The Visions and Oracles of the Prophet Ezekiel (12)
Biblical Research Monthly, January 1947 thru September 1950 — by Dr. David L. Cooper
- Some Preliminary Observations
- The Call and Commission of Ezekiel
- The Beginnings of Ezekiel's Ministry
- The Final Collapse of Judah Under the Babylonian Siege
- Jehovah's Withdrawal from the City and it's Downfall
- The Flight and Capture of the King Symbolically Represented and Warning Against a Wrong Attitude Concerning Prophecy
- Prophecy and Idolatry
- Israel, the Burnt Vine and the Unfaithful Wife
- The Riddle of the Two Great Eagles and the Messianic Reign of Christ
- God's Reply to the Proverb, “The Fathers have Eaten Sour Grapes, and the Children's Teeth are Set on Edge”
- The Young Lions and the Rods of Judah
- Israel's Past and Future Experiences
- The Sword of Jehovah
- Sinful Jerusalem and Her Punishment
- The Lewdness of Oholah and Oholibah
- The Boiling Caldron
- Oracles Concerning Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia
- The Oracle Concerning Tyre
- The Oracles Concerning Egypt
- The Watchman on the Wall (Chapter 33)
- The Untrue Shepherds of Israel
- The Flock of Jehovah and its Shepherd
- The Judgment upon Edom
- The Curse Removed from the Land of Israel
- Israel's Restoration to the Land of the Fathers and Her Conversion
- The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones
- The Scattered Nation of Israel Reunited under King Messiah
- The Overthrow of the Russian Forces that Invade Palestine (Chapter 38)
- The Overthrow of the Antichrist's Forces Invade Palestine (Chapter 39)
- The Millennial Jerusalem
- The Millennial Temple
- The Prince and the Glorified Millennial Temple
- The Land of Israel in the Millennium
Israel's Past and Future Experiences
Ezekiel dates many of his prophecies. The present one came to him “in the seventh year, in the fifth month of the tenth day of the month ...” of the captivity of Jehoiachin (Ezekiel 20:1. cf. Ezekiel 1:2).
A survey of chapter 20 shows that it is like a number of other passages in the Word. For instance, in Deuteronomy chapter 32, we have the entire history of Israel from the Exodus to the Millennium set forth graphically and pictorially. Nehemiah recounted the history of Israel in Nehemiah, chapter 9. The same thing is found in Psalms 78, 105, and 106. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, recounted the same history (Acts, chapter 7). Ezekiel, under symbolic form, represented the same thing in chapter 20 of his book.
The occasion of the prophecy in this chapter was the coming of the elders of Israel to the prophet to seek information on some point (cf. chapter 14). Ezekiel 20 falls into three natural divisions:
- Israel's Past History (vss. 1-32)
- The Regathering of Israel (vss. 33-44)
- Introduction to the Prophecy of Chapter 21 (vss. 45-49)
In the Hebrew text chapter 20 closes with verse 44. Verses 45-49 are the first part of chapter 21. The division therefore of the Hebrew Bible, in this instance is far better than that of our English translation. Israel wanted to inquire of God concerning certain things; hence she sent her elders to the prophet for this information. But God refused to answer them. He therefore asked the prophet if he would judge them. This rhetorical question was equivalent to a command that the prophet should judge the sinful nation. In judging them he would be pronouncing condemnation upon them for their actions. He was therefore commanded to make them know all the abominations of their fathers.
I. Israel's Past History (vss. 1-32)
In verses 5-9 the prophet describes the condition of the people spiritually when they were still in the land of Egypt. According to verse 5 Jehovah chose Israel “when she was in Egypt and swore unto the house of Jacob and made Himself known unto them. This language must be understood in the light of other related passages. For instance, in Isaiah 43:1 we are told that God created the nation of Israel. He did so by performing a biological miracle upon the bodies of Abraham and Sarah who were past the age of parenthood. This miracle made possible the birth of Isaac. Having a definite plan running through the centuries and placing Israel in the center of that plan, the Lord at Babel dispersed the nations, directing each group to that portion of the earth's surface which should be their future home. In making this allotment of the earth to the various groups, He did so with reference to the children of Israel, that is, Israel was to be the hub of the nations, and all peoples were to revolve around her. This principle has been exemplified throughout the centuries and is in evidence today. The choosing of Israel then in Egypt was the carrying out of this prearranged plan to bless the world in and through her.
According to verses 5 and 6 God sware unto them, saying, I am Jehovah your God; 6 in that day I sware unto them, to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt ...” In delivering them from their galling yoke of bondage, He said that He would bring them into “a land ... flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands” — Palestine, the country which He had given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to their seed after them.
