Ezekiel was from the tribe of Levi and was trained as a priest. No doubt He would have become one had his life not been abruptly interrupted. In 597 BC he and about 10,000 others were taken captive to Babylon in the 2nd siege of Jerusalem. Daniel and his friends had gone in the first one eight years earlier and in 11 more years the rest of the nation would be taken captive and the city and Temple burned to the ground. The 70 year Babylonian captivity had begun. There were actually two 70 year periods of judgment in play and they were offset by 19 years. One was the servitude of the nation, which began in 605BC with the first siege of Nebuchadnezzar, and the other was the desolation of Jerusalem which began in 586, at the end of the third siege, with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
The southern kingdom, called Judah, was all that was left of Israel since Assyria had conquered the north over 100 years earlier. Other prophets had warned the southern kingdom to learn the lesson of the north and turn away from their idolatry, and Ezekiel had much to say about it as well. But his chief aim was to remind them that they were the holy people of the holy temple, the holy city, and the holy land. By abandoning God for the pagan deities of their neighbors, Judah had not only become unclean as a people, but had defiled the temple, the city, and the land as well. God’s only choice was to withdraw Himself, send the people into captivity and destroy the nation.
To show them that this was not their end as a people, God announced ahead of time that this national cleansing from their sin of idolatry had a 70 year duration. They were to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, go to Babylon, and live, rather than fight and die, and at the end of the judgment God would bring them back to rebuild.
Like the rest of his people, Ezekiel and his wife lived in relative freedom in Babylon where they acquired a house and settled in as the Lord had commanded His people to do. Ezekiel’s contemporary Jeremiah had written:
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
In the fifth year of his captivity, Ezekiel was called as a prophet, giving rise to the book by his name. In it he demonstrates an extensive knowledge of both his own people’s history and culture and that of the world around him. He was a man of great intellect, able to see the big picture and convey it to others, and had a commanding grasp of a wide variety of topics. In some circles he’s called “the father of the synagogue” for helping the Jewish people to maintain their relationship with God in the absence of a Temple through the synagogue form of worship that he designed.
The Book of Ezekiel speaks both of judgment and of restoration. The first 24 chapters deal with the Lord’s case against His people, and His efforts to convince them that Jerusalem would really be destroyed, the land would lie fallow, and their temple would be burned to the ground. Ezekiel’s pronouncements of judgment were harsh and unequivocal, leaving no room for hope. He explained why it was happening, and what they had done to cause it. He told them that God had been trying to get their attention, to show them that He alone is God and will not share His glory with another, and to persuade them to turn away from their idols and back to Him. But nothing had worked. The situation called for extreme measures. He had to make them see how serious He was. Some form of the phrase, “Then they will know that I am the Lord.” appears 65 times in Ezekiel’s writings in conjunction with the things God had determined to do, both in judgment and in restoration.
So Ezekiel took them through several stages of realization, from “God won’t really do this”, to “If God does this it’s because He’s punishing us for the sins of our fathers,” and finally to “God is doing this and it’s our own fault.”
More than any other prophet, Ezekiel was often called upon to act out the prophecies God gave him, and in chapter 24 he was given two major doses of bad news, Jerusalem would fall and his wife would die at the same time. Because God didn’t want His people to mourn the loss of Jerusalem, but to focus on its future restoration, He commanded Ezekiel not to publicly mourn the loss of his wife.
God also had Ezekiel pronounce judgment on Israel’s neighbors for their treatment of His people. Chapters 25-32 contain Ezekiel’s oracles of judgment against Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon and Egypt. They bore some of the blame for Israel’s punishment because they had enticed the Israelites away from God with their own idolatry. All of them would be conquered by Babylon as well. The Lord had Jeremiah tell their envoys that their choice was to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar and live in their own lands or suffer His wrath and cease to exist as nations. (Jere. 27:1-11) Over the next few hundred years several of these nations permanently disappeared from the landscape.
In Chapter 33 the fall of Jerusalem was announced and explained, and in Chapter 34 the Lord said that since Israel’s leaders didn’t take care of the people, He Himself would accept responsibility for them and would send His Servant David to lead them. (David had been dead for 400 years, so this was interpreted to mean the Messiah, the son of David.)
Then follows a final pronouncement against Edom. As the Israelites fled the Babylonian army, soldiers from Edom had lain in wait to cut them off or alert the Babylonians to their presence. Then, after the Israelites were gone, Edom looted their Jerusalem homes. And yet the people of Edom were descendants of Esau and therefore cousins of the Israelites. God took their treatment of His people personally and decreed the total desolation of Edom, which was accomplished by the Nabateans, who destroyed every trace of them.
And that brings us to chapter 36, where Ezekiel shifted to a promise of restoration and where our study on the End Times According To Ezekiel begins.
A Prophecy to the Mountains of Israel
“Son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel and say, ‘O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: The enemy said of you, “Aha! The ancient heights have become our possession.” ‘ Therefore prophesy and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because they ravaged and hounded you from every side so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations and the object of people’s malicious talk and slander, therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign LORD : This is what the Sovereign LORD says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys, to the desolate ruins and the deserted towns that have been plundered and ridiculed by the rest of the nations around you- this is what the Sovereign LORD says: In my burning zeal I have spoken against the rest of the nations, and against all Edom, for with glee and with malice in their hearts they made my land their own possession so that they might plunder its pastureland.’ Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel and say to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I speak in my jealous wrath because you have suffered the scorn of the nations. Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I swear with uplifted hand that the nations around you will also suffer scorn. (Ezekiel 36:1-7)
Son of man is the term Ezekiel used to identify himself. It’s a generic term meant to emphasize his humanity. It’s not to be confused with the Lord’s title of Himself, “The Son Of Man”.
