Covenant Influences in Zechariah (Pt. 5)

Part Four

The Times of the Coming King[1]

     The last three chapters of the book of Zechariah document circumstances surrounding the advent of the coming Ruler, the Messiah.  The oracle opens with a battle against Jerusalem (Zech. 12:1-9).  The text indicates that Jerusalem and its rulers will be used as a means of judgment against the surrounding nations (Zech. 12:9).  Not that Jerusalem gets off scott free.  But this scene emphasizes the Lord’s role in defending His people.  The next scene (Zech. 12:10-14) shows God eliciting repentance in the several families of Israel through two corresponding events; the pouring out the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of grace and supplication,” and the people catching sight of One “whom they have pierced.” (Zech. 12:10).[2]

It is worth noting that the advent itself, as stunning as it will be, will not be enough to turn the hearts of the Jewish people to this personage, their long-promised Messiah.  The deep mourning that will result from the realization that Israel has “thrust through” (daqar) when He first came to them, will be wrought by the Holy Spirit.  In the final analysis, such is the corruption of human nature that it takes the special conviction of God the Spirit to open eyes and hearts so that sinners both see and feel the truth.

The familiar phrase “in that day” in Zechariah 13:1 (and repeated 15 times in this last oracle), looks forward to a time of abundant cleansing for sin which God will provide after the lamentations are over.  This will be a new start for Israel – a new future with their covenant God.  Idolatry and false prophecy will depart, and anyone who therefore pretends to be a prophet will be automatically deemed a blasphemer; so much so that even his parents will execute the presumptuous son (Zech. 13:2-4).  If this occurs after the coming time of repentance and after the re-appearance of Messiah, as seems likely, then the level of sacrilege being committed, and the radical response of the parents to such high-handed presumption are understandable.  With the Branch resident as King of the world and His long-expected kingdom reign in full swing, when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9; Jer. 31:34), any person who claims the prophetic mantle will do so only to deceive (Zech. 13:4).[3]  The deception continues with the false prophet lying about his vocation (“I am a tiller of the ground”), and about wounds which were probably self-inflicted (Zech. 13:5-6. Cf. 1 Kings 18:28).  Like most premillennialists, I do not take verse 6 as a messianic reference.[4]  It better fits an unrighteous person chafing under righteous government.  The conditions are Edenic (cf. Isa. 51:3; Ezek. 36:35), but the hearts of some men; some born in the kingdom era; will still be hellish.[5]

What this passage shows is that although the kingdom of Messiah is present on earth, and Israel has been reconciled to Him, there will be some with rebellious hearts; children of those who entered the kingdom, who will persist in their rejection of the revelatory atmosphere they have been brought up in.  Hence the kingdom at this stage is not perfect.  This is what we saw previously (e.g. Isa. 11:3-5; 32:1; Psa. 89:14-15), and will see again (e.g. Zech. 14:16-19).

However, the passage moves on to speak of the associate of Yahweh (Zech. 13:7), who is God’s shepherd, but who will be struck.  The “sword” here is metaphorical (Psa. 22:20).  It signifies a violent end, which is a foretelling of Messiah’s rejection.  Then Yahweh moves against Israel (Zech. 13:7c-8a), and two-thirds of the population die.  Once more in biblical prophecy the prediction is divided between the two comings of Messiah and the surrounding events.  The striking of God’s appointed shepherd relates to the first coming, while the destruction of two-thirds of the populace concerns circumstances just prior to the second coming and is probably closely connected to the persecution of Jews by the “little horn” (Dan. 7:20-21), which is ended by the coming of Messiah (Dan. 7:22).  The “refining” (Zech. 13:9) of the final third of the Jews (the Remnant of so many passages)[6] is to turn them to their covenant God.  The words which close out the chapter (“I will say, ‘This is My people’: and each one will say, ‘Yahweh is my God’”) are an affirmation from both parties of God’s covenant loyalty.[7]

The oracle continues in chapter 14 with a prediction specific to Jerusalem.  While only one third of Jews in Israel will be spared, the percentage of the “Remnant” in the capital who will escape will be a half (Zech. 14:1-2).  Only after this catastrophe will the Lord intercede and fight for Jerusalem (Zech. 14:3).  This will be the promised One, the Lord Himself (Zech. 14:4a).  We know this to be messianic in nature, and that Messiah is Yahweh (just as in Zech. 9:9 and 11:12-13), but this was unclear before the ministry of Jesus.

(more…)

Covenant Influences in Zechariah (Pt. 4)

Part Three

The Prophet as Actor and Two Covenants

     In various parts of the Old Testament some of the prophets were ordered to act out a scenario as a pictorial revelation to onlookers.  In 1 Kings 20:35f. a prophet asked a man to strike him so that he could act the part of a careless guard who had lost his prisoner in order to make his tale a parable of the king’s release of the Syrian Ben-Hadad.  Isaiah was commanded to walk around virtually naked for three years as a sign that the Egyptians would be shamed by the Assyrians (Isa. 20).  Jeremiah broke pottery at Hinnom (Jer. 19).  Ezekiel was to enact a miniature siege against the ten tribes for 390 days, lying on his left side, and then do the same for 40 days on his right side laying siege against a portrayal of Judah (Ezek. 4).  And of course Hosea married an unfaithful woman to dramatize Israel’s unfaithfulness to her Husband, Yahweh (Hos. 1 – 3).  Each of these actions, and others besides, had predictive elements which were central to their message.

In chapter 11 of Zechariah’s prophecy he is instructed to portray two roles; one of a good shepherd, and one of an evil shepherd.  In portraying the good shepherd Zechariah refers to two covenants, both of them rather obscurely, and sandwiched in-between are verses 12 and 13, wherein Yahweh Himself claims that He is to be priced at the same value as a gored slave (Exod. 21:32).[1]  As it stands, and even without knowing how this would be applied to Jesus (cf. Matt. 27:9-10), this is a shocking statement.  Israel and Judah will be put at enmity by the Lord whom they despise, as signified by the breaking of the staff called “Bonds” or “Union” (Zech. 11:14), although this may still await eschatological fulfillment.[2]

But what of the first covenant symbolized by the staff called “Beauty” or “Favor” (Zech. 11:10)?  Which covenant does God break with “all the peoples”?  I have read many valiant attempts to answer the question, but I have not been convinced by any.  Some like Baron make it an unofficial covenant of God to protect Israel from the nations, but this strains the words.  I do not wish to add another unconvincing interpretation to the list.  My guess is that it has something to do with the Abrahamic covenant, and there I am content to leave it.

