Lecture 9 of 11 on "The Hopes of the Church of God"

Ezekiel 37.

Israel's Failure and Dispersion; Promises of Restoration.

J. N. Darby.

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That which happens to the dry bones seen by Ezekiel exhibits, very forcibly, the matter to be treated of this evening; namely, what God in His goodness will yet do in favour of Israel. We shall follow our usual method of giving a succession of passages out of the word of God upon it. You remember, that in commencing this subject, we remarked the difference between the covenant made with Abraham, and the covenant of the law given on Mount Sinai; and that whenever God was going to shew grace to His people, He called to mind the covenant made with Abraham. We also remarked that Israel took the promises under the covenant made in the wilderness, and not under that made with Abraham; and that, from that time Israel, being put under the condition of obedience in order to persevere in the enjoyment of the promises, failed altogether; but that, notwithstanding, thanks to the mediation of Moses, God was able to bless the people.

We shall have to see how Israel failed again after that, even when established in the land which the Lord had given to them; and that God raised up prophets, in a way altogether apart from His necessary dealings with them, to convict them of the sin into which they had fallen, and to shew the faithful ones that the counsels of God towards Israel would not be put aside; for that, by means of the Messiah, He would accomplish all that which He had spoken. We shall see also, that it was just when Israel would fail, that these promises of their re-establishment would become precious to the faithful remnant of the people.

354 Let us remember that in the history of the sin of Israel under the law, we have the history of every heart among us; that if we place ourselves before God, we shall recognise that it is only the grace which is known to us by the work of God, which can not only sustain us in but relieve us from, the situation in which we find ourselves in consequence of sin.

I am going to look through the decline and ruin of Israel under every form of its government, from the time of the entry into the land of Canaan. It was Joshua who led them. The book of this name is the history of the victories of Israel over the Canaanites - the history of the faithfulness of God in the accomplishment of all that He had promised to His people. The Judges and Samuel are the history of the failure of Israel in the land of Canaan until David; but, at the same time, of the patience of God. First, then, how does Joshua describe the Israelites - their condition and character?

In Joshua 24 he recites all that God had done on their behalf - all His favours, and all His goodness; upon which (v. 16) the people answer, "God forbid that we should forsake the Lord." In verse 19, Joshua says to the people, "Ye cannot serve the Lord"; and the people say, "Nay, but we will serve the Lord"; "The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey." So [v. 25] Joshua made a covenant with the people that day." This captain of their salvation led them into the land of promise; they enjoy the fruits of grace, and they anew undertake to obey the Lord.

In Judges 2 they are found in complete failure, and in consequence God says, "I will not drive out your enemies from before you, but they shall be as thorns in your sides." Verses 1, 14: "And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim; and the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel." It is always the same picture - kindness on the part of God, ingratitude on that of man.

Let us now turn to some passages which detail the transgressions of Israel under every form of government. 1 Samuel 4:11. Eli was the high priest, the judge and head of Israel, yet was the glory of Israel cast down to the ground: "the ark of God taken, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain." Verses 18, 21. Eli himself died, and his daughter-in-law named the child which was born of her, Ichabod, saying, "The glory is departed from Israel (because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father-in-law and her husband)."

355 After this, God, who raised up Samuel, the first of the prophets (Acts 3:24; Acts 13:20), governs Israel by him; but Israel soon rejected him; 1 Sam. 8:6, 7. "And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them, according to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day." It was then that God "gave them a king in his anger"; and we know what befell the king of their choice; 1 Sam. 15:26. The judgment is pronounced; Samuel says to Saul, "I will not return with thee; for thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel." These extracts are sufficient for our purpose. Israel has failed under king, prophet, and priest. They are ruined under the king whom they had chosen.

