God used the prophet Ezekiel in a powerful way. He appointed Ezekiel as watchman over the House of Israel to warn that if they did not repent and turn back to God He would execute the final stage of His judgement on them.
God knew that they would not heed the warning (Ezekiel 3:7) but was adamant that the warning be delivered. If not then Ezekiel’s own blood would be required. Once the message had been delivered the House of Israel was then responsible for its own demise. To emphasise the fact that the message would be delivered and the prophecy fulfilled God caused Ezekiel to become mute. He could only speak in order to deliver God’s message to Israel. Once the message had been delivered and the prophecy fulfilled, Ezekiel would be regain his ability to speak. The threat of death and inability to speak were not only strong incentives for Ezekiel to deliver God’s message to the right people, but were also powerful witnesses to God’s intentions.
Some consider Ezekiel had a problem because he was in Babylon among the captives of Judah and wasn’t able to deliver the message to the House of Israel at that time. It must be remembered that the nation of Israel split, ten tribes under Jeroboam retained the name ‘Israel’ and two tribes under Rehoboam became known as Judah, but collectively they were referred to as the House of Israel, or children of Israel. This is recorded in the twelfth chapter of First Kings. The northern ten tribes had been taken into captivity and absorbed into Assyria over one hundred years before Ezekiel was given the message to deliver. They have become known in history as the ‘lost tribes of Israel’.
Some therefore conclude that Ezekiel’s message was for the modern day descendants of the ‘lost ten tribes of Israel’, whom they claim to include a number of European nations plus the British Commonwealth and the United States of America today. They also claim that because Ezekiel did not deliver the message in his day it is now the role of the Church of God to deliver the ‘Ezekiel message’ to the descendants of Israel.
As a prophet to the nations Ezekiel had a number of messages to deliver to various nations, but the message we are concerned with is the one addressed to the House of Israel. Did he deliver it to Israel in his day, or is it the Church’s commission to deliver it in this age?
What does the Bible say? Was Ezekiel able to deliver the message in his time, or not?
To Whom was Ezekiel Told to Go?
Ezekiel was told to go to his people, the House of Israel who were in captivity, “Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.” and “And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them,” and “ And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them.” (Ezekiel 3:1, 4, 11). For verse 11 the Moffatt translation reads “Go to the exiles, to the members of your race”. The Tanakh JPS translation says “go to your people, the exile community.”. Verse 7 implies that his message was to the whole House of Israel, both Israel and Judah, “they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.”.
What Would Happen if Ezekiel Did Not Go?
God said very plainly that He would require Ezekiel’s blood if he didn’t go and give the warning, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.” (Ezekiel 3:17-21). Remember what happened to Jonah when he tried to run away from what God had told him to do.
God also said Ezekiel would be struck dumb except when God opened his mouth in prophetic utterances, “And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD;” (Ezekiel 3:26-27).
Did He Go?
God said that Ezekiel was a sign to Israel and would not speak his own words until after the prophecies God spoke through him were accomplished, “Thus Ezekiel is unto you a sign: according to all that he hath done shall ye do: and when this cometh, ye shall know that I am the Lord GOD.” and “That he that escapeth in that day shall come unto thee, to cause thee to hear it with thine ears? In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him which is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: and thou shalt be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 24:24, 26-27). Either he accomplished his God-given prophetic mission, or he continued to remain silent for the rest of his life.
According to the Bible those prophesies were accomplished in his time, “And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, in the fifth day of the month, that one that had escaped out of Jerusalem came unto me, saying, The city is smitten. Now the hand of the LORD was upon me in the evening, afore he that was escaped came; and had opened my mouth, until he came to me in the morning; and my mouth was opened, and I was no more dumb.” (Ezekiel 33:21-22). He must have accomplished his mission or God would not have opened his mouth.
To accomplish his mission he had to speak to the House of Israel. So where did he go? He went to the leaders (elders) of the exiled community of those taken captive from Judah who were in Babylon, “Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar,” (Ezekiel 3:15). His main message was to do with the final fall and destruction of Jerusalem, which was the last bastion of the Kingdom of Israel at that time. In the circumstances he could only have accomplished his mission if the remnant in Babylon contained representatives from the tribes of Israel as well as Judah and they fully represented the leadership of the remnant of Israel at that time! Nebuchadnezzur had earlier stripped Jerusalem of its ruling class including the young King Jehoiachin, princes, officers and mighty men of valour, craftsmen and smiths (II Kings 24:12-16). He had taken 10,000 captives to Babylon leaving only the poor under the charge of Zedekiah whom he set up as the vassal, or puppet king.
