Jesus Plus Nothing Bible Studies - Ezekiel, Israel and the End Times
Ezekiel 36 Part 1 - The case against the nations
by I Gordon
Ezekiel 35 presented the truth of an 'ancient' or 'perpetual' hatred that the Edomites and enemies of Israel have for the Jewish nation. We saw that it is an enmity that goes all the way back to the time of Abraham... yet has been given 'divine backing' through the Islamic writings and has thus risen to new heights in the day in which we live. We saw that God will judge Israel's enemies because of this hatred but also that He will, through this judgment, make His name known to them. Ezekiel 36 lays this out further. It can easily be split into two halves. The first section of verses 1-15 reads like a lawyer laying out His case in the court of law, with the Lord speaking through Ezekiel to give a series of causes and consequences for Israel's enemies and the land of Israel itself. The next study will focus on the second section of verses 16-38 looking at the reason for, and results of, Israel's future redemption.
The case is laid out...
Before looking at detail at this first section of Ezekiel 36:1-15, let's just look briefly at an overview of the case laid out by the Lord. In these first 15 verses He speaks of what Edom and Israel's enemies have said and done, followed closely by what He will do. There are quite a few 'because... therefore' phrases showing the cause and effect. As you read through this list, think about whether these things are still relevant for today. Have they been fulfilled or do they still await fulfillment? Let's lay it out on a wee table...
|What Edom & Israel's enemies have said / done
||What the Lord God will do in response
|v2 [Because] the enemy said of you, "Aha! The ancient heights have become our possession."
||vs 3 Therefore prophesy...
|vs 3 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
vs 5 [You] have been plundered and ridiculed by the rest of the nations around you.
|vs 5 Therefore... In my burning zeal I have spoken against the rest of the nations, and against all Edom.
|vs 5 With glee and with malice in their hearts they made my land their own possession so that they might plunder its pastureland.
||vs 6 Therefore... I speak in my jealous wrath because you have suffered the scorn of the nations.
vs 7 Therefore... I swear with uplifted hand that the nations around you will also suffer scorn.
vs 8 You, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home.
vs 9 I ... will look on you with favor; you will be plowed and sown,
vs 10 I will multiply the number of people upon you, even the whole house of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt.
vs 11 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.
vs 12 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.
|vs 13 Because people say to you, You devour men and deprive your nation of its children
||vs 14 Therefore you will no longer devour men or make your nation childless, declares the Sovereign LORD. (15) 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.
A quick glance at this section shows us that the curses of Israel's enemies has a twofold effect from God - it will bring a curse on the one cursing Israel and a blessing for Israel. Think about that the next time you see the United Nations condemning Israel once again. We often forget that Israel may stand almost alone in this world, but God has promised to bless where there is curses. Let's look a bit closer at these scriptures.
Aha! - The ancient heights are ours!
Ezekiel 36:1-2 Son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel and say, 'O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the LORD. (2) This is what the Sovereign LORD says: The enemy said of you, "Aha! The ancient heights have become our possession." '
Here is a prophecy that has been fulfilled over and over throughout history. So many nations and kingdoms have desired, and taken, the land of Israel. H.A Ironside writes on this saying:
'Throughout the long centuries of Gentile dominion Palestine [Israel] has been made desolate; the enemies of Israel have swallowed her up on every side, and one great power after another has dominated the land of which Jehovah said so long ago, 'The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is Mine' (Lev. 25:23). Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian, Egyptian, Syrian, Roman, Turk, and other powers have fought for possession of Palestine. God has taken note of all the bitter enmity that these nations have manifested toward Israel, and He will never overlook the manner in which they have made Palestine a prey. Their attitude toward the land of the people of Jehovah's choice has stirred the fire of His jealousy, so that He has declared His judgments against all nations that seek to take possession of that land and bring His people into bondage.'
