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Bruce Hurt on the mountains of Israel

July 1, 2012

In his Ezekiel 36 Commentary, Bruce Hurt quoted from the works of numerous authors who support dispensationalism. However the author identified himself as a literalist rather that a dispensationalist. In his comments on verse 1 he wrote:

Ezekiel 36:1 “And you, son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel and say, ‘O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the LORD.:

DEAR READER, AS BACKGROUND PLEASE NOTE THAT THE HERMENEUTICAL PRINCIPLE UTILIZED TO INTERPRET THE PROPHECIES OF EZEKIEL IS DESCRIBED AS FOLLOWS…

If the plain sense of the Scripture makes good sense in context, then I will not seek some other sense lest the final interpretation turn out to be nonsense and totally unrelated to God’s intended meaning (all Scripture has only one interpretation, but many applications).

It follows that every word in Ezekiel 36-39 will be taken in its primary, ordinary, usual, literal sense, unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and self-evident and fundamental truths, indicate otherwise. There will be no attempt to spiritualize or allegorize the passages. God addresses these prophetic promises to Israel or Judah and there is no justification to spiritualize the promises as given to the church, an entity which is not even mentioned in the Old Testament! When one replaces Israel with the NT Church in the interpretation of OT prophetic writings, the prophecies become very difficult to interpret and indeed cannot be interpreted accurately! I should add that while I have been accused of being a “dispensationalist”, I would respond by saying that I am not a “dispensationalist” but a “literalist!”

Hurt’s “literal” approach leads him into contradictions, and inconsistency. He quotes the opinions of several authors on how to interpret the phrase “the mountains of Israel.” He first declares that the mountains represent the land of Israel. He wrote, “In the previous chapter, Ezekiel had set his face against Mount Seir (representative of the land Edom, Ezek 35:1ff), but now the prophet addressed his comments to the mountains of Israel as the symbol or representative of the land of Israel.” Then he quoted the following by John MacArthur, and endorsed it, thereby embracing two mutually exclusive interpretations of the same symbol! MacArthur wrote:

Ezekiel addresses Israel’s mountains, as symbolic of the whole nation. He promises: (1) to give these mountains again to dispersed Israel (Ezek 36:12); (2) to cause fruit to grow on them (Ezek 36:8); (3) to rebuild cities and to multiply people there (Ezek 36:10); and (4) to bless in a greater way than in the past (Ezek 36:11). This promise can only be fulfilled in future  millennial blessing to Israel that she has not yet experienced, because it includes the salvation of the New Covenant (Ezek 36:25-27, 29, 31, 33).

On Ezekiel 36:4, Hurt wrote:

Ezekiel 36:4 ‘Therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord GOD. Thus says the Lord GOD to the mountains and to the hills, to the ravines and to the valleys, to the desolate wastes and to the forsaken cities which have become a prey and a derision to the rest of the nations which are round about:’

O mountains of Israel – Remember that God is using this phrase as a metaphor. Ezekiel is actually speaking to Israel in exile and defeat. By all human estimates, they were in a hopeless state and must have surely wondered whether God would avenge them and restore the nation of Israel.

Hurt recognized that identifying the mountains of Israel with the nation implies that the prophecy is essentially metaphorical, or a parable, and can not be “literal” at all. So his comments on being a “literalist” at the beginning of the chapter seem strangely misplaced.

The interpretation that Hurt borrowed from MacArthur becomes ridiculous at verse 12, where the words are addressed to the mountains of Israel.

Ezekiel 36:12
Yea, I will cause men to walk upon you, even my people Israel; and they shall possess thee, and thou shalt be their inheritance, and thou shalt no more henceforth bereave them of men.

How can the people of Israel possess themselves? It would make little sense, to say the mountains of Israel represents the nation.

Hurt’s interpretation leads to confusion. It is inconsistent to say, as Hurt does, that “the mountains of Israel” of verse 1 represents the nation, but “the ancient high places” of verse 3 means sites of idol worship. Surely these are different expressions for the same thing.

