From here on out we have oracles of good news. Chapters 1-24 were oracles of judgement and chapters 25-32 were oracles against the nations. Now Ezekiel describes the future renewal of the land, the covenant, the people, and the unity of Israel and Judah under new leadership. We begin with the watchman and his message. We have seen this before, back in 3:16-19. Here the message about the watchman is part of Ezekiel’s public proclamation and not a private commission. This puts more emphasis on the people whom hear the message. They are responsible to take action in response to the message. However, just as the people before the destruction of Jerusalem were unwilling to hear the message of destruction, now the people after the exile could not believe the message of hope. In both cases, having to face the rejection of what he was saying, Ezekiel was tempted to keep quiet. God warned him that he couldn’t. As we saw before the watchman was responsible for bringing messages to the people. If the people listened it would go well for them but if they didn’t their blood would be on their own heads. But, if the watchman failed to bring the message to the people, their blood would be on his head. Ezekiel had not failed to bring the message to the people. In an interesting turn of events, now after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the people know despair. Their sins weighed heavy on them and there was not yet repentance, just despair. For those of you who are looking for a glimmer of good news, it is here in verse 11. The Lord tells the people that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. And, even the wicked people can live if they repent and return to Him.
But, the challenge is that those who have been righteous believe that their past righteousness will save them from current or future sins. God has promised to destroy these people because of their sin. In the reverse, those who have been engaged in wicked behavior, if they repent, will have life. The people pointed to their parents sins as a reason for their behavior but again God told them He would punish people for their own sins. Next the people complained that the Lord wasn’t doing what was right. Their perception was that God was bringing Babylon to destroy Jerusalem, and that was inappropriate. The Lord immediately refuted this argument by saying it was the people who were refusing to repent and return to Him. The Lord’s judgement on His people is never arbitrary. Instead it is a fitting response to their sins. If they do what is good and right they will have a future hope.
A survivor from Jerusalem arrived bringing eyewitness testimony of the fall of the city. This news took more than five months to reach Ezekiel and the exiles. This was a turning point for Ezekiel. His voice returned and he was finally able to speak freely again. There was new hope for God’s people. He had lost his voice when his wife died because he was an object lesson to Judah. Ezekiel lost the thing that was the most precious to him, his wife. Soon the Jews would lose that which was the most precious to them, Jerusalem and the temple. It would leave them speechless. They would feel their loss in their hearts, like Ezekiel had felt his loss but they would say nothing. However, there were still those who continued to worship idols. They still murdered people and they ate meat with the lifeblood still in it. Even worse, those who remained in the ruined cities of Judah hoped to turn the disaster of the exile into an opportunity for personal profit rather then repentance. They claimed to be the sole heirs of Abraham and therefore sought possession the land. But their behavior proved that they were not really Abraham’s children at all. They broke all the covenant promises and denied the faith of Abraham. Instead these rebels in Jerusalem would inherit the curses of the covenant…the sword, wild animals, and disease. Israel would be totally desolate and these sinners completely destroyed. Many of the exiles were talking about Ezekiel but few were heeding his words from the Lord. They sat before him pretending to be sincere having no intention of doing what was required of them. Ezekiel’s messages were entertaining but the Lord warned them that the time would come when He would demonstrate the power behind the words of a true prophet.
Chapter 34 is an Oracle of restoration but it also addresses the true and irresponsible shepherds of God’s people. The shepherds of Israel is a metaphor for Israel’s rulers, both political and religious. Ultimately God would be their Shepherd and provide them with much better leadership. He would restore the fruitfulness of their land and vindicate His own honor. God would restore His people to life and unity. Chapter 34 contains both judgement and salvation. There would be judgement on Judah’s former leaders because they failed miserably at taking care of their flocks. He would judge the fat sheep, those who failed to provide for those who had little or nothing. And He would feed the remainder of the flock. The earthly king was understood to represent the divine king who had set him over His people. Shepherds had to protect their flocks against beasts, including lions and bears, while also knowing their sheep by name and tenderly leading them to good pasture and quiet waters. They had to endure cold, heat, wind, rain, and snow out in the hills with their charges. Good kings who led their people strongly and wisely resembled shepherds. Israel’s leaders had done none of this kind of shepherding. Instead they pursued their own interests and fed themselves at the sheep’s expense. They ruled with harshness and cruelty, recalling how the Egyptians had treated the Israelite slaves in Moses time. This neglect caused the Lord’s flock to be scattered across the face of the earth. God would hold these shepherds accountable. He would go looking for His scattered flock and God would bring them home. He would give them the very best of everything he had to give. The goats here, along with the rams in verses 17-19 represent the powerful, unrighteous members of the community. God would also judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. The fat sheep were those with power and influence who had taken all they could for themselves, leaving others without resources.
