Forum Class April 18, 2004
Jerusalem fell on the 9th of Av, 586 BC after a siege by Nebuchadnezzar lasting at least 18 months. News of the Fall of the city reached Ezekiel and his 10,000 country men in their internment camp near Babylon about 6 months later. Knowing they would not be returning to Jerusalem as they had hoped, the Jews were to be gradually assimilated into Babylonian life and culture for the next 70 years. Ezekiel is again reminded to be a watchman "on the walls" (Chapter 33)--speaking God's words to God's people whether they listen or refuse to listen. There was no wide-scale repentance by the remnant at that time, but at least they dropped their open hostility and resentment of Ezekiel's teaching. Ezekiel had now become a very popular and entertaining speaker!
"As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, 'Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.' "So they come to you as people do, 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 hearts pursue their own gain. "Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them. "And when this comes to pass--surely it will come--then they will know that a prophet has been among them." (Ezekiel 33:30-33)
A few Notes from Jerusalem:
The Lamentations of Jeremiah are a moving funeral dirge by Jeremiah about the Fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah Chapters 34-45 are especially relevant parallels to the portion of the book of Ezekiel we are now studying.
Jeremiah's public teachings had already led the people there to rise up and attempt to have him put to death. They were God's chosen people, so nothing bad was supposed to happen to them.
In a flashback recorded in Chapter 36 we read that God asked Jeremiah to dictate a long and careful letter to King Jehoiakim, which the King read in December 604. Jehoiakim scornfully cut the letter in strips one at a time with his pen knife and burned them in his fireplace to keep warm. So God asked Jeremiah rewrite the entire scroll--adding even more judgments against the king's arrogant rebellion against Yahweh. (See 2 Kings 23:34-24:7 for more on the fate of Jehoiakim.)
Jeremiah Chapters 37-38 are about Jeremiah's imprisonment by Jehoiakim's successor, King Zedekiah. This last king of Israel ruled 11 years and was not in the least submissive to God or to Nebuchadnezzar. Instead he enlisted the help of Egypt in a futile attempt to overthrow the Babylonian occupation (which was from God).
The King considered Jeremiah's treasonous and had him kept in prison. While in prison, a group of the king's nobles tried to kill Jeremiah by throwing him into a muddy cistern (38:1-13) but he was rescued in the nick of time by godly Eded-Melech, an Ethiopian eunuch. Zechariah then secretly asked for Jeremiah's advice--but of course he did not receive the news he wanted to hear--
Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, "Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: 'If you surely surrender to the king of Babylon's princes, then your soul shall live; this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. 'But if you do not surrender to the king of Babylon's princes, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans; they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.'" And Zedekiah the king said to Jeremiah, "I am afraid of the Jews who have defected to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they abuse me." But Jeremiah said, "They shall not deliver you. Please, obey the voice of the LORD which I speak to you. So it shall be well with you, and your soul shall live. "But if you refuse to surrender, this is the word that the LORD has shown me: 'Now behold, all the women who are left in the king of Judah's house shall be surrendered to the king of Babylon's princes, and those women shall say: "Your close friends have set upon you And prevailed against you; Your feet have sunk in the mire, And they have turned away again." 'So they shall surrender all your wives and children to the Chaldeans. You shall not escape from their hand, but shall be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon. And you shall cause this city to be burned with fire.'"
Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, "Let no one know of these words, and you shall not die. "But if the princes hear that I have talked with you, and they come to you and say to you, 'Declare to us now what you have said to the king, and also what the king said to you; do not hide it from us, and we will not put you to death,' "then you shall say to them, 'I presented my request before the king, that he would not make me return to Jonathan's house to die there.'" Then all the princes came to Jeremiah and asked him. And he told them according to all these words that the king had commanded. So they stopped speaking with him, for the conversation had not been heard. Now Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken. (38:17-28)
When Jerusalem fell (Jeremiah 39), Nebuchadnezzar freed Jeremiah and granted him protection. This allowed the prophet to continue to speak to the surviving Jews in Jerusalem. (Zedekiah's end is described in Jeremiah 52). Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah of Bethlehem to govern the land of Israel to bring about law and order. He also gave the land and farming resources to the surviving poor. But a terrorist raid instigated by the King of Ammon, and a man of royal blood named Ishmael, resulted in the assassination of Gedaliah. There were of course further reprisals by Nebuchadnezzar. (Chapter 40-41)
Chapter 42 records the next main developments: Surviving Jewish military leaders asked the prophet to inquire of the Lord if they should flee to Egypt. The immediate reply from the Lord--through Jeremiah--was a clear "no"--they should remain in Israel serving Nebuchadnezzar. But certain "proud men" among the Jews accused Jeremiah of speaking falsely and they went to Egypt anyway, dragging Jeremiah with them. In Egypt (Chapter 43-44) Jeremiah had more to say--confirming the impending invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar--which subsequently occurred in 567. (This prophecy parallels Ezekiel 29-32).
"So they went to the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the LORD. And they went as far as Tahpanhes. Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes, saying, "Take large stones in your hand, and hide them in the sight of the men of Judah, in the clay in the brick courtyard which is at the entrance to Pharaoh's house in Tahpanhes; "and say to them, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: "Behold, I will send and bring Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden. And he will spread his royal pavilion over them. "When he comes, he shall strike the land of Egypt and deliver to death those appointed for death, and to captivity those appointed for captivity, and to the sword those appointed for the sword. "I will kindle a fire in the houses of the gods of Egypt, and he shall burn them and carry them away captive. And he shall array himself with the land of Egypt, as a shepherd puts on his garment, and he shall go out from there in peace. "He shall also break the sacred pillars of Beth Shemesh that are in the land of Egypt; and the houses of the gods of the Egyptians he shall burn with fire."'" (43:7-13)
Then Jeremiah spoke to all the people--the men, the women, and all the people who had given him that answer--saying: "The incense that you burned in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, you and your fathers, your kings and your princes, and the people of the land, did not the LORD remember them, and did it not come into His mind? "So the LORD could no longer bear it, because of the evil of your doings and because of the abominations which you committed. Therefore your land is a desolation, an astonishment, a curse, and without an inhabitant, as it is this day. "Because you have burned incense and because you have sinned against the LORD, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD or walked in His law, in His statutes or in His testimonies, therefore this calamity has happened to you, as at this day." Moreover Jeremiah said to all the people and to all the women, "Hear the word of the LORD, all Judah who are in the land of Egypt! "Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saying: 'You and your wives have spoken with your mouths and fulfilled with your hands, saying, "We will surely keep our vows that we have made, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her." You will surely keep your vows and perform your vows!'
"Therefore hear the word of the LORD, all Judah who dwell in the land of Egypt: 'Behold, I have sworn by My great name,' says the LORD, 'that My name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, "The Lord GOD lives." 'Behold, I will watch over them for adversity and not for good. And all the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there is an end to them. 'Yet a small number who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah; and all the remnant of Judah, who have gone to the land of Egypt to dwell there, shall know whose words will stand, Mine or theirs. 'And this shall be a sign to you,' says the LORD, 'that I will punish you in this place, that you may know that My words will surely stand against you for adversity.' "Thus says the LORD: 'Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra [Apries] king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, his enemy who sought his life.'" (44:20-30)
According to tradition, Jeremiah died in Egypt at the hands of his countrymen. He had taught and proclaimed the word of God faithfully--without results--for at least 40 years in Jerusalem.
Egypt: a Footnote: Last class we discussed Ezekiel's pronouncements of impending judgment against Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar would invade and plunder the land, ending the long reigns of the native pharaohs. Egypt would be ruled in turn by Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, then the Arabs and various Arab nations, and finally by the British until their final independence in the past half century.
Jeremiah also wrote of Egypt' coming judgment (see Jeremiah 46). Jeremiah ended up in Egypt after the fall of Jerusalem--against his will--where he was killed by his fellow Jews. This tragic series of events is described in Jeremiah 40-44.
Israel's Certain Future: This last major division of the book of Ezekiel focuses on the restoration of Israel's blessing. Israel would be judged for her sin (chaps. 1-24)--as would the surrounding nations (chaps. 25-32). But Israel will not remain under judgment forever. God had set her apart as His special people, and He will fulfill His promises to her.
