Ezekiel 33-48: Restoration – The Glory Returns


1. Summary

• Ezekiel predicted that the exile would end

• Ezekiel predicted the restoration of the temple, the city and the people of God

2. Structure

-Israel’s resurrection (Ezek.33:1-39:29)
-Israel’s new life (Ezek.40:1-48:35)

I. Israel’s Resurrection (33:1- 39:29)

A. General Analysis

-Ezekiel re-commissioned (Ezek.33:1-20)
-Judah’s fall (Ezek.33:21-33)
-Failed shepherds replaced (Ezek.34:1-31)
-Edom condemned (Ezek.35:1-15)
-Israel restored (Ezek.36-37)
-Israel victorious (Ezek.38:1-39:29)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Parallels and Contrasts

Note the following parallels and contrasts between the first and last section of the book.

Chapters 1-24 Chapters 25-32 Chapters 33-48
Ezekiel’s Commission as watchman
(Ezek.3:16-19)Judgment against Judah
(Ezek.1:1-24:27)Siege laid against Jerusalem
Intervening concern with Nations
Ezekiel’s commission as watchman
Restoration and reconstruction (Ezek.33:1-48:35)
Jerusalem rebuilt with God present

[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Prophets (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote]

2. New phase in Ezekiel’s prophecy

The third main section of Ezekiel begins with chapter 33. Part 1 was taken up with Jerusalem’s past and present (Ezek.1:1-24:27). Part 2 focused on the judgment of foreign nations (Ezek.25:1-32:32). Part 3 emphasises the future blessings that restored Judah would enjoy after the exile.

Repetition of the watchman theme in Ezekiel 33: 1-22 begins a new phase in the prophecy with a return to Ezekiel’s original commission. It is now noted that the judgment foreshadowed in the earlier announcement has been carried out (vv. 21-22); the capture of Jerusalem relieves Ezekiel’s dumbness and permits him to begin the prophecies of hope in chapters 34-39. Six prophecies, all introduced with “the word of the Lord came to me” (Ezek. 33:23-33; 34; 35:1- 36:15; 36:16-37:14; 37:15-28; chaps. 38-39), follow in unbroken succession without any indication of a time lapse between them. They thus connect the fall of Jerusalem with the hope that must flow from such destruction. By implication, the first prophecy (33:23-33) explains the apparent discrepancy between the Abrahamic promises (v. 24) and the judgment to be exercised upon Israel, which includes loss of the land. The prophet replies that the physical enjoyment of the land was conditional upon obedience. Quite naturally, the notion of the Promised Land figures prominently in the material that follows.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 163.[/footnote]


3. Shepherds (Ezek.34-35)

The message of this section is that the political leadership of the past has failed and that the future of the people of God will be guaranteed only by the imposition of divine leadership.

Ezekiel 34 is an extended metaphor in which the people of Israel are represented as a flock of sheep pasturing on good land. Verses 1-16 deal with oppression inflicted by the shepherds whom Yahweh had set up over the sheep, resulting in the apostasy and scattering (i.e., exile) of the sheep (vv. 1-6). The shepherds are arraigned for a lack of fidelity to their office (vv. 7-10). Yahweh will now gather them, that is, restore them to their land, the good land, the mountains of Israel, and feed them (vv. 11-16).[footnote]Ibid., 163.[/footnote]

All threats to the sheep are removed by the elimination of Edom in chapter 35, which serves as a symbol for all opposition and enmity to God and His people.

4. Link between renewal of people and renewal of land (Ezek.36:1-38)

When God brings the renewed people back He would rejuvenate the land and make it full of fruit and fertility with His blessing.

The land is to be restored to fruitfulness as it receives Yahweh’s blessing (Deut.28-30). This cleansing will mean a complete negation of sinful conduct enabling the people to live in security. In 36:24-38, a new exodus will bring together people and land (v. 24). Israel will be ritually cleansed, that is, the covenant will be restored, and a new heart will be given to her (v. 26). The parallel gift of a new divine Spirit (v. 27) facilitates obedience since it will mean a new heart or mind. In this way the ultimate gift of the Spirit, previously reserved in the OT for Israel’s rulers, democratises leadership so that presumably all become priests and kings in the new age (cf. Isa.55:3)…Ezekiel 36:28-38 leads us to the consummation of the program, namely, the restoration of the land or, in Eden terms, the renewal of creation so that the regeneration of the land parallels and depends on the transformation of the people.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 164.[/footnote]

All this is because of God’s intention to vindicate His holy name through Israel (Ezek.36:21-23).

