The key to what is happening to Israel today rests not with Moses, but in the prophecies uttered by Ezekiel. The book that bears his name is a tremendous apocalyptic writing of almost mystical character. The visions of future events that are described within its pages are rich with metaphors and symbolic action, all of them flowing to the beat of a loving but jealous God. As we shall see, many of Ezekiel’s key predictions relate directly to prophecies of 1948.
Ezekiel lived through some of the most trying times in Jewish history. Being held in a refugee camp outside the city of Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar’s second attack upon Judah, the Lord gave him insights into the future of his people so detailed that they are rarely paralleled in any other book of the Bible. It is among these prophecies that we can find our twentieth-century Israel clearly described.
In chapter 36 of his book, we previously quoted from Ezekiel 36:17-19 where the reason for Israel’s judgment was given. In that passage, the Lord told us plainly that Israel was scattered among the nations because they defiled the land of Palestine with their evil ways. Beginning with verse 20, God continues this discussion by adding several important details, which will soon allow us to piece together the puzzle of Israel’s fate far into the future.
“And when they entered unto the nations to which they went, they profaned my holy name, when they said to them, These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of his land.
“But I had pity for mine holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations, to which they went.
“Therefore, say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God: I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the nations, to which ye went.
“And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the nations, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.
“For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.”
The mystery of the present-day return of Israel to their land is at least partially revealed within the Lord’s words from this reference. Ezekiel records here the details of the broken spiritual relationship between the scattered Jews and the God that they denied. He also carries the scope of the prophecies all the way up to a time in which the Lord says he will regather Israel from among the nations and bring them back to their own land. However, the details of this regathering are quite different from those in Moses’ original prophecy. For instance, nowhere is it mentioned that Israel must repent of their sins before they return. In fact, the reason for Israel’s rebirth in Ezekiel’s prophecy seems to involve just the opposite spiritual condition. In this passage, the Lord is said to actually become angry with his rebellious people for profaning his name among the nations.
How is Israel supposed to have profaned his name? The answer is fascinating. When the Jews suffered the judgment of exile from the land of Israel, the nations of the world eventually saw what was happening to them and how badly they were treated and said in essence, “These are supposed to be God’s people and they are being defeated and scattered out of his land?” In other words, the people of the world looked at the severe treatment that the Israelites suffered and blamed it directly on the Lord, pointing their fingers and saying, “What kind of God can their God be if he lets these evil things happen to his own people?”
Unfortunately, the nations of the world could not understand the full scope of the situation. They could not comprehend that the Jews were under a curse from the Lord for turning away from him and denying His Son, and anything bad that may have happened to them among the nations was a tragic result of that broken relationship. Moreover, when the Jews were banished from their land as the aftereffect of rejecting their Messiah, they still professed to be God’s people even though they were really not!
There is nothing worse than pretending to be a child of God. Jesus blasted the Pharisees in this regard, calling them “whited sepulchers” which looked nice and clean on the outside, but on the inside they were nothing but dead men’s bones and rotted carcasses.
For centuries the Jewish people have put on the facade of being God’s people. And when the persecution that Moses predicted came upon them with fury, the nations of the world observed their plight and accused the Lord of being evil. What cruel irony! The very same God that was willing to become a man and be crucified for them out of his unbelievable love was wrongfully seen by the nations as being wicked for letting the Jews be persecuted.
So what does Ezekiel predict that the Lord will do about this injustice? He says that God will clear his holy name himself. In fact, he says what God is planning to do, he does not for the sake of Israel, but solely for his name’s sake which was profaned among the nations. According to Ezekiel 36:24, the Lord is going to correct the wrong that has been committed to his name by actually reversing the whole scattering process and bringing his people back to their land.
There can be no doubt. This passage clearly tells of a future time when Israel’s regathering from the nations will be brought about by the Lord not as a result of his mercy for a repentant people, but out of anger at a people who continue to wallow ceaselessly in their sin.
Some have tried to contend that this prophecy is essentially the same as that given by Moses, because Ezekiel continues on to say that the Lord will cleanse them of all their iniquity and give them a new heart. Using this line of reasoning, it is theorized that Ezekiel did not put everything in strict chronological order, therefore it only appears that Israel will be regathered before they repent. However, Ezekiel starts the prediction of Israel’s cleansing in Ezekiel 36:25 with the word “then”. This is the start of a dependant clause, implying that something else has happened before it. That something was obviously the regathering of Israel in Ezekiel 36:24.