A. Israel in Egypt
When the Lord sent Moses to deliver Israel, the latter charged her to cast away her abominations and the idols which she was serving in Egypt. It is strange that the Chosen People, after going down into Egypt, would turn to idols. But this is what they did. They forgot God, rebelled against Him, and would not hearken to Him in any way. Hence they made their idols, which are in verse 8 called abominations. This is a technical term for idol. This specific meaning is found in many passages. This word has this special import in such a vital passage as Matthew 24:15, which refers to the idol or image that the Antichrist will set up in the middle of the Tribulation in the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem.
When Israel thus plunged into idolatry in Egypt, she trespassed sufficiently to justify God's blotting her from the face of the globe. But He would not do that for His own name's sake, as well as for the oath which He sware unto their fathers. He therefore withheld His wrath and brought them out of the house of bondage.
B. Israel in the Wilderness (vss. 8-17)
God, with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, executed judgment upon the Egyptians and brought the Hebrews out into the wilderness of Sinai. In this connection one should study the first nineteen chapters of the Book of Exodus. The itinerary, briefly stated, is found in Numbers, chapter 33.
When they arrived at Sinai, God gave them His statutes, ordinances, and the ceremonial law, together with the sacrificial system of offerings which the nation was to make to God. At that time He gave her His sabbaths, which were to be a sign between God and her that she might know Him, that He is Jehovah. What is meant by “sabbath”? It can have two meanings: the regular weekly sabbath that came every seven days; or it could mean the entire sabbatical system, consisting of the weekly sabbath, the sabbatic year, and the Year of Jubilee, together with all related Ordinances. In Genesis, chapter 2, we are told that God finished His work on the seventh day and rested and hallowed that day. “Whether or not the immediate descendants of Adam and Eve observed the sabbath as a day of rest and worship toward God we are not told. Archaeology reveals the fact that the Babylonians had a sabbath on the seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth days. We are not able to say whether or not they divided the year up into weeks. The Egyptians do not seem to have known anything about the sabbaths. At Sinai, however, God revealed to Israel His sabbaths, which became a sign or ordinance to Israel, indicative of the special relationship which existed between Jehovah and the chosen nation.
The sabbath is the seventh day of the week and should not be confounded with the first day of the week. On the first day, or Sunday, Christians meet together for worship and praise to God. They do not thus observe this day because of the regulation regarding the sabbath found in the law of Moses. It is a good thing, however, to have a day of rest in which one can meditate upon sacred things and can worship God.
Notwithstanding all the marvelous works that God did in bringing Israel out of Egyptian bondage, she rebelled against Him and rejected His ordinances. She did this to such an extent that He declared that He would pour out His wrath upon her to consume her in the wilderness. Nevertheless He wrought for His own name's sake that it should not be profaned among the nations, in whose sight He brought her forth. Then He swore unto her that He would not bring her into the Promised Land because the people were so very rebellious and their hearts were going after idols. A careful perusal of the Book of Numbers shows that God had to punish them from time to time and thus destroy that generation that came out of Egypt, and that was so very rebellious.
C. The Generation Arising in the Wilderness (vss. 18-26)
In verses 18-26 the prophet deals with the generation that arose in the wilderness. God therefore spoke to them, urging them to walk in His statutes and ordinances, avoiding doing as their fathers had done in rejecting His will. According to verses 19 and 20 the Lord urged them to walk in His statutes and His ordinances and to hallow His sabbath, always remembering the relationship which existed between them. Nevertheless they rebelled and constantly disobeyed Him.
When this rising generation continued to persist in rebellion and disobedience, the Lord said that He would pour out His wrath upon them to accomplish His anger against them in the wilderness. Nevertheless He withdrew His hand, according to verse 22, and wrought for His name's sake, that His name should not be profaned among the nations. Then He swore that He would scatter them among the nations because of their rebellion and their disobedience.
At that time He gave them, according to verses 25 and 26, statutes and ordinances that were not good and in which they should not walk. He also allowed them to pollute themselves in their own gifts and in their waywardness. How could God give people ordinances that were not good for them and things in which they should not walk? This is very easily explained when we understand that God has an A-number-1 plan for every life. If a person will not accept this and walk therein, the Lord will give him a less honorable path in which to walk, or plan number two. If he will not accept plan number three or number four plan, the Lord will give him an even less honorable position in life. There is such a thing as being in the center of God's holy directive will. God's number one plan for one's life. There is also such a thing as being in God's permissive will. As an example of ordinances that God gave that were not good, all one must do is to turn to Deuteronomy, chapter 24, and also to Matthew, chapter 19. In the beginning God made man male and female and said that a man should leave his father and mother and should cleave to his wife, and that they two should be one flesh. Israel, during the wilderness wanderings, rebelled and continued in the course of disobedience until the Lord gave her ordinances that were not good, one of which was the privilege of divorcing a companion. Moses granted this statute or wrote it into the statute book because of the hardness of the hearts of the people. But from the beginning it was not that way. Concessions therefore were made by the Lord to the people on account of their disobedient, hardened hearts. Let us, on the other hand, never be willing to accept anything but that which is God's number one plan for our lives.
