37. The Book of Ezekiel, Part 2
The Victorious and Abundant Life through the Knowledge of God327
The holiness of God demands judgment of sin. The sinfulness of man deserves the wrath of God. But the love of God provides a way for our salvation.
In the first part of Ezekiel (chapters 1-24), we heard of the “bad” news; the news – about the wrath of God and God’s judgment on His people because of their sinfulness. However, in the Bible, there is no bad news without good news. For example, read Isaiah 1:2-9. In verses 2-8 the prophet describes the sinfulness of the people of God because of their lack of knowledge of God (verses 2-6). Then he describes the judgment because of their sinfulness (verses 7-8). Right after this “bad news,” he notes, “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:9).
Let us go back to the initial vision of Ezekiel’s call. What did he see there? He saw four living creatures speeding back and forth like flashes of lightning. He saw God in the fullness of His glory like glowing metal, and brilliant light surrounded Him.
But he also saw something else. He saw that the radiance around God looked like a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day (Ezekiel 1:28). There are only three other mentions of the rainbow in the Bible: Genesis 9:13-16, Revelation 4:3 and 10:1. Every time the rainbow is mentioned, it is mentioned in the context of God and His sovereign power. The rainbow around God’s throne is a symbol of God’s faithfulness that even in judgment, God will always remember His covenant and protect His own. The rainbow is a sign of God’s faithfulness to His people.
In the first half of the book, chapters 1-24, Ezekiel talked about the wrath of God. He spoke about the judgment of God because of the sinfulness of His people. Because of the sinfulness of the people of God, the glory of God departed from the temple, and from His people. The people are in exile. The land is desolate. The temple is destroyed. Now all the crutches they leaned upon before are taken away. The people of God are left without any hope, as they themselves said, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off” (37:1). In that situation, the prophet brings them a message of hope.
The message of hope is twofold: 1) God will take care of their enemies, and 2) God will take care of His people.
The first of these two is described in the form of the judgment on the enemy nations in chapters 25-32: Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Egypt and specifically Tyre. Most of these nations actually had family relations with Israel. But they were against the people of God, which was their basic sin.
We may ask why does the Bible speak about destroying the enemies? There are two reasons:
1. Because there is no peace for the people of God in the presence of their enemies. God said, “No longer will the people of Israel have malicious neighbors who are painful briers and sharp thorns. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 28:24).
2. However, the other, and more important, reason is that the enemy is not flesh and blood. Behind all the enemies of the people of God, there is one enemy: Satan. This is very clearly brought out in the description of the king of Tyre:
You were the model of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden,
The garden of God;
Every precious stone adorned you:
ruby, topaz and emerald,
chrysolite, onyx and jasper,
sapphire, turquoise and beryl . . . .
You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
For so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
You walked among the fiery stones.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you (Ezekiel 28:12-15).
In Christianity, there is no duality of Good and Evil as co-equal and co-existent. Though for a time being evil may seem to have the upper hand, the final victory of good is assured. Other religions portray the never-ending struggle between the good and the evil. For example, in Hinduism there are various incarnations of God. Krishna said:
Whenever there is defeat of the good and evil prevails, I incarnate myself. For the protection of the righteous and the destruction of the wicked and establishment of the good I incarnate myself in every age (Gita 4:7, 8).328
The repeated incarnations show that these gods are not able to take care of the evil once for all, and so they have to keep coming back! Whereas in Christianity, when Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), the work of providing salvation for the righteous and destroying the evil was complete and then, having “offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12; also 1:3; 8:1; 12:2).
And so, God has already won the victory for the Christian. We do not have any excuse for living under the bondage of sin. A Christian cannot say, “The devil made me do it.”
Are you caught up in drugs or alcohol? Are you caught up in a homosexual/lesbian lifestyle? Is your marriage on the rocks? Are you under a mountain of debt? Are you going insane with fear because of the current national and international situation? Take hold of your life and claim victory in and through the power of God.
However, we still have these problems because the enemy still rules. The world is still under the control of the evil one. During the temptation of Jesus the devil offered Him the kingdoms of the world and said, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to” (Luke 4:5-6). He is “the God of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). The Apostle John says, “We know . . . that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).
The devil’s final defeat is described in the form of the defeat of Gog, of the land of Magog (Ezekiel 38:2). These are all the ungodly nations who oppose the people of God under the leadership of the Antichrist. These nations are addressed:
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel. Then I will strike your bow from your left hand and make your arrows drop from your right hand. On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you. I will give you as food to all kind of carrion birds and to the wild animals. . . . I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in safety in the coastlands, and they will know that I am the Lord
(Ezekiel 39:1- 6).
In the Book of Revelation we see the final fulfillment of this prophecy where before the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies are defeated, and the beast and the false prophet are both thrown alive in the fiery lake of the burning sulfur. The rest of the opposing armies are “killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds of the air gorged themselves on their flesh” (Revelation 19:17-21). At the end of the Millennial Kingdom, there is the climax to the last battle with Satan and his armies, whose eternal destiny is already determined (Revelation 20:7-10).
The Scriptures clearly tell us about the final defeat of the enemy of God and His people. Martin Luther said it very well:
And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.329
We are involved in a battle in which the victors are already decided! We are more than conquerors! As we know God more and more and develop our relationship with Him, we are not overcome by the world, but we can overcome the world. As John said, the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
On the one hand, God gives us a victorious life through our relationship with Him. On the other, He gives us a life that is filled with abundant joy, which is the theme of the rest of the Book of Ezekiel.