A. New life for Israel (chaps. 33-39): The first step in Israel's restoration will be national renewal. Israel as a nation "died" when she went into captivity. Her homeland was gone, her temple destroyed, and her kings dethroned. Israel's enemies had triumphed. Her false leaders within had led the people astray, and her neighbors without had plundered and decimated the land. For Israel to experience God's blessing she will need to be "reborn" as a nation. The false leaders will be replaced with a true shepherd who will guide the people (chap. 34). The external enemies of Israel will be judged (chap. 35). The people will be restored both to the land and to their God (chaps. 36-37), and their security will be guaranteed by God Himself (chaps. 38-39).
1. WATCHMAN EZEKIEL REAPPOINTED, (CHAP. 33)
a. Ezekiel's duties as a watchman (33:1-20)
33:1-20. Ezekiel had been named God's watchman to warn. . . . Israel of coming judgment (see comments on 3:16-27). Ezekiel's first commissioning was to a ministry of judgment, but that ministry was now completed. God then appointed Ezekiel as a watchman for a second time, but this message was different. The focus was still on individual accountability and responsibility, but the message's thrust was God's restoration of Israel.
The opening of Ezekiel's mouth (33:21-33)
33:21-22. Ezekiel was primed for his new ministry, inaugurated when news of Jerusalem's fan reached the captives in Babylon. In the 12th year of their exile, in the 10th month on the fifth day, that is, on January 9, 585 B.C., news of the fall was delivered by one of Jerusalem's survivors, who had traveled several months and several hundred miles to tell Ezekiel. Only then did the awful reality of Ezekiel's prophecies strike home.
Now that Ezekiel's message was confirmed, there was no need for him to be silent. So his mouth was opened the night before the messenger arrived. Ezekiel had remained silent for seven years, only speaking to utter God's judgments (cf. 3:26-27).
33:23-29. In the rest of chapter 33 Ezekiel addressed two groups of people. First he condemned those Israelites who remained in the land of Israel and expected a soon end to the Babylonian Captivity (vv. 23-29). Then he rebuked those who gathered to hear him in Babylon (vv. 30-33).
The people who remained in Israel after Jerusalem's fall refused to acknowledge God's judgment. Comparing themselves to Abraham, they claimed to be the remnant left by God to possess His Promised Land. If the man, Abraham, had a right to the land, certainly, they reasoned, the many Israelites remaining there had a right to it.
But there was one big difference between Abraham and those in the land. Abraham was righteous and they were wicked. They ate meat with the blood still in it (cf. Lev. 17:10-14), worshiped idols (Ex. 20:46), and shed blood (cf. Ex. 20:13)
The right to possess the land depended on spiritual obedience, not numerical strength. Because of their sins these people had forfeited their rights to the Promised Land.
Those who felt a smug arrogance in their possession of the land would soon experience the pains of judgment. Those in the city's ruins would fall by the sword, those who fled to the countryside would be eaten by wild animals, and those who hid in strongholds and caves would die of a plague, Strikingly those were the same judgments the people of Jerusalem had experienced earlier (cf. Ezek. 5:17; 14:21). In addition, the land of Judah) would be desolate.
33:30-33. Ezekiel then spoke to the exiles in Babylon. He had developed a popular following among the people who recognized him as a prophet. They frequently gathered to hear his messages. The people liked to hear God's word, but neglected to obey it (cf. James 1:22-25): they did not put the prophet's words into practice. They were paying lip service to God, but still harbored sin in their hearts. With their mouths they were expressing devotion, but their hearts were greedy. Ezekiel's words tantalized the people's ears much as beautiful love songs would do; but his message never penetrated their hearts.