God planned to raise up David’s offspring to succeed him. This new David, like the first one would be the Lord’s servant, a man after God’s own heart. He would be a good Shepherd of His people. God also planned to provide His people with a new and better ruler and He would make a new covenant of peace with them. All they knew of the Mosaic covenant were the curses that had been promised because of their disobedience. In place of the old and failed kings of the past they would receive a new and perfect king. And once again they would be God’s people, the sheep of His pasture, and He would again dwell in their midst.
The next Oracle is addressed to Edom, Israel’s neighbor to the southeast. Here Edom is identified by its central mountain, Mount Seir. Edom was symbolic of all Israel’s enemies in their rejoicing at her fall. Israel’s defeat might have afforded the Edomites a bit more room to live but that would be short lived. The ancient hatred of Edom for Israel went all the way back to their respective ancestors, Jacob and Esau. Because of this enmity the Edomites were only too happy to take advantage of the Babylonians destruction to butcher the Israelites when they were helpless. Their goal..wipe out all of the descendants of Jacob and seize their land. But their everlasting hatred would be severely punished. They too would be decimated and the Edomites would die by the sword, their land desolate forever. This happened in the 400’s by a coalition of Arab tribes. The Edomites had mistakenly believed that God’s judgement on His people and His abandonment of the temple meant that His covenant with Israel was no longer in effect. They boasted and tried to elevate themselves over and above the Lord, but the Lord would not tolerate such boasting. Israel would be rescued and returned while Edom would be left destroyed.
What we see is that the destruction of Edom would prepare the way for the restoration of the mountains of Israel, reversing the devastation threatened in chapter 6. The ancient heights of Israel could not be stolen by Israel’s enemies because the Lord had given them to His people. The time of enduring shame, mockery, and plundering would now be over for Israel and the tables would be turned on her enemies. When God brought His people back to the land they would experience population growth and fruitfulness of the land. This would fulfill the creation mandate from Genesis 1:28. God had intended for the land to provide abundantly for His people and their offspring but instead it had robbed them and their children and devoured its own people. This was the result of Israel failing to keep their end of the covenant promises. That led to the Lord’s judgement on them. But after exile the people would return to the land, having repented and returned to the Lord. Once again they would receive the covenant blessings God had promised long ago.
Ezekiel spent considerable time reminding his hearers of their guilt and their need for God to change their hearts. In the future God would cleanse His people. Ezekiel divided things into clean and unclean, sacred and profane, and holy and unclean. God had made Israel clean but the gentile nations were unclean. When Israel took up the pagan worship practices of the Gentiles, they became unclean as well. After exile God would once again clean His people. Now, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Gentiles are no longer outside of God’s grace. The covenant curses had come to God’s people because of their disobedience, breaking their covenant promises. Because of their behavior, they had made the land unfit for the Lord to live there, and they were expelled. Israel’s behavior also brought shame on God’s name, that as well as the fact that they were in exile…like God could not protect His own people in their land.
When God did bring them back to their land they would be transformed. God would sprinkle them with clean water. This was a normal part of the Jewish purification ceremonies (Numbers 19),symbolizing a fresh start with their old sins washed away. This would not just be an outward cleansing. The Lord would remove their stubborn and stony hearts and give them a heart of flesh…a new heart…and a new spirit. The spirit of rebellion would be replaced with a spirit of obedience. Once again the Lord would create life and light out of chaos and darkness. In the past the Spirit had empowered people for specific tasks of service to the Lord but in the future a more widespread empowerment by God’s Spirit would enable His people to lead holy lives. This transformation brought blessings. The restored land would become like the garden of Eden, and once again God would be willing to hear Israel’s prayers. He had once refused to listen to His rebellious people. The proof of all this would be the number of people in the rebuilt cities who would acknowledge that the Lord is God.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W