11-6-4 Ezekiel's Restoration Prophecies
We may well wonder why Ezekiel was sent to the first deportees in Babylon, to announce to them the sins of the Jews still in Judah and the impending destruction of the temple because of their idolatries. Why wasn't he sent to tell this to the Jews in Judah, so that they might repent? Perhaps the implication was that if the Jews in exile, that first group taken captive, had repented, then their repentance would have been enough to forestall the planned judgment upon those back in Judah. But it didn't work out like that. The tragedy was, according to Ez. 3:6, that had Ezekiel preached his message in the Babylonian language to the Babylonians, they would've repented. In this we have an insight into the pain of God, knowing as He does all possible futures, all potential outcomes. Truly the hardness of heart of the exiles was something amazing. And God likewise looks down upon our lives today, seeing all possibilities, and how unbelievers would respond so much more to Him than His own dear people. It's the pain of the parent, knowing that other children would respond so much more to their love than their own beloved offspring. The Lord Jesus had something of this when He commented that Tyre and Sidon would've repented had they had His message preached to them; but Israel would not (Mt. 11:21). That Ezekiel's prophecies were not simple predictions but effectively an appeal for repentance is shown by the way in which he saw himself in vision as the prophet who put his hand in to the cherubim vision, and took out from it the coals of fire which would kindle the fire of judgment upon Jerusalem (Ez. 10:2,7). He would have recalled how his opening vision of the cherubim had the strange feature of a man's hand under their wings (Ez. 1:8; 10:21). This hand, he now understood, was his hand, the hand of the prophet. In Hebrew thought, the hand symbolizes power and control. Thus Ezekiel was taught an awesome truth- that the entire Angelic-Cherubic system was under the control of his word- in the sense that if Israel responded to his message, then the Cherubim would act accordingly. Likewise we read that it was Ezekiel who caused the Angels of judgment to go in to Jerusalem and slay her elders (Ez. 9:1-4). How Ezekiel did this was simply by teaching his prophecies to the captives in Babylon. If they had responded, then the judgment could have been averted. So much power and eternal consequence lies in the message we preach, and in the invitation we give men to repent.
So let's now consider Ezekiel’s prophecies of the restoration against the reality of what actually happened:
Ezekiel told the captives during the early stages of their captivity that the false prophets and "rebels" amongst them would receive the condemnation and judgment of not returning to the land (Ez. 13:9; 20:38).
And yet when the command came to return to the land, most of the people chose to remain in Babylon- and therefore they chose their own condemnation. They were a "rebellious house" (Ez. 2:3). For they were aware from Ezekiel's words that not returning to the land was God's condemnation. Those who will not be in the Kingdom will be those who chose not to be there- all who truly love the Lord's appearing will be accepted
Israel and Judah were to become
one nation in the land, “and my servant David shall be a
prince in the midst of them” (Ezekiel 37:16-24). This is
clearly the same “prince” as referred to in Ezekiel 45-48.
The restoration prophecy of Jer, 30:9 speaks of a returned
Judah serving “David their king, whom I shall raise up unto
them”- implying that David would have been resurrected at
the restoration, if all had gone according to what was possible?
Some of the ten tribes did return
with Judah. Thus “the Jews” is used synonymously with “Israelite”
(Nehemiah 2:10; 4:1; 5:1,8; 7:73; 12:47). 12 he-goats and
12 bulls were offered for “all Israel” in Ezra 6:17; 8:35.
But still Judah and Israel remained divided; and no “prince”
arose to fulfil the prophecies.
Ezek 34:14: “I will feed them in
a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall
their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and
in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains
The restored Judah did live in
a “fat” pasture land, but the fatness of the land was still
given to the kings of Persia because of Judah’s spiritual
weakness (Nehemiah 9:25,35-37).
The purpose of building the temple
system was so that Yahweh’s Name would no longer be profaned
by His people (Ezekiel 36:23; 44:7).
They built a temple, but profaned
the Sabbath and also the covenant and temple (Mal. 1;12;
2:10,11), in that they saw it all as mere religion, and
the fire of a true relationship with the Almighty was smothered.
Ezek 36:24-29: “For I will take
you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries,
and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle
clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your
filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will
I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out
of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh”.
Israel were to return from captivity, destroy all the Gentile
abominations and idols from their land, and then receive
a new heart and a new covenant (Ezekiel 11:18,19).
The temple was to be built and sacrifices offered, “and
I will accept you” (Ezekiel 43:27). This is to be connected
with the prophecy of Ezekiel 20:41, that “I will accept
you…when I bring you from the peoples, and gather you out
of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will
be sanctified in you before the heathen”. The context of
this verse speaks of Israel being regathered “with a mighty
hand and with a stretched out arm”, and “I will purge out
from among you the rebels…I will bring them forth out of
the land where they sojourn [i.e. Babylon] but they shall
not enter into the land of Israel” (Ezekiel 20:34-38).
“And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to
walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and
do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your
fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.
