel as ‘the people of God’, for they did not want anyone to think in terms of the legitimacy of the gods.
And we have good reason for considering that as the final days of the age approach things will get worse and worse. The message of Revelation is that the final time before the coming of Christ will see attacks on the people of God increasing, with the world (certainly the Near Eastern world) in turmoil, and this is put in these terms of warfare and invasion on a huge scale (Revelation 14.19-20; 19.11-21; 20.8-10 compare 6.1-8. See our commentary on REVELATION. Thus what is portrayed by Ezekiel is also portrayed by Revelation.
The War of Gog Against God’s People.
The identity of ‘Gog of Magog’ is crucial to the interpretation of what follows, for it determines who it will be who will lead these accumulation of nations against Israel. And yet it would appear that Ezekiel has deliberately left the question open (although the solution may have been clearer in his day than it is in ours). If we see Magog as a cypher for Babylon, who it will be noted are not otherwise named, then Gog would be ‘the king of Babylon’ which is a title used by both Babylonian and Persian kings (Ezra 5.13). The Persians saw themselves as taking over the mantle of Babylon.
This latter identification may be seen as supported by the fact that the nations listed are, apart from Persia, paralleled in Genesis 10. See Genesis 10.2 where the sons of Japheth include Gomer, Magog, Tubal and Meshech (and also Madai - the Medes, who may have been replaced here by Persia), with Togarmah being a son of Gomer. Cush and Put are mentioned as sons of Ham (Genesis 10.6), but with Cush moving northwards in the person of Nimrod, to become a part of the Mesopotamian nations (Genesis 10.8-12). The inclusion of Persia in the place of the Medes may be especially significant with regard to the identification. This would then indicate an attack led by the Persians.
Others connect Gog with Gyges (Gugu) king of Lydia, presumably in the form of one of his dynasty. This latter is the basis of an attempt to link this invasion with Turkey, but that, like the attempt to link Rosh with Russia, must be seen as very fanciful.
38.1-3 ‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face towards Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.’ ” ’
The word is possibly spoken concerning someone in Ezekiel’s day who was gathering forces in an alliance (verse 7), someone who was a legend in his own time, but the thought is not of his direct plans but of a future invasion ‘after many days’ and ‘ in the latter years’ (verse 8). He would thus be the prototype. As suggested, this could be the king of Persia under his title ‘king of Babylon’, or Gyges (‘Gugu’) of Lydia (see above), or one of his descendants. But it may well not b either of these who are finally in mind, for the name may then be being used as a symbol of the dark forces of ‘the latter years’.
‘Chief prince’ may well have been an official title (nesi’ rosh), for there are no real grounds for seeing ‘rosh’ (head) as the name of a people, for such a nation is not evidenced anywhere in inscriptions (and Russia was a name which arose well over a thousand years later and therefore has no connection with it).
‘Meshech and Tubal’ were mentioned by Ezekiel in 32.26 (where they ere belligerent nations),as well known nations (Assyrian ‘musku’ and ‘tabal’), while as we have seen all the names of nations except Persia (but the Medes are mentioned as ‘Madai’), but including Magog which is there connected with Meshech and Tubal, otherwise appear in Genesis 10.
However, there is one argument which is in favour of seeing ‘Rosh’ as the name of a people, and that is the Hebrew itself, especially in the light of the possibly parallel phrase ‘Persia, Cush and Put’ (verse 5). But if so they were a people unknown to us. And an argument against this is that without Rosh the allies number seven, the perfect number signifying divine completeness (Meshech, Tubal, Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer and Togarmah), which is a regular feature of Scripture. Thus ‘chief prince’ is probably after all the correct translation, the one who is over all.
At this time Meshech and Tubal were firmly based in Anatolia, south east of the Black Sea, and traded in slaves (27.13). Ezekiel probably saw them as a fierce and distant people at the extreme north, along with Togarmah. Meshech and Tubal were close to each other landwise, as was Togarmah.
‘Behold I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.’ Yahweh’s current antagonistic attitude towards Gog at that time (whether as a local king or as representing the king of Persia) may have been seen as arising from the raiding and invasion plans of Meshech and Tubal against surrounding peoples (32.26), but it was magnified by the fact that one day God would bring them against His own people, (although only because their inclinations were that way), only for them to be finally destroyed.
38.4-6 “And I will turn you about, and put hooks in your jaws, and I will bring you forth, and all you army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armour, a great company with buckler and shield, all of them handling swords. Persia, Cush and Put with them, all of them with shield and helmet, Gomer and all his hordes, the house of Togarmah in the uttermost parts of the north, and all his hordes, even many peoples with you.”
This vivid description reveals that Yahweh is at all times totally in control. At present all was under control under the hand of Babylon (who were also under Yahweh’s control as we have seen), but Ezekiel foresees the time when Babylon will be no more, and when Yahweh will then allow these terrible, mysterious distant forces to be released against His people, and against His eternal inheritance. But it will still be under Yahweh’s hand, for it is He Who will turn them about and put hooks in their jaws (compare 29.4 where it is treatment for one who made arrogant claims). The picture is drawn from hunting. They will act as captured wild beasts under His control, roaring lions waiting to devour. Notice how the might and remoteness of the forces are emphasised.
However, the fact that this is Yahweh’s doing does not take away from the responsibility of the agents. They are free agents. They do what they will. It is just that Yahweh allows them to do so and uses it in His purposes. They do His will whether they want to or not. Man boasts in his freedom, but he is really subject to the will of the Almighty.