But a day of reckoning would come. When all his words of prophecy would come true. . . then they would know that he was a prophet. Ezekiel was not referring to his prophecies about Jerusalem's fall because those had already come true" (Ezek. 33:21). Some suggest he was referring to his prophecy against the remnant in Judah (vv. 2329), but it is doubtful that a message of judgment on the remnant would have had any greater impact on those in captivity than the fall of the city. Therefore Ezekiel was probably referring to the fact of individual responsibility and judgment that God imposes on all people (cf. vv. 12-20). Each person would be held accountable for his actions and his responses to God's word. When their day of accountability came, then those "hearers of the Word" (James 1;22, KJV) would be forced to acknowledge the prophetic nature and thus the truth of Ezekiel's message.
2. THE PRESENT FALSE SHEPHERDS CONTRASTED WITH THE FUTURE TRUE SHEPHERD (CHAP 34)
a. The present false shepherds (34:1-10)
34:16. God charged the prophet to prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. The rulers of the people were often called shepherds (cf. Ps. 78:70-72; Isa. 44:28; Jer. 23:14; 25:34-38). They were to be strong, caring leaders who guarded their nation like a flock. Ezekiel first explained the sins of the shepherds (Ezek. 34:16), then pronounced judgment on them (vv. 7-10).
Israel's leaders did not serve their flock. Their first error was to put their own interests above those of the people (vv. 23). Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Israel's kings had added to their wealth at the expense of the common people. They viewed the flock as a Source of wealth to be exploited rather than a trust to be protected.
The second error of the leaders was their harsh treatment of the people. A shepherd was to lead his sheep to food, protect them from attack, nurse to health the injured sheep, and search for any that strayed and got lost. However, Israel's shepherds did not gently nurture the people. They ruled. . . harshly and brutally.
The third error of the rulers was their flagrant disregard for the people, letting them be scattered without looking for them (vv. 5-6). Three times in verses 5-6 Ezekiel mentioned that the sheep were scattered. The chief job of a shepherd was to prevent such a catastrophe. Ezekiel was probably alluding to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities which had scattered Israel and Judah among the nations. The shepherds had been unable to prevent the very thing they were appointed to guard against.
34:7-10. The shepherds had neglected their task, and the sheep were scattered. It was now time to call the shepherds to judgment for their actions. Holding the shepherds. . . accountable for His flock, God would judge the rulers and remove them from their positions of power. They would no longer have opportunities to profit at the people's expense. God said, "I will rescue My flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them," in the sense of the leaders taking advantage of the people. This statement was a bridge to the next section. The false shepherds had brought Israel to ruin. So God Himself would intercede and rescue His people.
b. The future true shepherd (34:11-31): What the false shepherds failed to accomplish because of their greed (vv. 1-10), God would bring to pass. He would care for His flock (vv. 11-16), judge between His sheep (vv. 1724), and establish a covenant of peace (vv. 25-31).
34:11-16. The flock was scattered because of cruel and indifferent shepherds (vv. 26). If the sheep were to be rescued and restored, the Great Shepherd would need to rescue them Himself. "I Myself will search for My sheep and look after them," God would intervene personally on Israel's behalf.
God's first action would be to restore Israel to her land from the nations and to pasture her like sheep in good grazing land. God will do what the false shepherds had failed to do--tend . . . search . . .bring back strengthen, and shepherd. . . with justice. This prophecy was not fulfilled when Israel returned to her land after the Babylonian Captivity. It still awaits future fulfillment in the Millennium.
34:17-24. In exercising His justice God said He would begin by judging between the individual sheep: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Before the millennial kingdom begins, God will sort out the righteous from the unrighteous (cf. Matt. 25:31-46) and allow only the righteous into the Millennium.
But how will God differentiate one from the other? The character of the sheep is seen in their conduct (Ezek. 34:17-21). The wicked sheep are those that follow the conduct of the shepherds, oppressing the weaker sheep. They trampled the pasture lands and even muddied the streams so that other sheep were left with less than desirable vegetation and drinking water. These fat sheep were successful in brutalizing the lean sheep. The wicked sheep even butted all the weak sheep with their horns, to drive them away. God will not permit these wicked practices to continue. Instead He will rescue the oppressed and will judge the aggressors. He will judge between one sheep and another (v. 22; cf. v. 17).
