THE SOVEREIGN LORD & THE MOUNTAINS OF ISRAEL
Last week I concluded with the Sovereign LORD’s promise to the Mountains of Israel that “you will never again deprive [my people Israel] of their children”. He elaborates with: “Because people say to you, ‘You devour men and deprive your nation of its children,’ therefore you will no longer devour men or make your nation childless, declares the Sovereign LORD. No longer will I make you hear the taunts of the nations, and no longer will you suffer the scorn of the peoples or cause your nation to fall, declares the Sovereign LORD.” Implied in this language is a fascinating ownership thought: the “nation”, Israel, belongs to the Mountains of Israel and the Mountains, of course, belong to the Sovereign LORD. Although earlier He told the Mountains, “my people Israel will possess you and you will be their inheritance”, here, still addressing the Mountains of Israel, He speaks of the nation, my people Israel, as “your nation”; the Mountains have a claim on the nation, and at the same time they are the inheritance of the nation.
No wonder Joel hears the LORD say that when “the great and dreadful day of the LORD” arrives, “when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and enter into judgement against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land.” This LAND is not just any land; it is the Sovereign LORD’s Mountains of Israel. He takes a very personal interest in the land that is the inheritance of His people, and ultimately belongs to HIM.
Which brings us to an immense paradox that I cannot explain; but who am I to question the Sovereign LORD. The LORD’s judgement will fall heavily on the nations that “scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land” as we just heard. However, Ezekiel, on the other hand, hears the “word of the LORD” saying, “when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions … So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions.” So which is it? The Sovereign LORD scattered them or the nations scattered them?
It seems that if a nation does not acknowledge that they are serving the Sovereign LORD, but claims credit for itself, it will still be held responsible if they mistreat Israel; saying, “but you made me do it” will not be a viable defense.
However, all of this seems in some sense to be irrelevant to the Sovereign LORD’s reason for initiating the restoration to the land.
The real reason is more personal with the LORD. In the Diaspora, when nations came to the conclusion that “These are the LORD’s people, and yet they had to leave his land”, the Sovereign LORD takes it very personally. These nations seemed to know that the LORD’s people belonged in the LORD’s land; and, of course, they are right. The LORD’s people belong in the LORD’s land because of the Covenant the Sovereign LORD made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and with all of their descendants after them, which is an “everlasting covenant”. This is the LORD’s Covenant, and He is a Covenant Keeping God; so when His people are not in His land, His very nature, His HOLY NAME, is called in question. This is why He says, “I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone”. He declares therefore, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name … I will show the holiness of my great name … Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes”. So, as He says earlier, “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock … I will look after my sheep … I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land”. This regathering will vindicate the HOLY NAME OF THE SOVEREIGN LORD.
But the vindication of His Holy Name goes way beyond simply regathering them.
When they are back in their own land, the Sovereign LORD says to them, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a new heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine … I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel!”
No doubt here about the underlying reason for the regathering!
When He finally returns His people to their land, the nations around them will not only acknowledge “This land that was laid waste has become like the Garden of Eden”, but, the LORD continues, “Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the LORD have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it”.
For this reason, Isaiah encourages, “You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth”.
We, however, will take a short rest until next week when we will explore what the Sovereign LORD does with a Valley of Dry bones.