Ezekiel’s prophecies: the Doom of Jerusalem, the Branch, the Shepherd of Israel and the Valley of Death

This is an edited version of chapter 11 of Mauro’s book, ‘the Hope of Israel’.

The prophecies of Ezekiel are often cited as lending support to the idea of the future re-constitution and earthly dominion of a Jewish nation. While these contain many clear warnings of judgments to come upon the house of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, they also contain predictions – not so clear perhaps as the threatened judgments, because they are prone to being interpreted according to the desires of the carnal mind – concerning the healing and recovery that would be accomplished through the work of the coming Redeemer.

We must remember when studying Old Testament prophecies that we have the New Testament as the sure guide as to their interpretation. In particular, we have these important principles: first, that all the prophecies of mercy to the Jewish people that are cited in the New Testament are declared to have their fulfilment in this present era of the Holy Spirit. For “all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after – have likewise [i.e. like Moses, who had been mentioned previously] foretold of these days” (Acts 3:24), there being no instance where the fulfilment is allocated to a future dispensation; and second, that in the New Testament all promises of future blessing for the Jews are applied to the faithful remnant and those joined with them as co-heirs together of the same promise (Ephesians 3:6).

It is very easy indeed, for it requires no searching of the Scriptures, or effort of the mind, or spiritual discernment, to say of every prophecy, concerning the Jews that it must be taken “literally,” that it has not yet been fulfilled, and that it will be fulfilled to “Israel after the flesh” in a coming dispensation. Those who habitually deal with Old Testament prophecies in this manner, find the millennium a convenient, and indeed an indispensable, receptacle for all passages whose meaning is not immediately apparent. On the other hand, it generally requires both patient effort, and also real spiritual understanding, to explain a prophecy according to its true intent, and the spiritual significance of the various symbols and figures employed in it.

Keeping these facts in mind, let us take a rapid survey of the prophecies of Ezekiel that have a bearing on the subject of our present inquiry.

In chapter 14 God declares through the prophet the four sore judgments (the sword, the famine, the noisome beast and the pestilence) He purposed to bring upon Jerusalem, “to cut off from it man and beast” (v. 21). But some of its inhabitants were to be saved. For He goes on to say: “Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters” (v. 22).

Inasmuch as Isaiah had previously foretold the salvation of “a remnant” at the time when God’s judgments should fall upon Israel and Jerusalem, and as Paul had explained that Isaiah’s prophecy referred to those who were to be saved through the gospel, this part of Ezekiel’s prophecy is quite clear.

In chapter 15, God foreshows the complete rejection of Jerusalem, under the figure of the branches of a vine, which, when broken off, are fit only for the fire (cf. John 15:6). There is no hint of mercy or of recovery in this chapter.

In chapter 16, the sins of Jerusalem are denounced as worse that those of Sodom and Samaria; for God addresses Jerusalem, saying, “As I live, saith the Lord God, Sodom thy sister hath not done as thou hast done. Neither hath Samaria committed half thy sins; but thou hast multiplied thine abominations more than they all” (vv. 48-51). And then He pronounces the irremediable doom of Jerusalem, saying: “When I shall bring again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, then I will bring again the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them” (v. 53). And, “When thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters shall return to their former estate, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former estate, then thou and thy daughters shall return to your former estate.”

Manifestly this is just a strong way of saying that the overthrow of Jerusalem was to be forever; since the cities of the plain, and the northern kingdom, of which Samaria was the capitol city, had been completely obliterated. God had already said to the people of Israel through Moses that their overthrow would be “like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah … which the Lord overthrew in His anger and in His wrath” (Deut. 29:23). In fact, Sodom and Gomorrah are in Scripture the very type of complete and irrecoverable overthrow (See Isa. 1:8,9; Jer. 49:18; 50:40; Matt. 11:23).

God had said through Hosea, concerning the northern kingdom (Samaria), that He would “cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel,” and would “no more have mercy on the house of Israel” (Hos. 1:4,6). And now God concludes His threat of judgment upon Jerusalem by saying: “For thus saith the Lord God; I will even deal with thee as thou hast done, which hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant” (v. 59).

So there was to be a complete breach of the covenant, that had subsisted between God and the earthly Jerusalem. And will God ever mend or renew that broken covenant, and rehabilitate that doomed city and nation? Some of our modern Bible teachers say He will; and, strangely enough, they cite this very prophecy in support of that idea. But the prophecy itself goes on to declare, as Jeremiah had already foretold, that God would work out His purposes under a new and “everlasting covenant”; and that He would give to the Jerusalem of that coming day those who should be saved out of Sodom and Samaria (so to speak) “but not by thy covenant” (vv. 60,61).

It is easily to be seen, in the light of the New Testament Scriptures, and in the way that Old Testament prophecies are interpreted by Christ and Peter and Paul, that this latter part of chapter 16 is a foretelling of the work of the gospel, which was to be proclaimed “to the Jew first,” and which would have the effect of separating the true “Israel” (Rom. 9:6) from the mass of the apostate nation. The words are: “Nevertheless, I will remember My covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant” (v. 60). And agreeably to this Paul declares that “as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sake” (Rom. 11:28). Thus does God remember His covenant with that nation in the days of its youth, by preaching to them first, of all the peoples of the earth, the unspeakable blessings of the new covenant.”

