Tonight, we begin with Ezekiel, chapter 34. So if you'll turn there, we'll now get started.
Good evening. David was a shepherd boy who understood what it was to watch sheep. And so, from his expert vantage point, knowing that the quality of life of sheep is dependent upon the quality of the shepherd they have, uttered one of the most familiar, perhaps, psalm in Psalm 23. "The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want."
All throughout the scripture, God is so often referred to as one who cares meticulously for his people and is seen as the great shepherd of the sheep. It was also a term used of Jesus Christ. He said, "I am the good shepherd." He is called the "chief shepherd of the sheep."
And so, as a shepherd would care for his flock, so God cares for us, His people. It's a familiar description in Isaiah, chapter 40. "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd. He will gather the lambs in His arm. He will gently lead those who are with young." Beautiful picture of God's care.
But not only is God referred to as a shepherd, but He has under shepherds, leaders that God raises up to care for His people, His flock. And He holds them responsible to care for, to nurture, to feed, to give direction. So Israel had their shepherds, their kings, their priests, their prophets, those who were spiritual as well as political leaders of God's flock, God's sheep.
I find it interesting that God refers to us, His people, so often as sheep. And I love it. Some people find it insulting because they know how dumb sheep are. And they require such care.
Phillip Keller wrote a great book called A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. And he says, "Sheep, more than any other class of livestock, require meticulous care. They can't take care of themselves." Now I'm not insulted by that, because the older I get, I would have to agree with God. In fact, it takes the pressure off. I'm delighted that I have such a shepherd who loves me so much knowing my propensity to go astray. All of us, like sheep, have gone astray. And we have such a wonderful shepherd to guide us.
In chapter 34, the leaders, who are to reflect the shepherding heart of God the Father, are spoken of here. And it's a denunciatory statement against these shepherds. "The word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel.' So these leaders-- the kings, the priests, the prophets-- prophesy and say to them, "Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds, 'Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves. Should not the shepherds feed the flocks. You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with wool. You slaughter the fat-lings, but you do not feed the flock.'"
This speaks of the leader who would place himself above the need, above the issues, above the concerns of the flock. They're only in it for what they can get out of it. They're not there to give and to feed and to minister but to extract from the flock for their own benefit. A woe is pronounced against them. "The weak, you have not strengthened," he continues, "nor have you healed those who were sick nor bound up the broken nor brought back what was driven away nor sought what was lost. But, with force and cruelty, you have ruled them.
Shepherds had staffs. Remember, David said, "Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." And the staff was to direct. It was about a six-foot long stick with a crooked end meant to gently lead the sheep. A shepherd should be a nurturer not someone who would drive with force. But these shepherds, these leaders of Israel, weren't gentle. They weren't nurturing. They treated the flock of Israel harshly.
And so here's the result, verse 5-- "So they, the sheep, were scattered because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains on every high hill. Yes, my flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth. And no one was seeking or searching for them."
You'll notice three times in our passage God makes a reference to his sheep being scattered-- scattered abroad. And so the shepherds had this flagrant disregard for the wandering instincts of the sheep. It could be a reference to the past captivities-- the Assyrian captivity, the Babylonian captivity-- that that which came upon the people didn't really affect these shepherds, these leaders, because they were only concerned about themselves-- how the captivity, how the invasion would affect them. "Therefore, you shepherds hear the word of the Lord."
Now since they have neglected their task, God is going to remove them. And God will give a glorious promise in the midst of failing shepherds. He will promise the ultimate shepherd-- the one true shepherd, the Messiah who will come.
Interesting thing about sheep-- when they are attacked, they react differently than, say, when goats are attacked. If you attack a flock of goats, they will huddle together, and they will face outwardly using their horns to protect them.
When sheep are attacked, they just scatter. They don't get together. They don't huddle. They don't think that way. They just go in every conceivable direction so that they are vulnerable, because they're alone. And because they're vulnerable, they can easily be attacked by a predator so that the only hope that the sheep have is for a gracious, loving, protective shepherd. One of the marks of a good shepherd is that he is willing to protect his flock, warn the sheep, feed the sheep so that they become so strong that they have the coping mechanisms wherewith to stave off attackers.
David said, "Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Now the staff is what was used to direct and guide the sheep. The rod was used to beat off wolves. It was a club a few feet long. Sometimes it had nails or spikes at the end of it. And it would be an incentive for the wolves not to attack the sheep, a very powerful incentive. And I love the fact that David said, not only is your staff a comfort to me, but your rod is a comfort to me. Lord, I love the fact that you love your sheep so much that you protect them. And it's the mark of any good shepherd to protect the flock, a mark of any good pastor to protect the flock.
Peter said that Satan is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. But we have a good shepherd. And Satan has to get past the shepherd to get to you so that nothing is allowed to come your way unless first Satan get some kind of permission slip from God. We remember that with Job how that Satan accuse job of being a mercenary. "O Lord, he serves you only for what he can get out of you, what you do for him. Let me at him." God gave him permission up to a point. He was limited. He was restricted. That's a good shepherd protecting his flock, knowing the limitations and the restrictions.
