Gleanings from Ezekiel Chapter 37
As with the prophetic “son of man” of this dread and glorious chapter, so also are we, the “prophetic” people of God, required to be set down in the midst of a valley full of dry bones (See verses 1-2). Here one is required to dismiss all wishful thinking of things as we would like them to be, and to consider them rather as they in fact are, which is to say as God Himself sees them—indeed, as they must be seen—or we later forfeit any prophetic use by which these bones can be brought to life again. To be as God’s mouth, speaking the creative life-giving word, requires an identification with God that is total as against a begrudging condescension to a necessary obedience.
From the opening first verses of this text we perceive that the object of God’s intention is not Israel alone, however glorious her restoration (See Romans 11:15), but that of the “son of man”—a picture of the remnant church of the last days, in its full prophetic makeup and stature. What is more, it is brought to that condition by the very urgency that Israel, in her helpless death, requires from outside herself in the ultimate prophetic faith and obedience of the other. This theme of the reciprocal relationship between Israel and the church, by which the one is not made complete without the other, is the very heart of Paul’s discourse in Romans chapter 11, and alone explains the ecstatic language of praise with which the chapter concludes (vv.33-36); for the mystery of Israel is not only her restoration, but the transfiguration of the church obtained in being the agent of that restoration!
The church’s speaking with one voice is an agreement that can never be the product of ecumenical arrangement; it’s the statement of apostolic authenticity itself. At first, this church would likely comprise of such extremes as those who are indifferent toward Israel—if not hostile, with scant appreciation for her future let alone her destiny—as against those whose celebration of the nation and her people is extravagant to the point of near idolatry! Both will require appropriate depths of dealings from God in those unplumbed subtleties of heart that can only be met at the cross.
Little wonder, then, that so many of us till now have been quick to affirm and to congratulate Israel in her present condition. Has she been the projection, more than we could have understood, of our own satisfaction and self-acceptance as the church? Are we mindless about the question of Israel as a means toward God’s glory and unconsciously unwilling for the sufferings and deaths by which it is to be obtained? Is there not an issue beyond Israel’s success as a nation? Can it fulfill its covenantal destiny to “bless all the families of the earth” except as a nation transformed through resurrection? Can we consider that what we are presently celebrating is not the final prophetic fulfillment but its necessary preliminary? That “what is raised in glory” must first be “sown in dishonor” (1 Cor. 15:43)?
How much are we saved from the predicament of defending or justifying Israel’s increasingly desperate measures if we see them as the very stratagem of God to bring the nation to an end of her false hope in itself? In her hope in herself as a distinctively, morally superior nation, her stated reason for being? We must be reminded that the issue of Israel as a witness nation is not to herself but to God—not achievement based upon her own prowess and impressive ability, but exclusively in His. Then, when all human basis for hope is gone, a word can be spoken; for not to know God as the God who speaks and by whose word alone the dead are quickened is not to know God as He essentially is and must be made known. The fulfillment of Israel’s call as the witness nation waits upon the painful exhaustion, utterly and finally, of any human ability to fulfill one’s calling; for He will share His glory with no man. As Paul so appropriately concludes Romans 11: “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.”
Surely, the pathetic national acknowledgment of Ezekiel 37:11: “Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts” is a statement of final despair. Compare this statement to our well-known and inveterate optimism and impressive self-sufficiency by which we, as Jews, have again and again demonstrated to the world. On that basis, we can never fulfill our Abrahamic calling that “in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Present-day Israel’s increasing failure to establish herself as a righteous state is a testimony to this fact. How wrong of us to condemn her then for the very thing she is prophetically required to demonstrate! Israel is God’s witness people in apostasy and undeservedness in order that He might be sanctified through her before the face of all nations when He restores her exclusively on the basis of His own mercy, which is to say, what He is ultimately in Himself. It is this knowledge of God that a redeemed Israel must make known to the nations—out of their own experience.
The issue, then, is not the glorification of Israel, but of God. His own goodness prompts Him to act as He does; it is as recipients of His undeserved grace and mercy that Israel becomes most powerfully the ultimate witness unto Him. She will be brought to such depths of broken repentance and corresponding character changes as the world has never seen so as to make “Jerusalem a praise in the earth”!
Even the Nazi Holocaust was not sufficient a calamity to reduce the whole house of Israel to elicit the cry of Ezekiel 37:11—as her present condition testifies. On the contrary, the oft-reiterated boast of “Never Again” suggests a defiant attitude and statement of military self-confidence that unhappily invites the severity of things that must yet befall the long-suffering nation. For us who had hoped for the progressive improvement or even a “spiritualization” of Zionist Israel and the end of such sufferings, there is the need to reassess whether our own hopes have been sentimental or idealistic, contrary to what we should perhaps rightly have understood in light of the whole tenor of the gospel and the scriptures.
Israel must pass through her own experience of death and resurrection, a “death” made necessary by the stubborn depth of human pride convinced of its own intrinsic righteousness despite God’s statements to the contrary. The issue of Israel’s resurrection from the dead becomes then our own, compelling us to that transcendent ground by which we are ourselves transformed—and to which we would not ourselves otherwise have been required to come except were it not for her!