The fact of the universality of the forces and the fact that they come against an eternal kingdom (37.26-28) may warn us not to take the whole picture too literally. This is no local invasion. It is a combination of ‘worldwide’ forces from the far reaches of the world against the whole people of God (compare Revelation 20.9), pictured in the only way available to Ezekiel with his limited conceptions. (Such a force would hardly really be necessary for the invasion of a small country like Palestine with unwalled villages, without bars or gates. On the other hand with troubles in Egypt the Persians may well have amassed an army and called in on Israel and the surrounding nations so as to ensure their neutrality, on the way).
Note the stress on the fact that they are fully and powerfully armed, and the places where they come from. Persia, at the time of Ezekiel the rising power beyond Babylon; Cush and Put (Genesis 10.6), probably to be seen as representing Northern Sudan and Libya in North Africa in the extremes of the south; Gomer (possibly the Cimmerians from the Black Sea area) and Togarmah (possibly Tegarama, the capital of Kammanu) (Genesis 10.2-3), representing the other peoples of the north. They are the peoples who live at the extremes of Ezekiel’s knowledge. Unless Magog is Babylon, Babylon and Egypt are deliberately ignored, which would stress the futuristic nature of the description. They were regular enemies. There was no mystery about them. But if Magog is Babylon, and the action takes place due to Egypt’s rebellion, then their absence is explained.
The contrast is with the people of God, dwelling securely in unwalled villages, without walls, bars or gates (verse 10), in other words with no outward means of defence. This is a picture that is equally as extravagant as that of the huge armies. It is the seemingly totally defenceless against the greatest power that Ezekiel could conceive of once Babylon’s empire had gone (and at this time Babylon was seen by Jeremiah and Ezekiel as a friendly power in God’s purposes). It is hell let loose. And this is against the people of God described in 37.26-28 which as we have seen depicts the growth of the Kingly Rule of God and of the church of Christ, the new Israel who are the temple of God in the world, leading on to the eternal state.
Thus behind this picture, deliberately rooted to earth to prevent confusion with the gods, is the fact of the forces of darkness pitted against the people of God. But the latter needed to do nothing. They were under the protection of Yahweh. (It is possibly not without significance that the areas named have been the places where the people of God have suffered the greatest of persecutions since the Muslim expansion and conquests).
38.7-8a “Be prepared, yes, prepare yourselves, you and all your companies who are gathered to you, and you be a sentinel for them. After many days you will be mustered.”
Gog is told to put his armies on the alert and act as their sentinel so that they will know when to act. He is to wait for the call of God. It is a comfort to the people of God to know that even Gog is ‘chained’. But the day will come, after many days, when they will be mustered, led along by Yahweh by the hooks in their jaws (verse 4). Everything about this passage delays it into the future, in contrast with the previous oracles on the nations. It must await God’s timing. This is the mystery of history. They work out their own will, and yet they do God’s will as well.
38.7b “In the latter days you will come to the land that is brought back from the sword, that is gathered out of many peoples on the mountains of Israel, which have been a continual waste, but it (Israel) is brought forth from the peoples, and they will dwell securely, all of them.”
‘In the latter days’ simply indicates some time in the not too near future. Ezekiel confirms again that the land will have been delivered from the sword and that the people of Israel will have been gathered out of many peoples, returning not just from Babylon but from many nations, gathering on the mountains of Israel (the heart of Israel) which had been a continual waste up to that point, and dwelling there securely. Such a return took place after what we call The Exile. Then there will come One Who will commence proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God, God’s servant ‘David’ (37.24), and then these forces of darkness will begin their attack. This will be ‘in the latter days’. While this need only indicate some time much later, it may also indicate the days of the Messiah, when the Messiah comes, which are seen as ‘the last days, the end of the ages’. And the birth of Jesus into the world certainly did produce new attacks from Satanic forces as His constant contacts with evil spirits demonstrate (compare Revelation 12.3-4, 13-17).
38.9 “And you will ascend, you will come like a storm, you will be like a cloud to cover the land, you and all your hordes and many people with you (compare Joel 2.1-11).”
The description is not one of warfare but of taking over the country. There is no mention of warfare. This could well indicate a show of strength in Palestine by a Persian army on the way to Egypt, during the reign of one of the Persian kings, an army which included contingents from all the nations mentioned.
It could also indicate an invasion by dark forces. Thus the days of Jesus saw an increase in demon possessions and manifestations of Satan like never before or since. Satan and his minions came like a storm and like a cloud covered the land. The language here is apocalyptic, the storm, the covering cloud descending, the gathering of the hordes. All speak of the enemies of ‘the last days’, the times of the Messiah. The Messiah had to face His enemies. And once the Messiah had risen and received His throne the attacks turned on His people.
But that these attacks on God’s people would continue is clear in Revelation where powerful forces of evil are also described, and they will continue on to the end. In mind here in Ezekiel, therefore, may well be all attacks on God’s people throughout this present age, ‘the latter days’, but especially that last great ‘battle’ at the end of time when God will bring in His final judgments. And with the certainty of attack comes the certainty of deliverance.
