A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
As I said in part one of our study, Ezekiel ignored all of the post exilic period, the First Coming, and the subsequent 1900 year diaspora in his book, skipping from Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 BC all the way to the regathering of the Nation in 1948. One possible explanation is that after the Shekinah Glory departed the Temple before Jerusalem was destroyed (Ezekiel 10) He has never returned and won’t until the beginning of the Millennium (Ezekiel 43). The entire Second Temple period took place without the Spirit of God ever hovering between the Cherubim above the Ark in the Holy of Holies.
In fact, the Ark itself, along with its Mercy Seat and Cherubim, has been missing since before the Babylonian captivity began. According to the Mishna, the official codification of Jewish oral laws, there was no furniture in the 2nd Temple’s Holy of Holies, just a stone platform, called the foundation stone, on which the Ark had rested in the 1st Temple. The first high priest who entered the 2nd temple’s Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur should have immediately come running out of the Temple shouting. “Ichabod! Ichabod! (Inglorious! Inglorious!) The glory of the Lord has departed and we must repent until the cloud of His Presence again fills the Holy of Holies!”
But instead, for several hundred years they conducted the ceremony as if He was there, sprinkling the blood on the foundation stone and hoping He would forgive them from afar. After the 2nd Temple was destroyed in 70 AD they could no longer even do that.
Ezekiel’s focus on holiness could explain his 2600 year omission from Israel’s history. Remember, 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.
Ezekiel 36 was 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.
In Chapter 37 we’ll begin to see how all this will come about. Let’s get started.
The Valley of Dry Bones
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ”
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ “ (Ezek. 37:1-14)
That this prophecy is in some stage of fulfillment cannot be denied. During WW2 the Nazis’ final solution was the complete eradication of the Jewish people. They were hunted down, rounded up and sent to death camps, marked for execution. Then in the closing days of the war, the Allies liberated the camps and those whose hope was gone came out of the places that were intended to be their graves. I’ll never forget watching the news films of those skeletal figures in their striped prison garb walking through the gates of the camps, their eyes filled with wonder and bewilderment. Could it really be happening? 3 out of every 4 prisoners had died inside the walls of those camps, and the remainder who came out could simply not believe it was finally over.
Later, after visiting the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem it was clear to me that I had witnessed the record of this prophecy’s partial fulfillment.
Because it wasn’t complete. The breath (Hebrew ruach) that was breathed into these skeletons came from the four winds, signifying that it was by a sovereign act of God and not because of anything they had done to deserve it. (Ezek. 36:22) And it wasn’t the Ruach haKodesh, the Holy Spirit. That blessing is yet to come for them. What this means is that the nation would first reappear on the world scene in its human spirit only, not in union with God. (Today only about one in four Israeli Jews is religious.) First they would have to realize that the Lord had done this and was behind their re-birth. That will happen after the Battle of Ezekiel 38, and after that will come Zechariah 12:10 when the blinders are taken totally off and they finally see Jesus as their Messiah. Then the Holy Spirit will come, the dead will literally come out of their graves, (Daniel 12:2) the nation’s resettlement in the Promised Land will be complete, and the prophecy will be fulfilled in total.
One Nation Under One King
The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, ‘Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.’ Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, ‘Ephraim’s stick, belonging to Joseph and all the house of Israel associated with him.’ Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.
“When your countrymen ask you, ‘Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?’ say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick, making them a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.’ Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezek. 37:15-23)
Nearly 400 years before Jerusalem was destroyed, the nation had split. The Northern Kingdom had separated from the South over idolatry. The north was most often called Israel but was also referred to as Ephraim a dozen times or more. Isaiah 11:13 is a good example. The south was always called Judah, or in New Testament times by the Greek version, Judea. From the time of their latter day regathering they would henceforth be one again.
You may have had missionaries visit your home, representing a group whose founder was Joseph Smith. If you entered into their discussions, they may have expressed their belief that Joseph Smith appears in the Bible, citing Ezekiel 37:16 as their proof. Their interpretation of this passage is that the word stick means scroll so the stick of Joseph is his scroll, the Book of Mormon. The stick of Judah is the Bible. One day, they say the two books will be joined together and the world will understand that the Book of Mormon really is another testimony of Jesus Christ. Some Mormons think of themselves as the remnant of the tribe of Ephraim, who came to the New World at the time of the Babylonian captivity. (Recent DNA research has cast doubt on this view.) To them, having the Book of Mormon in their hands fulfills the meaning of Ezekiel’s words that the stick of Joseph is in Ephraim’s hand.