To Whom Did He Address His Message?
God told Ezekiel that the House of Israel would not hearken to Him (Ezekiel 2:5, 7, 3:7, 11) but the message had to be delivered to them. He then took Ezekiel from his house where he lived near the River Chebar and supernaturally transported him to Telabib, also near the Chebar, where the rulers from Judah dwelt in captivity.
Later Ezekiel also addressed his message concerning Jerusalem to, “……the prince (Zedekiah) in Jerusalem, and all the House of Israel that are among them.” (Ezekiel 12:10). He prophesied about the fall of Jerusalem and the capture of Zedekiah to all of the House of Israel that had remained in Jerusalem.
Even though the kingdom had split into two separate nations, Israel and Judah, they were still considered to be collectively the children of Israel, or alternatively the House of Israel, the House of Jacob, the House of Joseph or in the case of Israel they were sometimes referred to as Ephraim (and sometimes Samaria). When the northern nation of Israel turned to idolatry in the time of Jeroboam, many who remained faithful to God from the various tribes including Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon left Israel and resettled in Judah.
In comments relating to I Kings 12:17, Bullinger acknowledges that Judah was representative of ‘all Israel’. The concept of Judah being the remnant that in effect represented the whole House of Israel is further supported by the fact that many people from the northern ten tribes had resettled in the cities of Judah because Jeroboam changed the format of worship in Israel, “And he (Asa) gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and the strangers with them out of Ephraim and Manasseh, and out of Simeon: for they fell to him out of Israel in abundance, when they saw that the LORD his God was with him,” (II Chronicles 15:9). Also in the time of Hezekiah, “And concerning the children of Israel and Judah, that dwelt in the cities of Judah, they also brought in the tithe” and “And when Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed the LORD, and his people Israel.” (II Chronicles 31:6, 8). And again from around the time of Judah’s captivity, “And in Jerusalem dwelt of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin, and of the children of Ephraim, and Manasseh;” (I Chronicles 9:3).
Ezekiel referred to those in Jerusalem as the ‘residue of Israel’ (Ezekiel 9:8). Jeremiah also referred to Jerusalem as Jacob (Lamentations 1:17).
Therefore, at the time of the siege of Jerusalem there were Israelites from the northern tribes dwelling among the exiles of Judah. It was to this exiled community that Ezekiel was directed and that was where he went. When speaking to ‘them of the captivity’ (Ezekiel 11:25) he was addressing the ‘elders of Israel’ of the ‘House of Israel’ (Ezekiel (14:1, 5 – see also 8:1 and 20:1) who were present among the captives from Judah in Babylon indicating that there were recognised leaders of Israel among the Babylonian captives.
A Sign for All Israel?
God was executing judgment on the whole of Israel in the sight of the nations. He had already scattered the ten tribes of Israel and most of Judah was in captivity. The fall of Jerusalem was another stage in the execution of that judgment. That is why Ezekiel was sent to address the whole of Israel (Ezekiel 3:7). God said that the siege of Jerusalem was a sign to the House of Israel, “Moreover take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city: and set thy face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 4:3).
It was a sign because Jerusalem the former capital of the once great kingdom of Israel, was the last part of the House of Israel to fall, “And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber’s razor, and cause it to pass upon thine head and upon thy beard: then take thee balances to weigh, and divide the hair. Thou shalt burn with fire a third part in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled: and thou shalt take a third part, and smite about it with a knife: and a third part thou shalt scatter in the wind; and I will draw out a sword after them. Thou shalt also take thereof a few in number, and bind them in thy skirts. Then take of them again, and cast them into the midst of the fire, and burn them in the fire; for thereof shall a fire come forth into all the house of Israel. Thus saith the Lord GOD; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her.” (Ezekiel 5:1-5).
No More Delay
God had extended the hand of mercy to them time and time again, but they refused to obey and because of their continual sin He finally said enough is enough. He had already told Israel that they were no longer His people,“Then said God, Call his name Loammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.” (Hosea 1:9). After Israel had been destroyed and taken captive He focused His attention on Judah, but they too turned away from Him.
Eventually God removed His presence from the temple, “Then the glory of the LORD departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubims. And the cherubims lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight: when they went out, the wheels also were beside them, and every one stood at the door of the east gate of the LORD’S house; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above.” (Ezekiel 10:18-19).
