We return to The Book of Ezekiel for a look at two of the book’s most controversial passages. The last part of Ezekiel wraps up with a prophecy and a blueprint. We examine these passages, as well as the continued history of the exile, exploring what this prophecy means for the people of Israel and for us.
Welcome. We’re continuing our Exile and Return series. Today what I want to talk about is the last part of Ezekiel. We’ve looked at Ezekiel quite extensively in this Exile and Return series.
And Ezekiel, as you recall, is living in the area of Babylon, not in the city. He was in the second wave of captivity in 597. There was the 605 B.C. wave of captivity. Daniel was in that one. And then this 597, Ezekiel was in that one. And much of what he’s predicting is the fall of Jerusalem in 586 where the city’s sacked, thousands are killed, and Judah is exiled.
And you recall that in 722, Israel had been exiled to the Assyrians; and, now, 586, we’re about to have the Judah exile which lasts for 70 years, and then there’s a partial return.
We’ve been talking about this exile and return as a major theme of the scripture that the first physical act of death that took place in the Garden of Eden was exile. Socrates chose hemlock over exile; he was given the choice.
Exile is a form of death because life largely exists in community. And here these people are being exiled from the land, and it’s a picture. And, ultimately, our exile from the Garden of Eden is restored when the Garden of Eden is restored in the new earth.
So all these pictures in all these lessons have to do with kind of the whole flow of human history, and they have micro lessons for us as well.
We’ve been going through Ezekiel, in particular, as of late; and today what I want to do is cover two passages in Ezekiel that are both very controversial.
One is a prophecy that I’m going to say is happening in front of our own eyes, and most theologians completely disagree with that.
And then another is a blueprint for a building, a temple. And it’s like eight chapters long. It’s the longest explanation of a building in the scripture. So you would think that that’d be really important, but most theologians don’t really buy it. They call it figurative. You have an eight-chapter blueprint, and they say it’s figurative. And we’ll talk about that.
Prophecy of the dry bones being animated
Let’s start with the end-time prophecy that I think is happening in front of our eyes. And let’s go to Ezekiel 37.
Again, Ezekiel is prophesying from the area of Babylon. And it says,
The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones.
Now you may be familiar with this passage even if you’ve never read it because of the song. “Hear the word of the Lord. Ezekiel saw those dry bones.” Remember that song? “The foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone. The ankle bone’s connected to the shin bone.”
Well, that comes from this chapter here.
—it was full of bones.
Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry.
What’s the picture you have in your head here? Think of a western movie. What have you got? A cow head, right? You’ve got a cow head with the horns, and it’s in the desert all bleached, and somebody’s on their belly crawling, “Water! Water!” That’s the idea you should have here.
Verse 3. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Now, what’s the natural answer to that? No! Of course not!
But Ezekiel knows better. He says —“O Lord God, You know.”
Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!
Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.
I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.” ’ ”
So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone.
Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.
This is like a horror movie in reverse.
Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man—
Now you know, in the Bible, breath and spirit are the same word: ruwach. Breath, spirit, wind—they’re all the same word.
One of the times we went to Israel our guide would say—every time the wind would be blowing, he’d say, “God is here.” And it’s a great picture.
So the breath. You know, God winded into Adam. He breathed into Adam.
‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” ’ ”
So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.
Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’
Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.
This exile is happening. I’m going to bring you back.
Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.
I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord.’ ”
Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“As for you, son of man, take a stick for yourself and write on it: ‘For Judah and for the children of Israel—
Here you’ve got this prophecy of this restoration taking place, and you know there was a partial fulfillment of this that takes place toward the end of this 70 years that Jeremiah prophesies under Ezra. Under Ezra, there’s a return of captives from Babylon. There’s a rebuilding of the temple that takes place.
Both Zechariah and Haggai prophesy this. You know, “Get that temple built!” And they built this wood temple, this little wood temple, fairly hastily; and when they get it up, the young men cry because they have a temple finally, and the old men cry because it’s so pathetic compared to Solomon’s Temple.
And then under Nehemiah, they rebuild the wall. So there’s a return to Jerusalem from Babylon. But this prophecy, really, I think, is taking place today, the fulfillment is.
The history of exile
So let’s just talk about kind of the history of exile after this return. In 70 years, you’ve got a return. They restore the temple; they rebuild the wall. And from about 500 B.C. until 160, or something like that, they’re living in the land, but they’re living under the domination of various kinds of rulers.