After judging the individual sheep, God will exercise His leadership by appointing a new shepherd (vv. 2324). This shepherd, God stated, will be His servant David. Many see this as an allusion to Christ, the Good Shepherd (cf. John 10:11-18), who descended from the line of David to be the King of Israel (cf. Matt. 1:1). However, nothing in Ezekiel 34:23 that Ezekiel was not referring to the literal King David who will be resurrected to serve as Israel's righteous prince. David is referred to by name elsewhere in passages that look to the future restoration of Israel (cf. Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 37:24-25; Hosea 3:5). Also Ezekiel indicated that David will be the prince (nasi) of the restored people (Ezek. 34:24; 37:25). This same "prince" will then offer sin offerings for himself during the millennial period (45:22; 46:4). Such actions would hardly be appropriate for the sinless Son of God, but they would be for David. So it seems this is a literal reference to a resurrected David. In place of the false shepherds God will resurrect a true shepherd to tend his sheep.
34:25-31. God's care and protection will result in peace for His people. I will make a covenant of peace with them. The peace that Israel has always longed for will be experienced. The uncertainties associated with desolate places, wild animals, other nations, and unpredictable weather will be alleviated. The land will enjoy peace and prosperity. Trees will bear fruit and the ground will yield its crops, and the people will be secure in their land, living in safety.
God's "covenant of peace" looks forward to the blessings Israel will experience in the Millennium. This covenant will establish Israel in her land permanently with David as her shepherd. Later Ezekiel stated that the covenant of peace will also involve the rebuilding of God's temple as a visible reminder of His presence (37:26-28).
God will restore Israel because of her unique relationship to Him. "You My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, are My people, and I am your God."
3. THE ENEMY (EDOM) DESTROYED (CHAP. 35)
Why did Ezekiel devote a second prophecy to Edom (cf. 25:12-14),
and why was it placed in this section on Israel's restoration?
Most likely Edom was listed here to represent the judgment God
would inflict on all nations who oppose Israel. Edom was th
e prototype of all Israel's later foes. The destruction of Edom would signal the beginning of God's judgment on the whole earth based on that nation's treatment of Israel (cf. Gen. 12:3).
The prophecy against Edom is in three parts, each ending with Ezekiel's common expression, "Then you/they will know that I am the LORD" (Ezek. 35:4, 9, 15).
35:1-4 In a direct statement of judgment on Edom, God said, "I am against you, Mount Seir." Seir, Edom's geographical name, was the mountain range east of the Wadi Arabah south of the Dead Sea. This was the mountainous home land where the Edomites lived. God would make that people as desolate as their land.
35:5-9. Ezekiel's second section followed the "because/therefore" format (used in 25:1-17) in explaining why Edom would be judged. Edom's sin was her enmity against Israel. She had harbored an ancient hostility and delivered the Israelites over to the sword (cf. Obad. 10, 14). Edom hoped to profit from Israel's loss, and she abetted Israel's collapse.
Because Edom had assisted in Israel's slaughter, God would assist in her slaughter. Four times (in Heb.) in Ezekiel 35:6 God referred to bloodshed (dam, lit., "blood"). This may be a wordplay on Edom's name ('edam; 'adorn, "to be red"). Edom, with its red mountains, was now red with blood. Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you. Edom would suffer the same fate she had tried to inflict on Israel (see comments on Obad.). Many people would be slain and her towns would become desolate, no longer inhabited.
35:10-15. Ezekiel again used the "because/therefore" formula. Edom also sinned in her desire to possess the land God had promised to Judah and Israel. Edom had said those two nations would become her possession. God severely chastised Israel and Judah for their sin, but He never abrogated His promises made to Abraham and his descendants. Edom was trying to usurp Israel's title deed to the land which had been guaranteed by God.
God's judgment corresponded to Edom's guilt: I will treat you in accordance with the anger and jealousy you showed in your hatred of them (v. 11). Edom had dared plot against God's Chosen People, so she would now experience the consequences. In her boast against God (v. 13) Edom rejoiced when. . . Israel became desolate. Therefore God would make Edom desolate. Her treatment of Israel determined her own fate.
