When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, Moses was sent by God to say to Pharaoh, "Let my people go, that they may serve me." [Exodus 8:20]
God promised that he would bring the people out of Egypt, into "the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey." [Exodus 3:17]
All this was fulfilled, after the Exodus, and the sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness, and the conquest of the land under Joshua.
In Ezekiel 36, a prophecy addressed to the mountains of Israel, and the hills, valleys, and rivers, mountains are said to have become a "prey" and a "derision" to the heathen.
When the Israelites abandoned the worship of God, and turned to idolatry, they were removed from the promised land. Other people where brought to settle there. These people were called Samaritans, because they dwelt in the area of Samaria.
The Samaritans had a temple on Mount Gerizim, which was to them the equivalent of the temple of the Jews at Jerusalem. The Samaritans were Gentiles, but practised a form of religion similar to that of the Jews.
The gospel of John reports that Jesus visited the well of Jacob at Shechem, in Samaria, located near the place where the bones of Joseph were buried. Josephus says that the city lay between Mount Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. In the conversation Jesus had with a woman of Samaria at the well, Jesus identified himself, and the spirit that comes from him, with "living water," which replaces the literal water that the people drew from Jacob's well. He also indicated that he replaces the "mountains of Israel," which were regarded as holy sites, where men went to worship God. He referred to Mount Gerizim, and Jerusalem.
"Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
Jesus said there is no longer any need to go to Jerusalem, or to Mount Gerizim, to worship God. He said God seeks those who worship him in spirit and truth.
Some have used Ezekiel's prophecy about the mountains of Israel to promote Zionism, and to justify the settlement of the land of Palestine by Jews, and their violent confiscation of Palestinian land and property. Dispensationalist John F. Walvoord suggested that Ezekiel's prophecy is about Jews returning to Palestine, and taking possession of the land.
The Future Restoration of Israel to Her Land
Ezekiel 36:1-7. Just as the people of Edom and other nations had hounded Israel, destroyed her cities, and plundered them, so God promised He would destroy the nations, including Edom, who had done this to Israel (vv. 1-7).
Ezekiel 36:8-36. But to Israel, however, God gave the wonderful promise of her restoration. She will be restored like a tree producing branches and fruit (v. 8). God will increase the number of the house of Israel and her cities will once again be inhabited and her ruins rebuilt (v. 10). Even animals will be more plentiful and the land will become fruitful (v. 11). God not only promised that the Children of lsrael would walk on her ancient land and possess it, but "you will never again deprive them of their children" (v. 12), referring to the fact that Israel would be permanently established in her land when her final restoration takes place (Amos 9:15). God declared that never again will the Children of Israel be destroyed and suffer taunts from the nations (Ezek. 36:13-15).
Every Prophecy of the Bible, by John F. Walvoord
[David C. Cook,
1999] p. 183-185
In Ezekiel 36, an enemy has made "the mountains of Israel" desolate, and has "swallowed them up on every side." They are a possession of the residue of the heathen; they are "taken up in the lips of talkers." They are "an infamy of the people." Ezekiel says the cities are forsaken, and they have become "a prey and derision to the residue of the heathen that are round about." God says, "Surely in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the heathen, and against all Idumea. 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." The mountains of Israel have "borne the shame of the heathen."
In John 4:19-24, Jesus said neither Jerusalem, nor Mount Gerizim,
are preferred as legitimate places for the worship of God. Those who
ignore what Jesus said, have made the true worship of God, and the
promises of the Gospel an "infamy of the people." Walvoord's comments
disregard the fact that Ezekiel's prophecy is addressed to the
mountains of Israel, and he fails to offer any explanation of the role
of Edom, which history shows was incorporated into Judaism. "They were
subdued by John Hyrcanus (c. 125 BC), who forced them to observe Jewish
rites and laws. They were then incorporated with the Jewish nation. The
Pharisees were notably opposed to the annexation of Idumea to the
Maccabee state. The Hasmonean official Antipater the Idumaean was of
Edomite origin. He was the progenitor of the Herodian Dynasty that
ruled Judea after the Roman conquest."
How may this fact, and the repossession of the land by Jews in modern times, be reconciled with the prophecy of Ezekiel? Apparently, history indicates the people who occupy Palestine, and call their state "Israel" are as much "Edom" as they are "Israel"! [Josephus, "Antiq.", XIII, ix, 1.] And they bring shame and dishonour to the name "Israel," because of their policies toward other people, and violence, for example in the bloody Gaza campaign.
Because of flawed interpretations of the prophecies of the Bible by dispensationalists, and those who abuse prophecy for the cause of Zionism, and to support Jewish terriorial claims, the prophecies of scripture are "taken up in the lips of talkers." Like other dispensationalists, Walvoord claims to interpret the land promises in the OT literally. With a superficial reading, Ezekiel's prophecy may be construed as justification for the dispossession of Palestinians from their land, but I suggest, those who do so misunderstand what Ezekiel's prophecy was about. Jesus showed, in his ministry throughout the promised land, that he fulfills the promises; men need to come to Jesus, not the literal territory of Palestine, in order to worship God. Jesus is the true temple, in which men may worship God in spirit and truth.
The "mountains of Israel" in Ezekiel 36 represent spiritual promises in scripture, that apply to Christ and the saints. Jesus has inherited these promises; the prophecies such as Ezekiel 36 have become "a prey and derision to the residue of the heathen that are round about," because of flawed interpretations, that don't acknowledge Christ, to whom the land really belongs. In Ezekiel's prophecy, God refers to the land as "my land."
Ezekiel 36:5 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Surely in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the heathen, and against all Idumea, which 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 belongs, not to Jews, as Walvoord supposed, or to Palestinians, but to Christ. David wrote:
Psalm 24:1 The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
W. D. Davies commented on Paul's understanding of the land promise.
With the coming of Christ the wall of separation between Israel and the Gentiles was removed. This wall, usually interpreted of "the Law," or of "the veil in the Temple," in the passage in Ephes. 2:11-22, which here, whether written by him [Paul] or by a member of his school or not, brings Paul's thought to its full expression, we may also interpret implicitly to include the geographic separation between those in the land and those outside the land. Because the logic of Paul's understanding of Abraham and his personalization of the fulfilment of the promise "in Christ" demanded the deterritorializing of the promise. Salvation was not now bound to the Jewish people centred in the land and living according to the Law: it was "localized" not in a place, but in persons in whom grace and faith had their write. By personalizing the promise "in Christ" Paul universalized it. For Paul, Christ had gathered up the promise into the singularity of his own person. In this way, "the territory" promised was transformed into and fulfilled by the life "in Christ." All this is not made explicit, because Paul did not directly apply himself to the question of the land, but it is implied. In the Christological logic of Paul, the land, like the Law, particular and provisional, had become irrelevant.
The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish
Doctrine, by W. D. Davies
[U. of California Press 1974] p. 179.
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