38.10-12 “Thus says the Lord Yahweh, It will come about in that day that things will come to your mind, and you will devise an evil device, and you will say, ‘I will go up to the land of unwalled villages, I will go to those who are at rest (quiet), who dwell securely all of them, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, to take the spoil and to take the prey’, to turn your hand against the waste places which are now inhabited, and against the people who are gathered out of the nations, who have obtained for themselves cattle and goods, who dwell in the navel of the earth.”
The thought is expanding. The approaching hordes have descended on what they see as a defenceless land to ‘take the spoil, to take the prey’. The king of Persia may well have seen his journey southwards against Egypt as a suitable time for collecting tribute. But the devising of an evil device by this evil, mysterious king, may also be seen as bringing to mind the deceitfulness of Satan. He too is constantly thought of as a crafty deceiver in all his forms (Genesis 3.1, 13; 2 Corinthians 11.3; 1 Timothy 2.14; 2 Corinthians 2.11; Ephesians 4.14; 6.11; John 8.44). There is something especially evil about all this. For the people are not in a position to defend themselves or aware of the threat that is coming. They are so confident in God and so at rest that they have not built up defences. They have not seen the need.
‘The land of unwalled villages.’ Prior to the building of the walls of Jerusalem by Nehemiah, this was an apt description of Judah. It was defenceless. But it may also be seen as an apt picture of the church of Jesus Christ, surrounded by the world. It may also be seen as a picture of final perfection when Yahweh will provide all the protection that is needed (see Zechariah 2.4-5). This is a ‘land’ of people who did not look for war or attack. They were gathered out of the nations, they had prospered, they had made fruitfulness out of waste conditions, and they dwelt in the navel of the earth, the very lifespring of the world. The navel was seen as the source of the life force (Job 40.16).
It is a splendid picture of the new Israel, the church, who had responded to the Messiah, had turned from wasted lives to full fruitfulness, and lived out their lives before Him under the Kingly Rule of God, seemingly safe from the dark forces. Their citizenship was in Heaven (Philippians 3.20), and they dwelt in heavenly places (Ephesians 2.6), transferred to the kingdom of His Beloved Son (Colossians 1.13). But they were in the world even though they were not of it. And they were outwardly to become a spoil and a prey to these evil forces. As Paul would later declare, ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6.12).
‘Who have obtained for themselves cattle and goods.’ Prior to the time of Nehemiah the new people of Judah my well have begun to prosper. Whilst under the hand of God the righteous have also prospered and this has here caused the jealousy of Gog and the nations.
‘The navel of the earth.’ The Rabbis seized on this expression and utilised it, considering that it referred to Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is not mentioned here. The conception has more spiritual implications indicating the special position of these people, the new people of God, as the centre of the world and having the life of God. The navel was seen as the source of the life force (Job 40.16).
We must recognise that Ezekiel was probably himself thinking of the land of Israel as the site of all this. How could he see what we have seen and what lay ahead? He could not. And we should recognise that in a sense the dark forces did gather against restored Israel (Zechariah 3.1-2). But we should also see that God is intent on revealing an idea here, couched in earthly but apocalyptic language, in terms of the new Israel, the church of Jesus the Messiah, founded in Him, with each person in it born again, and each resting in Him, but under constant pressure from the dark enemy (Ephesians 6.12).
38.13 “Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish, with all their young lions (or ‘all its villages’), will say to you, ‘Are you come to take the spoil? Have you gathered your company to take the prey? To carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take great spoil?’
These merchants of Tarshish probably came from the African coast. (We can gather this from 1 Kings 10.22; 22.48; 2 Chronicles 20.36, for Ezion-geber, mentioned in these verses, would not be a port from which ships sailed to Sardinia or Spain). So Arabia and East Africa are seen as standing by ready to trade in the spoils. While they have not attacked the people of God they are ready to benefit from what had happened. There is no earthly support anywhere for God’s people. And ‘the young lions’ may be intended to indicate that they too were waiting, eager and ready to seize the prey, like a lion pack circling the quarry.
There is no way that all this can all be referred to Israel in the present day. Israel today is not defenceless (‘unwalled’, ‘without walls, and having neither bars nor gates’), indeed she has powerful defences. No one will descend and catch her napping. But she does not ‘dwell securely’ She has to be constantly on the alert. Nor is she now the true Israel of God. Nor is she established in an everlasting land (37.26-28).
However if there were a great movement of the Spirit bringing a large number of Israelis to recognise Jesus as their Messiah and become part of the new Israel, so that there was a firm witness in Jerusalem (see Revelation 11), there might be a case for seeing a secondary more literal fulfilment alongside the spiritual fulfilment.
Then interestingly the situation could be applied to the Muslim threat against Israel. All the places mentioned are mainly Muslim countries. They take in much of the Muslim world. And fanatical Muslims gathered round a fanatical Muslim leader could also theoretically be the source of the monotheistic religion spoken of in Revelation in the worship of the beast who came from the Abyss (Revelation 16.12-14; 17.11-13; 19.19-21) which sought to destroy the people of God. But this is secondary to the main issue and interpretation. And we must be wary of speculation. For a long time it was Russia that was seen as the great enemy. History makes fools of us all.
End of note.
Further Words to Gog.
God now, through Ezekiel, addresses further words to Gog. Gog is greedy for what he can extract from God’s people. But he has reckoned without God.
38.14-16 “Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, In that day when my people Israel dwell securely, will you not know it? And you will come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great company and a mighty army, and you will come up against my people Israel, as a cloud to cover the land. It will come about in the latter days, that I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me when I will be sanctified in you, O Gog, before their eyes.”