David is raised up in the place of Saul: God made this choice in His dealings in grace. David - type of Christ, as he is the father of Christ according to the flesh - was His gift to Israel. Thus it is solely by the goodness of God, that Israel becomes rich and glorious under David and Solomon. But still this people transgressed afresh under these two princes; 1 Kings 11:9, 11. "And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel."*

{*And the royalty, raised up of God Himself, thus failed, and judgment passed upon it, though a lamp was reserved to David in Jerusalem till the day of Zedekiah.}

It is an unhappy subject to dwell on - this constant distaste of man's heart for God, under every condition in which he is placed; and this is the instruction which we ought to draw from the history of the children of Israel. They subsequently divided themselves into two distinct parts, and the ten tribes became altogether unfaithful. It was in the person of Ahaz that the family of David, the last human stay of the hopes of Israel (for after its fall nothing but God's promises remained), began to become idolaters; 2 Kings 16:10, 14. The sin of Manasseh put the finishing stroke to all their misconduct; 2 Kings 21:1, 14.

356 Such, in a few words, was the behaviour of Israel, and even of Judah, until the captivity of Babylon. The Spirit of God sums up the history of their crimes, and of His patience, in this impressive language (2 Chron. 36:15, 16): "And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy." This was the end of their existence in the land of Canaan, into which they had been introduced by Joshua. The name of Lo-ammi (not my people) is at last written upon them. Having thus rapidly run through the history of their fall until their deportation to Babylon, let us consider the promises which sustained a faithful remnant among them during this prevalence of iniquity, and during the captivity of the nation.

There is a prominent one to be noted, which served as a kind of pedestal, on which the faithful Jews might build their expectations. It is to be found in 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17. Between the two there is this difference: in 1 Chronicles 17 the application is made directly to Christ, which is not quite so plainly seen in 2 Samuel 7; and this distinction holds good as to the matter of the books themselves, of which the one (Samuel) is historical, and the other (the Chronicles) a brief synopsis or resume, which connects all the history genealogically from Adam to Christ, and to the hopes of Israel; and from which book, consequently, all the transgressions and falls of the kings of Israel are excluded. Compare 2 Samuel 7:14 with 1 Chronicles 17:13. This is the promise (2 Sam. 7:10), "Moreover, I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more as beforetime." 1 Chronicles 17:11-13: "And it shall come to pass, when thy days be expired, that thou must go to be with thy fathers, that I will raise up thy seed after thee, which shall be of thy sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build me an house, and I will establish his throne for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son." In Hebrews 1:5 application is made of these words to Christ; that is, all the promises made to Abraham and to his seed - all the promises made to Israel - are placed in the safe keeping, and gathered together in the Person, of the Son of David.

357 We have now, dear friends, seen the promise made to David, which is the foundation of all those which concern the family of that name. We have seen the failure of the people, and also the promise made to the Son of David - to the Messiah. Let us pursue the study from the direct testimony of the prophets. Isaiah 1:25-28 decrees the full restoration of the Jews; but by judgments which cut off the wicked.

Isaiah 4:2-4. "In that day (time of great trouble) shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel. And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning." Chapter 6 of the same book gives us full entrance into the spirit of prophecy. It was at the moment when Ahaz came to the throne - the same Ahaz who sent the heathen altar from Damascus to Jerusalem - that Isaiah is sent to meet this king, the son of David, who introduced apostasy. The first thing we have presented to us is the manifested glory of Christ, the Lord thrice holy (we have the interpretation of John as to this, in chapter 12 of his gospel); that glory which condemns the entire nation; but which produces, by grace, the spirit of intercession, to which the mercy which re-establishes the nation is the answer - mercy, notwithstanding, which finds no accomplishment, until the wicked are got rid of from the people and the land, after a state of prolonged hardening on their part carried to its utmost height, in the rejection of Jesus Christ and of the testimony given to Him by the Spirit in the apostles. Read Isaiah 6:9-13.

Isaiah 11:10: "In that day there shall be a root of Jesse . . . to it shall the Gentiles seek." Here we learn how and when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord; it is after He has slain the wicked "by the breath of his lips." Then "the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people." Read verses 9-12.

Isaiah 33:20, 24; Isa. 49. It has been asserted, that in these chapters, Zion means the church; but when all the joy is come, "Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me." Impossible, if Zion be the church. What! the church forsaken in the midst of its joy?* Read Isaiah 49:14-23; also Isaiah 62, which likewise applies to Israel; also Isaiah 65:10-25, where there can be no question, but of earthly blessings - such as are hitherto unknown on earth. In that day God Himself will rejoice over Jerusalem.