The Worthless Shepherd

Another mystery is waiting for the reader before leaving Zechariah 11: who is the “worthless shepherd” of Zechariah 11:15-17?  Some premillennial commentators believe it refers to the coming Antichrist.  Some think it may be Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the bête noir of intertestamental Israel.  We have seen that in Daniel 8 the description of the “little horn” fits Antiochus, but that the “little horn” in Daniel 7, who persecutes the saints just before the coming of the great King, is the end time persecutor of Israel.  His cruel treatment of the people calls forth an imprecation,

A sword shall be against his arm and against his right eye; his arm shall completely wither, and his right eye shall be totally blinded. – Zechariah 11:17

As several interpreters have noted, the force of the curse here is very adamant.  Many make tentative association with the one whom Christians will call the Antichrist (and I believe the language calls for such an identification).  If this is the “little horn” of Daniel 7, then it is possible that the covenant which God breaks in Zechariah 11:10 is the protection afforded by the Abrahamic covenant during the coming “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:6); the period portrayed by Christ as having to be curtailed lest even the elect be destroyed (Matt. 24:21-22. Cf. Dan. 12:1).  Possible, but not certain.  The description of injuries to the right arm and right eye are for identification purposes.  They are not metaphorical, standing for an inability to function anymore as a shepherd, for this person didn’t do that anyway; he is worthless.  If the injuries are a means of telling who this is, the only personage it can be biblically is the “little horn” (Dan. 7:24-26).

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[1] It must be remembered that this estimate was ancient in Zechariah’s day.  Since wages are expressly mentioned, it is perhaps better to view it as an insulting valuation.  See Kenneth G. Hogland & John H. Walton, “Zechariah”, in ZIBBC, John H. Walton, Gen. Ed., Vol. 5, 223.

[2] We do know, for example, that the twelve tribes will be identifiable in Revelation 7, although I am suggesting a schism beyond those representatives who are sealed.

Short Review: ‘New Creation Eschatology and the Land’ – Steven L. James

Review of New Creation Eschatology and the Land: A Survey of Contemporary Perspectives, by Steven L. James, Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2017, xvii + 164 pages, hdbk.

This book provides an informative introduction and critique of the recent trend among scholars to stress earth-centeredness of the eschatological passages of Scripture rather than heaven-focused scenarios.  The trend is most noticeable among amillennialists, especially since the publication in 1979 of Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future.  That book called upon believers (especially Hoekema’s fellow amillennialists) not to spiritualize the OT passages that speak of a coming era of peace and righteousness on the earth.  This planet, in its restored state, is the venue for the enactment of God’s eschatological promises.

The author, who serves as a Professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX, examines the works of several prominent teachers of the “New Creation” eschatology; namely, N. T. Wright, J. Richard Middleton, Russell Moore, Douglas Moo, and Howard Snyder.  Not all of these writers were directly influenced by Hoekema’s work.  He notes that although they correctly stress the earth’s central role in our future, he argues (again correctly) that they ignore the specificity of the land promises to Israel and thus contain a major contradiction.  The contradiction is this: how can the OT promises of restoration and renewal be taken literally and every mention of Israel or Jerusalem be treated as metaphorical?  It is a very good question.

In the first chapter James gives a survey of these men’s approaches.  He notes that the arguments of these men are grounded in OT passages such as Isaiah 2, 11, 52; 60, 65-66; Micah 4; etc.  These passages stress both the reign of justice and peace on the earth.  James says that all his chosen scholars emphasize “the coming of God’s kingdom, bodily resurrection, and the reconciliation of all things.” (26).

The second chapter demonstrates that New Creation authors all believe that there is continuity between this present earth and the next.  They all emphasize God’s “mode of materiality.”  As he says,

The idea of transformation of the present materiality is important to new creationists.  Because matter is not understood as inherently sinful, it does not have to be utterly disposed of… New creationists affirm that, instead of being annihilated, the present creation will be renewed or transformed. (31).

Several pages are dedicated to showing how New creationists tackle such dissolution passages such as 2 Peter 3:8-9 (32-36).  The arguments which James records were not very convincing.

Chapter three discusses “Land Theology” as it has been presented by the likes of W. D. Davies, Walter Brueggemann, Christopher Wright, Gary Burge, and others.  These influential works all contain supercessionist theology, and have been relied upon by many in the New Creation movement.  The basic outlook is that the land of Israel is treated as a metaphor (77-94).

Having documented the views of New creationists, in the fourth chapter the author begins to highlight the inherent contradiction of asserting earth continuity on the basis of OT texts, while at the same time treating territorial promises to Israel as metaphors, when those promises occur in the very same passages!  James states the sane conclusion:

The language in the prophets in no way suggests that the particular territory of Israel or Jerusalem somehow envelops the territory of the rest of the world.  More importantly, the idea that a particular territory of the earth somehow transforms into the entire earth makes no sense in a new creation conception that envisions the restoration of the present earth. (117).

Chapter five is where the author shows that there is no need to create metaphors of the land of Israel, and that, in fact, the notion of territorial particularity and nationhood is a clear biblical teaching of both Testaments.  Here he notes the work of dispensational authors Craig Blaising and Michael Vlach (131-132), who are more consistent in their attention to scriptural details.  He also mentions amillennial writer Vern Poythress, who appears to accept the reality of nationhood in the new heavens and new earth (132-134).

In his conclusion the author points to a few areas of fruitful exploration, such as the study of “place,” and ends with a plea for further work in this area.

In my opinion New Creation Eschatology and the Land is a very worthwhile monograph, filled with good exposition, logical thinking, and solid argumentation.  He is fair-minded and irenic throughout.  I hope many students of theology will take the time to give the book a close reading.