Edom became an object lesson for all nations. When God restores Israel's fortunes in the future, He will judge the world's other nations based on their treatment of Israel (cf. Matt. 25:31-46). They will be measured by their actions toward Israel.
4. THE PEOPLE BLESSED (CHAP. 36)
Chapter 36 is set in antithesis to chapter 35. When God intervenes on Israel's behalf, the "mountains" of Israel's enemies will be judged (35:1-3, 8) but the "mountains of Israel" (cf. 35:12) will be blessed (36:1). In verses 17 Edom is again pictured as representing all nations who seek Israel's harm (cf. vv. 5, 7). The first section of the prophecy (vv. 1-15) uses the "because/therefore" format to compare the judgment on the nations with Israel's restoration. The second section of the prophecy (vv. 16-38) moves from the mountains of Israel to the people of Israel who will be the personal recipients of God's blessing.
The fact of Israel's future restoration seemed so remote after her fall to Babylon that God put great emphasis on His personal character (rather than external circumstances) as the basis for the fulfillment. Ten times the prophet stated, "This is what the Sovereign LORD says" (vv. 27, 13, 22, 33, 37).
a. Israel's mountains to prosper (36:1-15): Ezekiel contrasted Israel's present humiliation before her enemies with her future glorification.
36:17. God promised to punish Israel's enemies for their sin in hounding, slandering (v. 3), plundering (vv. 45), rejoicing over, and having malice against Israel. Therefore God swore with uplifted hand (a gesture accompanying an oath; cf. 20:5, 15, 23; 47:14) that the nations who had scorned her (36:6) will also suffer scorn. Surrounding nations seemed to have triumphed, but their victory was merely temporary. They would suffer for their sin.
36:8-12. In contrast with the judgment about to be inflicted on Israel's enemies, Israel herself could look forward to restoration and blessing. In a reversal of the catastrophe that God had earlier called against the mountains of Israel (6:17), He said the mountains will produce branches and fruit for His people . . . will soon come home. God will restore the land so that it can provide for the restored remnant.
God's blessing will involve numerical growth, for the number of people will be multiplied. The nation that had been decimated in the land (6:3, 57) will replenish it. Israel's latter state will be far superior to her former. When God finally restores the people to the land He will prosper the land; He guarantees the permanence of this arrangement. Once Israel is restored to the land her inheritance will be secure. The land will never again deprive Israel of her children. Rather than being a cruel wilderness with drought, famine, and death (cf. Lev. 26:18-22; Num. 13:32; Deut. 28:20-24), it will be a place of blessing. This will take place when Israel possesses her land during Christ's millennial reign.
36:13-15. Besides punishing Israel's enemies (vv. 1-7) and restoring Israel's land (vv. 8-12), God will also remove Israel's reproach (vv. 13-15). The mockery and humiliation (taunts and scorn) Israel had been forced to endure (vv. 36) will cease (cf. 16:57-58). She will once again be restored to her position of prestige as God's Chosen People (cf. Deut. 28:13; Zech. 8:13, 20-23).
b. Israel's people to be regathered (36:16-38): After discussing Israel's sinful past (vv. 16-21), Ezekiel discussed (in three parts, each beginning with "This is what the Sovereign LORD says," vv. 22, 33, 37) the nation's future restoration.
36:16-21. Before dwelling on Israel's future cleansing, Ezekiel reminded the exiles of their past sin which caused their judgment. When they were. . . in the land, they defiled it by their conduct and actions (cf. v. 19). This profaning was like a menstrual discharge that rendered a woman ceremonially unclean and defiled everything she touched (cf. Lev. 15:19-23). How did the people defile the land? By bloodshed and idolatry (cf. Ezek. 33:25). As a result God removed them from the defiled land. Yet even when scattered among other nations, they profaned God's holy name.
36:22-23. Other nations viewed the sovereign God through the actions of Israel, thus besmirching His holy name. Therefore God said He would restore Israel. . . not for her sake. . . but for the sake of His holy name. Israel had no intrinsic value which prompted God to act on her behalf. He would restore the nation because His character was at stake. He would show the holiness of His great name (cf. 20:41; 28:22, 25; 38:16; 39:27). God had shown His justice when He punished Israel for her sin; He will show His grace and faithfulness when He restores her and renews His covenant promises.