{*If Zion means the church, the gathering of all, and the joy of the heavens and the earth, would be necessarily the church's joy; for that gathering would constitute the church's joy. Therefore the supposition of its desertion would be ridiculous; whereas the chapter, if we suppose desertion of the literal city Zion, when the gathering takes place, is very intelligible; but the Lord goes on to say, that she shall be the centre of blessings, for that He can never forget her.}

358 These are some of the promises which plainly announce the forthcoming glory of the Jewish people and of Jerusalem. But there are others still more direct. Jeremiah 3:16-18: "It shall come to pass when ye be multiplied," etc. Certain foreshadowings have happened, which have looked like the accomplishment of many of the prophecies relating to their restoration; as, for example, the return of the people from Babylon; but God has given His own marks; He has linked circumstances together which have never yet had their fulfilment; as, in this passage, "All the nations shall be gathered unto it." It is certain that this did not take place at the return from Babylon. But you will reply, It is the church. No; for "in those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together . . . to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers." We see, in a word, three things happening together, which most surely have not had as yet a simultaneous accomplishment: namely, Jerusalem the throne of Jehovah; Judah and Israel united; and the nations assembled to the throne of God. When the church was founded, Israel was dispersed; when Israel returned from Babylon, there was neither church nor assemblage of nations.

Jeremiah 30:7-11. "It is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it . . . and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him; but they shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king . . . and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid." These happy times for Israel have assuredly not yet been realised.

359 Jeremiah 31:23, 27, 28, 31, unto the end. Remark verse 28. Who is it that the Lord has broken down, thrown down, and destroyed? The same that He will build and plant. It is a little unreasonable to apply all the judgments to Israel, and all the blessings which concern the same persons to the church. And if the church be indeed here spoken of, what is the meaning of "from the tower of Hananeel unto the gate of the corner," "the hill Gareb," etc.? Observe, also, the last words of the chapter: "It shall not be plucked up nor thrown down any more for ever."

Jeremiah 32:37-42. Touching passage as to the thoughts of the Lord concerning His people! After having given them promises of blessings in grace, and assured them that He would be their God, the Lord says, "And I will plant them in this land assuredly, with my whole heart and with my whole soul. For like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them."

Jeremiah 33:6-11, 15, 25, 26. This is again the blessing of Israel - of Jerusalem: and that by the presence of the Branch, which shall grow up unto David, who shall execute judgment and righteousness, in the land. Let us remember, dear friends, that the word of God in no way presents to us the Holy Spirit as the Branch of David, nor His office as that of executing judgment upon the earth. On the other hand if you insist upon this chapter applying to the restoration from Babylon, I would quote Nehemiah 9:36, 37: "Behold, we are servants this day . . . and we are in great distress," as shewing how little the return from Babylon was the fulfilment of all these promises we have been reading. Was that restoration the whole heart and the whole soul of God in favour of His people? We have seen the estimation in which the Spirit of God held that event. No: these promises of God were not at that time accomplished. Ezek. 11:16-20. Until this day, Israel, or rather the Jews, are under the judgment which the first part of this passage imports. "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none," Matt. 12:43. The closing verses speak of their last state, in which they are subjected to judgment; and at that time (v. 19) God gives a new heart to the remnant, the nucleus of the future nation.

In Ezekiel 34:22 to the end of the chapter we have David their king in the midst of them, and their blessings immovable.