And in 330 B.C. or so, Alexander the Great came in and conquered the known world at that time, including the Eastern powers. And his empire was divided into four parts; and one of the generals that took it took the Syrian area, and one of them took the Egypt area. And the Seleucids and the Ptolemys. So these are Greek rulers in areas ruling people that aren’t Greek.
And Israel then bounces back and forth for several hundred years between the Ptolemys and the Seleucids, just like they had in this time period here when they’re basically—Jeremiah, as we as we studied—Jeremiah says don’t break your treaty with Babylon. If you put your faith in Egypt, I’m going to have them wipe you out. So they’re bouncing back and forth.
This same thing happens now under Greek rulers. And in 160 something, a Greek ruler called Antiochus Epiphanes goes and sacrifices a pig in the temple, erects a statue to Zeus in the temple, outlaws Judaism. No practices of Judaism allowed. I’m going to eradicate this. We’re going to go all Hellenistic.
And the Maccabees or the Hasmoneans stand up and revolt; and against all odds, they defeat this massive power.
And then, for about a hundred years, this priestly family rules Israel.
And then the Sadducees—that splits into two parts, the Sadducees and the Pharisees—come from these Maccabeans, so these are heroes of the Jewish nation. We think of them as bad guys; and certainly they became rotten, but they’re from a very heroic corp.
So they split into two factions, and they get in a dispute over who should be the ruler in Israel because they’ve kind of got things divided up; and they invite in a third party to resolve it: Rome. And Rome says, “I vote for me.”
Now Rome becomes the ruler. And when we come to the biblical event of Linus and Charlie Brown doing Christmas, and they’re reading the Christmas story, in the so-and-so year of Augustus Caesar, and Augustus Caesar says everyone should be taxed, Rome’s now in control. And of course Pontius Pilate was Roman.
Well, Jesus came and said, “I’m your Messiah. Accept me, and I will restore the kingdom.” And first you repent on the inside and then we’ll have the kingdom on the outside.
And the people say, “We’ll just take the outside part.”
And Jesus says, “That’s not the way it works,” is rejected, dies, ascends. Right before he ascends, after he’s spoken to them 40 days concerning the kingdom of God, they have one question that’s recorded in Acts 1: “We finally get it. Is it now that you’ll restore the kingdom to Israel?”
And he says, “Not for you to know when. I just want you to go wait for power to come, and I want you to use that power until that day arrives.”
Thirty or forty years later, Rome comes in. There’s a revolt. The Jews revolt. This revolt has been brewing all along, and Rome devastates Herod’s temple, knocks down the walls, and deports the Jews once again. There’s some left. There’s a significant number left. But massive destruction.
You know the story of Masada. This happens in this 70 AD period. There’s a thousand people that take their lives rather than being captured by the Romans.
Well up in the north by Galilee in a city called Gamla, five thousand zealots jumped off of a mountain to keep from getting captured. Five thousand. This is just a few minutes’ walk from Capernaum. And the reason that Jesus chose his disciples is because they had that attitude.
We have Simon the Zealot. He was actually one of the Zealots. The other people were Zealot sympathizers. You have multiple times in the scripture where they say, “Well, let’s go die with him.”
Peter says, “I’ll die with you tonight. I’m not going to betray you.” Takes out his knife; he’s ready to do it.
The only reason they disperse is because Jesus submits to arrest, and their paradigm’s broken. They don’t understand what’s going on.
And when they’re restored, Jesus says to them you will die; and they did. They gave their lives a different way than they expected coming in.
Again, Jerusalem was devastated.
But 60 years later there’s another revolt, the Bar Kokhba revolt. And this time, the Emperor is Hadrian. And Hadrian has just had enough. So he comes in, levels what’s left, and clears off the rubble, and builds a temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount.
The Jews that are left—he says, “You may not even enter this city of Jerusalem.” You can’t even come in!
And in this particular revolt, it’s just complete devastation. And there’s a sprinkling of Jews that live in the land from then until recent times, but that’s basically it.
And he changes the name.
He changes the name to Aelia Capitolina. After—apparently Jupiter’s full name is Jupiter Capitolina or something like that. And he changes the name of Israel to Philistia or Palestine.