"Therefore, you shepherds hear the word of the Lord-- 'As I live," says the Lord God, "surely because my flock became a prey and my flock became food for every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, nor did my shepherd search for my flock. But the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed my flock. Therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the Lord." Thus says the Lord God-- "Behold I am against the shepherds. And I will require my flock at their hands. I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more, for I will deliver my flock from their mouths that they may no longer be food for them."
I see a principle here. The principle is this-- if shepherds don't feed God's flock, they are actually feeding the enemy of the sheep they're giving fuel. They're encouraging the enemy of those sheep because they're allowing the sheep to become so vulnerable that they become the food for the attackers.
And you know cultists are always on the lookout for naive, young, ill-taught believers. They're trained well. They know just enough scripture twisting to knock on your door and try to twist you into a theological pretzel. And so they'll knock on the door and they'll give you a scripture. And then, as you're thinking about that and processing it and trying to interpret it correctly, they'll shoot you with another one and another and another.
And the shepherds in feeding themselves and not nourishing the flock were actually giving fuel and strengthening the enemy of the flock. Now there is a legend that the Jews have concerning Moses, and it is just a legend. It's an interesting story though, because it speaks to the whole issue of one of God's shepherds as those who should take care of, feed, and love the flock. And it's the legend of Moses out in the wilderness. And the Jews use it to explain why God chose Moses as the great shepherd during that era to lead the children of Israel through the wilderness.
The legend is this-- when Moses was feeding the sheep of his father-in-law in the wilderness, a young kid ran away. Moses followed it until it reached a ravine where it was found by a well to drink from. When Moses got up to it, Moses said, "I did not know that you ran away because you were thirsty. Now you must be weary." And he took that little kid on his shoulders and carried it back. And then God said, "Because you have shown pity in leading back one of my flock, you shall lead my flock, Israel." Now again, that's just a fancy, little, cute story that comes from Jewish legends. But it speaks to the issue that the quality of life of sheep is totally dependent on the kind of shepherd that is protecting and feeding the flock.
According to the law of Moses, a shepherd was so responsible for his sheep that if one of them ran away and was torn to bits by a predator that shepherd guiding the sheep had to bring proof-- of body part from that sheep. Amos, the prophet, speaks of taking a leg or two or an ear out of the mouth of the wolf or the lion and bringing it back to show the owner of the sheep, look, it's not my fault. I tried to protect it. But these shepherds of Israel, these leaders, could care less. They were only in it for themselves.
"For thus says the Lord God," verse 11, "indeed I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out as a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out my sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day." Now we're seeing this chapter sort of around a corner where God uses the failure of the shepherds of Israel to launch into the future of the true shepherd of Israel, the Messiah-- the perfect shepherd, the good shepherd, the great and chief shepherd. They failed. The Messiah will come, and he will not fail.
Now, again, verse 12, "I will seek out my sheep and deliver them from the places where they were scattered." Sheep easily go astray. It's quite easy for them to break up and go their own direction. And so in Isaiah the prophet, all we, like sheep, have gone astray. We've all gone our own way. And the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
And that's the reason in the parables Jesus talks about the shepherd who would leave the 99 and go out and search for the one lost sheep, because they do so easily go astray. Sheep are scared quite readily. Even a rabbit can cause a flock of sheep to stampede and then go in different directions. Sometimes sheep will wander out of fear. Other times they will wander and scatter and then get to self-indulgence once they scatter.
Philippi Keller, again in that book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, speaks about-- because he was a shepherd in Canada-- speaks about a sheep known as a "cast sheep." And he said, what will happen is these sheep will eat, they'll overeat, they become very self-indulgent. They find a depression in the ground where they lie down. And then what happens is their center of gravity will shift so that their feet aren't able to touch the ground any longer, and they can't get up. If they panic, they'll roll over more. And what happens after a period of time, as gases accumulate, rise to the surface in the body, and cut off the circulation of the legs, and that sheep will die unless the shepherd finds it and restores it back to the flock.
It's an interesting picture. It's a picture not only of our tendency to wander away from God. "Prone to wander," said to hymn writer. "Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love," but in wandering from God, to get very comfortable and self-indulgent. You can have self-indulgent shepherds. You can also have self-indulgent sheep. And Keller says, not only will they eat too much, but they could be in mud bogs or get thorns, stickers on their wool. And if it's not shorn, cut, regularly it weighs them down. And it creates more of a problem.
So the shepherd will rescue the sheep and make sure that the fur is cut and that that sheep is trim and ready for life. So God rescues us and will take us out of our self-indulgence and cut away the things that hinder us and restrict us out of love. That's a good shepherd as well.
"And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and will bring them to their own land. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel."
To lie down means simply that sheep are relaxed. They are at peace. They're confident, because the shepherd has taken care of them. Shepherds will tell you that it's nearly impossible for sheep to lie down unless certain requirements are met by the shepherd, number one being freedom from fear. Again, sheep are easily spooked. A jackrabbit can send them scattered in different directions.
So the shepherd will make sure that the sheep are protected and they have that sense of security in the way, in the manner in which that shepherd will lead them gently through the pastures. And then, in leading them, in the evening time, the shepherd will bring them into a sheepfold-- an enclosure, a pen of sorts-- and he'll lead them there where they can feel relaxed, and they can get restored. There's that sense of well-being because there's now a protection, a barrier, around them, so predators can't get through.