This perception of Israel’s future is painful to consider; but how much greater would be the pained disappointment for many when Israel fails our every expectancy? What will happen to our understanding of God when He appears to be unable to save Israel from unexpected distresses? We need to allow ourselves to be “carried out in the Spirit of the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:1), far from our evangelical naïveté and presumption, and be put “down in the midst of the valley (i.e. place of depressing truth).” Unless we do, we might find ourselves in opposition to God’s purposes with Israel, however well-meaning our intentions! How much, we must inquire, of our own present Christianity is a desperate “keeping alive” of what God would make desolate—and unredeemed Israel the projection of our own vain hopes? Nothing is more calculated to make the church awake from its dreams and sleep than the deepening intractable and insoluble crises of Israel! To pray for the “elimination” of that which now vexes and threatens Israel, however humanly it is to be desired, is to find us perhaps praying against the very instrumentalities raised up by God to obtain that very death of Zionist and charismatic hopes by which alone the prophetic and enduring glory is birthed. This much is sure: The issues are too great to be prompted by sentiment rather than the Spirit; and that for travail to be effectual, one cannot have one’s own agenda. To find agreement with heaven, our human sentiment and wishful desires need first to be crucified.
On hearing of the sickness of His friend Lazarus, Jesus put aside every human desire to rush to his side, and “abode two days still in the same place where He was” (John 11:6). Had He acted prematurely out of His own human compassion to hasten to the bedside of His beloved friend, so as to alleviate his suffering, He would have rendered null and void the purposes of God. “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4).
How assuredly is a prophetic mouth disqualified when it speaks a false word, however well-meaning! May we keep ourselves in prophetic obedience as sons, despite the censure, the misunderstanding and criticisms of others for our “lovelessness.” When the moment of God’s choosing comes, our word shall not fail and fall limp when the Father calls us to be the agent of Israel’s resurrection with a “come forth” that we are destined to speak! Ironically, however much our silence before that time will be construed as lovelessness, only a faith that works by love will suffice in that once-and-for-all critical moment. A “love” that is no more than sentiment or a fascination for the mystique of Israel will fail in the day when Israel will be hated among all nations!
In a word, we are called to a faith beyond ourselves, a love beyond ourselves, an obedience beyond ourselves, an agreement in unity beyond ourselves. Only then can we speak with one voice! Little wonder that the Lord enjoins Israel in verse 14, “Then shall you know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, says the Lord.” Indeed, for who is to say where the prophet ends and the Lord begins? So complete is the dissolution of the man that one cannot tell where the man begins and God ends. In such a manner is the Bride adorned for the Bridegroom, having the glory of God, thus fitting the church for its eternal destiny to rule and reign with Him.
A Summary and Conclusion
The prophet is no mere spectator in Israel’s transformation. He sees the situation at its human worst. Therefore is he dealt with as severely as Israel itself; for if he is to be as God’s mouth, he must first become one with God’s heart—for out of the abundance of the heart alone does the mouth speak! Prejudices and envies, and any reluctance to see Israel restored to a place of honor need to find the place of death at the cross; for only death will free the “son of man” company from those final subtleties of pride in order to qualify it as God’s prophetic people. It is the issue of Israel, though she be oblivious to this function, that shall stretch the church, and bring it to a place of obedience and stature by which it is fitted for eternity! This is the heart of the mystery that Paul speaks of in Romans chapter 11, an understanding of which saves us from deadly “conceit” (Romans 11:25).
What shall be found more to redound to the eternal honor of God than this triumph over sin and death, in both Israel and the church? The same powers of hell and darkness that rushed in their characteristic fury to bring to death the Son of God will now again at the end of the age repeat their distinctive logic against the whole house of Israel—an extermination of that nation whose restoration is co-joined with the coming of its King and the establishment over the nations of His theocratic rule! The threat of loss of rule over the nations, so enjoyed till now, accelerates and intensifies the rabid hatred of deceived nations, both Islamic and western, against Israel fulfilling the purposes of Him who is sovereign over all, and whose certain triumph over death by the spoken word will be played out before the face of all nations.
“O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33).###
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers (Israel) were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses (who foreshadowed the real spiritual Deliverer, Christ Jesus) in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food (the Word of God); and all drank the same spiritual drink (the spiritual waters of the Holy Spirit), for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the ROCK was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for US, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “the people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for OUR instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come (the End-Times Church). Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. (1 Cor. 10:1-12; parenthetic explanations and emphasis added)
For whatever was written in earlier times was written for OUR instruction (the End-time Church), so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom. 15:4; parenthetic explanations and emphasis added)
For nearly forty years before his death in 2007, Art Katz was a prophetic voice crying out from the wilderness for radical revolution and reformation in the mission and methods of the church as well as the lives of believers. Born of Jewish parents in 1929 and reared during the austerity of the Great Depression and turbulence of the World War II eras, his life-philosophy was shaped by two diverse educational sources, the merchant marines and a liberal university academia in a time when such ideological heterodoxies of Marxism and Existentialism were vogue and prevalent among rogue intellectuals. These strong influences produced in Katz vehement atheism, staunch anti-Christianism, and a strident intellectual elitism he sought to propagate through the aegis of the public education system. When, as a high school teacher, he realized his reservoir of knowledge was woefully inadequate to provide cogent answers concerning the issues of life and the perplexities of history to inquiring students, he took a leave of absence to embark on a hitch-hiking odyssey through Europe and the Middle East in quest of the intellectual knowledge and sagacity of the master sages of antiquity in their native lands. His journey culminated significantly and symbolically in the city of Jerusalem, where he had a Damascus Road-like life-transforming personal encounter with the true Master Sage and Messiah, Jesus Christ! For the next four decades, Art Katz’s life and ministry were reflective of a true prophet and forerunner who prepared the way for the coming of the Lord into the hearts and lives of those he touched in this nation and nations around the globe. Many of his writings and audio sermons are available on his website at: http://artkatzministries.org.
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