6. The valley of dry bones (Ezek.37:1-14)

The dead and dry bones symbolized the people. They were hopeless and powerless. But by God’s breath they would come to life again and be reunited as one nation under one God.

Yahweh, whose grace can never be outdone by man’s sin, would do what Israel could not accomplish: He would give the people a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek.36:26–32). It is that theme that is illustrated in chapter 37, associating the new spirit with return from captivity (v.14). The valley of dry bones and their resuscitation primarily constitute a message of return from captivity and restoration to the land, although overtones of physical resurrection may be read from the text.[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]


7. The two sticks (Ezek.37:15-28)

The unity of the resurrected nation is underlined in Ezek.37:15-28 with Judah and Israel reunited under Davidic leadership.

In these new and changed circumstances, a covenant of peace, an eternal covenant, is made with Israel. The Abrahamic (and creation) promises of being blessed and multiplied are then reinvoked (v. 26). God now indwells God’s people in this new relationship (v. 27). Ezekiel 37:23 likewise speaks of the cleansing of the people, which indicates their gathering, their comprehensive restoration in preparation for their proper and holy relationship with Yahweh. Among its results are a witness to divine sovereignty and confession thereof by the whole world.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 165.[/footnote]


8. Future and final battle (Ezek.38-39)

How better could he convey the truth that enemies would attack God’s people, even after the promised redemption had come, than by employing the names of contemporary nations, which were known to him, as symbols to represent a great alliance of the hosts of evil? This confederacy, headed by Gog, represents the allied forces of those who would oppose the Lord and His redeemed. In their enterprise, however, these enemies are defeated. Indeed, so inglorious and complete is their defeat, that Ezekiel symbolically represents the fact by saying that Israel shall be seven years in burning their weapons and seven months in burying their dead. Thus, God’s people may truly be convinced that God can defend them from all ill.

The prophecy, therefore, does not refer primarily to any one particular historical event, nor was it intended to do so. Hence, to seek to find its fulfilment in events taking place in the world today is to miss the point entirely. To treat it as though it were merely history written in advance is to betray an ignorance of its true nature. On the other hand, how rich and comforting is this prophecy when properly understood. It reveals clearly to us Christians how strong are the principalities and powers that would overthrow us. Yet this fact should not cause us discouragement, since the greatness of our foes only serves to reveal to us again how much greater is our God. “Their rock is not as our Rock.” This comforting prophecy of Gog and Magog prepares the way for the glorious vision which is revealed in the last nine chapters of the prophecy.[footnote]E J Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1953), 241.[/footnote]

C. New Testament Analysis

-The faithful Shepherd (Ezek.34:11-31)
-The great purification (Ezek.36:25-35)
-The great resurrection (Ezek.37:1-14)
-The great reunion (Ezek.37:21-28)
-The overthrow of God’s enemies (Ezek.38:1-39:29)

Christ’s work was anticipated as Ezekiel announced that God would one day end the exile (ch33-48), establish a covenant of peace (Ezek.34:5; 37:6) and restore Jerusalem to greater glory than ever before (ch.48). In line with these hopes, Jesus death, resurrection and ascension took place near the city. The outpouring of the Spirit occurred there as thousands of exiles came to faith in the Messiah on the day of Pentecost. (Ac.2). Furthermore, between his first and second comings the Jerusalem in heaven where Christ is becomes an important aspect of the Christian faith (Jn.3:31; Col.1:5). The New Testament also made Jerusalem the centrepiece of the new heavens and the new earth to be established when Christ returns” (Rev.21:2).[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003),[/footnote]


II. Israel’s New Life (40:1-48:35)

A. General Analysis

-New temple (Ezek.40:1–43:27)
-New worship (Ezek.44:1–46:24)
-New nation (Ezek.47:1–48:35)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. New temple (Ezek.40-43)

All opposition to God’s people has been removed and the Temple becomes central in chapter 40-48. God restores His people to worship and service acceptable to Him.