And shepherds, in the evening time, to give their sheep that sense of well-being, will lie in front of the enclosure. It's an enclosure in the wilderness. It has no swinging door it's just an opening. And the Shepherd will lie down in front of that opening and become the door. So when Jesus in John 10 said, "I am the door of the sheepfold," he was referring to the practice of the shepherds lying down in front of that wilderness enclosure where the sheep were, meaning the predators the wolves can't get to the sheep unless they cross over the body of the shepherd.
Great comfort to know that the devil has to go through Jesus first. And by the way, when Satan starts knocking at your door, let Jesus answer it. Don't you try to, in your own strength, say, OK, Devil, I have a few words for you, and start talking to him and carrying on a long, rebuking conversations with him. Just pray, and let the Lord handle it.
"They shall lie down," and I love the next verse. "I will feed my flock, and I will make them lie down," says the Lord. Boy, that sounds a little bit enforced, doesn't it? But isn't that what David said? "He makes me lie down in green pastures." And sometimes the Lord has to make us relax, because sometimes we sheep can be such aggressive, goal-oriented creatures, pressing harder and harder and harder, that the Lord just has to make us lie down and relax.
The Greeks used to have a saying-- "If you always keep the bow bent, eventually it will break." In Christian work, it's sort of a mark of Christian workers to push so hard and use the old saying, "Well, I'd rather burn out for God than rust out for God." Now think about that statement. Either way, you're out. I'd rather stay in. Let the Lord direct me. Let the Lord be my shepherd. Let the Lord set the pace. Serve Him out of joy. Sometimes He might make us lie down. Thank you, Lord, for the rest.
"I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick. But I will destroy the fat and the strong and feed them in judgment. And as for you, O my flock, thus says the Lord God, 'Behold I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats."
We know that, if you look at this futuristically, "Before the millennium, there will be a judgment of nations where God will separate the sheep from the goats," spoken about in Matthew, chapter 25, "Where the nations will be gathered together." said Jesus, "and I will separate between the sheep and the goats." And so not only are there evil shepherds, but there can be evil sheep or those who claim to be of the flock and are not.
"Is it too little for you to have eaten up the good pasture that you must tread down with your feet the residue of your pasture and to have drunk the clear waters that you must foul the residue with your feet? And as for you my flock, they will eat what you have trampled with your feet, and they drink what you have fouled with your feet.
Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them, 'Behold I, myself, will judge between the fat and the lean sheep, because you have pushed with side and shoulder, butted all the weak ones with your horns and scattered them abroad. Therefore, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them-- my servant, David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd, and I, the Lord, will be their God and my servant, David, a prince among them. I, the Lord, have spoken.'"
Now when this was written, David had been dead about 300 years. And I don't think this is a reference to the future that God will literally resurrect David necessarily to reign and co-reign with the Messiah in the millennial kingdom. I think this is simply a reference to the son of David, the descendant of David. And almost all of the Jewish commentaries as well say this must be a reference to the son of David, the Messiah, who will come and reign. Of course, the problem is they don't recognize their true Messiah as being Jesus, who is from the line of David. But this refers to him, his rulership. And that's what we have to look forward to.
The ideal form of government is not a democracy of the people, for the people, by the people. It's a pretty good form of government. But every form of government has its flaws and will ultimately fail. The only form of lasting government that's going to work is a theocracy. And I'm not referring to the theocratic state like they have over in Iran with a bully kind of a government but a benevolent dictatorship, a merciful rule of the Messiah who will rule and reign, as the Bible, says for 1,000 years.
"I will make a covenant of peace." Now listen to how this is structured. It takes us to the future. It points the way to the future kingdom of Messiah on the earth, a 1,000-year reign. "I will make a covenant of peace with them and cause the wild beasts to cease from the land. And they will dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing. And I will cause showers to come down in their season. There will be showers of blessing."
You'll remember, back in Deuteronomy, chapter 11, that the Lord tells the people of Israel, "The land that you're going in to possess is not like the land of Egypt where you had to water it by foot with those pumps by the Nile River. But the land that you go in to possess is a land of hills and valleys that drinks in the water from heaven." And God promised them, look, when you're in the land, if you obey me, I'll bless you. And you'll see it, you'll know that I blessed you because rain will come in its season and abundantly water of the earth. However, if you disobeyed me, I will withhold the rain.
Here is the promise of peace. Here is the promise of a tamed animal kingdom. And here is the promise of abundant blessing in the form of rain upon the land of Israel. "Then the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase. Then they shall be safe in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord when I have broken the bands of their yoke and delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them."
This is the new era of the Messiah that has not yet come. It is yet to come. It's the Messianic age. It is the millennial reign. And there will be incredible changes upon the earth.
Isaiah had the same sort of vision in chapter 11 and in chapter 35 of his book. He saw this peaceful reign of the Messiah that was coming. In Isaiah, chapter 11, he says, "There will come a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and with righteousness, he will judge. The wolf will dwell with the lamb. The Leopard will lie down with a young goat. And a little child shall lead them."