 

 

 

Covenant Influences in Zechariah (Pt. 3)

Part Two

The Ominous Visions of Chapter Five     

There is without any doubt an eeriness about the two visions of Zechariah 5.  The flying scroll he sees first (Zech. 5:1-4) is thirty feet long (which is somewhat out of the ordinary), and fifteen feet wide (which definitely is).[1]  Unger comments,

Since these measurements are the exact size of the tabernacle in the wilderness, as may be computed from the boards used to build it (Exod. 26:15-25), the indication is that the judgments proceeding were in accordance with the holiness of the Lord’s habitation in the midst of Israel.[2] 

Surely Zechariah, as a priest (cf. Neh. 12:16) would not have allowed this fact to pass him bye.  From verses 3 and 4 we see that the scroll represents a “curse” against the malpractices of the people.  God after the Exile is just as relentlessly against iniquity as He was before.  But some think that the vision best suits a post-second advent context; a time when Christ reigns in justice with “a rod of iron” (Psa. 2:8-9; Rev 2:27).[3]

With verses 5 through 11 of Zechariah 5 we reach the peak of visionary oddities.  The prophet beholds a “basket” or container within which was a woman.[4]  The woman is called “Wickedness,” and is imprisoned within the basket by a heavy lead disc being placed over its mouth (Zech. 5:7-8).  If this isn’t strange enough, the woman in the basket is carried off to the land of Shinar (the location of Babylon) by two female angelic beings (unusual in itself) with wings like storks.[5]

The weirdness of the scene should not obscure its clear message; evil will be placed in the region of Babylon. (Zech. 5:11).  The pressing question is when?  The only answer we receive is, “when it is ready, the basket will be set there on its base.”  That is to say, the lid will be taken away from the mouth and the woman will be released at a time appointed in the future.

Everyone would like more information than this meager sentence, but this is all we have and we should proceed humbly with the assumption that it is enough.  What previous revelation has prepared us for is the association of Babylon and its vicinity with wickedness.  One thinks about the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:2) and the depictions in Daniel 3 and 5 of its idolatry.  But Zechariah is not looking back over his shoulder, but forward to a day when this embodied wickedness will be unleashed from the land of Shinar (modern Iraq).  Is there later revelation that might help?  The only thing I can think of is the repeated mention of “Babylon, that great city” in the last Book of the Bible (e.g. Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 18:2, 10, 21).  There without a doubt, the city of Babylon is the center and source of wickedness in the world (Rev. 14:8; 18:3, 23-24).

Since we are on a journey through the unfolding of revelation I will not draw any conclusions from this just now.  But these texts in the Apocalypse do tie off the frayed edge left in Zechariah 5.[6]  There are no others that do.[7]

 God’s Zeal for Zion

When the Lord God looked upon the returnees in Israel in the sixth century before Christ, He did not see a nation that could hold its head high among the surrounding territories.  From the time the Chaldeans came at the end of the seventh century till the Romans finally drew a curtain upon “Israel” after the Bar Kochba revolution early in the second century A. D., the people called the Jews were ruled over by outsiders.  There is no way to reconcile the kind of language we see in Zechariah 8, or Isaiah 11 or 62:1-7, or Jeremiah 33:14-26, or Ezekiel 37:33-35 with anything we know about post-exilic Israel.  We are left then with three alternatives; either the prophecies are null and void; or the prophecies have undergone radical transformation; or they are yet to be fulfilled as they were written.  The first two options both demand that God’s oaths have suffered alteration.  Only the third alternative preserves the original words, and it does so by means of belief in the unalterability of God’s covenants. (more…)

Covenant Influences in Zechariah (Pt.2)

Part One

The Branch Builds Yahweh’s Temple

But the scene changes when three visitors from Babylon leave a gift of silver and gold (Zech. 6:9-10).[1]  From these precious materials he is told to make a crown, and then do an odd thing with it; place it on the head of Joshua the high priest (Zech. 6:11).[2]  Then he is to utter certain words, words which cannot pertain to Joshua himself, but of which he plays a symbolic part in illustrating.

Then speak to him, saying, `Thus says the LORD of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the LORD;

Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; so He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.’ – Zechariah 6:12-13

    In this enactment we come across a fascinating prefigurement of the role of the Branch upon His arrival.  The meaning of the crowning act is again connected with the man called “the Branch” (Zech. 6:12).  He it is who will unite the high priestly and kingly offices, even building a future temple (Zech. 6:12-13).  So the imagery reaches beyond Joshua, who is an actor in a role, and grabs hold of covenant promises in the Davidic and Priestly covenants.  In this way it certainly alludes to Psalm 110:1-4.[3]

The Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees   

In Zechariah 4 the prophet is woken from sleep and sees a golden lampstand (Zech. 4:2).  Opinions vary as to what this would have looked like.  We cannot be sure that it resembled the familiar menorah we are accustomed to seeing in Jewish symbolism[4], but as no stress is placed upon it, it is safe at least to assume its purpose as a light-giver from God.[5]  Next to the lampstand he saw two olive trees standing either side of it (Zech. 4:3).  They seem to feed it (Zech. 4:12).  Zechariah asks what it all means (Zech. 4:4), but is not directly answered until verse 14, where the answer is, “These are the two anointed ones,[6] who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth.”  That is not much of an explanation, but it will show up again in the last book of the Bible (Rev. 11:4).  Are the two olive trees Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel[7] the vassal ruler?  Many believe so, but it may not be the case.  The angel’s question, “Do you not know what these are?” (Zech. 4:5, 13), which makes the anticipation grow, and the interposing of an oracle concerning Zerubbabel (Zech. 4:6-10), together with the indistinctness of the eventual answer, seem to keep the prophet at arm’s length.[8]

If indeed we are meant to understand the two olive trees as representing Joshua and Zerubbabel, then the priestly and the leadership roles are given prominence, just as they are in Zechariah 3:6-7 and 6:12-13, but with the difference that here there appears to be a dyadic or two-head leadership in view, the vassal and the high priest.  Whether a dyadic arrangement is meant or not,[9] it has not escaped the notice of commentators that Joshua is pictured “standing before the Angel of the Lord” in Zechariah 3:1, while Zerubbabel is at least directly addressed by God in Zechariah 4:6-10.  Too, the fact that it is God’s grace which upholds both men in these visions (e.g. Zech. 3:4-5; 4:6) leads naturally to the conclusion that they are part of the divinely fed system seen in the lampstand and olive tree vision.  In the context then, it is most likely that these men are the two olive trees, although it is easy to see the utility in this set up (though in an altered form) for use in the vision of the two witnesses in Revelation 11.[10]

What the fourth and fifth visions of Zechariah 3 and 4 demonstrate is that it is God who will restore the kingly and priestly lines in His loyalty to the Davidic and Priestly covenants.  And this was already predicted in the most plain and clear language by Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 33:14ff).  It is by His Spirit (Zech. 4:6) and grace (Zech. 4:7) that Israel still has hope.  The “day of small things” (Zech. 4:10; cf. Hag. 2:3-4) was not to be despised, even though greater expectations had been aroused by men like Ezekiel (Ezek. 36-48).  As we shall see, Zechariah himself will raise far greater expectations in the second half of his book.