All the positive conditions that Ezekiel describes in this part of the book will finally be fulfilled during Christ’s Millennial rule. However, a believer can already experience these blessings right now.
1. God will be their true Shepherd. The spiritual and political leaders of Ezekiel’s time had failed in their role:
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally (Ezekiel 34:2-4).
So, God says, I Myself will be their shepherd:
For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. . . . I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak . . . (Ezekiel 34:11-16).
God speaks about another Shepherd:
I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd (Ezekiel 34:23; 37:24).
Of course, there are not two shepherds. In the New Testament Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:11, 14). Psalm 23 beautifully describes the Lord’s shepherdship for His people even now.
2. God will give them a new heart and new a spirit. Jeremiah spoke about this, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). Ezekiel expands this:
3. I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
Man, in his natural condition, cannot follow God as Isaiah beautifully described, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53: 6). The dry bones give a very graphic picture of man’s hopeless situation without God. “They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off’” (Ezekiel 37:11). Without the Spirit of God, man is dead in his sins:
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel, then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open the graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live (37:12-14).
This is very similar to what Paul says in the New Testament:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. . . . But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1, 4-6).
4. God will make them one nation under one King. The two wooden sticks symbolize two separate nations of Israel, the northern kingdom of Ephraim and the southern kingdom of Judah, which was the case since the time of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. They will finally be united under one King, and all the promises of God to Israel will finally and literally be fulfilled in Christ:
5. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. . . . My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. . . . They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob (Ezekiel 37:2125).
6. There will be the new temple from where the true worship will be offered. As described in chapters 40-48, during the Millennial Kingdom, the temple will be rebuilt. The land will be allotted by the tribal inheritance and the sacrificial system reestablished.
7. The sacrifices seem contrary from the New Testament point of view (e.g., Hebrews chapters 8-10). However, literal interpretation would require reestablishment of the nation of Israel with the temple and literal sacrifices. These sacrifices will have a memorial value, like the Lord’s Supper.
As Jesus described:
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).
8. The Lord will be with His people forever. The book ends with a mention of the name of the city “The Lord is there” (Ezekiel 48:35b). The Lord will be with His people forever and ever.
9. This already had a partial fulfillment when, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The prophet Isaiah had predicted a long time ago, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14), which Matthew quotes in relation to the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:23). At the time of His leaving the earth, Jesus promised His disciples, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
However, the final and complete fulfillment of this will be at the end of the time in the new heaven and earth:
Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever (Revelation 21:3-4; 22:3-5).
10. The river of life. Ezekiel describes a river coming out from under the threshold of the temple. This is the river of life, “for where the river flows everything will live” (Ezekiel 47:9). The river is described further:
11. Fruit trees of all kind will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing (Ezekiel 47:12).
In only two other places is the river of life described. One is Genesis 2:10, where a river watering the garden flowed from Eden. Then again in the Book of Revelation, we read:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-3)
The description of the river in the Book of Genesis presents the picture before the Fall when man had perfect relationship with God, and man and God had uninterrupted fellowship. This was a beautiful picture of paradise before it was lost. Then came the Fall, and paradise was lost. Ezekiel foresees the paradise regained as described in the Book of Revelation.
Again, there already is a partial fulfillment of this in a believer’s life. As Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). The believer already has the abundant life in and through his relationship with Jesus Christ.
All these have a literal and final fulfillment for Israel in future. However, they already have a partial fulfillment in a believer’s life today as he lives in the knowledge and relationship with God:
12. God has already given us the victory over Satan. We are already more than conquerors.
13. The Lord is our shepherd (cf. Psalm 23).
14. He has given us a new heart and new Spirit, made us alive in Christ, and seated us in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus.
15. He has given us a new system of worship that we worship Him in Spirit and truth.
16. He came down and dwelt with us and has promised to be with us forever – Immanuel.
17. He has given us the abundant life in and through Jesus Christ right now.
18. However, many times we are not experiencing these blessings, or are not able to enjoy these blessings fully, because of the lack of our growth in the knowledge of God. As we noted earlier, the theme of the Book of Ezekiel is the knowledge of God. The lack of the knowledge of God, or the lack of the desire to know Him and to have fellowship with Him, is the basic reason for the life that is not pleasing to Him (Ezekiel, Part 1) and also that is the same reason for not having the victorious life and not being able to enjoy the spiritual blessings in their fullness (Ezekiel, Part 2).
Of course, the best way for growth in the knowledge of God is spending time in His Word. God’s promise is clearly laid down in the Book of Isaiah:
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Usually we apply these verses in the context of evangelism – how the Word of God works in the hearts of the unbelievers to bring them to the knowledge of God’s truth. But Isaiah is speaking in the context of the believers. When the Word of God works in the believer’s hearts and produces the result that God desires, there would be the result described in the next verse: “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12).
When the Word of God takes root in the believer’s heart and he grows in the knowledge of and fellowship with God, the inevitable result is overflowing joy and peace, a life that is filled with satisfaction and meaningfulness, with fullness and fulfillment. Then they have life and life abundant (cf. John 4:14; 10:10).
As Peter notes:
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:3-4).
The question, of course, is do we avail ourselves of this abundant life, or do we live a mediocre Christian life because of our lack of desire to know God?
327 . This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 50 in the From Creation to the Cross series prepared by Imanuel G. Christian on October 21, 2001.
328 Krishna is one of the Hindu gods, and Gita is one of the main Hindu scriptures.
329 A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Words and music: Martin Luther (1483-1546).