These chapters draw their theological stance from the remote past, particularly the exodus and conquest. Sinai characteristics are also to be associated with this mountain, so the blueprint for the new temple emerges from heaven, as the pattern for the exodus tabernacle had (cf Ezek. 43:10-12 with Exod. 25:9). The older sacral traditions of Sinai and Zion intersect, both of which emphasized divine kingship. As the building of the tabernacle completed the exodus, so the eschatology in Ezekiel 40-48 is dominated by the construction of the new temple. In addition, as the meaning of the exodus was proclaimed by the cultic response of Israel to divine kingship expressed through tabernacle and temple, here the new temple functions as Yahweh’s kingly location in the holy city…Ezekiel is brought back to the east gate to behold the deity’s awesome approach. God passes through the east gate and fills the temple (Ezek.43:1-5). This event culminates in the restoration, inaugurating a new era characterized by holiness.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 167.[/footnote]


2. New worship (ch.44-46)

Having begun with a vision of judgment directly related to the temple, Ezekiel ends with a vision of a new society that is temple-controlled and theocratically centred. The Temple, so central and vital to Israel’s interests, is the symbol of the new nation. With obvious appreciation for the Temple, its functions, and functionaries, Ezekiel provides detailed descriptions of the Temple functionaries (Ezek.44:1–45:8), offerings and cultic regulations (Ezek.45:9–46:24).

3. New nation (ch 47-48)

a. New river (Ezek.47:1-12)
The prophet is shown a river flowing from the temple into the desert, fructifying it in the process. Increasing in depth as it progresses it flows from the sanctuary and heals the land, changing it into an Edenic paradise, the Garden of God.
b. New land (Ezek.47:13-48:29)
The prophet is given instruction regarding fulfilment of the land promise. The fixed boundary markers reflect the ideal Promised Land of Numbers 33:50-34:15. The regions conquered during David’s reign or settled in Transjordan are omitted as they were not part of the original Promised Land.
c. New city (Ezek.48:30-35)
All twelve tribes are safely returned to the Promised Land and allocated their portion, as Yahweh had promised in Egypt. Chapters 40-48 fulfill the ancient promises. The book has taken us grandly from the picture of Jerusalem’s temple under judgment to the heavenly temple from which that judgment emerged, a temple that has become the world centre around which the new society will be constructed. We have viewed the sort of renewal that the people of God must undergo, their vindication, and their final occupancy of the Promised Land. Ezekiel thus presents the hope of the people of God and God’s final presence among God’s people, the theme to which Revelation 21-22 is devoted.
4. The glory returns
The return of the glory of the Lord to the Temple is of signal importance, contributing to Jerusalem a new name, “The Lord is there” (Ezek.48:35).

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Restored Temple

There are five views regarding how these prophecies are to be fulfilled
a. Literal Interpretation
Ezekiel 43:10-12 seems to support the idea of a physical fulfillment of these predictions. However, although the post-exilic prophets supported the physical rebuilding of the Temple, the actual building did not follow Ezekiel’s plans. Also, there are some clearly supernatural elements, such as the river that flows from the Temple and transforms the Red Sea (Ezek.47:1-12), and the abiding presence of the Lord.
b. Dispensational
The Temple will be constructed in Jerusalem in the millennial age. Those who hold this view tend to draw distinctions between the Temple and City of Ezekiel and that of Revelation. They see the Ezekiel Temple and City as the millennial kingdom, which is typical and prophetic of the final heavenly kingdom of Revelation which will be ushered in at the end of the millennium. The problem of how sacrifices fit in to the post-New Testament era is “solved” by draining them of any propitiatory or atoning character.

The sacrifices in the millennial sacrificial system appear to be only memorials of Christ’s finished work and pictorial reminders that mankind by nature is sinful and in need of redemption from sin. The very observances of the Lord’s Table is an argument in favour of this memorial view. The Lord’s Table is itself a memorial of Christ’s death.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

c. Symbolic
The New Testament era is symbolized here using the symbolism of the Old Covenant. This view is supported by Jesus’ use of Temple symbolism for His resurrection (John 2:18–22) and John’s interpretation of the Lord God as the Temple of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:22).
John writes that when Jesus came and templed in our midst, we saw “his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth” (John 1:14); Jesus was “the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3). There is no historical evidence that the visible cloud of God’s glory ever came to the second temple as it had to the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple; God’s glory came to the second temple when Jesus entered Jerusalem. The early church would see in Ezekiel’s prophecies the same reasons that led up to the destruction of Jerusalem in their own day; the church would view itself as the heir of the promises of restoration. Ezekiel’s vision of the restoration informed John’s portrayal of the new heavens and earth, when a new city of God would descend from heaven and God’s dwelling would be irrevocably and forever with his people (Ezek. 48:35; Rev. 21:3).