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[1] I assume that the gift in verse 10 is the silver and gold of verse 11.

[2] Of course, Joshua the High Priest also took part in another symbolic enactment in chapter 3; although that one was visionary not actual.  It also involved the Lord’s Servant, “the Branch” (Zech. 3:8).  The symbolic significance of Joshua’s cleansing and the Divine pronouncement of his iniquities being forgiven (Zech. 3:4), appears to go beyond a mere reestablishment of the priesthood through its head steward, reaching also into the age of Messiah. – See, e.g., Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah”, EBC, 625.  I may push farther to find a link between this episode and the consummation of the Priestly covenant in the kingdom (cf. Zech. 3:8-10; cf..Num. 25:11-13; Jer. 33:16-21; Ezek. 44:19-16).

[3] As Klein notes, “The various passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah merge both royal and priestly offices into the messianism of the Branch.” – George L. Klein, Zechariah, 202.  Mention ought also to be made of God’s throne in the Temple in Ezekiel 43:7.

[4] Klein calls it “highly unusual, unlike any other lampstand portrayed in the Old Testament”. – Ibid, 156.

[5] I say “from God” because the lamps are not fed by human hands.  – Ibid.

[6] Literally, “the two sons of oil,” the word for anointed is not present.

[7] Although he was of David’s line, Zerubbabel did not function as a king.

[8] Of course, it is also possible that angel’s question was designed to provoke the prophet to think a little more as the answer was obvious. – See e.g., David Baron, The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah (London: Morgan and Scott, 1919), 131.

[9] Nearly all critical scholars interpret it this way.  Klein argues against it.  Ibid, 165-166.

[10] See Eugene H. Merrill, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, 157.

Covenant Influences in Zechariah (Pt. 1)

Zechariah was active from 520 to about 480 B.C.  He is mentioned along with Haggai in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14.  His post-exilic book is remarkable for its imagery[1] and for its sustained messianism.  This has caused some interpreters to despair at an interpretation, especially of its first and last thirds.[2]  His use of covenant terminology is confined to two enigmatic passages (Zech. 9:11; 11:10).  There are covenant intimations in the book (e.g. Zech. 6:15).  But it is apparent that in most everything he says the great biblical covenants are behind it.  The book opens with God’s overture to His people:

The Lord has been very angry with your fathers.  Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts.’ – Zechariah 1:2-3

    The threefold repetition of “Lord of hosts” (i.e. God Almighty)[3] is noticeable.  The God of Israel is not off somewhere in the ether awaiting appeasement, like the pagan gods, as Zechariah 1:8-11 and 18-21 shows.  Rather God upholds the whole scheme of things, and He is Israel’s God, and through Israel He will reach out to the nations, just as He promised in His covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; 17:4-5; 18:18; 22:18).  So while a note of divine superintendence over Israel is emphasized by the prophet (e.g. Zech. 2:1-5, 8; 3:2; 8:1-8; 9:16-17; 10:6-8; 12:7-9; 14:8-11), yet the nations, whom the Lord is angry with (Zech. 1:15, 21), will finally be saved:

The book of Zechariah also addresses the nations, merging them into the future picture in much the same fashion as the preexilic prophets did.  Thus the prophet pronounces judgment on the nations due to their sin and rebellion, but he proclaims hope for their conversion as well.  The nations are included in his vision of the ultimate restoration in which all of Yahweh’s people come to worship him (Zech 2:11; 8:20-23; 14:16-19).[4]

    Moreover, the salvation of the world is consciously linked to Israel in its covenant role as “witnesses” (Isa. 43:10-12), or “priests” to the other nations (Exod. 19:6; cf. Zech. 8:20-23).[5]  The same phenomenon is found in the promise to the nations in Zechariah 2:10-13 (cf. Isa. 49:6; 62:1-2).  The “good and comforting words” (Zech. 1:13) that were spoken to Zechariah after he had asked whether God would again bless Israel after the exile provide a kind of heading for the main thrust of the book.[6]  God’s presence will take center stage (Zech. 1:16-17; 2:5, 10; 6:12-13; 8:3, 20-23; 14:9, 16-17).  There is also a nascent proto-trinitarianism within the book; God, the Branch, and the Spirit all being conspicuous within its pages.

The person of the Branch (tsemach) is found in chapter 3 and chapter 6.  The Angel of the Lord predicts the coming of the Branch, whom He calls “My Servant” in Isaianic fashion (cf. Isa. 42:1ff.; 49:3-8).  There is not much added to the promise of the Branch in Zechariah 3:8, but we ought to note the underlying New covenant meaning of the following verses:

I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.  In that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, `Everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.’ – Zechariah 3:9b-10

    The promise of the sudden removal of sin from the land of Israel (cf. Isa. 66:8) would have warmed the hearts of the post-exilic community, reminding them that someday the covenant God would be true to His prophetic word.

The Land-Promise Still Very Much in Force

The land itself is not a “shadow,” of something else.  This is contrary to those who would dogmatically point to passages like 1 Kings 4:25[7] to try to prove that the fulfillment of the land promise was all in the past.  Any such land-promise in the prophets is not just a type of another reality.[8]  One can scarcely get that from reading Zechariah.[9]  For instance,

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” says the LORD.

 “Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you.

 “And the LORD will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem. – Zechariah 2:10-12

    Yahweh calls the actual land of Israel His “inheritance” and “the Holy Land” in this wonderful passage.  The land will be holy because God Himself will dwell there!  Therefore, just as the ground before Moses was “holy” because of God’s presence (Exod. 3:1-5), so in the coming age, the age of divine government, the whole land of Israel will be holy.

Moreover, God’s people will be extended to include “many nations” (Zech. 2:11).  Not that these foreigners will be reckoned as Israel, but that they will be saved, just as the Abrahamic covenant foretold (Gen. 12:3c).  In words which echo Micah 4:4, and the time of tranquility we have often noted, Zechariah predicts a time when “everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.” (Zech. 3:10).  This word of comfort, coming as it does in a scene where Satan is seen accusing the high priest Joshua before God (Zech. 3:1), is very significant.  The Enemy is told in no uncertain terms that “Yahweh has chosen Jerusalem” (Zech. 3:2).  God’s grace cleanses Joshua, and it will restore Israel in the end.  The city and the land were in the hearts of God’s prophets (e.g. Mic. 7:14-20; Dan. 9:1-19), and they trusted that God would finally fulfill all the covenants He had promised.  Zechariah chapters 8 – 14 must be read against this backdrop of covenant expectation.

