Promises to the Church in Ezekiel 36
Ezekiel addressed his prophecy in chapter 36 to the mountains of Israel, symbols of God’s promises, and prophecies.
Of these mountains the enemy said, ‘Aha, the ancient high places are ours in possession.’ [Ezek. 36:2]
Frederic Gardiner wrote:
This is very nearly the same expression as in Gen. xlix. 26; Deut. xxxiii. 15, where it is translated ‘everlasting (or lasting) hills,’ and is probably an allusion to those passages. ‘The enemy’ is a general term, which may refer to Edom; but from the following verses it is more likely that it is used for the heathen at large. When Israel’s land had been left desolate, the surrounding nations claimed that God’s promise to His people had failed, and that they themselves might now enter upon its secure possession. [Frederic Gardiner. Ezekiel. In: Charles John Ellicott, ed. An Old Testament commentary for English readers. Vol. v. 1884. p. 302.]
Ezekiel wrote about the mountains of Israel, “they have made you desolate;” they have “swallowed you up on every side;” they are “a possession to the residue of the heathen; “they are “taken up in the lips of talkers;” they have become “an infamy of the people;” they have “borne the shame of the heathen.” God says, “they have appointed my land into their possession with the joy of all their heart, with despiteful minds, to cast it out for a prey.” [Ezek. 36:2-6]
The land and mountains in Ezekiel’s prophecy are symbolic. The mountains represent spiritual blessings promised to those who believe the Gospel. The promised land is a figure and type of the “better country” mentioned in Heb. 11:16.
However, many insist that the promised land can mean nothing other than the literal land of Canaan, and deny that Israel in prophecy represents the Christian Church. They overlook the fact that Hebrews 12:18, 22 identifies the Christian Church with mount Zion, which “cannot be touched.” Therefore the Church is one of the “mountains of Israel,” to which the promises in Ezekiel’s prophecy apply.
19th century German theologian H.A.C. Hävernick, Professor of Theology in the University of Konigsberg, wrote that the mountains of Israel in Ezek. 36 are “the honorable witnesses and indestructible monuments of that ancient blessing spoken by Israel’s ancestor.” They are symbols of God’s promises, and prophecies, and blessings.
In Ezek. 38:8 & 17, the hordes of Gog & Magog come against the mountains of Israel, and the prophets of Israel. They come against “a land of unwalled villages,” which cannot apply to the modern Jewish state in Palestine, since there is a prominent wall there, over 700 km long, some sections of which consist of an 8m high concrete wall with sniper towers. The Israeli West Bank barrier thwarts interpretations of Ezekiel 38-39 by recent dispensationalist writers.
The mountains of Israel in Ezek. 36, 38:8, and 39:4 are symbols of God’s promises, and prophecies, and blessings. Jacob compared his blessings to high mountains. He said as he blessed Joseph, “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.” Jacob’s blessings were spiritual in nature, and so were high and lofty, like high mountains. They were also durable, so he compared them to “the everlasting hills.” [Gen. 49:26]
Literal interpretations that say Ezekiel’s prophecy applies to unbelieving Jews and deny that the blessings promised to Israel apply to the Christian Church are “an infamy of the people.”
Prophesy therefore concerning the land of Israel, and say unto the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I have spoken in my jealousy and in my fury, because ye have borne the shame of the heathen: Therefore thus saith the Lord God; I have lifted up mine hand, Surely the heathen that are about you, they shall bear their shame. 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. 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. [Ezek. 36:6-12]
Below are some notes on Ezekiel’s prophecies about the mountains of Israel in these verses, which illustrate their spiritual application.
The mountains have borne the shame of the heathen – many flawed interpretations have been imposed on prophecy
The heathen will bear their shame – false interpretations will bring shame upon those who promote them
The mountains will shoot forth branches and will bring forth fruit unto God’s people – prophecy will bring many benefits to the Church
Men will be multiplied on the mountains of Israel – there will be a renewed interest in prophecy
Their cities will be inhabited, and waste places will be built – prophecies and scriptures that were previously not understood will be explained
God’s people Israel will possess the mountains – prophecy will no longer be dominated by certain denominations, or sects, or commercial interests
The mountains will be settled after their old estates – it will be like the first settlement of the land again
The mountains will be the inheritance of the saints – the mountains represent spiritual blessings that apply to the Church, whose inheritance is spiritual and eternal
They will not bereave the people any more – people died and were buried in the physical land, but in the better land, death is abolished
God will do better unto them than at the beginning – spiritual blessings that come from understanding prophecy will be better and longer lasting than material ones