We now turn to the chapters of Ezekiel that are the oracles of restoration. Ezekiel 34-36 has three major sections. The first two begin with the language of judgment oracles but end with the oracle of restoration. They do not fit the chapter divisions in the English Bible. Ezekiel 34 shows us an oracle that is against the shepherds of Israel and after this language that sounds like an oracle of judgment the text moves next to language of an oracle of restoration as the Davidic monarchy is restored. The chapter begins with “the word of YHWH came to me: ‘Son of man…’” and ends with a double “declares the Lord YHWH.”
Ezekiel 35:1-36:15 shows us an oracle that is against Mount Seir and after this language that sounds like an oracle of judgment the text moves to the oracle of restoration as the Promised Land (promised to Abraham) is restored. The section begins with “The word of YHWH came to me: ‘Son of man…’” and ends with a double “declares the Lord YHWH.”
These similarities alone should show you that Ezekiel 34 and 35:1-36:15 are following similar outlines. In fact, each include because statements, therefore statements, and at least one oath formula.
And just to make sure you do not miss the obvious: the former concerns the covenant with David and the latter with the covenant with Abraham. This next section (Ezekiel 36:16-38) concerns the promise of a new covenant in the covenant with Moses (cf. Deuteronomy).
The third section among the oracles of restoration begins the same way the first two did: “The word of YHWH came to me: ‘Son of man…’” and opens instead of with language like an oracle of judgment with an explanation of the problem of uncleanness in the land and God’s judgment of desolation and exile. Then the oracle shifts to the language of restoration where Ezekiel tells us about God sprinkling clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart.
In Deuteronomy, YHWH had told the people to circumcise their hearts and then later said that He would circumcise their hearts. Ezekiel interprets the circumcision of the heart with the language of the giving of the Spirit. “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you, and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (And the Promised Land that had become desolate, people would say had become like the garden of Eden.)
So you should be able to see the way that these oracles of restoration correspond to covenants with David, Abraham, and the new covenant promised to Moses.
This overview also should remind you of language that we have seen previously in the oracles of judgment section of Ezekiel.
The oracles of judgment are Ezekiel 12-23, the oracles of restoration are Ezekiel 34-39. Also, Ezekiel 23 and 33 are related because in both include the idea of defiling one another’s wives (cf. Ezekiel 33:26).
Ezekiel 22 and 34 are related because both focus on the sins of leaders. In Ezekiel 22 it was princes and in Ezekiel 34 it is “shepherds.” Both mention the leaders oppression of the weak and bloodshed, both mention the people being scattered and promise that they will be gathered.
Likewise Davidson, who noted the previous similarities, also notes some themes and phrases connecting Ezekiel 36 back to Ezekiel 19-21. He argues that the order of the oracles of restoration answers the oracles of judgment in reverse order (a chiastic relationship of order). This is not so much a chiasm pointed to by the structure of the book, but much more loosely by the order of ideas.
Nevertheless, the book certainly accents the theme of judgment heavily and that is the focus of the book, which one does not avoid even in the section where the oracles are oracles of restoration. Also it is worth noting that the section with the oracles of judgment is longer than the oracles of restoration, which we will finish looking at the latter next time.
Ezekiel 34 is an ideal text for elders in the church to study in depth. We can discern from the ways that Ezekiel critiqued the leaders of Israel what good shepherds would do. Shepherding is a comprehensive metaphor to describe the work of an elder. The oracle of restoration is an oracle of judgment on the false shepherds of Israel and of return from exile for God’s sheep – His flock. The text looks forward to the restoration of Davidic kingship saying, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them…and be their shepherd…” (Ezekiel 34:23).
That one shepherd is Jesus Christ. The prophecy refers to Jesus Christ by mentioning the type who was King David. David himself was not a flawless shepherd, recall how the prophet Nathan rebuked him using a story about a lamb, and said, “you da man!” But David points us forward to the one who is the perfect shepherd. Earlier in the passage God had said that He would be the shepherd of His people. It is not insignificant that the passage says both, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep” (Ezekiel 34:15) and “I will set up over them one shepherd , my servant David…” (34:23).
The chapter also talks about how God will send showers of blessing on the land and how his sheep will no longer be a prey to the nations. All of this talk about the land is point us forward to the next section but the talk about not being prey to the nations reminds us of the point of the oracles against foreign nations.
The chapter closes: “And they shall know that I am YHWH their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord YHWH. And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord YHWH” (Ezekiel 34:30-31).
One recurring theme during these oracles of restoration is that YHWH will be their God and Israel will be His people. This is the language of covenant.
Ezekiel 35 anywhere else would simply be an oracle of judgment. It is much longer than the judgment oracle against Edom in the oracles against foreign nations section of Ezekiel. The chapter uses the poetic device of metonymy. This is where you mention to one thing to talk about another. For example, on the news you may hear, “the White House is saying…” but what that means is that the President or his administration is saying something. Likewise, in Ezekiel 35-36:15 God speaks to mountains. Mount Seir representing Edom and the mountains of Israel for the land of Israel.
Edom here is singled out because though they are the brother of Israel they had “cherished perpetual enmity” against Israel. This enmity reminds us of the curse back in Genesis 3, which shows the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman set at enmity. The text tells us that they also had said the mountains of Israel were given to them to devour. The text is describing what the people of Edom did when Judah fell to the Babylonians. What is particularly striking to me is that the oracles against foreign nations had said similar things about many of those seven nations.
Actually Mount Seir represents more than just the people of Edom – a standard example in Scripture of a nation that did not inherit the promises – but all people who do not belong to the people of God. This is fitting since the Hebrew consonants of Edom and Adam, transliterations of Hebrew words, are the same. Edom represents all those who are in Adam. And so the mountains of Israel represent not just Jewish but also Gentile believers who are in Christ. And yet on one level God is really talking to mountains. In other words, the promises here are about a new creation.
So all three sections then – with the showers of blessing new creation picture, the renewed mountains of Israel, and the comparison of this new creation to the garden of Eden – are about the new covenant and a new creation. And these three sections answer the oracles of judgment – the oracles against the princes and elders of Israel (cf. ch.19-22) are now answered by the restoration of kingship to “David,” the oracle against the land of Israel (cf. ch.21) is now reversed by this oracle of restoration for the mountains of Israel, and the underlying problem that led to the judgment (cf. ch.18) is answered by a new heart.