The verses directly above this one speak of the Branch (Zech. 3:8), which of course carries a kingly connotation, and an inscribed “stone” (Zech. 3:9), which some think alludes to the priesthood.[10]  Although the promise of remission “in one day” (cf. Isa. 66:8) which accompanies the stone is not just for the priesthood, but for the whole land of Israel (Zech. 3:9b).  I have already said that the image of the Branch also occurs in Zechariah 6, where, not coincidentally, it is seen in conjunction with the high priest Joshua.  That chapter begins with a vision of “the four spirits of heaven” (Zech. 6:5), who perform supervisory roles over the earth (Zech. 6:6-8 cf. Dan. 4:17).  Whatever significance they have, the fact that they are revealed demonstrates God’s “hands-on” approach to ruling.  This connection of the spiritual and the physical creation is vital to a biblical creational worldview.  Man is privileged to occupy both realms.  The Creation Project is very much in view in Zechariah.

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[1] The many strange visions, particularly in the first half of the book, might seem to shroud the prophet’s message in mystery.  But most of the time the images, the horses (Zech. 1:8), the horns and craftsmen (Zech. 1:18-21), the lampstand and olive trees (Zech. 4:2-3), and the horses and chariots (Zech. 6:1-3), are at least partially explained in the context.  Even the weird vision of the flying scroll and the woman in the basket (Zech. 5:1-11) is for the most part, discernible.  Hence, those who stress the “apocalyptic” content of the visions can err if they fail to pay at least as much attention to the interpretations of them given in the context.  It is the revealed interpretations which we should be more concerned about than the supposed genre employed.

[2] See e.g. Al Wolters, “Zechariah, Book of” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, eds, Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville, 890.

[3] This is a better way to understand the name rather than the more literal “Lord of powers” or “armies.”  See Walther Eichrodt’s discussion in Theology of the Old Testament I.192-194.

[4] C. Marvin Pate, J. Scott Duvall, et al, The Story of Israel: A Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 101.

[5] See Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, 243; Duane A. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus, 460.  In Ezekiel 5:5 Jerusalem is said to be “set in the midst of the nations”.  This would make it a bright testimony indeed if it was truly “the City of Truth” (Zech. 8:3).

[6] E.g. “He who touches you touches the apple of His eye” (Zech. 2:8).

[7] O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000), 13-14.

[8] This is how O. Palmer Robertson ends his book, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1987), 300

[9] Of course, those who insist upon reading the Prophets typologically do not collect their understanding from them either.  Their typology is drafted from their method of reading their interpretation of the New Testament back into the Old Testament.

[10] George L. Klein, Zechariah (Nashville: B & H, 2008), 151.

Covenant in Ezekiel (Pt. 5)

Part Four

A Literal Reading

The structure of Ezekiel reaches its crescendo in the theme of the returning Glory to the Temple in Ezekiel 43:1-7.[1]   This return must be linked with the abandonment of Solomon’s Temple by the Glory-cloud in chapter 11.  There is a narrative-theological arc extending from Ezekiel 8 and 11 over to Ezekiel 43.

This arc from a literal temple to what is often taken to be a spiritual temple at the end of the book, looks hermeneutically unbalanced and forced upon the prophet’s words.  But if this arc and the other details in this section can be adequately accounted for by not spiritualizing them, then the theological fallout is immense.[2]  The strongly covenantal connections involved would, for example, stimulate a long overdue examination of God’s eternal covenant of peace with Phinehas (Num. 25:10-13) and his descendants the Zadokites (cf. 1 Chron. 6:4-8).

The whole section moves logically from the command to Ezekiel to describe the temple (Ezek. 40:4), to a guided tour of the premises, with measurements related at each step (Ezek. 40:6-42:20).  We get a description of the altar and offerings (Ezek. 43:13-27), followed by rules on who can and who cannot enter the sanctuary (Ezek. 44:1-9).  The two-tier priest system, consisting of Zadokites and Levites, is delineated (Ezek. 44:10-16).  Then basic duties are described (Ezek. 44:17-31).  In Ezekiel 45:1-8 the division of the land around the sanctuary is prescribed, beginning with a large “holy” area for the Zadokites, in which the sanctuary itself sits in its own acreage, situated in the center (cf. Ezek. 48:10).  There will also be a smaller area “adjacent to the holy area” given to “the whole house of Israel” who live in the city (Jerusalem).  The “prince,” receives a portion next to the city portion and the holy portion.[3]  A separate large area is for the other Levites.   Several ordinances and offerings finish off the chapter and continue to Ezekiel 46:15.  Then the gifts of the “prince” are mentioned (Ezek. 46:16-18).  This includes a passage about how the prince is not to take other people’s property (Ezek. 46:18).  Whoever this “prince” is then, he is not divine.[4]

More descriptions close chapter 46, and then there is the description of the healing waters which flow out from the door of the temple (Ezek. 47:1-11).  This is followed by an outline of the land inheritance (Ezek. 47:12-23).  The prophet even includes Yahweh’s recollection of His covenant of land:

Thus says the Lord GOD: “These are the borders by which you shall divide the land as an inheritance among the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph shall have two portions.

You shall inherit it equally with one another; for I raised My hand in an oath to give it to your fathers, and this land shall fall to you as your inheritance.” – Ezekiel 47:13-14 (my emphasis)

To those who place the whole last section of Ezekiel in the past, this is still a late reminder that God has not rescinded the land promise to the nation of Israel.  The reason given for this is the oath He pledged to the Fathers centuries before: To repeat, covenant oaths are hermeneutically fixed points in Scripture.

If the prophetic context is kept in view then the establishment of the nation of Israel around this glorious temple will come to pass in the future in exactly the way the prophet described it.  There has certainly been no such river as is here described in the history of the world until now!  It is not for us to quibble at place names or future sacrifices or sin offerings.  That is not our problem, and the One whose problem it is, is more than capable of resolving any apparent conflicts with our theology.