Once the Israelites were gone, their neighbors assumed that the land was theirs for the taking. With the whole world to choose from, God has only claimed the Promised Land for Himself, so naturally that’s the part the enemy wants, too, and he stirred up his forces to occupy it. Then as now people don’t realize that it’s the Lord who makes the land desirable, and when His people are not in it the land is not productive. The once-thriving produce industry in Gaza is a case in point. Having left it behind to help jump start the Palestinian economy, Israel has now been asked for help making it work again. The Palestinians have not been able to manage it profitably even though they supplied most of the workforce during the time of Israeli ownership. It’s not that they’re any less capable, it’s that the Lord is no longer involved.
That’s just one of the obvious parallels between Ezekiel’s day and ours. Some have even gone so far as to try and create a connection between ancient Edom and the Palestinians of today. While it’s easy to see the similarities, the Palestinian people are not the remnant of Edom come back to contend against Israel again. In the judgment the Lord had Obadiah pronounce against Edom, He swore to leave no survivors (Obad. 1:18) and that’s what happened. The Palestinians were never an indigenous people, have never had a homeland and in fact didn’t exist until the UN created the term and identified them as such following Israel’s re-birth. But even if they were, Ezekiel shows that their claim to God’s land is without merit.
” ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home. I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor; you will be plowed and sown, and I will multiply the number of people upon you, even the whole house of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. I will increase the number of men and animals upon you, and they will be fruitful and become numerous. I will settle people on you as in the past and will make you prosper more than before. Then you will know that I am the LORD. I will cause people, my people Israel, to walk upon you. They will possess you, and you will be their inheritance; you will never again deprive them of their children.
” ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because people say to you, “You devour men and deprive your nation of its children,” therefore you will no longer devour men or make your nation childless, declares the Sovereign LORD. No longer will I make you hear the taunts of the nations, and no longer will you suffer the scorn of the peoples or cause your nation to fall, declares the Sovereign LORD.'” (Ezek. 36:8-15)
This prophecy was partially fulfilled during the post-exilic period and in fact during the time of the Hasmonean Dynasty (142-63BC) the people flourished in a manner not seen since the reign of Solomon. But since they were driven from the land again following their rejection of the Messiah we know it’s complete fulfillment still awaits us.
This is one of the first clues we get that Ezekiel’s prophecies of restoration primarily involve the time from 1948 into the Kingdom Age. There’s no direct mention of the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah and the subsequent 1900 year diaspora in the Book of Ezekiel, only the frequent promise that He’ll gather them back from all the nations to which they’ve been scattered. It points to the latter day re-gathering, not the one after Babylon.
Again the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman’s monthly uncleanness in my sight. So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the LORD’s people, and yet they had to leave his land.’ I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.(Ezek. 36:16-21)
Here’s a reminder of the cause of Israel’s judgment. The shedding of blood refers to their practice of child sacrifice, a form of idol worship so abhorrent to God that He said it never entered His mind that they would do such a detestable thing. (Jere. 32:35) In Ezekiel’s day the captives were taken to Babylon, yet this passage talks about their dispersal among the nations, a reference to events following their defeat by the Romans nearly 700 years later. Another clue pointing us to the End times.
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.
” ‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel! (Ezek. 36:22-32)
These 10 verses contain the clearest possible denial of the Replacement Theology heresy. Israel could not forfeit God’s promises by rejecting the Messiah because Israel’s behavior is not at issue. God clearly told them that He wasn’t going to re-gather them out of all the countries because of any thing they had done to deserve it. In fact it would be in spite of what they had done. He was going to re-gather then because He promised that He would. And then He was going to give them a new heart and put His spirit in them. This can only happen when one is born again, and it couldn’t have happened after Babylon because the Lord hadn’t come yet. The day will come when they will live in the Land, God will be their God and they’ll be cleansed from all of their impurities. To deny that this is yet to happen is to accuse God of breaking His word to His people.
” ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. They will say, “This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.” Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the LORD have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’
“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Once again I will yield to the plea of the house of Israel and do this for them: I will make their people as numerous as sheep, as numerous as the flocks for offerings at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts. So will the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the LORD.” (Ezek 36:33-37)
Chapter 36 is an overview that extends from the regathering in 1948 into the Kingdom Age. In it, the Lord promised to bring them into the Land, cleanse them from all of their sins, install a descendant of David as their shepherd, give them a new heart and put His spirit in them, take them as His people and be their God and completely rebuild their nation.
200 years earlier He had sent Isaiah to tell them:
“Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do. (Isaiah 46:8-11)
Now He was sending Ezekiel to give them the details. The bird of prey was Babylon, whose symbol was an eagle with a lion’s head. The man from a far off land was Nebuchadnezzar who He called His servant (Jer. 25:9). God’s plan was to cleanse them and restore them once and for all, and what He has planned He will do.
Although God had known from the beginning of time that Israel would reject the Messiah’s offer of the Kingdom, it was a bona fide offer just the same, and had they accepted it Ezekiel 36 would have been fulfilled beginning in 30 AD. But they didn’t and the door was opened to the Gentiles, in part to make them envious. As a result, we have been cleansed from all of our impurities and from all of our idols. He has given us a new heart and put a new spirit in us; He has removed from us our heart of stone and given us a heart of flesh. And He has put His Spirit in us and moved us to follow His decrees and be careful to keep His laws. But we should be neither ignorant nor conceited. (Romans 11:25)The Church has not replaced Israel, we’ve just been included in the promise. (Gal. 3:29) For if their transgression has brought such riches to us how much greater riches will their fullness bring? (Romans 11:11-12). Chapter 37, the vision of the dry bones, is up next. See you then.