“Jerusalem Must Be Comforted”
by Travis Allen
Ezekiel’s dire prophecies about Jerusalem’s fall have been fulfilled. Its destruction has come to pass. The beloved city — the anchor of the hopes of the nation — has fallen. And the Israelites, whether in exile or still struggling to exist in their native land, are devastated. How can they endure such misery? How can they go on unless they are comforted? God knows their desolated condition, and through Ezekiel he sends them a message of joy and hope as recorded in the last 15 chapters of this great book. Like the dry bones in Chapter 37, the nation will rise again.
God’s words of comfort will sound strange to readers in later centuries. For they speak of a new government, a new division of the land, a new temple and new worship, with many details which may mean little to readers in future generations. But the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day, intimate with the land and government and religion of their fathers, surely can grasp the theme of his words: better times are coming!
The New Government
As for the government and land of the future, God mentions the shortcomings of Israel’s previous shepherds who, instead of working for the welfare of the people, were looking out for themselves, then promises the people a new shepherd, the coming “David,” who will be “prince” among them in a land of security and prosperity, the very land from which they had been exiled. A nation that is now dead and scattered, like dry bones, will have new life and will be one united country. Its people will live in that land forever and David will be their prince forever. God will have an everlasting covenant with them. And God will defend them successfully against a mighty enemy bent on conquering them..
The Land Awaiting Israel
The land will have the same boundaries as the land God promised through Moses (compare Ezekiel 47:13-20 and Numbers 34:1-12). The land will be divided among the tribes, by lines (apparently straight lines) from east to west, in a prescribed order, with a new temple, the sacred lands, and the prince and Levites occupying a huge area in and near its principal city. And that city, located in the sacred precinct and apparently far larger than the old Jerusalem, will be a walled square with twelve gates named for the twelve sons of Jacob. The city will be called “The Lord is There.” Foreigners living in the land will have the same property and inheritance rights as the Israelites. Remarkably, a new river will flow from the grand new temple itself.
What Do the Prophecies Mean?
With this highly condensed summary before us, let’s consider the meaning of these prophecies — to the Jewish people of that day, and to us. Have they been fulfilled, or is their fulfillment still future? Human responses to these questions have contributed to differing ideas regarding the Lord’s plans for the Jewish people, and indeed for all humankind.
It seems obvious that if Ezekiel’s message of comfort was a literal forecast of things to come, his prophecies have not been fulfilled: The land has not been divided as prophesied; the temple has not been built; the city has not been built; neither David nor his descendants rule over the people now living there. Then literal interpretation argues for a future fulfillment of the prophecies.
Figurative interpretation, on the other hand, allows for the prophecies to have been fulfilled already, and several factors point to this conclusion. First, much of the language is Messianic in nature, speaking of a future “David” who will reign “forever.” God had sworn to David, “Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne. If your sons will keep My covenant, and My testimony which I will teach them, their sons also shall sit upon your throne forever” (Psalm 132:11-12, NASB; see also Acts 2:29 and following verses). So even the literalist will concede that Ezekiel’s prophecy here, like similar messages of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea, foresees an everlasting kingdom ruled by a descendant of David, not David himself.
“The Time Is Fulfilled”
As to when the kingdom prophecy would be fulfilled, we have the very words of Christ, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). How could Christ say the kingdom was “at hand” if even now, two thousand years later, it is still in the future? There were Jews in that day who believed the prophecies relating to Christ’s coming, but expected him to establish a temporal kingdom and restore the kingdom of Israel. Jesus refuted that idea when some Pharisees pressed him about the coming of the kingdom of God and he answered, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21, NIV). And he stated to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
Christ came not to rule over a temporal kingdom, but over a spiritual one, in the hearts of people — and that kingdom now exists. Paul declared that the Father “delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13, NASB), a kingdom entered through the process of conversion, the new birth (John 3:5).
Why Not Use Literal Language?
Why then did Ezekiel paint such an enticing picture of peace and prosperity in the exiles’ homeland, with specific details of the grand new temple and capital city? The answer seems to be that God chose to reassure the people in terms that they understood that better days were coming. Remember, Ezekiel was talking to Israelites, not to Gentiles and not to Christians. The exiles wanted to go home and they dreamed of freedom in a homeland where conditions would be idyllic; God responded to that longing with this comforting prophecy. To be sure, there were details whose full import escaped them, such as the promise to give foreigners property and inheritance rights. But to speak at this point of salvation for Jew and Gentile alike, or of the New Testament church, would have been futile; imagine the blank stares Ezekiel would have received if he had mentioned the cessation of animal sacrifices and offered a detailed description of the Lord’s Supper, for example.
The message which so comforted the exiled Jews must bring comfort to us also, as we see the unfolding of the wonderful plan of our God, who is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
—Travis Allen is a former elder in the congregation.