Then over in chapter 35, he says that, "The wilderness in the wasteland will be glad. The desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose." So the earth, during the time of the millennium, will undergo such cataclysmic change, even a change in the water cycle-- the hydrological cycle. There will be abundant blessing and fruit yielded, even out in the Coachella Valley, without the aid of any kind of human intervention. Go out toward Barstow. It's going to be lush. Out toward Arizona and New Mexico, it's just going to be a beautiful, lush, verdant, vibrant place-- great changes. Looking forward to it.
Now there's something else about this passage of scripture. This is one of those-- and there are many-- clear, lucid statements that are so often softened and allegorized by the amillennialist. An amillennialist is one who doesn't believe in a literal millennium, a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on the earth. He relegates that to a figurative time. He will say that the millennium is now. The kingdom is now. Christ is ruling and reigning in the church age. All of the promises God made to Israel have been negated by Israel's disobedience. And so they will take these clear, direct statements of God fulfilling his promise and soften it or spiritualize it.
And here's why it's dangerous. When you take the promises that God made and you allegorize them, you strip the words from their meaning. You see, if 1,000 years doesn't really mean 1,000 years, then what does that mean? Answer-- nobody really knows. And so you've got a lot of problems, because you have some pretty clear numbers in the book of Revelation.
You have seven churches, 12 tribes, 12 apostles, a third of mankind, 1260 days, 42 months, 144,000. And if you start saying, well, that's just an allegory. It doesn't really mean 144,000. It doesn't really mean 42 months. Then pray tell, what does it mean? And they'll say, well, we don't know. It's all figurative. Of what? And on what basis do you have to take and make it an allegory? On what basis or what right do you have to say, well, we don't take prophecy literally, but we take the rest of the Bible literally? What right do you have to say that?
You see, what you're doing, in that mindset, is opening up a Pandora's box. And you can make it say anything that you want to. But if you take it at face value-- literally-- then you'll have to put it all together and say, there's going to be a real kingdom for Israel in Jerusalem from David's throne for 1,000 years, and Israel will be restored. And that's just the plain rendering of the text.
By the way, those who say, well, we're in the kingdom age right now, if this is it--
I am terribly disappointed. I am bummed out. This is it? I don't think so. We look for something way beyond this. And I've got to wonder, why would God spend Isaiah 11, Isaiah 35, Ezekiel, chapter 34, and the entire book of Revelation to say it's not actually going to happen? God spent all of that time and all of those words to say, just kidding. It's just figurative. Better to just take what the Bible says at face value simply and believe it simply.
"And they will no longer be prey," verse 28, "for the nations nor the beasts of the land devour them. But they will dwell safely, and no one shall make them afraid. I will raise up for them a garden of renown. And they shall no longer be consumed who hungered in the land nor bear the shame of the Gentiles anymore. Thus they shall know that I, the Lord, their God, am with them. And they, the house of Israel, are my people," says the Lord God. "You are my flock, the flock of my pasture. You are men, and I am your God," says the Lord God.
So don't be insulted that you're called sheep. Be delighted if the Lord is your shepherd, because you shall not want. I think when David wrote Psalm 23, by the way, and I think of it here reiterated where the Lord says, "I am going to be your shepherd. I'm going to direct you and feed you." I think when he said, "The Lord is my shepherd," he said it with such dignity, sort of like a kid who would brag about how great his dad is. Remember doing that when you were a kid? My dad's better than your dad. The Lord is my shepherd.
Have you ever known a pet owner who never took care of his pets? Oh, they have a couple of dogs, but they never walk the dogs. They throw a cup of food out there once a week. They never groom the dog unless there's like birds' nests in the fur. It becomes quite obvious they've got to do something. They own the pets, but they really shouldn't.
But then have you ever known a pet owner who goes a little bit too crazy and overboard? Every dog show, the dog is entered. Always groomed. Designer sweaters for the dog.
Personalized dog house-- "Fido," but it's spelled P-H-Y-D-E-A-U-X
"Fido." And you look at that, and you go, now that is way too much for a dog. Ah, but if you were a dog, which owner would you want? You'd want number two. You'd want that kind of pampering, that kind of love. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall never be in want. And here God promises to be that kind of shepherd to his people forever.
Now chapter 35 is an interesting chapter. It's short, but it's interesting for this reason, because here Ezekiel is speaking about the future restoration of Israel. And this chapter is an indictment against Mount Seir, against the nation of Edom. And so we wonder, why is it here? He's already spent part of chapter 25 judging Edom and inditing Edom. Why does he bring it up again? Because it has to do with the restoration of the nation of Israel, because Edom boasted that it wanted to take away from God the inheritance of Judah and Israel, wanted to say, they're mine, when God said, oh, no, they're mine. And so they wanted to assume control over the land, over the people that God said were his special people.
So because they have to deal with that, they're part of this transition in dealing with the restoration of the nation of Israel. And I think that Edom becomes a prototype of the future nations that will come against Israel. It's interesting that Edom bordered Israel and was somehow related to Israel. And in surrounding them, there was an ancient hatred toward them, very similar to the enemies of Israel today-- all around Israel, somehow related to Israel genetically, and yet sworn to its destruction.