Gog is such that he is aware when God’s people dwell securely and are complacent. It is then that he makes his devious attack, and there follows a summary of Gog’s attack on God’s people with his mighty apocalyptic forces. The ‘uttermost parts of the north’ stresses the connection of Gog with the furthest north known to Ezekiel, the extremes of the world, and the north was where supernatural things could be found (1.4; Isaiah 14.13) . The far north is also regularly the source of great danger (Jeremiah 1.13-14; 4.6; 6.1, 22-24; 10.22; Joel 2.20 see also Jeremiah 25.32-33).
Once again his forces are said to come ‘like a cloud to cover the land’ (compare Joel 2.2; Zephaniah 1.15; Jeremiah 4.13). Usually it is Yahweh Who comes with the clouds and covers things with a cloud (1.4; Exodus 24.16; 40.34; Numbers 9.15-16; Psalm 97.2; 105.39). The idea may therefore be to indicate an other-worldly visitation of an imitative kind. We may see here a stress on spiritual warfare, intended by Ezekiel, but avoiding any thought of it connecting with the gods.
‘Riding on horses.’ Compare verse 3. Such huge armies all on horseback would indeed have been a fearsome sight in those days, for most large armies were mainly on foot. This was an enemy indeed. In Revelation a great spiritual threat to mankind is likened to horses prepared for war (Revelation 9.7-11 compare Joel 2.4).
But whatever the visitors may be the comfort is that they are finally under Yahweh’s control. It is He Who brings them against the land, even as He brought them forth with hooks in their jaws (38.4) and mustered them (38.8), even though they do not know it and would have loudly denied it. And through them He will reveal to the nations Who and What He is.
38.17 “Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Are you he of whom I spoke in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied in those days for years that I would bring you against them?”
This question brings home that we are dealing here with something very unusual. God does not usually so speak to His instruments. And of all that the prophets had said, this is what is highlighted. The belligerent attack of Gog was something greater and beyond the usual judgments on God’s people. It was so important that the prophets had spoken about it ‘for years’. Compare Isaiah 29.1-8; Jeremiah 4.6-31; Joel 1.2-2.14; 3.9-14; Amos 5.18-20; Zephaniah 1.7-18; Zechariah 14.2. In the end, whatever its connection with the kings of Persia, this is the last enemy.
God’s Final Judgments.
38.18-22 “And it will come about in that day when Gog comes against the land of Israel,” says the Lord Yahweh, “that my fury will come up into my nostrils, for I have spoken, in my jealousy and in my wrath. Surely in that day there will be a great shaking in the land of Israel, so that the fish of the sea, and the birds of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep on the earth, and all the men who are on the face of the earth, will shake at my presence, and the mountains will be thrown down, and the steep places will fall, and every wall will fall to the ground, and I will call for a sword against him to all my mountains,” says the Lord Yahweh, “every man’s sword will be against his brother, and I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood, and I will rain on him, and on his hordes, and on the many peoples who are with him, an overflowing shower, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone.”
God will respond in anger and fury, and great concern for His people. This is no ordinary anger, it is expressed in strong terms. He is here dealing with what has been at the root of all the worlds ills. God’s final wrath will be revealed against sin and all involved with it. There is no mention of warfare or opponents for Gog. God is their opponent, and He does not fight, He pours out judgments.
It is quite possible that a Persian army that had come to collect tribute had experienced extremely adverse weather conditions like those described in the Book of Joshua, when the very sun had seemed to stand still (Joshua 10.11-14). It is even possible that they suffered a plague as in the days of Isaiah 37.36, and that there was dissension in the camp. But here we find a typical apocalyptic scene where not man but God brings judgment on His enemies. Earthquake (Isaiah 24.18-20; Joel 3.16; Haggai 2.6-7), Yahweh’s sword (5.2, 17; 6.3; 11.8; 12.14; 14.17, 21; 21.3-5, 9-15, 28; 30.24-25 - which results in panic and the allies killing each other), pestilence and blood (5.17; 14.19; 28.23), great hailstones, fire and brimstone (Genesis 19.24; Exodus 9.23-24; Psalm 11.6; 105.32; Isaiah 30.30, 33; 34.9), all these will be brought against Gog, causing the whole earth, both man and beast, indeed all created things, to shake in apprehension. This is a scene typical of the last judgments (Revelation 6.12; 8.5, 7, 8; 9.18; 11.19; 14.19; 16.21; 19.21 see also Isaiah 2.10-22; Zephaniah 1.2-3). It is not war but man facing the judgment of God.
Notice the magnitude of the earthquake. ‘The mountains will be thrown down, and the steep places will fall, and every wall will fall to the ground.’ All the things that bring awe on men, the great mountains, the precipices and ravines, and men’s most powerful constructions, built to resist anything, all will collapse to the ground. Nothing can stand against Him, everything will be made level before God.
‘I will call to all my mountains for a sword against him.’ The sword of man will not be needed. Nature itself will be called on to take God’s side, used by God as a sword, and causing the terror and madness that makes men destroy each other with the sword.
