THE SOVEREIGN LORD & THE MOUNTAINS OF ISRAEL
Ezekiel, a Priest before the Sovereign LORD in His Temple in Jerusalem, has been torn from his Temple duties and deported from Jerusalem to Babylon.
His book begins with the River Kebar “visions of God” in which “the hand of the LORD was upon him” and he was instated by the Sovereign LORD in his new office of Prophet. In the midst of this first set of visions of the “living creatures”, through the noise of their wings that was like “the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army”, Ezekiel saw a “throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man … and brilliant light surrounded him … the likeness of the glory of the LORD”. He falls facedown but hears “the voice of one speaking, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.’”
Ezekiel then tells us, “As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.” Ezekiel is now the Sovereign LORD’s PROPHET.
In his next set of visions, chapters 8 – 11, Ezekiel says, “the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem”. Here the LORD shows him the abominations that corrupt and desecrate the Temple causing “the glory of the LORD to rise” and move “to the threshold of the temple” from which, finally, “the glory of the LORD departed”. In these visions of God, Ezekiel sees the destruction of the Temple; and the reasons for it are revealed to him. (Massive building blocks from that destruction still lie at the base of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.)
This message of destruction becomes embodied in Ezekiel’s personal experience when his treasured wife dies in his arms in Babylon as the Temple is destroyed in Jerusalem (24:15 – 27); and his prophecies of that destruction are fulfilled. The LORD’s word to the people is, “Ezekiel will be a sign to you … When this happens, you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD”. Thus Ezekiel becomes an illustration of the LORD’s message and a sign by which the LORD’s word is proven true; Ezekiel’s greatest earthly treasure, his beloved wife, is taken from him just as Israel’s greatest earthly treasure, their beloved Temple, is taken from them.
But even in the midst of all these visions of destruction, the LORD does not leave Ezekiel without a promise of restoration; the message that I have been unfolding in the previous blogs, and to which I will now return.
The “Valley of Dry Bones” vision picks up the theme of restored life and purpose; unfolding in stages that finally reveal the dry bones not only reconnected but covered with sinew and flesh and, as in the Creation of Adam story, at the LORD’s command, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live” they “came to life and stood on their feet – a vast army”. The “very dry” bones are now ready for action; they are a “vast army”; they have purpose.
The LORD then explains to Ezekiel that “these bones are the whole house of Israel”, not just the “Jews”, Judah, driven from their homeland by the Romans in 70, and finally in 135 CE; but all the other tribes that were taken into captivity in 722 BCE by the Assyrians and have not really been heard from since.
This vast army, the whole house of Israel, after the breath has returned them to life, laments with these agonizing words: “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off”.
Such agonised absence of hope cannot remain unattended by the Sovereign LORD. In response to their lament, He says: ”O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD”.
We can say with confidence, “The LORD has done this”. Some 8,000,000 Israelis are proof that the LORD is bringing the Jews back home; the vibrant economy, cutting edge technological business activity and a strong army, all of which is developing in hostile surroundings where lies about Israel are accepted in the world community more readily than truth, is further evidence of the LORD's blessing. So much about Israel's being is nothing short of miraculous, from the '48 war, the '73 war, the '67 war, all the way through to the collapse of the Kerry "give up more land and terrorists" fiasco. God is rebuilding His land and repopulating it with His People.
But there is much more.
Ezekiel then hears the LORD continue with an odd addition to the promise: “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be among them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.”
No wonder this prophetic word motivated a hope that expressed itself in the age old “Next year in Jerusalem” that brought Diaspora festivals to a conclusion in the Jewish community; but since this Covenant plan originates with the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and we as Christians have been "grafted into" it, we too are confident that our God is SOVEREIGN LORD and we can entrust our future to Him.
In the 1880s, Naftali Herz Imber, a Galician Jew living in Palestine, motivated by this same HOPE, wrote the song HaTikvah, The Hope, that later became the National anthem of the re-born State of Israel. When the Sovereign LORD makes a promise it generates HOPE!