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11. The exiles who returned

11-1 Ezekiel’s Temple: Based Upon Solomon’s Temple || 11-2 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-2-1 Conditional Prophecy || 11-2-2 Human Response || 11-2-3 Tyre in Ezekiel 26 || 11-2-4 Delayed Prophecies || 11-2-5 Prophecies With Changed Fulfillment || 11-2-6 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-3 Command More Than Prediction || 11-4 The Contemporary Relevance Of Ezekiel's Temple || 11-5 The Restoration: Potential Kingdom Of God || 11-6 The Potential And The Reality || 11-6-1 The Weakness Of Judah Under Nehemiah || 11-6-2 Isaiah's Prophecies Of Restoration || 11-6-3 Jeremiah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-4 Ezekiel's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-5 The Cherubim And The Restoration || 11-6-6 Zechariah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-7 The Restoration Psalms || 11.7 “The prince" in Ezekiel || 11-7-1 " The prince" : Potential Messiah || 11-7-2 Zerubabbel- Potential Messiah? || 11.8 The Potential For The Surrounding World || 11-8-1 Haggai 2 || 11-8-2 Meshech And Tubal || 11-8-3 Joel Chapter 3 || 11-9 Different Sequences Of Prophetic Fulfillment || 11-10 Zechariah And Malachi: More Chances || 11-11 The Returned Exiles

11-8-3 Joel Chapter 3

If the thesis presented concerning Ezekiel 40-48 is accepted, it has far reaching implications for how we read many other OT passages. Take, for example, Joel 3. Here we have what appears to be a prophecy relating to the latter day invasion of Israel and the establishment of the Kingdom. And so, in principle, it is. Yet there are a number of details which seem hard to apply to a latter day / Kingdom fulfilment- e.g. how the children of Tyre, Zidon and the Palestinians are to be sold by “the children of the Sabeans, to a people far off” (Joel 3:8). One deeply wonders how this would appropriately be fulfilled at the establishment of the Kingdom in the last days. Indeed, all the ‘latter day’ prophecies have elements within them which would seem to fit far more comfortably in an earlier fulfilment; not least the references to pruninghooks being turned into spears (Joel 3:10), and the references in Ezekiel 38 to other ancient weapons, or the descriptions in Ezekiel 39 of the wooden weapons of the invader being burnt for seven years. My suggestion is that these are all parts of conditional prophecies that could have been fulfilled in the invasion that could have happened had the temple been properly rebuilt, and thereby through that invasion Yahweh would have revealed Himself openly, and the Kingdom been established. Joel 3 has many links with the restoration prophecies, once we allow ourselves to read it as describing what could have happened at the time of the restoration: 

Joel 3:1 “that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem”.

Note: “Judah and Jerusalem”. It was Judah who were taken into captivity into Babylon, and it was them who could have restored the temple as instructed by Ezekiel. Every other time the phrase “captivity of Judah” is used, it refers to Judah having been taken captive into Babylon (Jer. 29:22; 33:7; Dan. 5:13; 6:13). That “captivity” refers to those who had been taken captive; the captivity is put as a metonymy for those taken away by it. In the latter day of which Joel speaks, those taken captive would be ‘brought again’. Time and again, Jeremiah had prophesied how Yahweh would bring again His people and the vessels of the temple back to the land (Jer. 28:3,4,6; 30:3,18; 31:23); and this all had a fulfilment in the return from captivity under Ezra and Nehemiah. It was then that in some sense Yahweh ‘brought again Zion’ (Is. 52:8). The very same word used by Joel [translated “bring again”] is to be found in the references to Judah’s return at the restoration (Ezra 2:1; 6:21; Neh. 7:6; 8:17). The same word is to be found in Ezekiel 38:8 and 39:27, where again, the invasion is to happen once Judah had been ‘brought again’ from captivity. Judah returned, and yet they didn’t rebuild the temple as they were commanded. Therefore the invasion didn’t come, and therefore the Kingdom wasn’t then established. As if knowing this, Hos. 6:11 had prophesied [otherwise strangely] that Judah would reap their punishment, when they returned from captivity. They returned [s.w. ‘bring again’], but not to the Most High (Hos. 7:16). Joel 3, however, speaks from the perspective that Judah would be ‘brought again’ from Babylon under Ezra; and then 

Joel 3:2 “I will also gather all nations...and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land”.

