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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

11.3 Command More Than Prediction

The will of God is not always determining of human behaviour in absolute terms; otherwise the will of God would exclude human freewill. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication” (1 Thess. 4:3); but Thessalonians still had the freedom to commit fornication. The will of God here refers to the wish / desire of God. But the fulfilment of God’s will is of course up to the freewill of the individual. Which is why we pray for God’s will to be done in our lives; not in the sense of ‘OK well get on and do what You are going to do anyway’, but rather of seeking for strength to personally do God’s wish in our lives. And as we mature, our will and the Father’s become closer. We ask what we will and it is done; and therefore and thereby we ask for the Father’s will to be done. 

This leads us to the thesis that some of the Bible’s ‘prophecies’ are command more than prediction. The Lord Jesus criticized the Jews for trading in the temple because “Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer” (Mk. 11:17). We can easily read this as meaning that one day, a ‘house of prayer for all nations’ was to be built in Jerusalem. But in that case, why should not the Jews trade in the temple there and then, well before this was to happen, say, 2000 years later? The Lord surely means that the prophecy that the temple “shall be called…” a house of prayer was a command more than a prediction. It “shall be” a place for prayer and not trading. The ‘fulfilment’ of this statement was dependent upon them praying there and encouraging all nations to pray there; yet they could limit the fulfilment of the ‘prophecy’ by stopping Gentiles praying there, and by discouraging prayer there because of their trading policies. Thus the Lord saw the prophecy as more of a command than mere prediction. ‘Prophecy’ really means the speaking forth of God’s word, rather than the foretelling of the future. The prophecies of Ezekiel about the temple can be understood more as command than as simple prediction. This is how Israel were to behave and how they were to rebuild the temple. Another example of this is in the way God prophesied that Israel would not return to Egypt; but this was actually a command not to return there (Dt. 17:16), and He Himself quotes this when prophesying that if they sin, then He would bring them “into Egypt the way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again” (Dt. 28:68). Prophecy was therefore commandment in this instance, but as such it could be nullified by disobedience. It is tempting to see the temple prophecies in this way. Remember that ‘prophecy’ means to speak forth God’s word, rather than to predict the future.  

Another example is found in Dt. 2:4,6: “Command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau...and they shall be afraid of shall buy meat of them for shall also buy water of them for money”. This all sounds like definite prophecy. And yet when Israel came to these people and tried to pass through, and offered them money for bread and water, they were rejected by them (Num. 20:16-21; Jud. 11:17). The condition- that Edom had the freedom to reject them- isn’t mentioned, but it nonetheless stood. Prophecy is an imperative to action- it isn’t just a fascinating study of how predictions have been matched with reality. 19th century Christians understood prophecies about the return of the Jews to their land as meaning that they ought to give money and material help to enable this to happen- they didn’t just passively connect the prophecies with their fulfilment. Likewise Jehu understood the prophecies about the destruction of the house of Ahab to mean that he must get on and do the work of destroying them (2 Kings 10:10,11,17- note v. 11 “so…”). Paul noticed the prophecy that Christ was to be the light of the whole world and saw in this a commandment to him to go and preach Christ world-wide (Acts 13:47).  He read “…for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider” (Is. 52:15) as a prophecy which required him to fulfil it, by taking Christ to those who had not heard (Rom. 15:21). “Thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong” (Josh. 17:18) was prophecy, but it was actually a command, not a prediction. For those tribes proved too strong for lazy, minimising Israel. And so in that sense the ‘prophecy’ wasn’t fulfilled. Israel failed to be inspired by it. They waited for its fulfilment rather than went out to fulfil it. And we can do likewise. Right at the start the Lord had told Joshua: “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee”; and yet He goes on to stress that this was dependent upon Joshua’s personal obedience to the Law (Josh. 1:5-9). One wonders whether the fact this didn’t ultimately come true is some sort of reflection upon Joshua’s lost intensity of devotion…? 

The idea that some prophecies are more command than prediction helps make sense of the prophecy of Ez. 40-48. When we read “my princes shall no more oppress my people…the shekel shall be twenty gerahs…ye shall offer an oblation” (Ez. 45:8,12,13), the emphasis needs to be placed upon the word “shall”. This was a command to the elders of the people- made explicit in passages like Ez. 45:9: “Let it suffice you, O princes of Israel: remove violence and spoil…ye shall have just balances”. By failing to be obedient, God’s people effectively disallowed the fulfilment of the ‘prophecy’ that could have come true if they had been obedient to it.