Among the many prophecies in the Bible that deal with specific times and places, we see a wide range of historical fulfillment, some past, some future. Certain prophecies have languished in relative obscurity for a long time, awaiting the future day when all things written in them would be accomplished. Suddenly, as the time approaches and the setting for a particular prophecy begins to congeal, the words which had previously been ill-understood now jump out of the page at us.
Such is the case with Ezekiel 36. These words, especially the first 15 verses, comprise the most cogent, relevant, and unambiguous declaration by God Himself regarding the epic controversy of our day: the land which is being claimed for a Palestinian state, for which God has other intentions.
The first four verses consist of God describing the plight he is witnessing in what is correctly referred to as Judea and Samaria. Other terms that the world uses to described this land are "disputed territories", "occupied territories", and the "West Bank". In this prophecy, the terminology God uses to describe it is "the mountains of Israel", so there is no doubt as to exactly the area to which He is referring. This can be easily confirmed by examining the topographic map to the right.
Some have supposed that this chapter was fulfilled when Israel was founded as a nation in 1948, but not so. Though Israel is once again a nation, the land under consideration in this chapter is precisely the land upon which many plan to create a Palestinian state. The predicted clash between God and certain foes is about to realize culmination before our eyes.
A sense of drama is conveyed here. In any good drama, there is a protagonist, an antagonist, and an issue of conflict. Keep that in mind as we examine the verses in detail. Both the protagonist (God) the antagonists (the Palestinians and the nations who support them), and the conflict itself are portrayed in extreme terms in this prophecy. There is a resolution to the dramatic conflict foretold in these verses, a resolution that is as dynamic and extreme as the conflict itself.
It is not surprising, of course, that God would foresee and foreordain that this particular area of land would be a source of future conflict. Out of all of the places on earth, this relatively tiny patch of land that is the focus of world contention is also the focus of this intense prophetic word. Coincidence? No. That He singles this land out for special attention corresponds to the way the world has now singling it out for special attention. Once again, we see how accurate the prophetic Scriptures are. This convinces us that God does indeed foretell the future for our benefit, so we can once again be certain that all his words are trustworthy.
An interesting contrast exists between this chapter and chapter 6 of Ezekiel. Both are prophecies to "the mountains of Israel." Chapter 6 consists of a description of severe judgments that would befall the people of Israel in Ezekiel's day, with extended consequences in exile. Chapter 36 is the opposite -- a description of "severe" reclamation of the land and the people.
In this commentary, I will present an extended paraphrase based on the 17 English translations I am using as reference in addition to a Hebrew dictionary. I will use the literal transliterations for the names for God.
"Now you, son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel and say, 'O mountains of Israel, hear the word of Yahweh. This is what Adonai Yahweh says:".... (v 1)
We can discern a very strong emphasis that this pronouncement regarding the "West Bank" is a forthright message from God, based on the fourfold emphasis of the terminology concerning speaking and listening to his word. In contrast to the many voices we hear today propounding various proposals, plans, accords, agreements, and resolutions for a Palestinian state solution, stands the declaration of El Shaddai. There is no negotiation possible with this Divine decree. It stands forever in heaven, inalterable, inflexible, unyielding.
"Because the sneering, gloating, hateful enemy has spoken against you, 'Hah! Those ancient hills have become our possession!'"... (v 2)
First, God makes his case against the antagonist, who is clearly enjoying in a spiteful manner the temporary claim he has laid on the land of the Bible. Though the enemy declares that the land in question belongs to him, there is no indication that this claim has been fully effected. This coincides with the present situation, where the Palestinians maliciously assert the land is for their state, which will not happen. I repeat, it will not happen, there will never, never, never be a Palestinian state, not tomorrow, not next year, never!
"Very well then, prophesy and say, 'Because, yes because, they ravaged you, and greedily, eagerly, lustfully panted after you and seized you from every side, as if you had been delivered up as property of the rest of the nations, and become the topic of those nations' disparaging, malicious discussions and slander, '"..... (v 3)
God's decree which is about to follow is in response to the outrageous actions and attitudes of the Palestinians, in league with the so-called "Quartet": the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, and the United States. The double "because" is for extra emphasis, to indicate that God is entirely justified in the sentence he is about to pronounce against the hostile parties. Those parties have presumptuously supposed that they have the right to make the final disposition of that land, to create a Palestinian state on land that was promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.
"Therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of Adonai Yahweh: This is what Adonai Yahweh says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys, to the devastated wastelands and the and the forlorn, deserted towns that have become the scorned prey and derisive laughingstock to the rest of the nations around you-- this is what Adonai Yahweh says:..." (v 4)
Notice the threefold repetition of the divine names. We again see the emphasis, if it has not yet registered clearly with us, that these pronouncements are coming from none other than the Holy One on the throne of heaven.
Once again, God is directing his prophecy at the very hills where the patriarchs roamed, where at one time many populated towns full of Jews thrived during the period of the kings of Israel and Judah. Ezekiel presided as a messenger of God at the end of that era. He had been shown earlier the ultimate consequences of Israel's persistent rebellion against God -- the Beautiful Land would become largely a deserted wasteland.
And it did. But Ezekiel is also shown a vision of future recovery. It is not the past devastation, but the the modern radical hostility of the surrounding Arab nations to which God is directing his attention. Hatred seems too inadequate to describe the excessive, toxic contempt which the Arab/Muslim world holds for the Jewish nation in their midst. It is this extreme loathing for Israel that rouses God to the extreme white-hot pronouncement he is about to make in the next verses.