He was now going to execute judgment on what was left of the House of Israel, i.e. Jerusalem, without delay, “……the days are at hand, and the effect of every vision.” and “For I am the LORD: I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall come to pass; it shall be no more prolonged: for in your days, O rebellious house, will I say the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord GOD.” and “Thus saith the Lord GOD; There shall none of my words be prolonged any more, but the word which I have spoken shall be done, saith the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 12:23, 25, 28).
Cities to be Laid Waste
Through Ezekiel God said, “In all your dwelling places the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished.” and “And the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste, and the land shall be desolate; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 6:6, 12:20). According to some adherents of the British Israelite theory it was not possible for the cities of Israel to be laid waste until the advent of nuclear weapons, therefore they maintain that the prophecy must be for modern times. Was this prophecy fulfilled in ancient times, or is it for today?
Were the Cities Laid Waste?
According to Jeremiah the cities of the northern kingdom of Israel have already been laid waste: “Is Israel a servant? is he a homeborn slave? why is he spoiled? The young lions roared upon him, and yelled, and they made his land waste: his cities are burned without inhabitant.” (Jeremiah 2:14-15).
After the fall of Jerusalem Jeremiah wrote Lamentations, in which he said, “How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger! The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob, and hath not pitied: he hath thrown down in his wrath the strong holds of the daughter of Judah; he hath brought them down to the ground: he hath polluted the kingdom and the princes thereof. He hath cut off in his fierce anger all the horn of Israel: he hath drawn back his right hand from before the enemy, and he burned against Jacob like a flaming fire, which devoureth round about.” and “The Lord was as an enemy: he hath swallowed up Israel, he hath swallowed up all her palaces: he hath destroyed his strong holds, and hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation.” (Lamentations 2:1-3, 5).
The Tanakh JPS translation actually uses the words ‘laid waste’, “(the Lord) Has cast down from heaven to earth the majesty of Israel, He did not remember His footstool on His day of wrath. The Lord has laid waste without pity all the habitations of Jacob;” and “In blazing anger He has cut down all the might of Israel;” and “He has ravaged Jacob like a flaming fire, consuming on all sides,” and “The Lord has acted like a foe, He has laid waste Israel,” (Lamentations 2:1-3, 5). The different Hebrew words used by both Ezekiel and Jeremiah have similar meanings: ‘charah’ meaning destroyed, desolate, waste, and ‘bela’ meaning swallow, destroy, devour, ended.
Obviously, God accomplished what He set out to do to the House of Jacob at that time. He ‘laid waste’ to all the dwelling places of the House of Jacob to the extent He intended. These things happened to the House of Israel at that time for all the nations of the world to see. The judgment on the House of Israel included the destruction of Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s time, just as God had prophesied.
Was It to Occur Again?
God destroyed the House of Israel because of their abominations, “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations. And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like, because of all thine abominations.” (Ezekiel 5:8-9). When He said that He would not ‘do any more the like’ what did God mean?
God was executing judgement upon the whole House of Israel. The nation of Israel had already gone into captivity followed by Judah and now the capital was to be destroyed. God made it clear that the execution of His judgement would continue to pursue the remnant in their captivity, “And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.” and “And upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth. And they shall fall one upon another, as it were before a sword, when none pursueth: and ye shall have no power to stand before your enemies. And ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And they that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies’ lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them.” (Leviticus 26:33, 36-39). As long as they continued in those abominations the judgement was to continue. Centuries later when they rejected and killed Jesus Christ Jerusalem was once again destroyed as part of that judgment. Forty years after the death and resurrection of Christ the only clearly identifiable remnant of Israel, the Jewish nation was destroyed and not re-established until 1948.
At this time the only identifiable remnant of the ancient House of Israel today is the Jews. The New Testament message is for the Church – spiritual Israel - and is for all mankind.
When God said, “I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like,” He was emphasising the magnitude of an unprecedented event that will not happen again. He is not going to reject the church (spiritual Israel) as he has rejected ancient Israel. This does not mean that the church will not have its adversaries, or its people suffer persecutions, it simply means that God will not reject spiritual Israel en masse as He did ancient Israel.
Ezekiel’s Message of Hope
Ezekiel not only prophesied doom and gloom for those living in his time, he also brought a message of hope for the future, for all people.
Using highly symbolic language, Ezekiel described the fate of a number of nations at that time. In Ezekiel 29, he likened Egypt of old to the great dragon that lies in the midst of its rivers, only to be plucked up and flung in the wilderness and buried among the slain. Assyria, in Ezekiel 31, is likened to a mighty cedar exceeding the stature of other trees only to be brought down in its greatness to be buried amongst the slain. Both these mighty nations were eventually brought down.