Ezekiel 36:4 presents another embarrassment for Hurt’s approach. If the “mountains of Israel” in the prophecy is a metaphor as he claims, that refers to the nation, what are hills, valleys, desolate wastes, and cities? He passes over this in silence.

When it comes to verse 12, Hurt quietly switched to his initial interpretation of the mountains of Israel; they remain metaphorical, but here they represent not the people, but the land. If correct, this requires us to suppose that perhaps Ezekiel (or the Spirit of Christ) was a bit scatter-brained, or incompetent, and was certainly inconsistent. Hurt wrote in his commentary:

Ezekiel 36:12 ‘Yes, I will cause men–My people Israel–to walk on you and possess you, so that you will become their inheritance and never again bereave them of children.’:

I will cause men–My people Israel–to walk on you (the land) and possess you – In God’s covenant with Abraham, He had promised him “To your descendants I will give this land.” (Ge 12:7. 24:7, passed on to Isaac = Gen 26:3) Israel has never fully possessed the land promised in the Abrahamic Covenant, but here in Ezekiel God assures Israel that they will possess the land.

You (the land) will become their (Israel’s) inheritance – The land of Israel will belong to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (See Exodus 33:1)

By switching his interpretation Hurt implies that the subject of the prophecy has changed. Was Ezekiel addressing the land, or the people? Hurt’s commentary is confused. MacArthur and Hurt produce ad hoc interpretations for the mountains of Israel in different sections of the prophecy; clearly they are the ones who are confused. The apostle Peter said, “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” [2 Peter 1:20] The symbol of the “mountains of Israel” in Ezekiel has to be interpreted consistently, which rules out multiple, ad hoc interpretations.

In chapter 34, the people of Israel are represented as sheep scattered upon the face of the earth, and they are to be brought back to feed on the mountains of Israel. In chapter 36 as well, the mountains are to be a source of nourishment for the people. Men are to be multiplied on them, they will be tilled and sown, and they will do better than at their beginnings.

Ezekiel 36:8-11
But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel; for they are at hand to come.
For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn unto you, and ye shall be tilled and sown:
And I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, even all of it: and the cities shall be inhabited, and the wastes shall be builded:
And I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and bring fruit: and I will settle you after your old estates, and will do better unto you than at your beginnings: and ye shall know that I am the Lord.

These mountains can’t be the people of Israel; neither is the prophecy referring to literal land, or literal mountains.

I suggest the “mountains of Israel” in Ezekiel 36 represent the promises, covenants, and revelations of God contained in scripture, that apply to Christ and the saints. When Jacob blessed Joseph, he said, “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.” [Genesis 49:26]

Here, the blessings that God promised to give to Jacob are compared to the high mountains. The promises were high, and lofty, like high mountains, because there was a spiritual meaning associated with them. Jacob also understood they were eternal, and so he mentioned “everlasting hills.” The high mountains endure for many generations. The mountains Jacob referred to represent the promises connected with the gospel by Paul. [Galatians 3:8]

Jesus has inherited the promises and revelations pertaining to Israel which the mountains represent. They include covenants, prophecies, and teachings such as Jesus’ sermon on the mount.

In the present age, prophecies of scripture have become “a prey and derision to the residue of the heathen that are round about.” Writers and preachers who present flawed interpretations of prophecy are the ones in view here. Ezekiel’s message is that true interpretations will replace all those incorrect ones. The prophecies of scripture will no more be “an infamy of the people.”

Through Ezekiel’s prophecy God speaks against those who have “appointed my land into their possession with the joy of all their heart, with despiteful minds, to cast it out for a prey.” The “land” represents God’s word, and the gospel, and the spiritual things promised to the saints, the “better country” of Hebrews 11:16.

Ezekiel 36:12
Yea, I will cause men to walk upon you, even my people Israel; and they shall possess thee, and thou shalt be their inheritance, and thou shalt no more henceforth bereave them of men.

The promises, covenants, and prophecies are inherited by Christ, and they will be possessed by those in Christ, those who are the seed of Abraham by faith, and the true Israel, as explained in . See also  and .

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