The prophecy is in three parts, and each part ends with the phrase, "Then they will know that I am the Lord." Let's read it. "Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Son of man, set your face against Mount Seir and prophesy against it and say to it, 'Thus says the Lord God, behold all Mount Sier, I am against you. I will stretch out my hand against you and make you desolate.''"
Mount Seir is the geographical name for the ancient nation of Edom. Mount Seir is the chain of mountains that are visible to the east of the Wadi, or a little rivulet called the araba, which is a natural dividing line between today Saudi Arabia-- or Jordan actually-- and the nation of Israel. To the east of that, is this chain of mountains down toward the east and to the south of the Dead Sea.
"I shall lay your cities waste, and you shall be desolate. Then you shall know that I am the Lord. So these population centers, the cities, God says, will be as desolate as the countryside of Edom. Now I've got to tell you, that is some barren desert. So God is saying, look around, you live in a desolate area. I'm going to make your population centers, your cities, like that-- desolate. Because, here's why-- "'because you have had an ancient hatred and have shed the blood of the children of Israel by the power of the sword at the time of their calamity when their iniquity came to an end. Therefore, as I live,' says the Lord, 'I will prepare you for blood, and blood shall pursue you since you have not hated blood. Therefore, blood shall pursue you.'"
Now notice the frequent use of that word "blood." It's a play on words. In Hebrew, the word "blood" is "dom." the nation of Edom-- Edom, as we say-- means red. And it was named Edom-- Edom, red-- named after the mountains, Mount Seir and these mountains that appeared red because of the iron that was present in the soil. And so it's a play on words. You're going to be known for being red but, not because of your mountains, but because of blood, and the blood will be your blood. So it's a very graphic play on words in this judgment.
"Therefore, I will make Mount Seir most desolate and cut off from it the one who leaves and the one who returns. And I will fill its mountains with the slain on your hills and your valleys. In all your m those who are slain by the sword shall fall. I will make you perfectly desolate. And your cities shall be uninhabited. Then you shall know that I am the Lord."
So judgment after judgment, giving them the opportunity to know that he is the Lord, and what will it take for them to wake up? Well, more judgments are to follow. Because you have said, these two nations and these two countries shall be mine, and we will possess them, although the Lord was there. "Therefore, as I live," says the Lord God, "I will do according to your anger and according to the envy which you showed in your hatred against them. And I will make myself known among them when I judge you. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.
I have heard all your blasphemies, which you have spoken against the mountains of Israel, saying, they are desolate. They are given to us to consume. Thus, with your mouth, you have boasted against me and multiplied your words against me. I have heard them." In other words, what you have done to my people, you've done it to me. I've taken this personally.
Remember, in Matthew, chapter 25, the judgment of the sheep and goats, the judgment of the nations, referring to how those nations treat Israel. "Inasmuch as you did or did not do this to the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me," says the Lord. So God says, you've done it to them. Actually, I see that you've done it to me. "Thus says the Lord God, 'The whole earth will rejoice when I make you desolate. As you rejoice because the inheritance of the house of Israel was desolate, so I will do to you. You shall be desolate, O Mount Seir, as well as all of Edom, all of it. Then they shall know that I am the Lord."
These Edomites, in seeing the plight of those in Judah, in seeing what they thought was the vulnerability of God's flock, said, Israel is going to be mine. Judah will be mine, trying to usurp God's ownership making the land of Israel part of their land. Now listen carefully. God never gave the land of Israel to anybody but the people of Israel-- the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He never gave them to the Edomites. He made a covenant with the people of Israel-- an everlasting one.
And this brings up an issue that is very, very modern-- very current. It comes to the forefront whenever you see a news article or program about the Nation of Israel. And the question arises, well, who's right to the land is it? Why should we say Israel has a right to the land? Why can't anybody else have a right to the land? After all, before 1948, there were people living there. What does Israel have to say it's theirs?
And it brings up an even more fundamental question, who has the right to give anybody rights? And it's God and God alone. And you see, who does Israel belong to? Answer-- God. In Leviticus, the Lord said, "The land is mine. It shall never be sold permanently." Now, because it's God's land, God can dole it out to anybody he wants and make anyone a steward of his property. And it just so happened that God gave to Abraham and his descendants that piece of property-- not to Ishmael but to Isaac after Abraham.
Now Abraham said to God, "O that Ishmael might live before you." God said, no, I'll bless Ishmael. I have a land allotment for Ishmael and his descendants. But as for this land, it's going to go to you and your descendants through Isaac. Then after Isaac, God promised it to Jacob. Isaac, through Rebecca, had Jacob and Esau. Esau was the first born. Esau sold his birthright to Jacob. And so when Jacob came before his Father, he said, "The blessing of Abraham, I give to you."
So because it's the Lord's property and the Lord can distinguish who will occupy that property-- and by the way, look at the property, the land allotment, that God gave to Ishmael and his descendants. It's much larger. It's huge. But the descendants of Ishmael say, well, great, I'm glad we got all of this land, but we want all of it in the Middle East. We want to drive the Israelis out into the sea and see them destroyed. There should be no Jewish presence at all. That is the agenda of many of these groups. Well, God says, it's my land, and it's not going to the Edomites. It's not going to anybody but the people of Israel, those that I have chosen.