On the other hand, Israel who by Ezekiel’s time had become so despised that her enemies did not even bother to bury her slain (Jeremiah 8:1-2) was likened to a valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37). Israel was given a message of hope in their time of punishment and captivity specifically through the allegory of the valley of dry bones. But it is a message for all people, a message of restoration to the greatness that God has always wanted for His creation. Prophesies that portray the restoration of Israel represent that reconciliation of mankind to God.
The physical nation of ancient Israel with its special relationship with God was a forerunner of the spiritual body of people from all nations that was to have a special relationship with God in the future. After the future resurrection portrayed by the valley of dry bones, all who have ever lived, including the people of ancient Israel and Judah, will be given the opportunity to be reconciled to God and to receive eternal life in His Kingdom.
Ezekiel Delivered His Message
Ezekiel was given a number of messages to deliver to various peoples and nations. He was a contemporary of Jeremiah and Daniel. While Jeremiah was mainly in Jerusalem and Daniel mainly in Babylon, Ezekiel was primarily with the captives, who were a mix of the northern tribes and Judah, in the land of the Chaldeans (Babylonians) where he was instructed to go and where he went. The fall of Jerusalem was part of the execution of judgment on the rebellious House of Israel (Jacob).
Israel fell in three stages: the major portion was taken captive when the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians then Judah (a mix of all tribes) fell to the Babylonians and finally Jerusalem. Once Jerusalem fell, the prophecy that the cities of Jacob would be laid waste had been fulfilled.
As instructed Ezekiel delivered his message to the leaders of the House of Israel at that time held captive by the Babylonians. His message was about the next stage of the execution of God's judgment which was the fall of Jerusalem. He also said that the execution of judgment would pursue the survivors even in their captivity. Centuries later when they rejected and killed Jesus Christ Jerusalem was once again destroyed with huge loss of life. Since then they have been persecuted and even today have little peace. They are a nation surrounded by enemies constantly at war. The judgement will continue until such time as they accept Christ as their saviour.
The fact that Ezekiel lived to regain his speech is proof the he delivered the prophetic message at that time to the right people. He had been given a clearly defined role with specific instructions and the power to perform that role. Has the modern day church been given that same role?
Church’s Role in This Age
The New Testament clearly explains God is dealing with the whole world through His son Jesus Christ just prior to the day of reckoning known in prophecy as the Day of the Lord. Before Christ returns two witnesses will be sent to warn the world in much the same way Ezekiel was sent to warn the House of Israel (Revelation 11:3-13). They will be given miraculous powers to perform their work.
Who these two are and when they will begin their task, remains to be seen. We can rest assured that at the appropriate time they will accomplish what they have been assigned by God to do.
The Church’s role was clearly defined by Jesus Christ immediately before he returned to the Father. He told his disciple to feed this sheep, “So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17).
In First Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul described the spiritual gifts that have been given to the church. He explained that they were to be used to edify those in the body of Christ, “Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” (I Corinthians 14:12).
The role for which the Church has been spiritually equipped today is to perfect those whom God calls, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” (Ephesians4:13). That should be the main focus of the Church today.
The Bible does not say that the Church has commissioned to deliver Ezekiel’s message to the descendents of the lost ten tribes in this day. Ezekiel delivered the message to the remnant of the House of Israel who dwelt in Judah and were taken into the Babylonian captivity with the Jews. His message was about the final stage of judgement that God was executing on the House of Israel (i.e. Israel and Judah collectively). It involved the fall of Jerusalem, the capital of the once great nation of Israel that flourished under King David and his son Solomon.
Events that Ezekiel foretold, which came to pass on the House of Israel, may well have similarities to end-time events. We can all learn the lesson of blessings for obedience to God and difficulties we will suffer because of selfishness and disobedience. If God raises up someone to take these messages to modern day people, he will not be afraid to say so - just as the Old Testament propets were not. But it is a mistake to claim a commission from Scripture when God has clearly not given it.
The book of Revelation clearly indicates that the two witnesses, whom God will send with miraculous powers, will testify to the whole world, not just the remnant of Israel. They will provide an end-time warning message to every one on this earth that will be appropriate for the occasion.
In the meantime the Church should focus on the role for which it has been spiritually equipped. And that is to preach the gospel and feed the sheep so that when Christ returns He will find a body of people perfected in faith and knowledge who measure up to His expectations.
[An edited version of this article has been published in the 'Shepherd's Voice Magazine' . Summer 2017 - www.shepherdsvoicemagazine.org ]
The subject of Ezekiel's Message is also addressed in our larger article 'Children of the Promises' after which this website has been named.