Bible Reading Notes—Step 6: Week 48

Monday – Ezekiel 2

In chapter 1 of the book of Ezekiel we are introduced to Ezekiel the son of Buzi who was a Jew taken captive to Babylonia by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar II king of Babylon. In fulfillment of God’s prophetic word (e.g. Isaiah 39:7; Jeremiah 20:4-5) the Jews experienced deportations to Babylonia during the reigns of the Judean kings Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah.

Ezekiel (who was a priest) appears to have been part of the captivity that took place during the reign of Jehoiachin circa 597 B.C., since his prophecy uses this event as a chronological reference point (see Ezekiel 1:1-3).

In chapter 1, Ezekiel sees a vision of God’s glory. The detailed description of the cherubim (the living creatures), and the wheels within wheels, pick up vocabulary from the temple at Jerusalem, which was soon to be destroyed by the Babylonians. Later, Ezekiel sees this glory departing (Ezekiel 10:18, 11:22) before finally returning to a new and more glorious Jerusalem (Ezekiel 43:1-4).

Above the cherubim Ezekiel saw a throne upon which sat “the likeness as the appearance of a man” (1:26) whose appearance was that “of the likeness of the glory of the LORD (Yahweh)” (1:28). In chapter 2 this visionary man speaks to Ezekiel and gives him a prophetic commission. Ezekiel was commanded to speak God’s words to the children of Israel who are described as a “rebellious nation” that had transgressed against God (2:3-5). The chapter concludes with the visionary man upon the throne setting before Ezekiel a scroll that was written on both sides with words of “lamentations, and mourning and woe” (2:9-10).

Tuesday – Ezekiel 3

In the vision, Ezekiel was commanded to eat the scroll – a symbol of the words of God that Ezekiel was to speak to the house of Israel. This was an enacted parable that represented the words of God being put into the mouth of the prophet (3:1-4; compare Deuteronomy 18:15,18; Jeremiah 1:9). The words were sweet in Ezekiel’s mouth (compare Psalm 119:103; Jeremiah 15:16). Ezekiel was warned that the house of Israel would not accept the word of God spoken by him (3:7). However, he was told that despite this he should not be afraid because God would strengthen him for this work (3:8-9).

In verse 17 Ezekiel was told that God had appointed him as a watchman. A watchman was someone who had the responsibility to look out for hostile forces and warn his people of impending danger (see Ezekiel 33:2-7). Ezekiel was told that if he did not discharge his role of watchman and failed to warn the wicked among the house of Israel to repent of their sins, then God would hold him responsible for their blood. However, conversely, if the wicked were to choose to ignore Ezekiel’s warning, their blood would be on their own head (3:18-21).

Wednesday – Ezekiel 18

This chapter addresses a proverb that was in vogue among the Jews in speaking of the land of Israel: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (18:2). In other words, because the fathers had sinned against God their children had suffered the consequences in experiencing punishment (compare Jeremiah 15:4).

In verse 3 God declares that Israel will have no more cause to use this proverb, since “the soul that sins, it shall die”. We can see here that according to the Bible the soul of man is inseparable from man himself. When a man sins, his soul sins. When a man dies, his soul dies. The soul does not exist outside of man; it is not an immortal principle residing within him (compare Ecclesiastes 9:5-6).

The message of Ezekiel 18 is that God will deal with individuals within the nation of Israel on the basis of their own moral conduct (compare Jeremiah 31:27-30). To illustrate this individual accountability, three scenarios are set out as follows:

  • Verses 5-9: The man who is just and does what is lawful and right shall surely live.
  • Verses 10-13: If the just man begets a wicked son, that son shall surely die.
  • Verses 14-18: If the wicked son in turn begets a son who walks in God’s statutes, he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, but he shall surely live.

These principles are elaborated in the balance of the chapter. The chapter concludes with an appeal to the house of Israel to repent and turn from their transgressions since God derives no pleasure from the death of any of them.

Thursday – Ezekiel 36

The future exalted destiny of the nation of Israel is the subject of this chapter. God states that Israel’s enemies who dared to appropriate God’s land to themselves will bear their shame (36:1-7). The fact that God refers to the land of Israel as “my land” (verse 5) and the people of Israel as “my people” (verse 8) in the context of this (as of today still unfulfilled) prophecy of the future shows that God’s purpose still centres on this land and its people. He has not cast off Israel (Romans 11:2).

The mountains of Israel (whose greatest concentration is in the area of Judea and Samaria referred to by some today as ‘the West Bank’) are figuratively addressed in verses 8-15. The mountains are told that they will yield fruit for the nation of Israel who will inherit them forever.

Although we have seen the return of Jews to the land and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 in fulfillment of Bible prophecy, we have not yet seen the fulfillment of the events of Ezekiel 36. It is speaking specifically of a time yet future when the land will become like “the garden of Eden” (verse 35), the nation no longer attacked by their enemies (verse 14) and cleansed from their sins (verses 25-29). This will be the state of affairs in the kingdom of God.

Friday – Ezekiel 37

Ezekiel is shown by God a vision of a valley full of dry bones of slain men. Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy over the bones and say that God will put sinews, flesh and skin upon them and animate them with the breath of life. Ezekiel does as he is commanded. He then hears a noise and shaking and sees the bones come together and sinews, flesh and skin cover them. He is then commanded to prophesy to the wind and command it to breath upon the slain. When he does so, breath enters into the bodies causing them to live. They stand upon their feet as “an exceeding great army” (verse 10).