Ezekiel 48 is remarkable for its two lists of the tribes of Israel.  In Ezekiel 48:1-8, 23-29 lists the borders of each tribe’s inheritance.  Then Ezekiel 48:30-34 the gates of the city are named after the tribes.  But the lists differ!  The list of tribes who are given land is as follows:

Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, Judah, Benjamin, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, and Gad.[5]

    Levi is omitted and Joseph is represented by his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.  When we compare the names on the gates of the city, we get the original brothers:

Reuben, Judah, Levi, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, and Naphtali.

    There is no contradiction here.  Obviously, the reasons for the two lists differ.  Because Levi is given land around the temple, the tribe of Joseph is divided between his sons to make up the twelve.

The last verse in Ezekiel puts a time-stamp on the whole section (Ezek. 48:35).  God is present in the new temple (Ezek. 43:1-5).  The tribes of Israel are around it north and south, and Jerusalem is called Yahweh Shammah (“Yahweh is there”).  This is the coming Kingdom. (more…)

Covenant in Ezekiel (Pt. 4)

Part Three

Gog and Magog Against Israel

There has been a lot of debate about Ezekiel 38 and 39.  Those who think they ought to be read symbolically appeal to the apocalyptic character of the descriptions.[1]  But it appears sometimes that appeals to certain genres are a little too convenient; the word being placed over the text like a kind of detour sign in the middle of a road, preventing people from drawing the “wrong” conclusion.  Other expositors find little difficulty with unpacking the details of the two oracles, other than the identification of the names and places.[2]  Stuart, Alexander, and others have shown that it is unwise to attempt to identify “Rosh” in these chapters with modern Russia.  No one can pinpoint “Rosh” as an ancient land,[3] and students of the Bible are not to try to surmise predictions of future nations from mere names.  We are not to read Holy Scripture like the quatrains of Nostradamus. All commentators seem to agree that Ezekiel 38-39 is for the purpose of reasserting God’s defense of Israel.[4]

It is beyond my purpose to enter into the details of these chapters.[5]  The chief character is “Gog,” but it is not clear who this is talking about.  It is probably a generic name for a future invader.  Ezekiel 38:16-17 encourage this understanding of this “prince.”  When does he and his army come against Israel?  Some believe that fulfilment should be sought at the end of the thousand-year term in Revelation 20.  But I think this is a mistake for at least two reasons.  Firstly, it will not surprise my reader to learn that I resist the urge to read the New Testament back into the Old Testament, especially where there is a real danger that one’s perception of the Old Testament in its setting will be altered in the process.

But my second reason for saying that Ezekiel 38-39 do not belong after the thousand years of Revelation 20, is that if we stick to letting the Bible unfold it seems quite obvious where this section belongs.  The mention of seismic devastation in Ezekiel 38:20, and the declaration at the end of the chapter that God’s enemies (as well as Israel and the nations), will know that He is the Lord (Ezek. 38:23; 39:7, 27-28. Cf. Ezek. 36:23; 37:28), makes much better sense if positioned at the second advent, and the commencement of the coming kingdom than anywhere else.  It is hard to conceive of people picking up weapons for seven years (Ezek. 39:9), or burying the dead for seven months (Ezek. 39:11-12) once the kingdom of Messiah is in full swing; there being no apparent period of time, nor indeed any need for such tidying up in Revelation 20:7-11.  Besides, Micah (4:3) and Isaiah (2:4) have men recycling weapons at the onset of the Reign of peace.  The promise of the restoring of “the whole house of Israel” also matches the explanation of the dry bones vision in Ezekiel 37:11f.  Whatismore, that vision includes a New covenant prophecy of the Spirit (Ezek. 37:14), which is found also in the last verse of Ezekiel 39 (Ezek. 39:29).

These chapters fit the “vengeance” passages we see in Isaiah (See my comments on Isaiah 34:8 etc.).  The reference to “the mountains of Israel” (Ezek. 38:8; 39:2, 17) ought to be construed as coterminous with its usage in the eschatological chapters (Ezek. 34-37), where the phrase concerns the establishment of the kingdom era (e.g. Ezek. 34:11-31; 36:8-38; 37:14-28).

In summary, I think “Gog and Magog” in Ezekiel represents the forces which will be arrayed against Israel to attempt to wipe it off the face of the map.  This offensive will, I believe, occur just prior to the coming of Christ in vengeance (Isa. 63:1ff.).  The reason for inserting these chapters here in Ezekiel is to call attention to what Jeremiah calls “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” which the Lord will finally deliver Israel out of (Jer. 30:7).

Ezekiel’s Eschatological Temple

As I have shown already, an End Times sanctuary is projected as part of the prophetic picture of the Old Testament (Ezek. 37:26-28; cf. Isa. 2:2-3; 60:13).[6]  It is this temple that is described in detail in Ezekiel 40 – 48.  As we start our examination of this section I want to remind the reader that I see my job as an interpreter of what God has said in the text and not a reinterpreter of the words that He chose to use.  Whether one can keep these descriptions intact when reading the New Testament is not my concern right now.   If we must adopt typology then let us not do it here.  This book is about listening to what God says where He says it, and as He says it, and not jumping ahead of the Author.  The reader will hopefully see later that there is no need to recast the words into an assumed Apostolic mold.

Many good men cannot bring themselves to accept that there are sacrifices and temple worship after Christ returns. The standard evangelical commentary on Ezekiel believes the whole vision typifies Christ and the Church.[7]      To many Reformed writers, the insistence of some Christians that Ezekiel 40 – 48 be taken literally is viewed as, to use Anthony Hoekema’s word, an “absurdity,”[9] while other writers simply take the non-literal view because it seems more practicable to them.[10]

As well as this many commentators dismiss the idea of a literal temple by pointing to the numerous problems with taking such a line. Daniel Block, for example, mentions the lack of eschatological terminology in the passage such as “on that day,” “in the latter days,” etc.[11]  Block notices that the furnishings in the Sanctuary are absent,[12] the New Moon Offerings are different.[13]  “The apportionment of the land of Israel among the tribes to a large extent disregards topographic and historical realities.”[14]

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[1] E.g. Douglas Stuart, Ezekiel (Dallas: Word, 1989), 352; Renz, 117.  Although there is no real problem with accepting that the chapters are “apocalyptic” and taking them more or less at face value.  See Lamar Eugene Cooper, Ezekiel, 328-330.

[2] E.g. Ralph H. Alexander, “Ezekiel,” EBC Revised, 852.