The conclusion of Ezekiel’s prophecy, therefore, is to be regarded as a true prediction of the kingdom of God given under forms with which the prophet was familiar, viz., those of his own (Jewish) dispensation. Their essential truth will be embodied in the new age under forms suitable to the new (Christian) dispensation. How this is to be done is outlined for us in the book of Revelation (Rev.21:1–22:5).[footnote]New Bible Commentary , ed. Davidson-Stibbs-Kevan, p. 664.[/footnote]

The application of Ezek. 40–48 to the New Testament church side-steps some of the difficulties attendant upon a more literalistic interpretation. This is especially true of the regulations for blood sacrifice which appear in these chapters and which can hardly be fitted into a post-Calvary economy of salvation…In the Epistle to the Hebrews, such passages as 10:4 make it clear that no more animal sacrifices are necessary or efficacious for the atonement of sin. Hebrews announces that the one atoning deed of the Lord Jesus has a permanent efficacy which does away with the Old Testament priesthood of Aaron and the sacrifices of the Levitical code. As H. L. Ellison puts it in Ezekiel, the Man and His Message, “In addition they [the opponents of the literalistic interpretation] cannot see why, when water, bread and wine have met the symbolic needs of nearly a thousand generations of Christians, the millennium will need more. The King has returned and the curse on nature has been lifted; why should the animal creation still lay down its life?” It cannot be denied that this is a persuasive line of reasoning, and it is not surprising that a great majority of Conservative scholars are content to dismiss Ezekiel’s temple as a mere allegory of the Christian church.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

Since the entire passage (Ezek. 40—48) is a vision, it is better to respect the essentially symbolic character of that genre and to understand the entire vision as a symbolic portrayal of the way in which God would bless his people in the future. The temple preeminently represented the presence of God in the midst of his people. Under the form of vision and symbol (Ezek. 40:2; cf. Num. 12:6), the prophet describes a time when God’s presence in Israel would transcend anything in Israel’s historical experience, a time when Israel would enjoy order, peace, and just rule. For Christian readers, that transcending experience of God’s presence that brought with it peace and justice would occur when God incarnate would walk the streets of Jerusalem and build his church as a new temple. The presence of Immanuel would mark the day that “the LORD is there” (Ezek.48:35).[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 323.[/footnote]

To us this may seem a strange way of setting forth the truth. We should probably be inclined to employ straightforward, narrative prose. But we must never forget that the prophets of the Old Testament often employed dark speeches and figurative language. They spoke in the shadowy forms of the Old Covenant. But they spoke of Christ, and Ezekiel also, under this strange symbolism, was speaking of Christ. Hence, he was not in conflict with the Pentateuch, nor was he describing a literal temple, to exist during the millennium. He was in a manner peculiar to himself, preaching Jesus Christ.[footnote]E J Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1953), 241-242.[/footnote]

d. Conclusion
There was a limited physical fulfillment in the historical reconstruction of the Temple in 520-516. However, that did not exhaust the contents of this prophecy. The prophecy was further fulfilled with the first coming of Christ, and will be finally fulfilled when Christ returns to gather His people into the heavenly Temple. There is therefore, earthly fulfillment and heavenly fulfillment, physical fulfillment and spiritual fulfillment, historical and eschatological fulfillment.

2. The water of life

Ezekiel’s vision of a life-giving river bringing great blessing to the land was fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Jn.4:10-14; 7:38-39). In the New Jerusalem a river of life flows from the throne of God (Rev.21:1: 22:1).

3. The Prince

We see Christ anticipated in Ezekiel’s descriptions of a prince, who would be the son of David and rule over God’s people after the return from exile (Ezek.34:24, 37:25, 44:3, 45:7, 16-17, 22; 46:2,4, 8, 10, 12, 16-18). No royal figure from David’s house ruled over Israel from the time of the exile until Jesus (Lk.1:32-33). Thus Jesus fulfills the hopes Ezekiel had for the restoration of the house of David after exile.

III. The Message

Original Message: Repentant Israel will be restored to new life, new worship, and a new experience of God’s glorious presence.
Present Message: The repentant Church will be restored to new life, new worship and a new experience of God’s glorious presence.