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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

11-6-4 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 of Israel”.

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 be builded”.

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 Zion.

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.