We should also note that the enemy is specifically seen taking possession of 'the mountains of Israel', 'the ancient heights'. Where are the mountains of Israel? John Gill accurately tell us that the mountains of Israel are 'the land of Judah, which was very mountainous, at least one part of it, called the hill country, Luke 1:39.' The ancient regions of Judea and Samaria, which are the 'mountains of Israel' in this passage in Ezekiel 36, are today known as 'the West Bank.'1 It is the area that the United Nations calls 'occupied territory'! So this area spoken of here in Ezekiel that the enemy desires, is the very same land that they desire and possess today... it is the same area that all the nations of the world gather together to condemn and speak against Israel about! How up to date is the word of God? It is ahead of the events of this world for it's author foresaw the end right from the beginning.
When God turns a curse into a blessing...
Ezekiel 36:3-8 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, (4) 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-- (5) 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. (6) 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. (7) Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I swear with uplifted hand that the nations around you will also suffer scorn. (8) 'But you, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home.
We see in these verses that God is listening to the people's malicious talk and slander against the land of Israel. He hears the curses of the enemy and actually turns that into a blessing! The majority of this passage was fulfilled leading up to the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel in 1948 and continues to be fulfilled as the land of Israel flourishes. Leading up to the 20th century, the land of Israel was 'desolate ruins' and 'deserted towns' as Ezekiel saw (and the enemy mocked!) Mark Twain actually did a trip to Palestine (as it was then known) in 1867 and had this to say of the region:
'... A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds...a silent mournful expanse...a desolation...we never saw a human being on the whole route...hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.'
Complimentary words indeed! But they were true. There was nothing to see. Not man nor tree existed in this place.
'The French author, Voltaire, described 'Palestine' as "a hopeless, dreary place." '2
But again, God heard the taunts and mocking of the enemy and turned it around for Israel's good! Look at the last verse mentioned in this passage: Because the enemy ridiculed God's land, the Lord speaks to the mountains of Israel saying 'But you O mountains of Israel will product branches and fruit for my people Israel for they will soon come home'! What God has done in that land since the turn of the 20th century is truly remarkable. While once a wasteland, today Israel is an exporter of fruit and flowers to the whole world! Look at the following aerial overview of the land today which shows the 'green' lands of Israel compared to the surrounding areas. This is in direct fulfillment of Ezekiel 36:8. And look at a close-up of one example of what the land is producing...
In the coming days you can be sure that the 'ancient hatred' will continue (right up to the return of Jesus Christ) and the curses and scorn of the nations against Israel will only continue and increase. But never. never, forget that the God of Israel hears these curses and turns them into a blessing!
The purpose behind the blessing
Ezekiel 36:9-11 I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor; you will be plowed and sown, (10) 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. (11) 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.
Now all of this goodness of the Lord has a purpose. The fact that God promised to bring the Jewish people back to their homeland, and to bless the country with productive land once again, and to fill the cities and towns with people and animals once again, has one... big... important... purpose. 'Then you will know that I am the Lord.' Here again is this phrase that is found so abundantly throughout these chapters in Ezekiel 34-39. The Lord is doing all this so that He will be known again by His people. How that will play out will be seen as we continue with this study in Ezekiel. But let's just ponder a while on this purpose...
I have said it before (probably many times!) but it has to be said again... What an amazing grand play is being orchestrated before our eyes. Who but God could direct a story so large that it plays out over thousands of years? And how fortunate are those that have eyes to see as we approach the finale of this grand story? On the one hand it is hard to watch for the 'ancient hatred' runs so deep and has permeated most of the nations of the world. But on the other hand, for those that are fortunate to know how this story ends, it is one that we hope and long for.
And woven into the very essence of this story, through all the times of both blessings and cursing, through the scattering and regathering of Israel, the ultimate purpose stands firm and sure: The God of Israel, wants the people of Israel, to know Him again. The very nation that rejected its own Messiah, the Lord Jesus, must be led slowly but surely, back to the place where they will cry out for Him again. It is the grand story that forms the backdrop of this seemingly unsolvable situation that we see in the Middle East today. And, as I have said before, God is going to use this story to not only reveal Himself to Israel, but to the nations of the world as well.
When the taunts and scorn end...
