There is potential for confusion between chapters 26 and 29, in which we are first told that Tyre shall be effectively wiped away by Nebuchadnezzar and by nations “as the waves of the sea,” and then that it appears to have held out against Nebuchadnezzar (29:11-12). This may be the one and only Bible prophecy passage in which the prophet explains its failure of fulfillment. Or just as likely, the text is saying that “he got no great reward,” i.e., little by way of booty to show for his victory.
And yet history tells us that Alexander the Great also destroyed Tyre. How could Alexander destroy what Nebuchadnezzar had already destroyed? Most likely, Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled the first part of God’s promise, by destroying the mainland city of Tyre, while it took the Greeks, under Alexander the Great, to finish off the closely-connected island city of Tyre several centuries later. For more information, check out http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/12/07/Ezekiel-261-14-A-Proof-Text-For-Inerrancy-or-Fallibility-of-The-Old-Testament.aspx#Article
EGYPT: Its downfall, predicted and lamented in Ezekiel 30-32, was also carried out in successive waves, first by the Babylonian attack and by the later Persian conquest and occupation under King Cyrus.
Egypt’s fall is a watershed event (no pun intended) in the biblical story. Though the Hebrews left Egypt, Egypt never entirely left them. Joshua’s wars against the Canaanites were likely continuations of the Exodus, in that many of the Canaanite tribes and city states were clients and buffer states for Egypt, doing Egypt’s bidding in resisting or attacking the Israelites. The allure and appeal of imperial Egypt’s grandeur, luxury, immorality, injustice and idolatry exercised a spiritual gravitational pull on Judah and Israel. The marriage of Solomon to Pharoah’s daughter put Israel back into imperial Egypt’s orbit. Judah’s self-defeating revolts against her divinely-ordained Babylonian overlords may have been stirred by Egypt, but were always disappointed by Egypt’s faithlessness and relative impotence. Ezekiel called it correctly: from then on, Egypt would be a second-rate power and a vassal state of other empires, of Cyrus, Alexander, the Caesars, the Caliphate, even the French (briefly) and the British.
Before things can get better, sometimes they have to get worse. With Jerusalem taken (again), the Temple destroyed, and the last of the royalty and its retinue deported, Ezekiel’s prophecies in this section take a decidedly hopeful turn, such as:
- A NEW SHEPHERD, A GOOD SHEPHERD for the people, God himself, as opposed to the negligent and exploitive shepherds who brought on Judah’s calamity (Ch. 34). This is the promise from which Jesus drew his words about himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10. He is the fulfillment.
- THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL in its promised land (Ch. 36), along with its cities, its farms and animals, “for the sake of my holy Name,” as well as for the welfare of the people. This promise is “fleshed out” even more graphically in the vision of the valley of the dry bones (Ch. 37), an image that conveys the miraculous nature of Israel’s coming restoration, and the role of God’s Spirit, or “wind.”
- THE REUNION OF ISRAEL AND JUDAH, (37: 15-28), presumably meaning “The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel” of the north, taken into exile by the Assyrians, and the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, and any other tribal remnants in their territory, then in Babylon. This prophecy has helped engender much speculation through the centuries over who and where the Ten Lost Tribes are. Are they Native Americans (as Mormons believe), the British (Garner Ted Armstrong), or even ethnic Mennonites, as someone once kept trying to convince me? She even was advocating that Mennonites should observe the laws of Leviticus and do O.T. sacrifices for that reason. Which left me out of the loop, as a non-ethnic Mennonite. A more likely possibility is that, with the likely blending and loss of Israelite identity after the Assyrian exile, the union of Gentiles with Jews in the Christian church is the fulfillment of this prophecy. In fact, until the 10th or 11th C. AD, the most geographically widespread and mission-minded church was the Assyrian Orthodox (also called Nestorian) Church, originating in the region where the Ten Tribes had been resettled. But anyone who believes in the Final Judgment must also believe in the likelihood of surprises.
- THE RESCUE OF A RESTORED ISRAEL FROM PAGAN EMPIRES like Gog, of Magog (chapters 38-29). Who and where and what is Gog? Some more recent commentators have seen Russia, the Soviet Union, China, or Nazi Germany as fulfillments of this prophecy. Commentators in previous centuries saw the Mongols or the Saracens. But too many other differences and discrepancies from the prophecy abound. I see Gog and its attack upon Israel as a symbolic statement to the effect that God will protect his people if they trust in him, and leave the imperialistic and militaristic ways that got them into Exile in the first place. God’s people will then be “the peaceful in the land,” without walled cities (unlike Israel today), and even the worst and most numerous attackers will be defeated by God. While some saw in these chapters a call to arm the U.S.A. against the Soviet Union on behalf of Israel, these chapters call God’s people to the opposite: a disarmed trust in God, live as “the peaceful in the land.” John’s Revelation picks up this same motif with the same names, “Gog and Magog” (Rev. 20:8), to the same effect.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF A PROPHET to God and his people is re-stated (from chapter 3) again in chapter 33. This is to be distinguished from responsibility for God and his people. The prophet is responsible to God to deliver God’s message, as well as being responsible to the people to deliver God’s message in their hearing. This is a heavy, sobering responsibility, not one to be taken lightly.
But the prophet is not responsible for God and God’s message, neither for its content nor its reception. Nor is the prophet responsible for whether or not the people receive, believe and obey the message they have heard.
When the church and its servant leaders forget this distinction, we typically bounce back and forth between two extremes: one of shirking our responsibility to receive, believe, obey and share God’s message, the other of mangling the message to make it as acceptable, appealing and unchallenging as possible to the audience, to the point where the audience can rightly wonder, Why bother?
Ezekiel and the other prophets understood this distinction and paid a price for it. The responsibility to God and their people was a heavy burden that entailed some suffering and sorrow. But great was their reward in terms of their hope and their fellowship with God.
PSALM 60 carries a prophetic word from God, in verses 6-8, reassuring the Israelites that they are his and will go with them into battle. Equally as true is that the neighboring nations are his as well. “Over Edom I toss my sandal” refers to the ancient practice of claiming or redeeming a parcel of land by tossing one’s shoe onto it. It is not hard to hear the pleas of Israel, before setting off for battle, for victory, with an element of lament for past defeats. The differing voices of a liturgy stand out as one person or party asks, “Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom?” and another group or person replies, “Is it not you, God, you who have now rejected us and no longer go out with our armies?” (v.10) With such faith and prayer must God’s people continue their kingdom endeavors and spiritual warfare today.