He’s just so ticked off at the Jews that he’s saying, “What can we name it that’s the most egregious?” He could have named it Pigville, you know; but instead, he named it Philistineville after their old ancient enemies, who don’t even exist anymore.
So this area is known as Palestine from then until recent times.
Some of the guides that we had in our recent trip said that they’re Jewish and they’re native Israelis, and they said that their parents had birth certificates that said they’re Palestinian. There’s actually no ethnic group called Palestinian; it’s just a place that Hadrian named, and the name stuck for a long time.
So then you’ve got 1800 years where mostly the land is under either pagan or a Muslim rule. You have the various groups of Muslims, the Muslims from Egypt, Muslims from Turkey. And, of course, there’s a crusader period in there where the crusaders came and liberated the land, as they said.
More recent history
And then the last hundreds of years it’s under the Ottoman Turks. Let’s say in the 1860s, Mark Twain visits the land, and he writes something to this effect: “This land is barren of trees and vegetation. It has marshes. It’s certainly no land of milk and honey; and it’s virtually uninhabited.”
Now the Turks had a policy that they taxed trees, so everyone chopped their trees down; and they were not of a culture to be enterprising. So, basically, they just turned the place into a wasteland.
Zionism began right around 1900, and some Jewish settlers started coming back. The early Jewish settlers—and largely in response to pogroms in Russia and places like that. It’s kind of like, well, we can die, or we can go try to immigrate to our native land. That was kind of the proposition they had, not all that dissimilar from the pilgrims that came over to America. In their case, what they said is we’re going to lose our children or we’re going to risk our lives. And they came to America. Similar kind of concept.
And when they came to Israel, large numbers of them died of malaria because the area where there was a lot of water was mostly swamp.
And they came in and formed these kibbutzes, and they started planting trees, watering them by hand, reclaiming the marsh.
Today, Israel is an incredibly productive area. There are seven million Israelis and 350 million Arabs in the surrounding countries; and Israel’s gross domestic product is bigger than all the surrounding countries combined. And that’s in a period of a hundred years. Pretty amazing.
In 1948, Israel became a country under the United Nations’ mandate, largely in response to the atrocities that took place in Germany. Well, not just Germany; Germany and Eastern Europe. There were about 6 million Jews that died, which was, you know, something like two-thirds of the population that was in that area. It was really devastating.
It was a policy that was greatly supported by the then ruler of the land of Israel, the grand mufti. I forget his name [Amin al-Husseini]. And so they got this opportunity.
And David Ben-Gurion was the leader of the movement. He was kind of their George Washington.
When he got done being prime minister, he moved down into the desert, down to Beersheba, which is like our territory (West Texas) around here, except without the rain. And they had a water project up from the Sea of Galilee down into the desert to make the desert bloom, and he thought, well, we’re going to lose this territory if we don’t make it populated, was his basic idea. And he spent the rest of his life down there working alongside all the other regular Israeli people.
The Arab-Israeli War
So we’ve seen a miracle take place. In 1948 when that UN resolution passed, all the surrounding countries—Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, a couple others—of course, didn’t agree with that. And so they attacked, basically, the next day.
Britain had the mandate—it was after World War 2, the Ottoman Turks sided with Germany and lost, so they divvied up all the Middle East into pieces. They took a map out and drew—you know, “We’ll make these the countries,” pretty well arbitrarily.
And Britain had not allowed the burgeoning nation to arm, so they basically fought seven armies or six armies with stuff they’d been able to cobble together in a militia.
There’s absolutely no reason that they should have won. Humanly speaking, it was impossible. But they did.
So I think we’re actually seeing this prophecy come alive in our time.
Now this doesn’t mean there couldn’t be another exile and another return or the prophecy have several phases. I’m not a person that says we see the signs and so this has to be the generation. But it sure could be. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind there could be.
I was just there, Terri and I were. And the economic progress they’ve made in the last 20 years is fairly stunning.
As a matter of fact, usually when you go overseas you’re really aware you’re not in America, you know. There’s evidence all around you that America is much more prosperous and much more developed. And in Israel, you can’t really tell much difference. It just really feels like you’re in America except when somebody tells you that’s 4,000 years old, which we don’t really have a version of.
So Ezekiel saw this, and he said this is going to happen, of course giving hope. And for 2,000 years, the Jews had little hope. But here it is. It’s happening. And it’s really amazing.