38.23 “And I will magnify myself and sanctify myself, and I will make myself known in the eyes of many nations, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”
God will ‘magnify Himself, sanctify Himself and make Himself known’, not by some great bombastic, pretentious show, but by His actions in bringing about His final purposes. The last judgment will be God’s final vindication. There He will stand alone, supreme, revealed in all His awful holiness, made known to all who have rejected Him. There, too late, all will know that He is Yahweh, the One Who is, the great I am, the One Who causes to be whatever He desires.
‘I will -- sanctify myself.’ We constantly pray ‘hallowed (sanctified) be your name’. This means that He be ‘set apart’ before men as different, as unique, because of His supreme greatness and righteousness revealed in what He does and brings about (28.22; 36.23), and especially in the redemption and making righteous of His people (compare 20.41; 28.25; 39.27).
Chapter 39 The Fate of Gog.
In this chapter a summary is given of Gog’s invasion followed by a more detailed description of his fate, along with those who fought for him. All his might will be burned up (verse 9) and he and his followers will be shamed (compare Jeremiah 25.33), by being left exposed and eaten by the vultures (verses 12, 18) before their final disposal. There is a surely a deliberate contrast here between the fate of Israel’s enemies and the restoration of Israel as depicted in 37.1-14. The bones of both were scattered. The former will be buried in the land for ever, while the latter will live again as the dry bones lived. It is a similar contrast to that in Daniel 12.2-3, but Daniel, with his remarkable visions, had a greater understanding of the future.
The emphasis in the chapter, however, is on the fate of Gog and of the enemies of God’s people. Their ignominious end is hugely stressed. They will be no more, buried for ever with no hope of life.
God’s Judgment on Gog.
39.1-3 “And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, Behold I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. And I will turn you about and lead you on (shshw), and will cause you to come from the uttermost parts of the north, and I will bring you on the mountains of Israel. And I will smite your bow out of your left hand, and will cause your arrows to fall out of your right hand.”
For the name and description see on 38.2. Once again it is emphasised that Gog is under Yahweh’s control. Nothing can happen outside God’s remit. The meaning of the verb shshw is unknown. The versions support ‘lead on’ (38.4 has instead ‘put hooks in your jaws’ which implies the same thing). Again ‘the uttermost parts of the north’ are stressed (compare 38.6, 15), the lands shrouded in mystery from which anything can come. And the mountains of Israel are the backbone of Israel. So the picture is of the mysterious Gog, descending from an equally mysterious region, at the instigation of Yahweh, onto the backbone of Israel.
That is then followed by the shattering of his weapons, that is, his strength, by the hand of Yahweh. He will be left helpless and defenceless, as he previously thought that Israel was (38.11). His bow and arrows will be smitten from his hands. It is noteworthy that Gog is depicted as carrying a bow. The same was true of the rider on the white horse in Revelation 6.2 who symbolised false religion and the deceitfulness of Satan. In Psalm 120.4 lying lips and a deceitful tongue are likened to ‘the sharp arrows of the mighty’, and both the psalmist and Hosea speak of ‘the deceitful bow’ (Psalm 78.57; Hosea 7.16). Thus the bow, with which men are taken by surprise and brought down, was seen as a weapon of deceit, carried by the great deceiver.
39.4-5 “You will fall on the mountains of Israel, you, and all your hordes, and the peoples who are with you, and I will give you to the ravenous birds of every kind, and to the beasts of the field, to be devoured. You will fall on the open field, for I have spoken it, says the Lord Yahweh.”
The mountains of Israel were the backbone of Israel. They were its strength, but they were also the site of Israel’s abominations. Thus the hordes of darkness would be broken on them, and it was fitting that those mountains that had been used for idolatry and sinful abominations, should now be the recipient of the dead bodies of those evil hordes, just as previously they had received the bodies of the slain when God punished Israel (6.5, 13).
‘And I will give you to the ravenous birds of every kind, and to the beasts of the field, to be devoured.’ Compare 32.4; 29.5; 31.13; Jeremiah 7.33; 16.4; 19.7; 34.20. See also Revelation 19.21. This was considered to be an horrific death (see Psalm 79.2). Left unburied to have their bodies mauled and their bones picked by scavenging bird and scavenging beast.
‘You will fall on the open field.’ The open field was the description given to areas away from cities, outside in the open away from men’s dwellings (16.5; 29.5; 32.4; 33.27 (where it parallels ‘wastes’); see also Leviticus 14.7; 2 Samuel 11.11; Numbers 19.16; Jeremiah 9.22). Their mission to capture the cities of Israel will have proved a total failure. God’s people will be safe.
‘For I have spoken it, says the Lord Yahweh.’ Their destruction will occur because God has said it and determined it.
39.6 “And I will send a fire on Magog, and on those who dwell securely on the isles/coastlands, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”
We note now an expansion of God’s judgments. The lands of those who attacked his people will likewise suffer (compare the vivid picture in Judges 5.28-30). They thought that they were safe because of their massive forces, and awaited the return of the armies with great booty. But instead they will have to recognise the power of Yahweh’s judgments. The furthest peoples will be involved. God’s judgments are far reaching and total.
The isles and coastlands (the peoples across the seas) have not previously been mentioned. Along with all previously mentioned the whole of Ezekiel’s distant world has now been included in the catastrophe.
39.7 “And I will make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel, nor will I allow my holy name to be profaned any more. And the nations will know that I am Yahweh, the Holy One in Israel.”