36:24-32. The means God will use to show His holiness are explained in these verses. He will first restore the nation physically: He will gather her from all the countries and bring her back into her own land (v. 24). Headlining God's future program will be the restored nation of Israel.
However, Israel's restoration will be more than physical. God promised, 1 will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. This did not refer to water baptism. In Old Testament times sprinkling or washing with water pictured cleansing from ceremonial defilement (cf. Lev. 15:21-22; Num. 19:17-19). Since Israel's sin was like the ceremonial impurity of menstruation (Ezek. 36:17) her cleansing was now compared to the ceremonial act of purification. The point is that God will purify Israel from her sins. This cleansing will be followed by the impartation of new life. God will give the converted nation a new heart and. . . a new spirit. In place of a heart of stone He will give Israel a heart of flesh (cf. 11:19). With God's Spirit indwelling them (cf. 37:14), they will be motivated to obey His decrees and laws (cf. 37:24). God's restoration will not simply be an undoing of Israel's sin to bring her to a state of neutrality. Rather it will involve the positive implanting of a new nature in Israel's people that will make them righteous. Jeremiah called this work of God the "New Covenant" (cf. comments on Jer. 31:31-33).
Implanting God's Spirit in believing Israelites will produce a new relationship between Israel and her God: You will be My people, and I will be your God (cf. Ezek. 11:20; 14:11; 37:23, 27). God will extend all His graciousness to His people. Being delivered from their sin, they will experience the bountiful provision of the land including grain. . . fruit, and crops (cf. 34:27) without famine (cf. 34:29).
When Israel reflects on God's grace and her former character (her evil ways and wicked deeds), she will realize she does not deserve His favor. In fact she will loathe herself because of her detestable practices, looking back in horror at them. The blackness of her past actions will contrast starkly with the light of God's grace. In the future, when Israel recalls her past actions, she will recognize that God had not saved her because of her merit. God will be doing this not for her sake, but to magnify His own name. When Israel is restored and the land. . . cultivated, people will note that this wasteland will be like the Garden of Eden. Israel's cities, formerly in ruins, will be fortified and inhabited. To the surrounding nations Israel will become an object lesson of God's grace. They will be forced to acknowledge God's sovereign power in restoring His people: they will know that I the LORD have rebuilt what was destroyed. God will also cause the nation to increase numerically. This was considered a sign of God's blessing (cf. Gen. 12:2; 15:16; 1 Sam. 1:56; 2:1-11; Zech. 8:45). Ezekiel, a priest, compared the swelling population of Israel to the numerous. . . flocks of sacrificial animals gathered for the feasts in Jerusalem. As tightly packed herds jostle for space because of their vast numbers, so Israel's ruined cities, then empty and desolate, will be filled with flocks of people.
5. THE NATION RESTORED (CHAP. 37)
Chapter 37 vividly illustrates the promise of chapter 36. God had just announced that Israel will be restored to her land in blessing under the leadership of David her king. However, this seemed remote in light of Israel's present condition. She was "dead" as a nation deprived of her land, her king, and her temple. She had been divided and dispersed for so long that unification and restoration seemed impossible. So God gave two signs (37:1-14 and vv. 15-28) to Ezekiel to illustrate the fact of restoration and confirm the promises just made.
a. The vision of the dry bones revived (37:1-14): Most Israelites may have doubted God's promise of restoration. Their present condition militated against the possibility of that being fulfilled. So God stressed the fact of His sovereign power and ability to carry out these remarkable promises. Their fulfillment depended on Him, not on circumstances. Ezekiel reported the vision (vv. 110) and then interpreted it (vv. 11-14).
37:1-10. God transported Ezekiel by the Spirit (cf. 3:14; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 43:5) to a valley. . . full of bones. There he noticed that the bones. . . were very dry, bleached and baked under the hot sun.
God asked the prophet a remarkable question: Son of man, can these bones live? Was there potential for life in these lifeless frames? Ezekiel knew that humanly speaking it was impossible, so his answer was somewhat guarded. "O Sovereign LORD, You alone know. Only God can accomplish such a feat."