I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I
will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no
famine upon you” (Ezekiel 36:27-29). Jer. 31:14 likewise
had promised the returning Jews “fatness”.
Ezekiel 36:33: “Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day that
I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will
also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall
They were taken from among the
many nations that comprised Babylon / Persia; they were
brought, as many as could be bothered to go, to their own
land. They were cleansed there (s.w. Ezra 6:30; Nehemiah
12:30). But they became un-cleansed through allowing Tobiah
into the temple chambers, by trading on the Sabbath, and
by marrying Gentiles (Nehemiah 13:9,22,30). The priesthood
needed to be “cleansed” again (Mal. 3:3 s.w.). The promise
of Ezekiel 36 sounds unconditional- as if, whoosh, God would
make His sinful people righteous regardless of their own
will. And so some have misunderstood the operation of God’s
Spirit in our own days. But although not directly stated,
the promise of entry into the new covenant, whereby God
would encourage obedience through the work of His Spirit,
was conditional. Judah could have entered the new covenant
there and then, with all its requirements for a Messiah
figure to abrogate the Mosaic law. But they turned back
to their uncleannesses, they would not keep God’s statutes,
and their potential Messiah figures failed to appear. Yet
again, the promise of entry into a new covenant was deferred,
to be fulfilled in a new Israel who are sprinkled through
the waters of baptism. The promise was fulfilled, but in
a far different context to that intended.
The mighty hand and stretched out arm of God was available
to bring Judah out of Babylon- but most of them preferred
to stay there. God was not sanctified before the heathen.
The wonderful possibility of a new covenant went unrealized-
to be deferred until the true Israel of God are gathered
home in our last days.
Ezra 9:9: “For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken
us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the
sight of the kings of Persia, to give us [s.w. “put” my
spirit] a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and
to repair the desolations”. They revived the stones out
of the heaps (Nehemiah 4:2). A new spirit was potentially
given to them, God put in the heart of men like Nehemiah
to revive the work (Nehemiah 2:12 s.w.). But this didn’t
force them to be obedient. They chose not to be, and so
the promised kingdom blessings of corn etc. were replaced
by famines, in the times of Nehemiah, Haggai and Malachi.
Judah were forgiven at the restoration; but they failed
to live the life of response to that grace, and therefore
the spirit did not continue with them.
Ezekiel 37:7: “So I prophesied
as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise,
and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone
to his bone”. This meant that the “whole house of Israel”
was to stand up from their graves and return as a mighty
army to the land. Their attitude in Babylon was exactly
as in Ezekiel 37:11: “behold, they say, Our bones are dried,
and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts”. These
were the very sentiments of Jeremiah in Lamentations, and
those who wept by the waters of Babylon when they remembered
The “noise” is s.w. in Ezra 1:1
about the “proclamation” of Cyrus for Judah to return to
the land. All of God’s people didn’t return; the majority
preferred to stay in Babylon.
Ez. 16:55 is explicit that both Samaria [the 10 tribes] and Judah would
‘return to their former estate’ at one and the same time. And this passage
is clearly in a restoration context. It was potentially possible for the
10 tribes to have returned at the same time as Judah. But somehow, that
potential was never made possible by them. In fact, Ezekiel’s prophecies
appear to be full of possible scenarios for what could have happened
at the restoration. Ez. 36:33 says that although Judah had profaned God’s
Name in Babylon [despite the prophecy of Jer. which predicted the possibility
that they would spiritually mature whilst there!], yet He would sprinkle
their hearts by grace and make the new covenant with them; and then,
“In the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause
the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be builded” (Ez.
36:33). But in recorded history, there was no apparent connection between
Judah’s forgiveness and the rebuilding of the land.
Time and again God's love made Him re-think and alter His plans. Ez. 20:9,10 explains that God intended to destroy Israel in Egypt because of their idolatry, and so He decided to bring them out into the wilderness and destroy them there so as not to do it in Egypt and give the Egyptians a reason to mock Him. And yet according to Jeremiah and Ez. 16:5-10, it was in the wilderness that God fell in love with Israel and gave them His covenant. He is attracted to us so easily; hence His anger when we abuse this and disappoint Him. Ez. 20:30-33 contains God’s
response to the elders in captivity wanting Ezekiel to pray for them.
They were committing whoredom, idolatry etc. Ez. 36:20 likewise comments
how they “profaned my holy name” during the Babylonian captivity. They
were not enabling God’s plan of restoration to be realized. Ez. 20:35-40
therefore goes on to outline what was perhaps another possibility- that
God would take the entire captive people into the wilderness at the end
of the 70 years captivity, and purge out the rebels, and then bring them
into the land, where they would have a temple and worship God (Ez. 20:40)-
presumably in the temple outlined in Ez. 40-48. But it seems this alternative
didn’t work out either. God promised to "be to them [the Jews in
captivity] a sanctuary for a little while in the countries [the 127 provinces
of Babylon] where they are come" (Ez. 11:16 RV). His intention was
that they should be there, preserved by Him even in their punishment,
for the "little while" of 70 years. And yet they preferred to
remain there in Babylon.