God’s holy name, that is His own righteousness, purity and ‘otherness’ will by all this be made known to His people. They will recognise Him for what He is and that the cry of their hearts has been fulfilled, and that evil has been destroyed (compare Revelation 6.10 - which was not so much a cry for vengeance as a longing for God’s righteous judgments to prevail). The nations brought to judgment will also recognise Who and What He is, ‘the Holy One in Israel’.
‘The Holy One in Israel’. That is the One set apart from, and above and beyond all others; unapproachable except to those He calls; unique, all-powerful, and essentially righteous in all His dealings see Isaiah 57.15). And Israel is His dwellingplace (compare Isaiah 60.14). They are His temple. We can compare here ‘the Holy One of Israel’ (1 Kings 19.22; Psalm 71.22; 78.41; 89.18; Isaiah 1.4; 5.19, 24; 10.20; 12.6; 17.7; 29.19; 30.11, 12, 15; 31.1; 37.23; 41.14, 16, 20; 43.3, 14; 45.11; 47.4; 48.17; 49.7; 54.5; 55.5; 60.9, 14; Jeremiah 50.29; 51.5) where the emphasis is on His might, His total superiority, and His purity and righteousness as judge.
39.8 “Behold it comes and it will be done,” says the Lord Yahweh. “This is the day of which I have spoken.”
The uniqueness of this day comes out here. It is the final day of which Yahweh has spoken (Isaiah 2.12; Joel 1.15; 2.1, 11, 31; 3.14; compare Zechariah 14.1), in contrast with all the other ‘Days of Yahweh’ on different nations occurring at different times, which are seen as foretastes of what is to come (Babylon - Isaiah 13.1-22; Jeremiah 46.10; Lamentations 2.22; Zephaniah 1.1-2.3 in context with 2.4-15. Edom - Isaiah 34.1-17. Israel - Ezekiel 13.1-7; Amos 5.18-20 with 27). And all are assured that it will assuredly come.
The Clearing Up Operation and the Cleansing Of The Land (39.9-16).
Concentration on the detail here can obscure the significance of the whole. The main points being brought out are the massiveness of what has to be dealt with, and the importance of making the land totally ‘clean’. Attention is drawn to the vast amounts of armour, the huge number of bodies picked clean by the scavengers (verses 17-20), and the awful judgment that has come upon the nations because they trifled with God and His people. Note the emphasis on the number seven, the number of divine completeness (throughout the whole of the Near East) (verses 9, 12, 14). This brings out the idealistic nature of the passage. The prophet’s aim is not to bring out how long it will take as a matter of record, but the divine completeness of the judgment.
Another major point is that what is left of the nations will be buried. Not here dry bones that will live after the battle (37.1-14), but bones that will be buried forever in the valley of Hamon-Gog, ‘the valley of the hordes of Gog’ (verse 11), which will ever bear witness to the fact that for these there will no resurrection to life. Note the emphasis on the fact that all will be buried (verses 13-15), not one will be left uninterred. Then all that will be left is God’s people in a pure land (verse 16). All will have been done away.
This was Ezekiel’s way of presenting the final triumph of the people of God and the judgment of the nations opposed to God. From now on for ever the people of God will rest in safety and purity. All tears will have ceased. The last enemy has been destroyed.
39.9-10 “And those who dwell in the cities of Israel will go forth, and will make fires of the weapons and burn them, both the shields and the bucklers, the bows and the arrows, the handstaves and the spears. And they will make fires of them for seven years, so that they will take no wood from the field, nor cut down any from the forests. For they will make fires of the weapons, and they will spoil those who spoiled them, and rob those who robbed them, says the Lord Yahweh.”
Note that Israel were all this time safe in their unwalled cities (compare Psalm 31.21; 127.1; Isaiah 26.1). Yahweh was their refuge (Jeremiah 16.19; Deuteronomy 33.27; 2 Samuel 22.3; Psalm 46.1; 57.1; 59.16 and often). The huge forces had not been able to harm them. They were invulnerable. But now they can safely go out and collect up the weapons, and there will be so many that it will take seven years to burn them. We need not ask how many of the weapons would burn (the inflammable ones, made largely of wood, are mentioned). The emphasis is on the greatness of the victory, demonstrated by the huge quantity of weapons, the fact that Israel now had no need for such weapons, and the fact that what their enemies had intended to harm them with had become a blessing to them. The spoilers had become the spoiled. God’s people have triumphed. As mentioned above seven years is a God-ordained period and a picture of divine completeness. In the end it is the people of God who will triumph.
39.11 “And it will come about in that day that I will give to Gog a place for burial in Israel, the valley of those who pass through in front of (or ‘to the east of’) the sea. And it will stop those who pass through. And there they will bury Gog and all his hordes, and they will call it the valley of Hamon-gog.”
If the sea is the Dead Sea then the burial place would be seen as outside the limits of the land as promised to Israel (east of the Dead Sea), although within that occupied by Israel. The true Israel would be made totally ‘clean’. The valley ‘will stop those who pass through’ either because being a burial ground it will be avoided, or because they stop in awe as they consider its significance as ‘the valley of the hordes of Gog’ (Hamon-gog). We can compare here the equally vivid description in Isaiah 66.24 of those who go forth to look on the wicked dead. Both are pictorial representations of a greater reality. They are bringing out that for eternity the great Judgment Day of God and its consequences will be a warning to His people.
