Patrick Fairbairn on Ezekiel 36: discussion
Patrick Fairbairn recognized that the land that God promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was a type; he wrote of the nation of Israel, “Their possession of the land of Canaan was a pledge and type of the inheritance of the redeemed and glorified earth, conferred in Christ on the whole of his elect church.”  Consistent with this, Fairbairn viewed Ezekiel’s prophecy about the mountains of Israel in as a prophecy about literal mountains of Israel, that were possessed by the people of Edom when the Jews were taken into exile. They were partially restored to Israel after the Jews returned from exile. Fairbairn wrote: 
We regard the passage as a prophecy of the full return of prosperity and blessing to the Lord’s covenant-people, and even the perpetual enjoyment of this–exhibited under the form of the Old Testament relations, the only ones lying within the ken of the prophet.
Fairbairn has also written that natural Israel was a type, representing the Christian church. In his Typology of Scripture he stated: 
The natural Israel, who were chosen to be God’s peculiar property out of all the nations of the earth, were types of the elect seed, the royal priesthood, whom Christ was to choose out of the world to his kingdom and glory. When this latter purpose began to be carried into effect, the former of necessity began, as a shadow, to pass away, just as the shedding of Christ’s blood upon the cross swallowed up the whole body of sacrifices appointed by the law. Hence, to indicate that the type in this respect had passed into the antitype, believers in Christ, of Gentile as well as Jewish origin, are called Abraham’s seed, (Gal. iii. 20,) Israelites, (vi. 16, Eph. ii. 12, 19,) comers unto Mount Zion, (Heb. xii. 22,) citizens of the free or heavenly Jerusalem, (ib., Gal. iv. 26,) the circumcision, (Phil. iii. 3, Col. ii. 11,) and in Revelation, which is written throughout in the language of type and symbol, they are even called Jews, (chap. ii. 9,) and the sealed company in chap, vii., who are the representatives of the Christian church, at a certain period in the Roman empire, are identified with “the twelve tribes of Israel.”
As Fairbairn noted, there are some difficulties inherent in a strictly literal approach to the prophecy of about the mountains of Israel. They include the fact that the people of Israel were dispossessed of their land a second time in the first century AD, and the fact that the Edomites mentioned in verse 5 have disappeared from the earth precludes a future literal fulfillment. Fairbairn wrote: 
I should hold it to be a dishonest shift, first to take the terms of the prophecy in their literal import, and then say, there has as yet been no fulfilment in the past, but there shall be one in the future–a literal Israel shall yet find the literal Canaan all that is here predicted. For if there has been no fulfilment in the past of a literal kind, neither can there be in the future; there shall certainly want two most essential elements of literality: first, the nearness of accomplishment spoken of by the prophet, and the existence of the Edomites and other heathen neighbours, who, for the present, rejoiced in Canaan as lying at their feet, but were again to find its reproach and humiliation become their own, while it and Israel were exalted. These ancient adversaries are for ever gone; the external relations of that olden time have entirely ceased; and if Israel were restored to-morrow, it would be necessary to take this part of the prophecy in another than the literal sense.
Evidently while Fairbairn thought Ezekiel’s prophecy referred to literal mountains, he also believed that the prophecy must have some sort of non-literal interpretation in the light of the gospel. Fairbairn did not attempt to explain how the mountains of Israel might be possessed by the saints, but he suggested that they do possess them. For example, he wrote: 
So long, therefore, as the relations of the prophet’s time existed, –that is, so long as the kingdom of God was connected with the people of Israel as a distinct nation, with the land of Canaan as their proper inheritance, and heathen rivals and enemies for their neighbours,–so long as this was the case, we hold that as nothing but a literal fulfilment should have been looked for, so a very considerable fulfilment of this nature, and one that sufficiently marked the hand of God, did take place…. And while it is only under the gospel dispensation that we can expect the perfect realisation of the promised good, we must now no longer expect it after the old form, or according to the simply literal interpretation. The good is too great and expansive to be now shut up within such narrow limits; for since, wherever there is a royal priesthood offering up spiritual services to God, there the incense and offerings of the temple are perpetuated (Mal. i. 11; 1 Pet. ii. 5); so wherever there are members of Christ, there also are the mountains of Canaan, there are the people who have the promise of all things for their portion, on whom descends the blessing, life for evermore. Nor can the old evils properly return again: for the good is avowedly connected with nothing but a spiritual qualification, and is entirely dissevered from a merely ancestral relationship or a political existence in the world.
Fairbairn referred “the mountains of Canaan” instead of Ezekiel’s phrase “the mountains of Israel.” What could he have meant by the statement, “wherever there are members of Christ, there also are the mountains of Canaan”? It is certainly a true statement, because says “For ye are come to Mount Sion,” which is one of the mountains of Israel. It represents the temple, and each believer is a temple of God. But I suggest, most Christians are unaware of the significance of possessing “the mountains of Israel,” or what benefits there might be to possessing them. There is also the question of whether the hills, valleys, rivers, desolate wastes, and cities of Israel are present wherever Christians are present, and in what ways their presence might be evident.
One of the problems connected with saying that the land of Israel was a type of an even larger area of land, that is, the world, although it may be supported by , is that in the history of Israel, the conquest of the land under Joshua involved several years of bloody warfare, and the extermination of the Canaanites who occupied the land. But Paul said the church’s warfare is not against flesh and blood. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  The warfare of the church is spiritual in nature. Paul wrote, as part of the armor of the saints, let your feet be “shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” [vs. 15]
The land promise and its interpretation in the gospel does not provide a license for colonial expansion, or for participation in worldly political parties, as has been suggested, for example, by Dominion Theology. 