The “all nations” to be gathered are those who scattered Judah amongst the nations; not every literal nation. And who “scattered” Israel? The very same Hebrew word is used in Jer. 50:17 to describe how Babylon scattered Judah amongst the nations. And most significantly, the same word occurs again in Est. 3:8: “And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom...”. It is quite wrong for us to imagine Judah sitting quietly by the rivers of Babylon, all huddled together. They were scattered throughout all the many provinces / colonies of the Babylonian empire. This was why Cyrus’ decree bidding the Jews return to rebuild Jerusalem had to be published “throughout all his kingdom” (Ezra 1:1), and Jews living “in any place” of that kingdom were included in the invitation. It was Babylon who had “parted my land” by dividing it up amongst the various ‘Samaritan’ peoples who were transported there from other conquered territories. And their being in Babylon is paralleled with being scattered to the four corners of the world as it was known to them: “Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the LORD: for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven, saith the LORD. Deliver thyself, O Zion, that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon” (Zech. 2:6-7). And consider Zech 7:14: “But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them [i.e. this concerns the Babylonian invasion], that no man passed through nor returned”. Indeed, Zech. 8:7,8 speaks of the restoration as coming from both West and East of Israel, implying that the Babylonians had sold some of the Jews as slaves in Greece and north Africa. 

Joel 3:3 “they have cast lots for my people”.

One of the two other occurrences of the word is in Obadiah 11,12, where Edom is described as casting lots for Jerusalem at the time of Judah’s judgment by Babylon. 

Joel 3:5 “ye have taken away my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly pleasant things”.

As witnessed by the book of Daniel, this was exactly what the Babylonians did in the lead up to the 70 years captivity. 

Joel 3:6 “the children of Judah”. This is the burden of the prophecy (3:8,18,20)- and it was Judah who returned at the restoration. 

Joel 3:7 “I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them”

Fulfilled in Judah being raised up out of Babylon. The same Hebrew word is used in Ezra 1:1,5 concerning how God raised up the spirit of Judah to return to the land.  

The next verses go on to describe how then there would be a great invasion, to be met by Yahweh’s intervention and the establishment of the Kingdom. Then 

Joel 3:17 “So shall ye know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no stranger pass through her any more”.

This is language undoubtedly to be linked with that of Ezekiel 40-48. There we have Yahweh dwelling in Zion, the city named Yahweh Shammah, ‘Yahweh is there’. No stranger would pass through Zion, according to Ezekiel 44:7-9.  

Joel 3:18 “a fountain shall come forth of the house of the LORD”

Just as in Ezekiel 47:1-12.  

Joel 3:21 “I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed; for the LORD dwelleth in Zion”.

Just as in Ezekiel 43:7,9 Yahweh promises that He will dwell [s.w.] in the midst of His people. 