39.12-14 “And seven months will the house of Israel be burying them, that they may cleanse the land. Yes, all the people of the land will bury them. And it will bring honour on them (be to them a renown) in the day that I will be glorified,” says the Lord Yahweh. “And they will set apart men with the continual employment of passing through the land to bury those who pass through, who remain on the face of the land, to cleanse it. At the end of seven months they will search.”
Again the emphasis is on the huge number of dead. At first the whole of Israel will be involved in burying the multitude of the dead for ‘seven months’, that is, the divinely appointed time necessary. Then the task of clearing up the remainder will be handed over to specialists, ‘the passers through’. These latter will be specifically employed on a continual basis for the task of searching out and ensuring the burial of all the bones picked clean by the scavengers which have been missed in the above operation. (We are reminded of the assiduous searching out of leaven at the feast of the Passover - see Exodus 12.19).
Note that the purpose is not to give them a decent burial but to get rid of the bones and corpses of the accursed of God so that the land will be ‘clean’ (Deuteronomy 21.23). The whole purpose of the operation is the purity of God’s people which must be the concern of the whole people. While such bodies remained unburied the land was ‘unclean’ and ‘defiled’ . The everlasting Israel must be free from all taint and totally pure for their everlasting future.
And by these actions great honour will come on Israel, for they will be having their part in the great glory brought on the name of God by what has happened in the defeat of the forces of darkness in ‘the day that He is glorified’.
39.15-16 “And the passers through the land will pass through, and when any sees a man’s bone, then he will set up a marker by it, until the buriers have buried it in the valley of Hamon-gog. And Hamonah (multitude) will also be the name of a city. Thus will they cleanse the land.”
The passers through will continue with their employment until every bone is buried. There are the searchers and the buriers. (With their stress on the importance f ‘cleanness’ such searchers and buriers were probably part of everyday life of Israel). Possibly Hamonah was to be where they set up their living quarters (‘city’ could mean anything from a tent encampment to a large city).
These verses depict the thoroughness of Yahweh’s judgment. None will escape in the least degree.
The Scavengers Are Called to a Great Sacrificial Feast (39.17-20).
A huge emphasis in this chapter is on the purification of Israel and the awful fate of the wicked. Both are again involved here, with the emphasis on the latter. The scavengers clean up the land, but here they are also seen as attending a sacrificial feast in which they partake of the offering, and the offering is the wicked dead.
39.17 “And you, son of man, thus says the Lord Yahweh, Speak to the birds of every kind, and to every beast of the field. ‘Assemble yourselves and come. Gather yourselves on every side to my sacrifice that I sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel, that you may eat flesh and drink blood’.”
This is the feast of the wild beasts. They are called together to partake of it (compare Revelation 19.17-18). And we are called on to consider this great gathering of scavengers descending on the prey. It likens the destruction of Gog and his forces to a great sacrificial feast. And it is for the scavengers. No man would be told to drink blood. That makes it the more dreadful. But this is a sacrifice fit only for the wild beasts and birds. The sight of vultures circling dead bodies and scavengers tearing at a carcass would be a common sight in Israel. It is not in itself glorious but horrific. The very thought of it would make men shudder. It spoke of the most ignominious of deaths. But it was to be the fate of the wicked. Compare 32.4; 29.5; 31.13; Jeremiah 7.33; 16.4; 19.7; 34.20. The idea of ‘eating flesh and drinking blood’ is, however, elsewhere metaphorical for enjoying the fruits of victory.
39.18-19 “And you will eat fat until you are full, and drink blood until you are drunk, of my sacrifice which I have sacrificed for you.”
Nothing could have been designed to make Ezekiel shudder more. The eating of the fat and the drinking of the blood of sacrifices were forbidden to men. And here it is the blood of men. But here it is the wild beasts who partake. It stresses the awfulness of the fate of these people. And the beasts will be more than sated.
39.20 “And you will be filled at my table with horses and chariots, with mighty men and with all the men of war, says the Lord Yahweh.”
That great and proud host that went forth to battle with shouts of triumph and certainty of spoils, has now become a feast for the wild beasts and scavenger birds. It stresses their inglorious end. And it is all at the word of the Lord Yahweh. When the world triumphs and magnifies itself before the people of God, they need to consider their end. Whatever the people of God may suffer, it is nothing like this. Again the language is symbolic. Real life scavengers would hardly be interested in chariots. These are judgment figures.
The Vindication of Yahweh (39.21-29).
Ezekiel sees the future in terms of the vindication of Yahweh. He will be glorified in the eyes of the nations when they see His judgments. Israel will also know that He is Yahweh. For having punished them He will again gather them and His Spirit will be poured out on them. And their deliverance will bring home to the nations that He is all-powerful and supreme.
This would begin when Cyrus, His shepherd who did not know Him (Isaiah 44.28-45.4) decreed the return to Jerusalem and the building of the temple (Ezra 1), it would continue when Nehemiah once again established Jerusalem as a ruling city, and on through history as Israel grew in stature and expanded with the exiles returning, until the coming of the Messiah, Who having established the beginnings of the Kingly Rule of God would be cut off (Daniel 9.26) and smitten (Zechariah 12.7), and the Spirit would be poured out on His people. This would then lead on to the growth of the Kingly Rule of God and its final triumph, and the final judgment. All this lies behind the prophecies of Ezekiel and are their fulfilment.