There three problems with this interpretation. The first is that it’s out of the context of the passage, which is the reunion of the northern and southern kingdoms. Joseph and Judah are two sons of Jacob who represent the two components of the divided Kingdom. (Ephraim was one of Joseph’s sons.) Second, as I mentioned, Ephraim was an alternate name for the northern Kingdom. And third, the Hebrew word translated as stick here appears 328 times in the Old Testament but never means a scroll. It means “a piece of wood.”
” ‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’ “ (Ezekiel 37:24-28)
This is the ultimate conclusion of the prophecy and is clearly yet future to us. It’s intended to be seen as a Kingdom Age prophecy, to be fulfilled after the 2nd Coming during the period of time that the Church calls the Millennium. One or more descendants of David will be the Prince spoken of in more detail later in the Book of Ezekiel. Remember the ultimate Son of David, Jesus, will be King of the whole Earth. This prince governs Israel only. The Temple and it’s use will also be described in detail in chapters 40-47. At that time Israel will once again be the Holy People of the Holy Temple, the Holy City and the Holy Land.
Oh, By The Way
Even casual students of prophecy know that the next event on Ezekiel’s agenda is the battle that brings Israel back into a covenant relationship with God, arouses their national demand for a Temple and ushers in the 70th week of Daniel, the last 7 years before the Lord returns. And for the first time secular news sources in Israel have started mentioning Ezekiel 38, calling it the Battle of Gog/Magog. Just a few weeks ago, three prominent Rabbis in Israel barely stopped short of identifying US President Bush as the Gog of Ezekiel 38, addressing him by Gog’s title, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal instead.
But some, myself included, believe that there’s too much that still has to happen for Ezekiel’s battle to happen right now. In past studies, I’ve spoken about Turkey, called Meshech and Tubal in verse 3, as currently being on the wrong side, and Israel’s condition in verse 11, unwalled villages full of unsuspecting people, hardly describes the current climate there. Then there are the current major players, like the Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians and Jordanians, who are all missing in the Ezekiel line-up. Does anybody think they’ll just disappear, or sit this one out?
These and other problems have scholars wondering about the possibility of another battle or two before Ezekiel’s. Isaiah 17 says that Damascus will be destroyed. It almost came to pass last fall, and many were surprised when it didn’t. If the fall of Damascus precedes Ezekiel 38 that would explain Syria’s absence, but what about the others?
This question has a few scholars taking another look at Psalm 83, and for some pretty good, if circumstantial, reasons. Psalm 83:4-8 contains a line up against Israel that historians can’t connect to any specific time in Israel’s past. That means it could still be in our future. And if that’s the case, it might be the event between now and Ezekiel 38, whether in conjunction with the fall of Damascus or separately, that puts everything into place.
“Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more.”
With one mind they plot together; they form an alliance against you- the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, of Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon and Amalek, Philistia, with the people of Tyre. Even Assyria has joined them to lend strength to the descendants of Lot. (Psalm 83:4-8)
Their objective is right out of today’s headlines, and it takes almost no imagination to see that the names of Israel’s antagonists in Psalm 83 could be representative of Israel’s current enemies, and include most of those missing from Ezekiel 38. I’m not suggesting that all these ancient people have come back to contend with Israel again, but those who inhabit the lands of these ancient people today are for the most part enemies of Israel just like the original occupants were. The Ishmaelites are the true Arabs of today and still live in the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia is the most prominent. Gebal (aka Byblos) and Tyre can be tied to Lebanon. Today’s Palestinians are neither the Philistines nor the Edomites of history. And today’s Jordanians aren’t the descendants of Ammon or Moab either, but both reside in the lands of their ancient counterparts. The Amalekites and Hagrites were from Edom, where Jordan is today, and the Assyrians populated lands belonging to Syria now. This is a prophecy that along with Isaiah 17 bears watching, because Israel’s victories against these enemies could make them into a larger, more powerful, wealthier nation, one that could get careless about their security and be taken by surprise sometime later.
Since Ezekiel made no attempt at a chronological history, it shouldn’t surprise us that he didn’t mention the fall of Damascus or this 2nd Arab coalition from Psalm 83. It’s another confirmation that the study of prophecy has to include all of God’s word not just a few popular chapters.
But we’re in a study of the End Times According To Ezekiel so Psalm 83 and Isaiah 17 notwithstanding, our next study will cover chapter 38. See you then. 01-26-08