Chapter 17 foretells, in the form of a parable, God’s coming judgments upon “the rebellious house” (v. 12); and it closes with a promise of Christ’s coming as a “Branch,” to be planted “in the mountain of the height of Israel.” As this is clearly a promise concerning this gospel era (cf. Isa. 11:1; 2:2, Zech. 3:8,9; and like passages), it supplies us with a further indication that the prophets were always looking to “these days” (Acts 3:24) when they foresaw mercies in the future for the people of Israel.

Chapter 20 contains a withering indictment of the nation of Israel for its persistent sins and rebellions, first in Egypt (5-9), secondly in the wilderness (10-27), and thirdly in the land of Canaan (28-32). Therefore God says, “I will purge you out from among the rebels, and them that transgress against Me” (v. 38). This chapter also closes with a view of the true Israel on God’s “holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel” (v. 40); which corresponds with “the heavenly places” mentioned in the Epistle to the Ephesians.

Chapters 21 – 23 foretell further judgments that were to fall upon Jerusalem, and give details of the general corruption of priests, prophets and people; and chapter 24 again foretells the approaching “woe to the bloody city.”

Likewise the prophecy of chapter 36:21-38 is a foretelling of the present era; for the blessings of the New Covenant are distinctly foretold. The first step in the fulfilment of this prophecy was the return from Babylon (v. 24); then the preaching of Christ (v. 25, cf. John 15:3 and Heb. 10:22); then the gift of the Holy Spirit (vv. 26,27, cf. John 20:22). We have seen that His disciples are the true “Israel” and their land (“the heavenly places”) is the true “Zion.”

In chapter 36 God promises that He will gather His people out of all countries, will bring them into their own land, will sprinkle clean water upon them; will cleanse them from all their filthiness; will put a new heart and a new spirit within them, and will put His Spirit in them (vv. 24-27). Manifestly these are promises of gospel-blessings, with which God has now blessed His people in heavenly places – the true Zion, “their own land.” For He gives them a new heart and a new spirit; with the blood of Christ He cleanses them from all sin; and He puts His own Holy Spirit in them. We have seen that the land God gave their fathers, and which they were looking for, was “a better country, even an heavenly” (Heb. 11:16; 12:22).

Here the same prophecy of salvation to the true Israel, the sheep who knows their Shepherd’s voice, is given in the form of an allegorical vision. The Spirit of Jehovah transports the prophet from Jerusalem and sets him down in a low lying place, a “valley” which was full of bones. “And” says the prophet, “He said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live?” (v. 3).

This question gives the clue to the significance of the vision. God is bringing to mind that He is the God of Abraham, who quickens the dead (Rom. 4:17). That valley represents the dominion of sin and death (Rom. 6), and the dry bones represent the state by nature of all the Israel of God; for we were all “dead in trespasses and sin” ere He “quickened us together with Christ” (Eph. 2:1,5). This was the condition of the whole “commonwealth of Israel” (Eph. 2:12).

By this prophecy God makes known that He would employ, in the mighty work of regeneration and recreation, the same agencies He used in the old creation – the Word (“prophecy to these bones”) and the Spirit (“Breath”); for the salvation of all those who compose “the Israel of God,” that “holy nation,” is effected by the word of the gospel, preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven (1 Peter 1:12).

The chapter foretells the gospel era beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist (who prophesied unto the dry bones of Israel). In verse 4 mention is made of the Word and in verse 9 of the Spirit. In verse 11 is foreseen “the whole house of Israel” (the true Israel), a people quickened together with Christ, baptized into His death, and made partakers of His resurrection (See John 5:25; Eph. 1:1-4; 2:5-6).

Historically, in the fulfilment of this wonderful prophecy, “when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son” – not to set up the political kingdom, for which the Jews were looking, but – “to redeem them that were under the law” – Jews (Gal. 4:4); and He spake unto them the word of life (prophesied unto the bones), the result being that there was a great stir among the Jews, “a shaking” of the bones; and that a company was formed; the bones coming together “bone to his bone.” But there was as yet no live body (v. 7). But at Pentecost there came the mighty Breath of God. God began then to breath upon those who had been dead in their sins; and they lived, and “stood upon their feet.” And the work begun that day has been going on ever since, until the company of the regenerated ones has become “an exceeding great army,” an innumerable multitude (Rev. 7:9).

It is not to be wondered at that the Jewish rabbis should have interpreted this vision as a prophecy of the socio-political reconstruction of their nation; for they were grossly carnal in their thoughts (God’s thoughts were not their thoughts, Isa. 55:8), and they were, moreover, narrowly selfish and exclusive as regards their expectations of Divine blessing. And furthermore, they were ignorant of the “mystery” of the true “Israel” (Eph. 2:12,12; 3:1-6), namely, “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ, by (means of) the gospel.”

But it a great wonder that any of those to whom that “mystery” has been revealed, and who have learned moreover, how the Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in these days of the Holy Spirit’s presence on earth, should discard what has been the accepted Christian interpretation of the prophecies for nineteen centuries, in favour of that held by those “blind leaders of the blind,” whose leadership at the time of Messiah brought about the ruin of the Jewish nation.