The Lord then goes on to say through Ezekiel that the regathered nation would “loathe” themselves because of their evil ways. He even reminds them again that everything he is causing to happen is designed to vindicate God’s holy name and not for Israel’s sake at all.
Perhaps if this were the only passage in Ezekiel or in the entire Bible which spoke of a rebirth of the nation in unbelief, then the case for the modern-day state of Israel being a fulfillment of prophecy might be somewhat less certain. Fortunately, the Lord has not left us without an abundant supply of other prophecies that clearly reveal what is happening today.
Ezekiel 37 contains perhaps the most well-known prophecy of Israel’s rebirth in the entire Bible. This chapter begins with Ezekiel being transported by God’s Spirit to a valley full of dead-men’s bones. The Lord first causes him to pass through this barren graveyard, telling him to carefully observe the dried-out state of the skeletons. When Ezekiel is thoroughly awed by this silent burial ground, the Lord asks him a curious question. God says, “Son of man, can these bones live?” The natural reaction to such an impossible question would be to laugh and say, No way. Ezekiel, however, considers very carefully who was posing the question before he answers, because he very diplomatically says, “O Lord God, thou knowest.” He knew that only the Lord could hold the possibility of life or death in his hands when faced with such a hopeless burial ground of bones. After all, what could appear more impossible to the limited resources of man than bringing back to life dead and decayed bodies?
However, no sooner does Ezekiel respond to this question then the Lord actually tells him to prophesy about the resurrection of those same old bones. And as soon as Ezekiel finishes his prophesying he hears the bones begin to move and come together. He watches as bones join bones in the proper manner and tendons, ligaments, muscle and skin begin to form upon their limbs. But at the very point where the bodies seem to be whole again, Ezekiel makes an observation that has significant implications for understanding Israel’s condition today. Ezekiel notices that at first all of these people are put back together as though they could be alive, but none of them are actually breathing. The Lord then commands him to prophesy to the wind and cause breath to enter into the people. This Ezekiel does, and immediately they are said to stand upon their feet as “an exceedingly great army”.
How does this fantastic story fit into a discussion of the nation of Israel being reborn? In the verses that follow, the Lord goes on to explain the symbolism that he created in the vision. This is what he says to Ezekiel:
“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off on our part.
“Therefore, prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God: Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.
“And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves,
“And shall put my Spirit in you and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land; then shall ye know that I, the Lord, have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.
Ezekiel’s entire vision was concerned with the regathering of a long-dispersed and seemingly hopeless nation of Israel. They had been scattered for so long that it was as though all prospect for their revival was lost. Just as the probability that a valley full of skeletons could somehow get up on their feet and walk seemed astronomical, so was the situation of the continually persecuted Jews among the nations. Thousands of years of captivity had taken its toll, and in their hearts the Jewish people were ready to give up. However, the Lord had a plan that would give his people a hope for the future. He promised that someday he would take them out of their “graves” and bring them back to the land of Israel. Their “graves” were the continuing state of their dispersion—scattered and spiritually dead among the nations—a perfect play on words relating to the vision that Ezekiel had just experienced.
Notice also what the Lord says he will do after he brings them out of their graves. He says that he will put his Spirit in them and they will live. In the first part of Ezekiel’s vision, it was said that the wind blew and “breath” entered into them so they could live. Now in the Lord’s interpretation, the Holy Spirit is said to enter into his people to give them life.
Not only is there an obvious symbolic connection between the “breath” of Ezekiel’s vision and the “Spirit” of the Lord’s explanation, but they are actually both the same word in the original Hebrew. When Ezekiel saw the bones coming up out of their graves and being assembled with no breath in them, he was symbolically seeing the nation of Israel regathered while still spiritually dead and in a state of unbelief.
In the Lord’s eyes, his long-scattered people cannot really begin to “live” until his Spirit is given to them. In a New Testament sense, we know that the Holy Spirit is given only to those who repent of their sins and receive forgiveness through faith in Jesus. There is no exception to this rule, even with respect to the nation of Israel. Therefore, although it is not actually stated in this passage, the reality of Israel’s repentance subsequent to their rebirth is certainly implied. And if Ezekiel alludes to a national repentance, then perhaps even Moses’ prophecy can be seen to fit into the prophetic scheme of things.
Next: Restored with Fury