F. B. Meyer (1847-1929) related the promised land to Bible knowledge, doctrine, and spiritual experience, in his comments on the book of Joshua. Meyer was a crusader against immorality. He preached against drunkenness and prostitution. He is said to have brought about the closing of hundreds of saloons and brothels. After Charles Spurgeon died in 1892, a considerable number of the former members of the Baptist Metropolitan Tabernacle migrated to Christ Church in Lambeth, attached to the Lincoln Tower, where Meyer had been invited to minister. Meyer wrote, on : 
There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed –
This is true in many directions:- Of the Bible. – How many pages of our Bibles are unpossessed! We have not underlined any verses in them, or put any marks in the margin to indicate that God has spoken through them to our souls. They are as clean as when they came from the printers. It is well sometimes to consider this, and to resolve to master some unfamiliar portions of God’s Word, believing that no word of God is devoid of power. To many believers the Bible, which God intended for their possession, is yet an unexplored continent.
Of Doctrinal Truth. – Doctrine groups texts, and compares them. Doctrine is to isolated texts what natural laws are to particular facts. We should know the doctrines of the Bible. We should understand what is meant by Predestination; the unction of the Holy Ghost; and the Second Advent. How much unoccupied land there is here, which, if brought under cultivation, would yield grapes, and corn, and other produce for the refreshment and strength of the soul!
Of Spiritual Experience. – Talk with some deeply-taught saint, and you will see how little you have traversed of the good land beyond the Jordan, or know of its blessed extent. To know the length, and breadth, and depth, and height, of the love of Christ seems given to but few; but it need not be. There is no favoritism in the Kingdom which excludes some poor souls from the richer portions, and shuts them up to barrenness and a northern aspect. Rise, go through the land in the length and breadth of it; it is all yours; the gift of God in Jesus Christ; claim and possess it.
Meyer’s idea about the land, as having to do with spiritual knowledge and experience, seems to agree with Paul’s approach; land represents invisible things that the saints inherit.
Ezekiel depicted the mountains of Israel as possessed by Edom, an enemy of Israel. Taking the land as representing the spiritual things promised to the church, suggests that the mountains of Israel would represent the most prominent of those things, such as the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament, and doctrine, and such things as the interpretation of prophecy. In Genesis, Esau and Jacob represent “two manner of people.”
In his comments on , Fairbairn contrasted Ezekiel’s denunciation of Edom on the one hand with blessings promised to Israel on the other. Fairbairn wrote: 
Just as in the case of Isaac and Ishmael, (Gal. iv. 22-31), so here in Israel and Edom, the whole human family have their representation–in the one all that are of the Spirit, in the other all that are of the flesh. The old relations, in both cases alike have passed, and can never be recalled again; but the truth couched under them eternally abides. And in that truth, as set forth in the prophecy before us, there is embodied the solemn testimony, that the Edomite spirit, the carnal, unbelieving, rebellious spirit, is most surely leagued with perdition; enmity to the cause and kingdom of Christ is war with Heaven, and can only lead to desolation and ruin. They who are of it cannot overthrow the church, but must themselves be overthrown and fall under the stroke of vengeance.
In prophecy, the lands of the earth are similarly contrasted with the land of promise. Other lands, such as Egypt, and Mesopotamia, were depicted as places of exile, and oppression. Abraham was called to depart from the land of his birth, to come to the promised land. Ezekiel called the promised land a land “flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands.” [ & 15]
The book of Ezekiel itself suggests that a meaning other than the literal one is attached to the mountains of Israel. Consider : “In the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me upon a very high mountain, by which was as the frame of a city on the south.” This may be compared with Isaiah’s prophecy in , where the mountain of the Lord’s house is to be established in the tops of the mountains, and exalted above the hills. Both prophecies associate Jerusalem with a lofty mountain, the height of which points to the lofty or spiritual nature of the things that are said. They are words of God, whose thoughts are higher than ours, “as heaven is higher than the earth.” 
Thus, in , the mountains represent revelations, of a lofty or spiritual nature. They include promises of God to the saints, and prophecies. There are people who claim to possess them, who correspond to the Edomites of old. For example, if mountains are metaphors for prophecies, there are tens of thousands of sects and denominations, ministries, and the like, which claim to possess the “right” interpretation of them, and so might be represented by Edom in the prophecy. Among them are dispensationalists, preterists, historicists, etc. Scholars in each group claim to possess the “right” or a superior interpretation of prophecies of scripture; those prophecies are among the things that are represented by the “mountains of Israel” in .
Ezekiel’s message in is that the mountains of Israel, representing the revelations of God in scripture, including prophecy, will become fruitful, and they will be possessed by the saints, which implies that many of the flawed interpretations will be abandoned. It is consistent with the prophecy of , where the flood that the serpent cast forth from his mouth in order to carry away the woman is swallowed up by the land; the land representing the truth to which Jesus said the Spirit of God will guide his followers.
1. Patrick Fairbairn. The typology of Scripture: or The doctrine of types investigated in its principles, and applied to the explanation of the earlier revelations of God, considered as preparatory exhibitions of the leading truths of the Gospel, Volume 1. Daniels & Smith, 1852. p. 291.
2. Patrick Fairbairn. Ezekiel and the book of his prophecy: an exposition. T. & T. Clark, 1855. p. 342-343.
6. Sarah Leslie. Dominionism and the Rise of Christian Imperialism
7. F. B. Meyer. Our Daily Homily, Joshua