The Grace of God

That Brings Salvation Has Appeared to All Men (Titus 2:11)

Dispensational Zionism Prooftexts Examined Part 1: Ezekiel 34 & 36

Posted by israeliteindeed on September 2, 2014

I will be examining some Old Testament prooftexts often used to undergird blanket Christian support for the modern state of Israel today (regardless of the nation’s obedience or disobedience to God). If you haven’t read the introduction, you can read it here.

Ezekiel prophesied to Israel (and its surrounding nations) from about 593-571 BC while he himself was already captive in Babylon. Two of his contemporaries were Daniel and Jeremiah. The capture of Jerusalem occurred at Eze. 33:21. Prior to this point, Ezekiel primarily prophesied of destruction and judgment to his people (with some exceptions), but after this point (in chapter 34), he began to prophesy of hope and restoration.

Before we get into Eze. 34 & 36, I would like to note a previous passage which directly follows the capture of Jerusalem:

Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “Son of man, they who inhabit those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, ‘Abraham was only one, and he inherited the land. But we are many; the land has been given to us as a possession.’ “Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “You eat meat with blood, you lift up your eyes toward your idols, and shed blood. Should you then possess the land? You rely on your sword, you commit abominations, and you defile one another’s wives. Should you then possess the land?”’ (33:23-26)

The inhabitants of Israel felt that the land was owed them due to their connection with Abraham, and the fact that it had been given to them by God in time past. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The same idea persisted in New Testament times, and still persists today.) They trusted in their heritage, their numbers and their swords. But God rebuked them for this, and pointed out their sin as the reason they should NOT NOW possess the land. They would need to repent of their sins first, as outlined in the conditions of the covenant outlined in Deut. 30! Even though God was about to begin prophesying hope to the Israelites who would repent during exile, their present day condition kept them from being in covenant with God. This is important because God always deals with people in the present tense. God does not reward sinners who are now in sin, or covenant-breakers who have not repented, even if He knows they will repent in the future.

Now let’s look at some of the promises of Israel’s restoration after judgment, written by Ezekiel, to see if they refer to what we are seeing in the Middle East today. For the sake of space, I will insert links to the passages.

Ezekiel 34:11-31

Here God promises that He will seek for His sheep and gather them out of the countries to feed them on the mountains of Israel. He will establish one Shepherd over them, whom He calls “My Servant David.” This prophecy was historically fulfilled in the natural. First, God brought many humbled exiles back from Babylon during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah (approx. 458-445 BC), and reestablished His relationship with them. This enabled Jesus to arrive on the scene in Bethlehem at a later time in history (when the Jews were once again occupied and largely apostate). Jesus then announced Himself as the “Good Shepherd” and became the fulfillment of “My Servant David.” As the son of David, He assumed David’s throne (where He sits forever), and manifested Himself as the Shepherd/King of Israel. His earthly ministry was primarily to the House of natural Israel, with some notable exceptions (as it pleased the Lord to give the New Covenant gospel to the Jew first, then to the Gentiles who would be grafted in), and Acts 2 records a great influx of Jewish converts who were gathered into the “sheepfold” of Jesus, from all nations, on the Day of Pentecost. So this prophecy has nothing to do with the modern state of Israel. It was fulfilled!

Ezekiel 36

Here God promises that the nations that plundered Israel during her captivity will bear their shame, and Israel will once again be fruitful. He reminds the prophet that it was Israel’s sin that induced Him to scatter them throughout the nations, and that He was not bringing them back because they deserved it (even the repentant do not deserve blessing), but for His Name’s sake. Again, this was fulfilled historically during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah! The exiles came back repentant, and Neh. 9 records their repentance while wearing sackcloth. Neh. 13 details how the people listened to the law and obeyed it, Nehemiah rebuking their sins and cleansing them of “everything pagan.”

Ezra 6:21-22 states:

Then the children of Israel who had returned from the captivity ate together with all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the Lord God of Israel. And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy; for the Lord made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

Please note that the repentant Israelites at this time were succeeding because the Lord Himself was fighting for them. He was turning the heart of the pagan king to favor and help them. They were not trusting in military might. Their repentance was real, as they had “separated themselves from the filth of the nations in order to seek the Lord.” They were a meek (and weak) people inheriting the land not by might or power, but by God’s Spirit.

Later, when the prophet Ezra was bringing some families back from Babylon, he was ashamed to ask the pagan king for military protection on the way, for he had testified to him, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.” (8:22) Obviously, Ezra understood the promise of Israel’s restoration to be conditional! The people humbled themselves and fasted and prayed for God to protect them, and He did so. (When God is truly on your side, you don’t need an “iron dome”!)

Returning to Ezek. 36, let us look at some specific verses which are often misapplied to the modern state of Israel today:

‘Thus says the Lord God: “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt. The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by. So they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations which are left all around you shall know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate. I, the Lord, have spoken it, and I will do it.” (36:33-36)

The misapplication generally sounds something like this: “The land of Israel was a desert while under the control of the Palestinians. Then once (modern) Israel came, it became like the garden of Eden again.” There is just one problem. This prophecy was already fulfilled in the days of Nehemiah and Ezra! It has nothing to do with the modern nation of Israel, which has been founded through theft and bloodshed (as most, if not all, modern nations are.)

Notice that God stated as a prerequisite to the desolate land becoming fruitful again, that He would “cleanse you from all your iniquities”! We have lots of evidence that in Ezra and Nehemiah’s day, the people were repentant and open to hearing/obeying the Word of the Lord. Thus God forgave their sins and blessed them in the land once again under the Old Covenant. We have absolutely no evidence at all that modern day Israel is in this repentant state which precedes being cleansed from iniquities.  In fact, many citizens of modern Israel are atheists, and most of those who believe in God deny Jesus Christ (so they do not have the Father either–I Jn. 2:23.) There are certainly individuals within her borders who know and love Messiah Jesus. This is in keeping with New Testament Scripture that confirms there will be a remnant of Jews saved, and Paul named himself as a prime example. But we have no New Testament Scripture saying the entire earthly nation or ethnic group will be saved. (In Romans 9 – 11 and elsewhere, Paul makes clear that there are 2 Israels, one after the flesh and one after the Spirit. Only the spiritual Israel, made up of Jews and grafted-in Gentiles, will be entirely saved by grace through faith. See here.)

In summary, when dispensational zionists offer proof-texts like these to claim that the modern state of Israel is a fulfillment of Bible prophecy (a claim that almost always leads to disobedience to the New Testament through fellowship with darkness, military involvement, etc.), we need to remember the following:

1. Deut. 30 outlines the conditions of re-inhabiting the land. Modern Israel has not met the conditions, so the promise cannot apply to them (even if the Old Covenant was still in effect.)

2. The prophecies of Ezekiel 34 & 36 were fulfilled in the natural during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah. The exiles of this time period met the conditions required to re-inhabit the land under the Old Covenant (repentance/obedience/faith in God).

3. The prophecies were fulfilled notwithstanding Israel, at that time, had no organized army!

4. Since that time, the Old Covenant has been replaced by the New Covenant (Heb. 8:13), which has better promises. There will never be a return to the Old Covenant, and those who attempt to return to it are under a curse. It is those who have faith in Jesus Christ who will be blessed with Abraham (Gal. 3:9-11) and counted as his children (Rom. 9:7-8; Jn. 8:39; Gal. 3:29).

God bless you as you study the Word and seek after God’s heart!

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