360 Ezekiel 36:22-32. If you make the objection, These are spiritual things in which we participate, I answer, Yes, we participate in the blessings of the good olive-tree; but our joy has not dispossessed the Jew (the natural branch) of that which belongs to him. Why are we made partakers? Because we are grafted into Christ. If we are Christ's, we are Abraham's children, and partake of all that is spiritual. "Ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers," v. 28. The church has only one Father, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I would now remark, for a moment in passing on our Lord's discourse with Nicodemus (John 3 particularly verse 12), where there is an allusion to "earthly things." Previously (v. 10) He had said, "Art thou a master [teacher] in Israel, and knowest not these things?" - namely, the need of being born of water and of the Spirit to enter into the kingdom of God. This knowledge was to be got out of the Old Testament, the source whence the teachers drew their instruction. The passage just quoted out of Ezekiel contains almost the very same words used by our Lord. How! says He, you a master [teacher] in Israel! you ought to understand that Israel must have a new and purified heart in order to enjoy the promises. How is it that you know not these things? If you enter not into My saying that you must be born of water and of the Spirit, and do not understand these earthly things, how can it be expected that you should believe about heavenly things? As if He had said, If I have spoken to you of the things which apply to Israel, if I have told you that Israel must be born again to enjoy those terrestrial promises which belong to her, and you have not understood Me, how will you comprehend about heavenly things - about the glory of Christ exalted in heaven, and the church, His companion, in this heavenly glory? You have not even understood the doctrines of your prophets. You a teacher in Israel! you should at least have made yourself acquainted with the earthly things, of which Ezekiel and others have spoken.

In this chapter of Ezekiel, as in many others, expressions are found, such as "fruit of trees" - "increase of the field" - details of earthly things, which are the earthly blessings promised to Israel; whilst, at the same time, the necessity of a new heart is connected with them, in order that those to whom these promises belong may be able to enjoy them. Israel must be renewed in heart to receive the promises of Canaan. God must cause them to walk in His statutes by giving them a new heart, and then, but only then, they will enjoy the- blessings foretold for them.

361 Ezekiel 37 gives a detailed history of the re-establishment of Israel - the joining together of the two parts of the nation, their return into the land, and their state of unity and fidelity to God in this same land; God being their God, and David their king being present - present for ever, in such a way as that the nations shall know that their God is the Lord, when His sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.

Ezekiel 39:22-25. It is evident that the time here mentioned is not yet come; since, when it does, God "will not hide his face any more from them," as He is doing at the present time, and that He will gather them "unto their own land," and will leave none of them among the heathen.

In conclusion, let us call to mind the great principles upon which these prophecies rest. The restoration of the Jews is founded upon the promises made to Abraham without condition; their fall is the result of their having undertaken to act in their own strength. After having exercised the patience of God in every possible way "until there was no remedy," judgment is come upon them; but God reverts to His promises. Let us make a proper application of this to our own hearts. The same history is ours - always that of the fall. No sooner has God placed us in such or such a position than we immediately fail in it. But there is behind our failure a principle of strength, that is to say, the revelation of the counsels of God, and, by consequence, unconditional promises; and we have seen (in Moses as the type), that it is the mediation and the presence of Jesus which is the accomplishment of these promises. We have also seen that God executes judgment only after extraordinary patience, after having used every possible means (however long that judgment may have been pronounced) to recall man to a sense of his duty, if there had been a spark of life in his heart; but there was none. Individuals, quickened by grace, hold to the promises which will have their fulfilment in the manifestation of Him who can realise them, and merit the realisation for others. And nothing puts these principles in clearer relief than the history of Israel: "All these things happened unto them for types (see margin), and they are written for our admonition." It is like a mirror, in which we can see, on the one hand, the heart of man, which fails always, and on the other, the faithfulness of God who never fails, who will fulfil all His promises, and who will put forth a strength able to surmount all the wickedness of man, and the power of Satan. It is when the enmity has arrived at its height, that He says, "Make the heart of this people fat" (Isaiah 6:10): but it is not until nearly eight hundred years after (Acts 28:27), that we find the accomplishment of this judgment pronounced so long before by the prophet. It was when the people had rejected everything, that God hardened them, to make them a monument of His ways. What patience on the part of God!

362 And so in that which concerns us Gentiles - the execution of the judgment has been suspended for eighteen centuries, and God is still drawing upon all the eternal resources of His grace to try if there be any who will listen to His testimony of salvation. As the Lord said (John 15:22, 24), "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father." Admirable patience! Infinite grace of Him who interests Himself in us, even after our rebellion and iniquity! To Him be all the glory!