Now Ezekiel, chapter 36-- and this chapter is truly a glorious set of verses. It's been called the Gospel according to Ezekiel. That's because of a few verses around verse 24, 25, 26 that speak of the new covenant that God promises. He spoke to the prophet, Jeremiah, and He reiterated it here.
And this new covenant is in three parts. There's the regathering back into the land and the promise of the land itself to go to the inhabitants-- the Israelis, the Israelites. There is then the regeneration of the heart, a spiritual transformation, that he promises and then finally the re-establishment of his kingdom.
You'll remember that, one night, a rabbi came to Jesus named Nicodemus. And Nicodemus, being a very prominent teacher in Israel, knew of the promises that God had made to Israel and knew that the Jews were back in the land after the Babylonian captivity. There had been a regathering of people to that land. And he was waiting for the re-establishment of the kingdom, as were the disciples.
What Rabbi Nicodemus neglected was the spiritual component that was necessary, the spiritual regeneration, this new heart that Jesus describes as the new birth. Let's read it.
"And you, son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel and say--" the mountains represent the land and the people that inhabit it-- "'O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord,' thus says the Lord God, 'because the enemy has said of you, 'aha, the ancient heights have become our possession.' Therefore, prophesy and say, 'Thus says the Lord God, because they made you desolate and swallowed you up on every side so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations. And you are taken up by the lips of talkers and slanderers by the people. Therefore, all mountains of Israel hear the word of the Lord God. Thus says the Lord God to the mountains, the hills, the rivers, the valleys, the desolate wastes and the cities that have been forsaken which became plunder and mockery to the rest of all the nations all around.
Therefore, said thus says the Lord God, 'Surely, I have spoken in my burning jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Edom who gave my land to themselves as a possession with whole-hearted joy and spiteful minds in order to plunder its open country.' Therefore, prophesy concerning the land of Israel and say to the mountains, the hills, the rivers, and the valleys, 'Thus says the Lord God, 'Behold, I have spoken in my jealousy and my fury, because you have born the shame of the nations. Therefore, thus says the Lord God, I have raised my hand in an oath that surely the nations that are around you shall bear their own shame. But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people, Israel, for they are about to come.'"
Today, the nation of Israel is in the top five fruit exporters on planet Earth. It's staggering when you figure out how much real estate they don't have. They have just a little sliver of land, and so much of the land is barren. But through techniques, drip systems, very innovative ways to grow crops with the chemicals that they have developed, et cetera, way down in the Jordan Valley, even down by the Dead Sea, it's amazing the fruit production. "And the mountains of Israel will shoot forth branches and yield your fruit to my people."
Since 1948, the land that Israel has gained in cultivation is also amazing. Back in 1948, they took on about 408,000 acres of land to cultivate for production. Today, it's 1.07 million acres of land. They've just expanded their capacity to grow and then to export. And they produce 95% of their own goods for survival. They only depend on a very small amount of imports to keep that nation going. They actually give it out, not only to themselves, but to nations around them.
"For indeed, I am for you. I will turn to you, , and you shall be tilled and sown. I will multiply men upon you and all the house of Israel-- all of it. And the city shall be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt."
When Israel came into the land, so many of the areas were eroded. The trees had been chopped down, the land devastated. Malaria was rampant because of the swamps, especially up in the north in the Hula Valley. And Israel drained the swamps with its eucalyptus groves. They then embarked on an incredible venture of reforesting the land.
And so you're driving through the north, you're driving through the areas of Mount Carmel, and you're seeing areas of forests that come to a point. And you see a perfect line where it looks like somebody's chopped the trees down from their past where it's barren and empty. That's not the case. They just stopped their planting there. And they'll say, excuse me, you're saying that all of these forests are planted? They'll say, oh, yes, by hand since 1948. And they have actually managed to change the climate by the amount of trees that they have sown in that land and that are grown-- amazing, beautiful, truly staggering, blessed by God, promised by God.
"'I will multiply upon you man and beast. They shall increase and bear young. I will make you inhabited as in former times and do better for you than at your beginnings. Then you shall know that I am the Lord. Yes, I will cause men to walk on you. My people, Israel, they shall take possession of you. You shall be their inheritance. No more shall you bereave them of children,' thus says the Lord God, 'because they say to you, you devour men and bereave your nation of children. Therefore, you shall devour men no more nor bereave your nation anymore,' says the Lord God, 'nor will I let you hear the taunts of the nations anymore, nor bear the reproach of the peoples anymore, nor shall you cause your nation to stumble anymore,' says the Lord God.'"
Now some of the specific promises of the regathering are given. "Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own ways and deeds. To me, their way was like the uncleanness of a woman in her customary impurity.'" Sounds very much akin to, "All of your righteousness was as filthy rags." But this even more so because of the idolatry that was rampant for so many years in that country. "Therefore, I poured out my fury on them for the blood that they had shed on the land and for their idols with which they had defiled it. So I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed throughout the countries. I judge them according to their ways and their deeds."