D. Summary of Israel's History in the Promised Land (vss. 27-29)
This brief summary is found in verses 27-29. Notwithstanding all the marvelous works which God wrought in behalf of Israel at the time of the Exodus, throughout the wilderness wanderings, and at the time of Israel's being established in the land, the people soon forgot God. The prophet Ezekiel therefore told his auditors:
In this moreover have your fathers blasphemed me, in that they have committed a trespass against me. 28 For when I had brought them into the land, which I sware to give unto them, then they saw every high hill, and every thick tree, and they offered there their sacrifices, and there they presented the provocation of their offerings; there also they made their sweet savor, and they poured out there their drink-offerings. 29 Then I said unto them, What meaneth the high place whereunto ye go? So the name thereof is called Bamah unto this day.” (Ezekiel 20:27-29)
This statement is a terse, yet complete evaluation of Israel's long history in the Land of Promise.
The prophet was then commanded to speak frankly and plainly to the people, charging them with their sins and abominations. His language is found in verses 30-32 The Lord therefore refused to listen to their inquiry or to consider any of their petitions. Moreover He asserted that He would not allow their plans to materialize. They wanted to be like the nations and the families of the earth and go into idolatry. God declared that He would block them in their plans and purposes.
II. Israel's Future (vss. 33-44)
In verses 33-44 we have one of the most unique prophecies concerning the regathering of Israel to be found anywhere in the Scriptures. The view prevailing almost universally among prophetic students is that at the end of this age God will gather out the Jews from the countries in which they have been residing for centuries and will bring them back in unbelief into the land of their fathers. When they are thus settled in their land, enjoying peace, plenty and prosperity, then God will pour out His wrath upon them because of their unbelief. Those who formulated these ideas certainly did not study carefully what Ezekiel said in verses 33-39 of this chapter. Let us therefore look more particularly at the prediction.
Ezekiel saw Israel scattered among the nations. Then He declared that God with a strong hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath and indignation poured out would gather Israel from among the nations and bring them into what he called “the wilderness of the peoples,” and there, said the Lord, will I enter into judgment with you face to face” (vs. 35). What is meant by the expression “wilderness of the peoples”? There is no land or country upon the face of the globe that is known by this title. There never has been. There is not likely to be any by that name. This language cannot be taken literally. Evidently then, it is figurative. What type of figure is it? An examination of the entire context shows that it is a play upon words, a figure that recurs possibly more often than any other in the Scriptures. The student of the Word therefore should acquaint himself with this most important figure, for in many instances the entire thought depends upon our understanding the play on words.
As we have already seen, in the first part of the chapter the prophet spoke of God's delivering Israel from Egyptian bondage and bringing her out into the wilderness of Sinai and there entering into judgment with the disobedient, rebellious people. Thus He purged out from among the people by His terrific judgments the rebels. There arose during their wanderings in the wilderness a new generation. Many of them were disobedient of course and judgment fell upon them. But it was the generation which arose during the wilderness wanderings that entered into the land of Canaan. The prophet, therefore, thinking in terms of Israel's past deliverance, declared that God would gather His Chosen People, now scattered among the nations, out from the place where they reside and would bring them into, not the wilderness of Sinai — as on the former occasion — but into the “wilderness of the peoples” and would there enter into judgment with them, purging out all of the rebels and the disobedient ones. Then the purged nation is to be brought into the Land of Promise and to be a joy and a blessing to the entire world.
According to this passage, then, God will in the conclusion of this age gather the Jews out from among the nations and will bring them into a place which He, by a play on words, calls the wilderness of the peoples. An examination of other passages bearing upon this question shows that in the end time Israel will be gathered largely out of all the nations and will be settled in what is properly called “the fertile crescent” consisting of the following countries: Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Assyria or old Babylonia. An examination of Isaiah 19:16-25 and Isaiah, chapter 27, together with other passages, shows that Israel will, in the end time, be gathered into this part of the world and the Lord will enter into Judgment with her there. During the Tribulation the purged nation will then be permitted to enter into the Land of Promise and will fill the earth with fruit, as we see in Isaiah 27:2-6.
In verses 40-44 we see Israel thus established “in the mountain of the height of Israel,” that is, in the Land of Promise. Then she will offer sacrifices and make offerings that will be acceptable to God. At that time they will recall their willful, wicked ways, and they will mourn because of their former lives. God will deal with His people and restore them to their own land, fulfilling every promise that He has ever made to them. There is a wonderful future for Israel and for the world, when they all turn to God and plead for the Messiah to return, who will at that tune establish the reign of righteousness and kingdom of glory upon the earth.