Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"God's plans for Israel ... again!"

Day #238

Scripture Reading:  Ezekiel 37 - 42 …

We have seen repeatedly that God chose Israel as a special nation, a peculiar people for Himself.  Because of their sin and idolatry, God sent Assyria to defeat Israel and to scatter the people throughout the nations, and then sent Babylon to defeat Judah and to take the people into captivity - this for a limited time of 70 years.  Ezekiel writes from Babylon, being one of those taken into captivity.  As God pronounces judgment on the nations, and even on Judah, He declares over and over again, "Then they will know that I am the LORD!" (36:38).

You and I need to know that the God who spoke those words through Ezekiel is the same God who today watches over Israel.  He is the God who sent His Son to be born of a woman and to be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of King David, to whom God made further promises. The final chapters of Ezekiel's prophecy point to a time in Israel's future, and it is significant and extremely important to try to understand what God was saying to Judah AND what God is saying to us today.

Chapter 37 certainly refers to the power of God's Word to bring spiritual life from spiritual death, but it also speaks specifically about something God is going to do in the future.  Ezekiel describes what he sees:  " ... they came to life and stood up on their feet - a vast ARMY" (37:10).  God then tells Ezekiel, "... these bones are the whole house of Israel" (37:11).  What does that mean? The rest of the chapter explains.  God was telling Judah and all of Israel that He had not forgotten His promises and that there was hope!  Their captivity in Babylon was not the end.

Since the reign of Solomon nearly 400 years before, the kingdom of Israel had been divided - the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom, Judah.  Israel was also referred to as "Ephraim," from the name of one of Joseph's sons.  God now reveals to Ezekiel that there will come a time when He will reunite "the whole house of Israel" and give them one ruler, one king, one shepherd:  His "servant David" (37:24).  That is a reference to the "Son of David," Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.  God says they will live in the land He gave to Jacob (37:25) forever.  "I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel.  There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms." (37:22).  "I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever.  My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people" (37:26-28).

When will this happen?  Chapters 38 and 39 speak of war with Gog and Magog.  The exact identity of these names remains in question, but there are clear indications that they refer to the nations north of Israel, as the other nations mentioned are in Asia Minor, the area of Turkey, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, as well as Iran, Ethiopia and Libya.  While some believe the events described took place in the century following the exile, there are indications that what is being described lies yet in the future.  Speaking to Gog and Magog, God says, "After many days you will be called to arms.  In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel which had long been desolate.  They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety.  You and all your troops and the many nations with you will go up, advancing like a storm; you will be like a cloud covering the land" (38:8-9).

The war between Gog and Magog will take place at a future time, when the people of Israel have been gathered together and are living in peace.  This may be the battle of Armageddon, or it may be the brief battle described in Revelation 20:7-10, which takes place after the Millennium.  The point of these chapters is to declare what God will do for Israel and why:  "I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishments I inflict and the hand I lay upon them.  From that day forward the house of Israel will know that I am the LORD their God" (39:21-22).  There WILL come a time when all of Israel will recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as their God.  That should make us sit up and take note as we see the events going on in the world around us.  These are not matters to be ignored.

Beginning in Chapter 40, Ezekiel describes a rebuilt temple.  With great detail, Ezekiel describes what he sees. There is some debate concerning when this temple will be rebuilt ... whether it was the rebuilt temple following the exile or some future temple ... it may be elements of both.  In many of the prophecies of the Old Testament there is a dual meaning to what is being foretold.  What is clear is that God has future plans for Israel that include the gathering of the descendants of Jacob to the land God promised to Abraham more than 4,000 years ago.  Their claim on the land supersedes that of anyone else because GOD gave them the land, and even more importantly, it points to the promise of God to you and me who through faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ, are grafted into the Root of Jesse and made part of God's people!!

The connection between God's promises to us and God's promises to Israel is clear.  These things WILL take place, just as God says through Ezekiel, and when they do only those who know the true God and who come to Him through faith in Jesus will escape His judgment and enter into His presence. As you watch the events going on in the world around us, especially the Middle East, don't miss their significance as you live with hope in the same God who made the promises and who is now keeping them.  There's more to come ... for Israel AND for YOU!!

"O LORD, our God, how thankful we who believe must be that our hope is not based on chance or on what man might do, but rather on Your promises.  I pray for Your people of old and for Your protection over them even now.  I thank You that Your plan of salvation is not dependent upon the will of man, but on Your own purpose to bring glory to Yourself through Israel ... AND through ME!!  Amazing grace!!  Let my life declare Your presence and Your power to those around me so that they, too, may know that You alone are God.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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