Thus Joel 3 and Ezekiel 35-48 all show the same basic pattern: Judah were to return from captivity in Babylon, and then Babylon and “all nations” confederate with her were to be gathered to battle against Judah and Jerusalem, who would be living in a Jerusalem boasting a temple built after the pattern of Ezekiel 40-48. From this temple Yahweh would “roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem” (Joel 3:16), destroy the invading armies, and establish His Kingdom, in which “Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation” (Joel 3:20- how else to understand these specific references to Judah’s perpetuity?). But the tragedy was and is- that Judah for the most part preferred the soft life in Babylon (the lists in Neh. 7 number less than 50,000 as returning). They failed to discern that in spiritual terms Babylon was a prison cell from which the righteous should seek to hasten out of, to flee from; to shake off the yoke it put upon their necks (Is. 51:14; 52:2). Yet all they saw was a nice, comfy life, and they thought they were doing their bit by giving some silver and gold to those who wanted to return and build the temple, a desire which they would all have soberly nodded in agreement with as being ‘a great work’ (what similarities with ourselves?). Those who did return satisfied themselves with a small temple, disregarding the instructions which Ezekiel had given them in Babylon, they lacked the faith to believe that Yahweh would be a wall of fire around them and instead built their own wall, and got on with building their own ceiled houses (as Haggai lamented) rather than Yahweh’s house, marrying the local women, extorting wealth even from each other and enslaving their less fortunate brethren, trading on the Sabbath, allowing the local Arab leaders chambers even in the temple...and so the Kingdom prophecies were deferred. The process that could have brought about Yahweh’s establishment of His Kingdom seems to have been centred around an attack from the surrounding nations, aimed against the wonderful new temple Judah were supposed to have built, which would be destroyed by Yahweh who dwelt in that temple [‘Zion’]. In principle, some elements of all this prophecy will come true in the last days- but not every detail. There will be an invasion- for parts of Joel 3 (e.g. “the sun and the moon shall be darkened”, v. 15) are quoted by the NT as relating specifically to our last days. But it won’t involve literal spears and swords. The temple which was to have been built, and which is referred to in Joel 3 and perhaps other references in Isaiah and Zechariah, need not be literally built in the last days in order to incite an Arab invasion. Now do these prophecies demand that it be built in the Kingdom age, either. If the Kingdom had been established then, as was possible, then yes, it would have been built; and all the details are outlined in Ezekiel 40-48. The new regime of sacrifices would have been acceptable, for then Jesus would not have died and offered the one sacrifice that took away eternally any need for other sacrifices. But God in His foreknowledge- and this is, admittedly, hard to fathom- knew of Israel’s negligence, and how what was realistically possible at that time just wouldn’t be realized, because of their short-sightedness and basic selfishness. And therefore, because of this, He had planned that He would give His only begotten Son, to replace all need for temple and sacrifices. And the whole of the OT pointed forward to this. But there is no reason to think that prophecies which we now understand as relevant to the Lord Jesus could not have somehow come true in another, earlier person. Thus Dan. 9:25 states “that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks”. Perhaps in literally 69 weeks- a year and a few months- after Cyrus’ decree, Messiah would have come and been slain. Note how “the prince” is very much the language of Ezekiel 40-48 concerning a mortal “prince”, and also Zerubbabel (Ezra 1:8; there is good reason to think that Sheshbazzar was an official name for Zerubbabel- see Michael Ashton, The Exiles Return). And Isaiah 53 is prefaced in chapter 52 by the command to return from Babylon and to proclaim the good news of the Messianic Kingdom which Cyrus’ decree could have brought in; as if it could have come true then. He shall “grow up” as a root from a dry land (53:2) uses the word frequently used about the ‘going up’ from Babylon to Jerusalem.  

Looking back over Joel chapters 1 and 2, this whole line of reasoning makes even more sense. For there we have the land about to be invaded, the day of the Lord upon them, the invading armies already massed. And “Yet even now, saith the Lord, turn ye unto me with all your heart…for…He repenteth him of the evil…who knoweth whether he will not turn and repent…?” (2:12-14 RV). The people are summoned into the temple for a national prayer of repentance and fasting (2:16). If this had been done- which it wasn’t- “then will the Lord be jealous for his land, and pit his people…I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate” (2:20); and the rest of the chapter goes on to describe the Kingdom blessings which would then come to the people, with the Spirit poured out and salvation in Zion. Yet Israel would not; they didn’t hold that day of fasting and prayer, and so the northern army came and destroyed them. And the prophecies were given another application- the Spirit was poured out upon the apostles (Acts 2), and salvation was given in Zion in a spiritual sense. And the final realization of the Kingdom blessings was deferred until, hopefully, our own times. Is. 32:14-16 RV has a similar scenario- Jerusalem was to be depopulated, wild animals would live there, Ophel [i.e. Zion, the temple mount] would be desolate- and then the Holy Spirit would be poured out and the Kingdom conditions established in Israel. But these things didn’t happen at the restoration, because Israel didn’t want the Spirit “to be poured upon us from on high”.