The interpretation of the vision is given in verses 11-14. The bones represent “the whole house of Israel” which had experienced persecution and dispersal from the land of Israel. The resurrection of the dry bones symbolises their restoration to the land of Israel at a time when God will put his spirit in them. This is picking up on the language of Ezekiel 36:26-27 which describes the yet future cleansing of the nation. For God to put his spirit in his people and for them (consequently) to live, is for him to teach them His word. Jesus quotes from Ezekiel 37:14 when he says that “it is the spirit that makes alive … the words that I speak unto you are spirit and are life.” (John 6:63; compare 1 John 5:6).

The national-spiritual resurrection of Israel portrayed in the vision is elaborated in the enacted parable of the two sticks that occupies the balance of the chapter (verses 15-28). Ezekiel is commanded to take two sticks, representing the southern Kingdom of Judah (which had been dismantled by the Babylonians) and the northern Kingdom of Israel (which had fallen to the Assyrians earlier in the 8th Century B.C.). Ezekiel was to join the sticks together in his hand (verse 17) to represent the restoration of the whole house of Israel back to their land, as a single kingdom (verses 21-22).

God says that this time of restoration will be characterised by the cleansing of Israel’s sins (verse 23), the reign of “David” as king over the nation (verse 24), the everlasting possession of the land by Israel (verse 25), God’s establishment of a covenant of peace with Israel (verse 26) and the placing of his sanctuary in their midst forever (verses 27-28).

The vision of the resurrection of the dry bones and the parable of the joining of the two sticks both depict the future blessings that the nation of Israel will experience in in the kingdom of God under the reign of Messiah. The persecutions that have beset their national experience hitherto will be a thing of the past.

Saturday – Ezekiel 38

However, before Israel experiences the blessings outlined in chapters 36-37, there is a time of trouble yet to come for those living in the land immediately prior to the establishment of the kingdom of God. This is the burden of Ezekiel chapter 38.

Ezekiel prophesies of a coalition of nations that are to invade the land of Israel in “the latter years”– a time when Jews have returned to the land after many years of exile among many peoples (verse 8) and have there regained a measure of prosperity (verse 12). This relates precisely to the situation of the modern State of Israel rather than the situation of the return of Jews to the land from the Babylonian captivity in the 6th Century B.C. The Jews were expelled among the nations at large by the Romans pursuant to the failed Jewish Revolts of A.D. 70 and A.D. 132-135. After almost 2,000 years of national exile, the State of Israel was established in 1948, in fulfillment of prophecies like that of Ezekiel. This is a major sign of the impending establishment of the kingdom of God on earth.

The focus of the invasion is “the mountains of Israel” (verse 8) also described as “the midst of the land” (verse 12). This correlates with the Biblical heartlands of Judea and Samaria (which as we noted in Ezekiel 36 equate to what many refer to today as ‘the West Bank’). Note that it is only as a consequence of the Six Day War of June 1967 that Israel regained possession of this region.

The multi-national coalition is to be led by a person identified as “Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal” (verse 3). This power is identified as located north of the land Israel (verse 15). Gog’s coalition partners include Persia, Ethiopia, Libya (verse 5) in addition to Gomer and Togarmah (verse 6).

To identify the modern day nation states that equate to these peoples we need to look at the extent of the territories inhabited by these ancient powers in the days of Ezekiel and see who is there today. It is thought that these ancient powers inhabited territories that today form part of Russia, Iran, Ethiopia, Sudan, Turkey and some of Western Europe.

The objective of the invasion is to attack the Jews living on the mountains of Israel and plunder their possessions. The invading party is challenged by the nations of Tarshish and its associates (referred to symbolically as “young lions”) and Sheba and Dedan (verse 13). However, it is only by the dramatic intervention of God that Gog’s invasion is halted.

Verses 18 tell us that God’s fury comes up in his face when Gog comes against the land of Israel. God intervenes by causing a major earthquake that destroys Gog’s armies – an earthquake associated with God’s presence in the land (verse 20). This is supplemented by pestilence, rain, hailstones, fire and brimstone (verse 22). Moreover, the panic of the invading armies will be so great that they will end up attacking each other (verse 21). (This earthquake and these judgments are also spoken of in Zechariah 14 and Joel 3.)

As a result of God’s judgment of the nations that have dared to invade his land and harm his people, God “will be known in the eyes of many nations” (verse 23). This will be front-page news on a global scale.

Ezekiel 39

The prophecy of chapter 38 is continued in chapter 39, in which the arena of God’s judgments is expanded to include the home territories of Gog and his coalition partners, upon which God will send fire (verse 6).

The bulk of the chapter describes the cleansing of the land of Israel by the burial of dead of Gog’s armies. The magnitude of the invading force is indicated by the scale of the clean-up operation. It will take the house of Israel seven years to deal with the discarded weaponry (verse 9). They will spend seven months burying the dead (verse 12) after which certain men will be dedicated to search the land for unburied corpses (verses 14-15).

Gog’s armies shall be buried in a valley east of the Dead Sea that will be named the valley of Hamon-Gog, which means ‘the multitude of Gog’ (verse 11). Also a city shall be built there called Hamonah (verse 16) to commemorate the destruction of the armies.

God declares that at this time he will set his glory among the nations (verse 21) and have mercy on the whole house of Israel from whom he will never again hide his face (verses 25-29). This is the time when the kingdom will be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6-7; Luke 1:32-33) and all nations will acknowledge that Israel are God’s special, chosen nation (compare Zechariah 8:22-23). This is the time Jesus instructed us to pray for, “Thy kingdom come.”