Those four verses-- in the midst of this promise of restoration-- those four verses are a historical retrospective. There a look back to tell them why God brought judgment upon them. Oh, yes, he will restore them. But it does come after the judgment. And he's saying, this is why I judged. Here were the reasons. They were found in your unfaithfulness to keep the covenant.
"When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned my holy name. When they said of them, 'These are the people of the Lord, and yet they have gone out of His land,' but I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went. Therefore, say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord God, "I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for my holy name sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went.''" In other words, I didn't do this because I found any merit in you. It's not because of you. It's because of my promise and my grace to you, my holy name, my reputation.
It's interesting, and I'm not trying to pick on the amillennialists who are our brothers in Christ, but so many of the amillennialists, those who allegorize and give a figurative expression to the Scripture, will say that we premillennialists irrationally favor Israel saying that, well, what you're saying is that God loves Israel more than the Gentile nations because of all these promises. No, look, God says that his program for Israel isn't because they're superior. It's not because I'm favoring them or love them more. It's because of my reputation. Look, I made a promise. I made to covenant Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. And I'm not going to break my promise. I'm going to keep it, because I'm going to protect my name.
"'And I will sanctify my great name," verse 23, "which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord,' says the Lord God. 'when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.'" Remember, our Lord Jesus, when he taught the disciples to pray, said, when you pray, say, "Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name."
In the Bible, a name is more than just a title. It speaks of the totality of a person's character, his reputation. We sometimes say, well, he's really made a name for himself, hasn't it? What we mean is he's developed quite a reputation.
A name tells you a lot about a product. If you see on a car the name "Porsche," usually you don't think, junk--
--trashy, bad reputation. You think, engineering, quality, and very expensive. If you see the name "Ford Pinto--"
--you usually don't think high quality. You know about their reputation, the problems they had for such a long time. They've developed quite a name for themselves. God's name, God's reputation, God's character is to be hallowed in our prayer, in our activity, by our lifestyle of obedience to him.
"For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then--" and now is the emphasis, not on the regathering of the people, not on the land itself, but on the spiritual regeneration of the heart in the new covenant. "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean. I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols." This is one of the most glorious promises of Israel's restoration. It speaks to the future cleansing of their sin under the new covenant.
Now you have this term "sprinkle you with water." The Jews, in hearing that, would understand that that's part of the Levitical law. The law of Moses required a cleansing from defilement, whether it was your tent or belongings in your tent or a person who touched a dead body. They would take the ashes of a red heifer, they would mingle it with clean running water, they would dip hyssop in that, and then they would sprinkle it-- purifying it, cleansing it. And so it speaks of God cleansing the people's hearts as we'll see. It's picturing the Messiah who will come and perform the priestly duty of purifying, in this case, through his own blood.
Now notice he says, "I will sprinkle clean water on you--" that's Israel. But in Isaiah, chapter 52, the promise is, "So shall he sprinkle many nations." In other words, the cleansing from sin under the new covenant will be to Israel but go beyond Israel to the nations, to the whole world. John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world." And so the gospel is for all men, all women everywhere. Some people say, oh, it's a Western religion. Hey, check your geography. It started in the Middle East, first of all. Second of all, God always made promises that encompassed the world when it came to his salvation.
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh." Think of the stony ground in the parable in Matthew, chapter 13-- hard, stubborn. "And I will give you a heart of flesh--" pliable, responsive. "I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes." The promise of a new nature that could overcome the old nature. "And you will keep my judgments and do them."
I'm sort of sad that I won't be here Wednesday night to hear Chuck discuss the difference between the old and the new covenant. I'm going to have to watch it later in the archives on the internet. But one of the differences is that the old covenant tried to restrain the outward behavior. The new covenant deals with the inner motivation, the heart. There is an inner transformation that occurs that the old law could never produce. It tried to control conduct. Here is an inner transformation, a character change.
The children of Israel said to Moses when he was going up to Mount Sinai to get the law, hey, you go and you hear from God, and whatever God tells you to tell us, tell us, and we'll do it. We'll keep the laws of God. God heard that and said, oh, my people had such a heart to keep those laws and to obey me in righteousness. God recognized that they didn't have the capacity at that point, the heart that the new covenant predicted.
It's sort of like the difference between sheet music and playing something by ear if you're a musician. The law provided sheet music. God puts the melody in your heart. You just have the melody. You hear it. You play it by ear. It's a part of you. It's the expression.
I love that old poem that says, "The difference between the law and grace-- do this and live, the law commands, but gives me neither feet nor hands. A better word the Gospel brings. It bids me, fly, and then it gives me wings." God promises the change of heart, the change from within, the new capacity, a born-again experience.
"Then you will dwell on the land that I gave your fathers, and you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will deliver you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and multiply it. I will bring no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of your trees and increase of your fields so that you need never again bear the reproach of famine among the nations."
So after speaking of that spiritual change, that spiritual restoration that must precede the external restoration, now he goes back to the land, to the promises, taking away the famine, blessing their crops, et cetera. But you'll remember back to that conversation that Nicodemus has had that night with Jesus that Nicodemus asked this question and was curious about Jesus.