Ezekiel 36:12-15 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. (13) 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because people say to you, You devour men and deprive your nation of its children," (14) therefore you will no longer devour men or make your nation childless, declares the Sovereign LORD. (15) 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.' "
As we approach the end of this section in Ezekiel 36 we see that the Lord begins to talk about a time when Israel will no longer 'hear the taunts of the nations'... 'no longer will you suffer the scorn of the peoples or cause your nation to fall'. This is still future. As we have seen the Lord has already been fulfilling His word in bringing the scattered children of Israel back to the their land and then blessing the land itself so that it is abundant and productive. But we haven't yet reached the stage where the taunts and scorn of the nations has ended. And nor has their desire to erase Israel from the world map. Unfortunately it is currently the exact opposite as we see from recent examples from the United Nations (from late 2016):
UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization) recently proposed a resolution that denied Jewish historical ties to the Temple Mount and West Bank. This is craziness (might as well throw out all history books and archeology!) but sure enough it passed by a vote of 24-6! As the Palestinian Authority rejoiced, it was obviously rejected by Israel with Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu rightfully stating that Unesco had become a 'theatre of the absurd' and 'To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids. By this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost what little legitimacy it had left.'
UN Resolution 2334 was passed in December 2016 after the Obama administration abstained from vetoing it. This condemned Israel for settlements built in Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem - the very areas spoken about in this passage in Ezekiel 36! The resolution states that the international community will not recognise any changes to the pre-June 1967 lines, effectively returning Israel to the indefensible borders that it had before the 1967 6-day war. Israel's enemies were quick to rejoice stating that Israel can now be 'isolated and boycotted, as well as prosecuted in the international arena for all its crimes.'3 Hamas' Khaled Mashaal praised the resolution 'however, he claimed more was needed, because any plan that did not include the restoration of all the Palestinians' lands, Jerusalem and al-Aqsa mosque, did not provide a suitable solution.' 4 In other words, staying true to their charter, as seen in the earlier study on the 'ancient hatred', their goal is to redeem ALL of Palestine so that there is no longer even a state of Israel. Their goal is a one-state solution which doesn't include anything called Israel. This is but a small step in the right direction according to Hamas.
So on and on it continues. But remember what we have seen in this chapter... The God of Israel watches and listens to all these words and resolutions against Israel, and can turn the curse into a blessing. He has a case against the nations and His judgement will be swift and just. The taunts and scorn of Israel will end. God has a wonderful plan that includes restoring the nation of Israel firstly to Himself (seen in the next study) and secondly to the head of the nations on this earth. And that plan includes and requires the return of the true King of Israel - Jesus Christ.
Conclusion - the case against the nations
What then is the case against the nations seen in Ezekiel 36:1-15? It involves the never-ending desire of the enemies of Israel to take it's land and scorn its people. Ezekiel states the following:
The enemy has gloated that they have taken the ancient heights (Judea and Samaria) from Israel and made them their possession.
They ravaged and hounded the these Jewish land from every side so that they became the possession of the rest of the nations
The people and land of Israel became the object of people's malicious talk and slander (isn't that true!)
With glee and with malice in their hearts they made my land their own possession
And please take note of that last point. God says it is with malice in their hearts that they made 'my land' their own possession. In the Mosaic law, even the Israelites weren't allowed to sell the land because it wasn't theirs... It was God's!
Leviticus 25:23 'The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me.
Thus is in another well known and important end-time scripture, when God assemblies the nations of the world together for judgement, this very point is front and center once again:
Joel 3:1-2 "For behold, in those days and at that time, When I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, (2) I will gather all the nations And bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat. Then I will enter into judgment with them there On behalf of My people and My inheritance, Israel, Whom they have scattered among the nations; And they have divided up My land.
This is where human history is heading... the judgement of the nations and the full restoration of Israel. But why should God do this for the people of Israel? Aren't they still largely in unbelief? Don't they, in large part, still reject Jesus as their Messiah? Don't they deserve judgement too? So what is the basis for God's future restoration of His ancient people? All of this will be explored in the next study from Ezekiel 36:16 - 38.