A Reversal of Fortunes

“And you, son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel, and say, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God: Because the enemy said of you, ‘Aha!’ and, ‘The ancient heights have become our possession,’ therefore prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord God: Precisely because they made you desolate and crushed you from all sides, so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations, and you became the talk and evil gossip of the people, therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God: Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, the ravines and the valleys, the desolate wastes and the deserted cities, which have become a prey and derision to the rest of the nations all around, therefore thus says the Lord God: Surely I have spoken in my hot jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Edom, who gave my land to themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and utter contempt, that they might make its pasturelands a prey. Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I have spoken in my jealous wrath, because you have suffered the reproach of the nations. Therefore thus says the Lord God: I swear that the nations that are all around you shall themselves suffer reproach.

“But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they will soon come home. For behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown. 10 And I will multiply people on you, the whole house of Israel, all of it. The cities shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt. 11 And I will multiply on you man and beast, and they shall multiply and be fruitful. And I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you will know that I am the Lord. 12 I will let people walk on you, even my people Israel. And they shall possess you, and you shall be their inheritance, and you shall no longer bereave them of children. 13 Thus says the Lord God: Because they say to you, ‘You devour people, and you bereave your nation of children,’ 14 therefore you shall no longer devour people and no longer bereave your nation of children, declares the Lord God.15 And I will not let you hear anymore the reproach of the nations, and you shall no longer bear the disgrace of the peoples and no longer cause your nation to stumble, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 36:1-15 ESV

Twenty fine chapters separate this message from the one Ezekiel received back in chapter six, and a quick perusal reveals their similarities and extreme differences. Back in chapter six, God gave His prophet a message to deliver against the mountains of Israel.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says to the mountains and hills and to the ravines and valleys: I am about to bring war upon you, and I will smash your pagan shrines. All your altars will be demolished, and your places of worship will be destroyed. I will kill your people in front of your idols. – Ezekiel 6:3-4 NLT

God goes on to warn of further judgments upon the land, describing shocking scenes of devastation and death. His chosen people will die from war, famine, and disease, as He pours out His fury upon them. And the land will suffer greatly because of the “idols and altars on every hill and mountain and under every green tree and every great shade tree—the places where they offered sacrifices to their idols” (Ezekiel 6:13 NLT).

The sins of the nation had defiled the land that God had set apart as their inheritance. Through repeated acts of immorality and their unrelenting practice of idolatry, they had desecrated the very place that was to have been their forever home. At one point, God had described Israel as “a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands” (Exodus 20:15 ESV), but it had been polluted by the very presence of His ungrateful and unfaithful children. So, God warned of His plan to “clean house” and purge the land of its primary problem: The people who lived there. And long before the Israelites had ever entered the land of Canaan, God had warned them about picking up the habits of the nations that lived in the land before them. Because of the wickedness of the Canaanites, God said,“ the entire land has become defiled” and “I am punishing the people who live there. I will cause the land to vomit them out” (Leviticus 18:25 NLT). But He went on to warn the Israelites not to make the same mistake. 

“All these detestable activities are practiced by the people of the land where I am taking you, and this is how the land has become defiled. So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out, as it will vomit out the people who live there now. – Leviticus 18:27-28 NLT

As Ezekiel received the words recorded in chapter 36, the damage had been done. He was living among a contingent of Israelites who had already been “spewed out” of the land of promise and found themselves living as exiles in Babylon. And because of the recent fall of Jerusalem, they would soon be joined by a new wave of displaced refugees.

But chapter 36 provides a diametrically different message concerning the land of Israel. In what is almost a mirror image of the message contained in chapter six, God communicates His future plans for the land of promise. This time He has good news for Ezekiel to deliver to the “mountains of Israel” (Ezekiel 36:1 ESV).

See, I care about you, and I will pay attention to you. Your ground will be plowed and your crops planted. I will greatly increase the population of Israel, and the ruined cities will be rebuilt and filled with people. I will increase not only the people, but also your animals. O mountains of Israel, I will bring people to live on you once again. I will make you even more prosperous than you were before. – Ezekiel 36:9-11 NLT

The very people whom God had vomited from the land would be restored and the land would be renewed. But before that could happen, God was going to have to clean house again. This time, He would remove all those nations who had taken up residence in Israel’s forced absence. All the squatters and land-grabbers would be evicted to make way for the return of God’s chosen people.

Therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign Lord. He speaks to the hills and mountains, ravines and valleys, and to ruined wastes and long-deserted cities that have been destroyed and mocked by the surrounding nations. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My jealous anger burns against these nations, especially Edom, because they have shown utter contempt for me by gleefully taking my land for themselves as plunder. – Ezekiel 36:4-5 NLT

When the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians, it didn’t take long for their neighbors to take advantage of their weakened state and enrich themselves by plundering their property and possessions. And the same thing would take place after the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians. Nearby nations like Edom would use the opportunity to expand their borders at Judah’s expense. Having escaped annihilation at the hands of the Babylonian army, these smaller neighboring states would see Judah’s demise as a windfall and mock its fall.

Israel is a land that devours its own people and robs them of their children!” – Ezekiel 36:13 NLT

But God promises to turn their words against them. They can laugh and ridicule all they want, but the day is coming when God will turn the tables once again. He provides a stern rebuke to Judah’s arrogant enemies and warns them that their days in the land are numbered.

“…this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I have taken a solemn oath that those nations will soon have their own shame to endure. – Ezekiel 36:7 NLT

God was going to wipe the smirk off their faces and eliminate their very presence from the land. This time, they would be spewed out and left homeless. Because God had given the land to His people as their inheritance. The land of milk and honey would be restored to its former glory and filled with the sights and sounds of God’s children enjoying the bounty of His blessings.

I will make you even more prosperous than you were before. – Ezekiel 36:11 NLT

The hills, mountains, ravines, and valleys throughout Israel will once again be places of joy and celebration. The fields will be plowed and deliver an abundance of crops. The pastures will produce more than enough food to feed the flocks of God’s people. The ruined wastes and long-deserted cities will be rebuilt and repopulated as God orchestrates the return of His children.

The prophet, Zechariah, echoes these words of future hope and divine restoration.

“Once more I will cause the remnant in Judah and Israel to inherit these blessings. Among the other nations, Judah and Israel became symbols of a cursed nation. But no longer! Now I will rescue you and make you both a symbol and a source of blessing. So don’t be afraid.” – Zechariah 8:12-13 NLT

And God provided Zechariah with further insight into that future day when He will restore the fortunes of His people and reestablish them as the inheritors of His land.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the Lord to bless us. Let’s worship the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.’ Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing. – Zechariah 8:20-22 NLT

Everything will come full circle because God has ordained it. He is faithful to keep His word and determined to finish what He began.

Then you will know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 36:11 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.