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The symbolic mountains of Ezekiel 34

October 31, 2011

Ezekiel 34:6 describes God’s sheep scattered over the whole earth: “My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.”

In the New Testament, Jesus identifies himself as the shepherd of the sheep. [John 10:11]

In Ezekiel’s prophecy, not only are the sheep scattered over all the earth, but they wander upon all the mountains, and upon all the high hills. Obviously, these mountains and hills are symbolic. They are distinct and separate from the mountains and hills of Israel, as the prophecy says the scattered sheep will be brought back to the land of Israel, and they will feed upon the mountains of Israel. [vs. 13]

What is the meaning of the mountains and hills, of verse 6? In Scripture, the mountains of Israel are symbolic of God’s promises, and revelations, and covenants, that apply to Israel, those who are heirs to the promises through faith in Christ; the interpretation is based upon Genesis 49:26, where Jacob blessed Joseph, and said “blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.” These blessings were durable, like the mountains and hills, and high, or spiritual in nature, and so Jacob connected them with mountains. The land of promise was a shadow and a type of eternal, spiritual things, and a “better country.” [Hebrews 11:16]

Compare the teachings of Jesus in the sermon on the mount, in Matthew’s account, with those recorded by Luke. In Matthew 5, Jesus taught his disciples, and began with a list of blessings, at least nine. In Luke’s account, Jesus was not on a mountain when he gave these teachings, but on a plain; he taught not only his disciples, but also a great multitude of people. He listed only four blessings, and an equal number of woes.

Blessings and woes in Luke 6:20-26
Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.
Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger.
Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.
Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.

The emphasis in Luke is different. Matthew seems to have associated mountains with blessings and promises.

In Ezekiel 34, the mountains where the scattered sheep wander are symbolic, and they represent doctrines and beliefs other than those revealed in Scripture. They may include the philosophy of the Greeks and Romans, for example, along with flawed interpretations of the prophecies and promises of the Scriptures, adapted to the theories of men. Christians are scattered in tens of thousands of denominations; Ezekiel’s prophecy describes the sheep being gathered to feed upon the mountains of Israel, which are the spiritual things promised to the saints, such as the teachings of Jesus in the sermon on the mount. The sheep are not literal sheep, but they represent believers, the people who Jesus Christ is seeking.

Ezekiel 34:11-16
For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.
As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.
And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.
I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel.
I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD.
I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.

Other prophecies point believers to mountains. Those preaching the gospel are exhorted to get up into the high mountain; this alludes to the promises of God, and to their spiritual nature. The mountains are metaphors, not the literal mountains and hills of the West Bank in Palestine, as some teach.

Isaiah 40:9
O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

Hebrews 12:22 says “ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” The Church is the Jerusalem bringing the gospel to the world.

Isaiah said, “And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.” [Isaiah 49:11] The mountains are symbols of the promises to the saints. Jesus promised that the Spirit will guide them into all truth. [John 16:13] No wonder Jesus encourages people to “flee to the mountains!” [Matthew 24:16] He did not mean flee to the mountains in order to preserve our own lives, as he said, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” [Matthew 16:25]