"Assuredly, in the blazing heat of my zealous wrath I have spoken out against the other nations, and especially against all Edom, for with wholehearted glee and with contemptuous malice in their hearts they arrogated My land as their own possession so that they might plunder its pastureland and justify their claim that (the Jews) have been cast out as prey." (v 5)
This, the beginning of God's detailed response to the Palestinians and the rest of the nations that support their nefarious goals, could hardly be more scathing or emphatic. It is important to point out the intensity of the emotional commitment that God himself is expressing in reaction to the utter scorn, the "disdain of soul" of the Arab Muslims.
"All Edom" is singled out, which we may recall from the prior companion chapter 35, is the Muslim Arab world. Once again the charges against them and the nations are presented, charges penned 2600 years ago that accurately resound today.
The question of to whom does the land belong is concisely rejoined: "My land." Since it is Yahweh's property, he can assign it to whomever he wishes, despite Allah's baseless assertions to the contrary. All of the laughable arguments that the Palestinian spokespersons concoct are powerfully refuted here, and will be effectually refuted as well when God fully executes the intentions described.
"Therefore speak your prophetic word over the land of Israel and say to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys: 'This is what Adonai Yahweh says: 'I speak in my furious, jealous rage because you have suffered the scorn of the nations, insulting and humiliating you. Therefore this is what Adonai Yahweh says: I swear with uplifted hand that the surely the nations that surround you will also suffer scorn, shame, humiliation, and disgrace." (v 6-7)
The CEV translation ends that last portion with "I will now insult and disgrace them. That is my solemn promise." Peterson's "The Message" puts it, "it is their turn to be humiliated." Can there be any doubt what the God of Israel is about to do to the Arab Muslim nations because of their outrageous offenses against the land and people of Israel? Once again we see profound emotions in full view. The breathtaking ferocity of the vow that God swears should be enormously frightening to anyone about to experience the brunt of it.
"'But you, O mountains of Israel, will shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit for my people Israel, for they have drawn near to soon come home. Truly I am for you and will look on you with favor; you will be cultivated and sown. I will multiply the number of people upon you, a large population, the whole house of Israel, yes, all! The ruined towns will be rebuilt and inhabited. I will increase your population, both humans and animals upon you, and they will be fertile and become numerous. I will settle people on you as in earlier times and bring you even greater benefits and prosperity than at your beginnings. Then you will know that I am Yahweh." (v 8-11)
In a remarkable change of tone, the Lord begins to speak tenderly and consolingly to that land. Affirming his care and concern, he indicates the initiation of a new era of blessing and favor, with his objective that Israel realizes it was he who accomplished all these things. Once all notions of a Palestinian state upon that land are forever banished to the annals of history, God will perform astonishing feats of goodness to that land and the people there. The brown, rocky, barren hills will once again bloom and be resplendent with green.
"'I will cause people, my people Israel, to walk upon your soil again. They will possess you, and you will be their inheritance; you will never again bereave them of their children.' This is what Adonai Yahweh says: 'Because people say about you, "You devour men and bereave your nation of its children," therefore you will no longer continue to devour men or make your nation childless,' declares Adonai Yahweh." (v 12-14)
"You are a man-eater" is how the NJB translation reads. But it is not the land that is guilty; it is the terrorists who live there. Thus, in these verses the Lord directly addresses the problem of Palestinian terrorism. Normally, it should not be extraordinary that people would walk upon that land. But currently they cannot, because most places in the West Bank are extremely dangerous for Jews. To solve that problem. God says he is going to eliminate the terrorists from that land. Mothers will never again weep after being deprived of their children through cruel, cold-blooded terror attacks from Muslims in the name of Allah.
"And I shall never again let you hear insults from the nations anymore, nor will you bear the taunts from the peoples any longer, nor will you cause your nation to stumble any longer," declares Adonai Yahweh.'" (v 15)
Now the picture is complete. After God finishes all that he has said in this section, there will be no more abusive, unwarranted talk about how the Israelis are the cruel occupiers of an oppressed people. All of Judea and Samaria will become an official part of the state of Israel, occupied by multitudes of Jewish people. The land itself will blossom in seemingly miraculous ways. Hebron, Shechem, Bethel, Bethlehem, and scores of other towns will be thriving Jewish communities, ready for a new influx of Jews to make aliyah there. Ramallah and Nablus and Jenin will be dusty, empty wrecks to serve as a reminder of the absurdity of opposing the God of Israel.
However, the last phrase of verse 15 may seem curious at first. How did that land cause the nation of Israel to stumble? Israel stumbled by not placing their confidence in the God who still cares for them, choosing instead to place their faith in foolhardy and destructive "peace plans". Not only were those plans doomed from the start because the Palestinians never had any intention of renouncing violence; more importantly, they were a betrayal by Israel of their historical and Biblical heritage to those lands. Snubbing the God who birthed Israel originally and who regathered Israel back in modern times, they chose to ignore his promises once again.
The God who graciously granted those lands long ago to Abraham cannot be pleased that Israel for a time largely relinquished that land grant in favor of the Oslo process. "Land for peace" was an abomination because of the land itself that was being offered up, the land addressed in this prophecy. This is how that land caused Israel to stumble. Yet after what is written here in Ezekiel 36 has been accomplished, we pray that Israel will have the hindsight to see what God was doing all along. He is renewing his compassion for Israel, and is revealing himself as the loving God whose mercy endures forever.