39.21 “And I will set my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see my judgment which I have executed, and my hand which I have laid on them. So the house of Israel will know that I am Yahweh their God from that day, and forward. And the nations will know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity, because they trespassed against me, and I hid my face from them. So I gave them into the hand of their adversaries, and they fell all of them by the sword. I did to them according to their uncleanness and according to their trespasses, and I hid my face from them.”
Three primary points are made here. Firstly that the judgment on Gog will bring God glory in the eyes of the nations who have been judged, secondly that it will bring home to Israel that He is Yahweh their God, and thirdly that the nations will be made to recognise why Israel really went into captivity, that it was because of their sinfulness and unfaithfulness to the covenant, and not because He could not protect them. Thus God will be vindicated.
‘I will set my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see my judgment which I have executed, and my hand which I have laid on them.’ God’s glory will have been set among the nations by His judgments, which the nations will be forced to recognise. They will therefore have to acknowledge His supremity, and bow the knee to Him.
‘So the house of Israel will know that I am Yahweh their God from that day, and forward.’ The true people of God will have had demonstrated to them that He is truly their God Who watches over them and cares for them for ever.
‘And the nations will know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity, because they trespassed against me, and I hid my face from them.’ God’s vindication and protection of His people will evidence the fact to the nations that the captivity was not due to His not having been able to protect His people, but to His having to deal with their sinfulness and rebellion by judgment. They would recognise that that was why He had hidden His face from them, and not because of His being unable to help them.
‘So I gave them into the hand of their adversaries, and they fell all of them by the sword. I did to them according to their uncleanness and according to their trespasses, and I hid my face from them.’ The reason for God’s behaviour towards Israel, and the reason why He hid His face from them, is now detailed. What had happened to them in the destruction of Jerusalem and of their country had been due to their behaviour. They had made themselves unclean by their idolatry and casual attitude towards God and holy things, and they had trespassed against God’s laws and covenant.
39.25-27 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, Now I will reverse the captivity of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name. And after they have borne their shame, and all their trespasses by which they have trespassed against me, then they will dwell securely in the land and none will make them afraid, when I have brought them again from the peoples, and gathered them from their enemies’ lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of the nations.”
The literal text is ‘and they will bear their shame ---’ but in translation it is necessary to bring out the sense. The point is that they will bear their shame and then afterwards will be brought into the land. Hebrew tenses do not express strict chronology.
In this final summary God indicates once again the restoration of His people. He will reverse the situation He had brought about, and He will do it because He is intent to maintain the honour of His name (He is ‘jealous’ for His name). Once they have borne their sins to the fullest necessary extent (compare Isaiah 40.1-2) they will be released from their captivity and brought again to their land. Stress is made on the fact that this will be of the whole house of Israel. All twelve tribes will be restored. The Bible knows nothing of ‘lost tribes’. Thus ‘Israel’ will now be limited to those who return and those who acknowledge their part in that return by their behaviour in their one time exile, by looking on Israel as their true home (as Daniel and Nehemiah did. They had returned in their hearts even though their positions would not allow them to return).
‘Then they will dwell securely in the land and none will make them afraid.’ This will be the final result. It was partly achieved in the first restoration, but its greater fulfilment awaits the final days of deliverance as depicted in these chapters, when His people will dwell together in God’s greater land of which the earthly is bit a shadow. History is seen as a combined whole. This is the nature of Biblical prophecy.
‘And am sanctified in them in the sight of the nations.’ The purpose of their deliverance and restoration is so that God might be ‘set apart’ in men’s eyes as the One Who is Almighty and can do anything by His power and yet as the One Who is righteous and fully punishes sin.
39.28-29 “And they will know that I am Yahweh their God, in that I caused them to go into captivity among the nations, and have gathered them to their own land. And I will leave none of them there any more. Nor will I hide my face any more from them. For I (will) have poured out my Spirit on the house of Israel, says he Lord Yahweh.”
After the great encounter with Gog is over, God’s people will dwell in safety. They will remember all that God has done and recognise His goodness and glory and holiness. They will know that He is Yahweh. Note the three promises, 1) I will leave none of them there any more. 2) I will not hide my face from them any more. 3) I will have poured out my Spirit on the house of Israel.
These promises bring out the nature of the future ‘Israel’ as seen in Ezekiel’s eyes, and summarise the message of his book. Israel finally is made up of those who have gathered to God, are committed to Him and are thus His people. He expressed it in the only way he then could.
‘I will leave none of them there any more.’ Those who are His true people will have left the nations and been united with the people of God under God’s Kingly Rule. They will be one together in their covenant with God. They will look to Him only. The nations will trouble them no more. They will have been suitably dealt with. The enemies of darkness will once and for all have been eliminated.
‘I will not hide my face from them any more.’ Their fellowship with God will be total and complete. His face will always be turned towards them, and they in turn will look to Him, and this will be so for ever. They will walk in the light of Yahweh.
‘I (will) have poured out my Spirit on the house of Israel.’ The perfect tense is used to demonstrate that this has already occurred in the mind of God, but it looks to the future. His people will be those on whom He has poured out His Spirit. They will be the true Israel, spending eternity in the presence of God. They will be those on whom He has poured out His Spirit, which incorporates the church, the new Israel, the ‘Israel of God’, and will be distinguished by the fact that they ‘have a new heart and a new Spirit,’ a softened heart, an obedient heart, and they will delight in doing only His will (36.26-28). Thus will have begun the everlasting kingdom. God will finally have triumphed.
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