[3] Apparently, the Iliad (xiii, 5-6) grouped all the nations of the north under this name. – Charles Lee Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel, 220 n.1

[4] For sound expositions of these chapters the reader is referred to the commentaries by Cooper and Alexander.

[5] One good survey of the events is Harold W. Hoehner, “The Progression of Events in Ezekiel 38 – 39” in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), eds. Charles H. Dyer & Roy B. Zuck, 82-92.  Hoehner opts for a mid-tribulation setting.

[6] Despite the very clear eschatological signposts in these chapters, still some scholars claim that, taken literally, this enormous temple was predicted to be built after the Babylonian Captivity.  E.g., Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 203.

[7] Daniel Block, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 25-48, 505-506.

[8] Curtis I. Crenshaw & Grover E. Gunn, III, Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow (Footstool, 1989), 221. Emphasis added.

[9] Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 204. He believes that the vision pictures the new earth, “in terms of the religious symbolism with which Ezekiel and his readers were familiar.” – Ibid, 205.  Of course, what they were familiar with was a literal temple, they were not at all familiar with a figurative one.  Older writers tended to allegorize the passage.  E.g., John Owen, Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), Vol. IX. 180

[10] E.g. Gary V. Smith, Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook, 123

[11] Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 504.

[12] Ibid, 501.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid, 501-502.

Covenant in Ezekiel (Pt. 3)

Part Two

A Valley Full of Dry Bones

     The first vision in Ezekiel 37 is the best known in the book.  If people are ignorant of everything else in the book, they are often aware of the valley of dry bones, though frequently they have no idea what it means.  It surely doesn’t help when commentators apply the whole passage to the Christian church.

The bones stretch out over a wide area, and the prophet is given an aerial view of them.  When the inspection is over, God asks Ezekiel, “Son of man,[1] can these bones live?” (Ezek. 37:3).  The prophet is wise.  He knows that the answer to all such questions lies with the living God.  So, the Lord gives Ezekiel a command to speak over the bones, and as He speaks the words of God the bones came together and flesh covered them (Ezek. 37:7-8).  As so often in the biblical record, the Lord does not bypass the human instruments He has created to exercise dominion upon earth.  Ezekiel speaks for God and God’s power stands behind the words.

What occurs next repeats the order found in the creation of man in Genesis 2:7.  Life is not ours to bestow.  It is given at the behest of the Creator.  The “great army” (Ezek. 37:10) that stands in front of him is “the whole house of Israel” (Ezek. 37:11).  But which Israel?  We must continue reading to find the answer.  As we proceed, we hear “Israel” say that they are like the dry bones; that they are without a hope and close to being cut off.  This indeed would resonate with the plight of the people in Ezekiel’s time.  They have arrived at this sad end because of their multiplied sins against their covenant God (Ezek. 16:59; 20:37).

The vision of the dry bones becoming living men is further explained in terms of revivication in verses 12 and 13.  God will open their graves and put His Spirit in them and then bring them back into their land (Ezek. 37:14).  The Spirit’s agency suggests not just a bringing back to life but a complete resurrection.[2]  We are back on New covenant territory (cf. Isa. 59:20-21; Ezek. 36:27; 39:29).  But we still have to ask what this all means.  Is there to be a literal resurrection of Israelites under the auspices of the New covenant?  Or is this coming out of the graves a picture of New covenant restoration?  I think it is undoubtedly the latter.  This matches verses 21-23 where God declares He will regather Israel and bring them into their own land, a reunited kingdom, cleansed from their sins.  The resurrection motif amplifies the kind of restoration Israel hopes for.  God’s immense covenant grace is hope’s guarantee.

Whereas the valley of dry bones teaches the revival of Israel in their land, the sign of the two sticks coming together in the prophet’s hand communicates reunification of the scattered tribes.  The visions belong together.  But they must be read entirely.  The prophet is not predicting conditions after the return from Babylon.  He is projecting the realization of God’s covenant promises to the nation.  “David” appears for the last time (Ezek. 37:24-25) first as a king (melek), and then as a prince (nasi).  Although I don’t pretend to know how fit together the Branch as king and David as king, I have no doubt that with a little more clarification there will be no contradiction.  The presiding presence of the God-man (Messiah – Isa. 9:6-7) and the rule of David are not necessarily at odds with one another.  The magnitude of the coming kingdom, coupled with the preeminence of Israel (e.g. Zeph. 3:20), and the insistence of God that men and women participate in the world as image and likeness of Him would indicate that “David, My servant” is indeed David.[3]    (more…)

Covenant in Ezekiel (Pt. 2)

Part One

On the Mountains of Israel

Ezekiel 34 – 39 is bound together by the theme of the return of the presence of God.  But one should also note the repeated refrain “the mountains of Israel.”   The phrase is a favorite one with Ezekiel, who uses it seventeen times.  In fact, it is only found elsewhere in two verses in Joshua (Josh. 11:16, 21).     Up until chapter 34 all four times it is been used it has rung a negative note. But things change in these markedly eschatological chapters.  And whereas in Joshua the phrase was merely topographical, in these last chapters “the mountains of Israel” are not only mentioned topographically, but they are viewed wistfully, even when in Ezekiel 39 the refrain is used of the defeat of Israel’s end-time foe.[1]  The words summon up thoughts of Israel restored to its land.[2]

Ezekiel 34 marks the beginning of the last main section of the book.[3]  The Lord inveighs against the “shepherds” (i.e. the ruling class – e.g. Jer.23:1-4).  They have failed the people (Ezek. 34:4-8).  They have led them astray from the Mosaic covenant.  But where the leaders fail, the covenant God will restore.  He will regather His people and “feed them on the mountains of Israel” (Ezek. 34:13).  He will also judge between them (34:17-22), and, not for the first time, the name of David is brought up.

I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them– My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd.  And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken. – Ezekiel 34:23-24  

I have commented on this “David” under Jeremiah 30:9 and 33:21-22 in the last chapter.  Here again, although perhaps even more directly, David himself is predicted to rule Israel.  I don’t profess to know how to make sense of this.  Could “David” just be code for “Messiah” here?  That is a common understanding.[4]  But it doesn’t say that.  I am content to leave the text alone and wait and see how it all comes together in the coming kingdom, where I am sure there will be many questions answered that are difficult to understand right now.