"We know that you're a teacher come from God. Nobody can do these works unless God be with him." And Nicodemus knew the promise of restoration to the land but was fuzzy about this spiritual change that he should have known about. Jesus expected that this Nicodemus should know this promise in Ezekiel. "Are you," he said, "the teacher in Israel, and you don't know these things?" As he spoke about being born again, the change that comes from above, that inner transformation-- "Are you the teacher of Israel?" Nicodemus, of all people, you ought to know this.
And here it is spelled out-- the regeneration of the heart and then the reestablishment of the covenant. "'Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good. And you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and your abominations. Not for your sake do I do this,' says the Lord God. 'Let it be known to you, be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel,' 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. I will cleanse you. I will enable you. The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by. So they will say, 'This land was desolate. 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, and I will do it.'
Thus says the Lord God, 'I will also let the house of Israel inquire of me. To do this for them, I will increase their men like a flock. Like a flock offered as holy sacrifice, like the flock of Jerusalem on its feast days, so shall the ruined cities be filled with flocks of men. And they shall know that I am the Lord.'" So part of the blessing that God promised to Israel would be an increase in their population. And that increase in population was seen as evidence of God's restorative blessing on the nation.
You'll remember that in Genesis, chapter 15, the Lord said to Abram, hey, Abram, look up. Check out the stars, man. Can you count them? You can't number them. "So shall your descendants be." The promise of increased multitudes of people, and here God promises this here.
Today, there are 17.4 million Jews worldwide. 6.5 million of them live in the nation of Israel. In 1948, when Israel was given the land-- just a few years ago really-- there were only about 860,000 of them. There's been over a 5.5 million increase in their population since that time-- an incredible increase in that little strip of land.
But the glorious thing-- the real heart of this issue, of this promise, of this text, is the restoration of Israel in the change of their heart. How does a Jew get saved? How does Israel get saved? The same way anybody gets saved. Trust in the sacrifice, the blood, the once-for-all shed sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon Calvary's Cross, the one shepherd who would give himself a ransom for many and sprinkle many nations and sprinkle the nation of Israel.
Jesus spoke of himself as the good shepherd. And he said, "I am the good shepherd, and I lay down my life for my sheep." He laid down his life for the nation. He came into his own. His own received Him not. He laid down his life for the sins of the world.
There was a story in World War I of a young French soldier out on the front lines. He was fighting. He sustained an almost fatal injury. He survived, but he lost his arm. It had to be amputated. He was a young-man man, handsome, strong.
The surgeon who performed the operation, who amputated the arm, was broken hearted because he knew he had to be the one to tell this young soldier what had happened. So he waited by his bedside all through the night. And he finally woke up. And the soldier looked up, in a daze, at the surgeon. And the surgeon said, "Young man, I'm sorry that I have to be the one to inform you that you lost your left arm in this battle." The soldier heard the news and seemed at first to not understand it, but he did. And he smiled back, and he said, "You're wrong, sir. I did not lose my arm. I gave my arm for my country."
Jesus was not killed. He was not murdered. His life wasn't snatched from him without his consent. He said, "No man takes my life from me. I lay it down of myself. I have the power to lay it down and to take it again." Jesus laid down his life to sprinkle the nation of Israel and many nations like us so that he could gather, in one flock, those who believe in Him.
Let's pray. Our Heavenly Father, once again, we thank you for these incredible promises made to your people that will be fulfilled literally to your people and also the promises that are to us. As Paul said, "These things that were written aforetime were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world have come." Thank you, Lord. Thank you for the opportunity to gather as free men and women-- free in, Christ free to assemble, free to worship-- to read your word, to study your word, to make application to our lives.
Thank you, Lord, for the good feeding we've had for so many years by our pastor Chuck and those who have taught. And thank you for hungry sheep who love to be fed. Lord strengthen, protect, give us opportunity to share with and teach others your truth, in Jesus' name. Amen.
So we stand. I don't know if you read the article this week, but as Skip was saying, sheep are pretty dumb. There was a huge flock of sheep. I think there was something like 1,500 sheep. There were 20 different groups who had their sheep all grazing together. And the lead sheep-- is it sheep? Anyhow, the one that was in the lead--
--went over a cliff. The whole flock followed it. Most of them were killed. As they were going over, the pile built up higher and higher. So the last ones to go over didn't get killed, because they were falling on the bodies of the sheep that had already been killed. Dumb sheep.
You know, when I was a kid and talking to my mom about things I wanted to do, parties I wanted to go to, and I used to use that old, "Mom, everybody's going." And she said, "Son, if everybody is going, it doesn't make it right." She said, "Just because others are going and are being destroyed by doing those things, do you want to follow them?" In other words, are you a dumb sheep? You see others that are doing destructive things, and do you want to follow that just because everybody's doing it? She said, "That's not a good excuse."
May God help us to trust in our shepherd to take care of us, to guide us, to provide, and to be everything that we need. And aren't you glad that you have a shepherd like that? Jesus Christ-- "I am the good shepherd--" watching over and taking care of us. And may the Lord--