God then directed Ezekiel to prophesy to these bones. The content of his message was God's promised restoration: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. "Breath" (ruach) could also be translated "wind" or "spirit." In 37:14 the same word is translated "Spirit." Possibly God had in mind Genesis 2:7. In creating man, He transformed Adam into a living being by breathing into his nostrils "the breath of life." Whether God was referring to wind, physical breath, the principle of life, or the Holy Spirit is uncertain. However, the results were obvious. God gave life to these dead bones. As Ezekiel was giving this prophecy, he saw a remarkable thing. The bones came together (Ezek. 37:7), flesh developed, skin covered them (v. 8), breath entered them, and they stood up (v. 10).
37:11-14. To what did this vision refer? God said it was about the nation of Israel (the whole house of Israel) that was then in captivity. Like unburied skeletons, the people were pining away and saw no end to their judgment: Our hope is gone; we are cut off. The surviving Israelites felt their national hopes had been dashed. Israel had "died" in the flames of Babylon's attack, and had no hope of resurrection.
The reviving of the dry bones signified Israel's national restoration. The vision showed that Israel's new life depended on God's power, not outward circumstances: I will open your graves . . . I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Also when God restores Israel nationally, He will renew them spiritually. He will put His Spirit in Israel. The breath of life the corpses received symbolized the Holy Spirit, promised in Israel's New Covenant (cf. 36:24-28).
The Israelites residing in Palestine today are not the fulfillment of this prophecy. But it will be fulfilled when God regathers believing Israelites to the land Ger. 31:33; 33:14-16), when Christ returns to establish His kingdom (cf. Matt. 24:30-31).
b. The sign of the two sticks united (37:15-28): Ezekiel's second sign in this chapter visualized God's restoration of the nation. First the sign was given (vv. 15-17), then explained (vv. 18-28).
37:15-17. Ezekiel was told to take two sticks of wood and to write on one of them the name of Judah and on the other the names of Ephraim and Joseph. Ezekiel was then to hold them together like one stick.
Some have claimed that the two sticks represent the Bible (the stick of Judah) and the Book of Mormon (the stick of Joseph). However, this assertion ignores the clear interpretation in verses 18-28 and seeks to impose a foreign meaning on the sticks.
After Solomon died the nation of Israel split asunder, in 931 B.C. The Southern Kingdom was known as Judah because Judah was its larger tribe and because the country was ruled by a king from that tribe (cf. 1 Kings 12:22-24). The Northern Kingdom was called Israel, or sometimes Ephraim (e.g., Hosea 5:3, 5, 11-14) either because Ephraim was the strongest and most influential tribe or because the first king of Israel, Jeroboam was an Ephraimite (1 Kings 11:26). Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria in 722 B.C., and Judah was taken into exile by Babylon in 605, 597, and 586 B.C.
37:18-28. The uniting of the sticks pictured God's restoring and reuniting His people in the land as a single nation (cf. Hosea 1:11). Cleansed from their backsliding. . . they will be My people, God said, and I will be their God (cf. Ezek. 11:20; 14:11; 36:28; 37:27).
When united, Israel will be led by King David himself (see comments on 34:23-24). As God's servant, he will be their one shepherd.
Then God repeated the blessings to be bestowed on the people in the land. They will have an eternal inheritance there and David. . . will be their prince. God's covenant of peace (cf. 36:15; Isa. 54:10) will be established with them, and His presence will remain with them forever (in contrast with the departing of His glory, Ezek. 9-11). The visible reminder of God's presence will be His sanctuary, His dwelling place, Then again God added, I will be their God, and they will be My people (cf. 11:20; 14:11; 36:28; 37:23). These promises anticipate the detailed plans for God's new sanctuary (chaps. 40-43). This literal structure will serve as a visual object lesson to Israel and the nations of God's presence in the midst of His people. (From Walvoord and Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary).
Notes on Ezekiel, with Audio of class (MP3): http://ldolphin.org/ezekiel/
April 16, 2004