What comes next repeats the promises of safety and increase (Ezek. 34:25-27), with even the beasts being pacified (Ezek. 34:28).  That does not sound like post-exilic times.  There is also mention of “a covenant of peace” in verse 25.  Williams says that this phrase, along with “everlasting covenant” (wherever the covenant is not specified), are synonymous with the New covenant, and I think he is right.[5]  This means that we are on New covenant ground here.  This will be the ground the prophet stays on, for the most part[6], for the rest of the book.

Ezekiel 36 and 37 are great restoration chapters.  They contain several key elements within the prophetic picture of the Hebrew Bible.  God is speaking directly to “the mountains” in Ezekiel 36:8-13.  From Ezekiel 36:7-9 it appears that while the land of Israel will be blessed with abundance, the surrounding nations (Edom prominent among them, v.5) will “bear their own shame.”  There is an interesting remark of Yahweh when He says He will “do better for you than at your beginnings” (Ezek. 36:11).  This surely means that the prophetic language about Israel returning to the times of their fathers needs to be understood with this betterment in mind.

In verses 16 to 20 there is a rehearsal of Israel’s history of defection and uncleanness.  The nation has profaned God’s great name (mentioned repeatedly in Ezek. 36:20-23), so God Himself will make sure that the situation is reversed (Ezek. 36:21-23).  He will not ensure this by bypassing the nation that has dragged His name through the mud.[7]  The fate of Israel is bound to God’s name and His renown.  This is why He will perform a great work of restitution on the nation.

And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the Lord GOD, when I am hallowed in you before their eyes…etc.  Read Ezekiel 36:23-30.

The making sacred the Lord’s name referred to in the passage will come about only when Israel finally knows Yahweh, and recognizes Who it is that has chosen them out from among the nations of the world (Deut. 7:6; cf. Isa. 46:13).  The way this will be done is by a gathering of the scattered people “from among the nations” (Ezek. 36:24), and a cleansing of the people, both from their uncleanness and their idolatries (Ezek. 36:25).[8]  Please note that the gathering and the redemption are closely associated.  This indicates the gathering is not the recognition of the nation of Israel in 1948, amazing as that was.  It is, I believe, a gathering connected with the time of trouble spoken of by Isaiah (Isa. 24 – 27); Jeremiah (Jer. 30:7), and Daniel (Dan. 12:1).  This implies that Israel will be driven out of the land again, only to be miraculously brought back and saved.[9]  This cleansing will not be superficial, like in Josiah’s time, but will be a genuine conversion of the people, seemingly en masse (Ezek. 36:26).  Verse 26 also includes the covenant formula, which in the absence of berith shows that the prophet is speaking in covenantal terms.[10]

The transformation of a rebellious people into a redeemed nation will entitle them to “dwell in the land” that was bestowed in the covenant with the Patriarchs (Ezek. 36:28).  Permanent possession of their land through the Abrahamic covenant is enabled by the salvation within the New covenant (we have seen that the New covenant provides the salvation needed for fulfillment of God’s other covenants).  Verses 29 and 30 add the other New covenant guarantee of blessing on the land.  All of this is done by the hand of Israel’s covenant God.

Ezekiel 36:24-30 is a sustained Divine pledge to do good to Israel so that they will finally reflect God’s name to the world as they were called to do (cf. Exod. 19:6; Isa. 44:8).  As the passage continues, we read of the restored people becoming aware of their sinful past and mourning over it (Ezek. 36:31-32).  Whether this repentance happens after the establishment of the kingdom or before it is unsure (cf. Ezek. 43:10-11).  As we keep reading, we see that the renovation of the land of Israel will surpass anything that has been seen since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden.  Israel’s ravaged land will “become like the garden of Eden” (Ezek. 36:35. Cf. Isa. 51:3).[11]  A return to Edenic beauty and productivity is a New covenant achievement, brought about solely through Him who is Himself the New covenant.

The need to rebuild (Ezek. 36:33, 35-38) in the context of an eschatological deliverance points to a period of destruction prior to the restoration.[12]

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[1] The places where the phrase is used are Ezekiel 34:13, 14 (twice); 35:12; 36:1 (twice), 4, 8; 37:22; 38:8; 39:2, 4, and 17.  The appearance of the phrase in chapter 35 may seem to belie my assertion about the expression being utilized in an eschatological setting in Ezekiel 34 and following.  But the language in Ezekiel 35:8-9, 13 is very final.  The next time Edom is named is in a restoration context (Ezek. 36:4-11).   And when second advent passages like Isaiah 34:1-6; 63:1f. (cf. Amos 9:12) are recalled, in which Edom features prominently, one should not be too quick to push everything in Ezekiel 35 into the past.

[2] Lamar Eugene Cooper, Ezekiel, 335 n.99

[3] See Thomas Renz, The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel (Boston: Brill, 2002), 128-130.  Alexander places the division starting in Ezekiel 33:21 when the news of the fall of Jerusalem reaches the exiles; see Ralph H. Alexander, “Ezekiel,” EBC Revised, 657.  In my opinion Ezek. 33:21-33 fittingly closes off the judgment section of the book (chs. 25-33).   Some writers place the last division at the beginning of chapter 33 (e.g., Michael G. McKelvey, “Ezekiel”, A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, 309).  Some other writers divide off the last nine chapters, but I think this is a mistake since important themes in chapters 34 – 39 are continued in the vision of the new temple.

[4] E.g. Ralph Alexander, “Ezekiel,” 836.  But see Charles H. Dyer, “Ezekiel,” in BKCOT, 1295, who thinks it refers to the real David.

[5] Michael D. Williams, Far As The Curse Is Found, 215.

[6] Ezekiel 35 being the possible exception, though see note 4 above

[7] See W. J. Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation, 186, where the author refers to, “the integrity of divine action which continues in accordance with a divine intention to honour promises to Israel.”  When God says He does this act of grace for the sake of His great name it can only be because of His covenants with Israel.  Although Israel repeatedly profanes His name, God will uphold it by being true to His oaths.  It is this alone which guarantees both the restoration and beautification of national Israel and the glorification of the Church.

[8] The promise to “sprinkle (or ‘slosh’) clean water on you” is an image of thorough spiritual cleansing which has been misused as a proof-text for sprinkling babies by both covenant theologians and some dispensationalists.

[9] As we have seen, this involves another exodus (See Isa. 11:11-16; Jer. 23:7-8).

[10] Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath, 42

[11] These passages have been utilized by those who want to teach an eschatology based on their “Cosmic Temple” model.  It is more likely to view them as simple similes.

[12] On this see George N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, 2.104-116