Prophecies to the Nations
F. Cundick, Luton
Chapters 25-32 form a break in the book, and contain prophecies to the nations surrounding Israel. Geographically, Palestine lies at the centre of the Eastern world. Around were arranged in two concentric circles the nations to whom these oracles are directed. The conceptions of the God of Israel held by these peoples were wide of the mark. To them, He was simply another tribal God. Hence, having completed his warnings to his own people Israel, the prophet turns his attention to "foreign affairs". Seven of the surrounding peoples are summoned in turn to the bar of Jehovah to hear sentences of His judgment, learning thereby that He is the Omnipotent Ruler of all nations.
Ammon, 25. 1-7. "Because thou saidst, Aha, against my sanctuary", v. 3. Many events in the history of this people are found in the books of Numbers, 1 Samuel and Jeremiah, all of which declare plainly their animosity toward Israel. The collapse of Judah brought an exhibition of their malignant delight and satisfaction expressed in the words cited above. The temper that delights in calamity is contrary to true love. The perversity of our human nature appears sadly in this, that when we have no prosperity of our own in which to rejoice then we can rejoice in the adversity of others. Envy is a subtle sin, but always rends itself in the end. The exterminating judgment that fell on Ammon is a forceful reminder of the boomerang action of this vice.
Moab, 25. 8-11. "Because that Moab and Seir do say, Behold, the house of Judah is like unto all the nations", v. 8 marg. Moab, the kindred people of the Ammonites, as the humiliating story of their origin reveals, Gen. 19. 30-38, manifests an audacious spirit of pride that dares to suggest that the chosen people of God have been stripped of their divine calling. Moab's consciousness of Israel's unique place among the nations made them bitterly resentful. Now that Judah had fallen, they breathe with proud relief that there is no rival to their national pride. The announcement that the shoulder of their country will be opened for a destroying invader is God's answer to this resentment of His sovereign choice. Moab's "glory" is to be stripped, Ezek. 25. 9. James strikes the moral of this when he wrote, "Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble", James 4. 5, 6.
Edom, 25. 12-14. "Because that Edom hath dealt against the house of Judah by taking vengeance", v, 12. Of the whole group addressed in the oracles, these descendants from Esau are the nearest to Israel in blood relationship. Yet with none were the feelings against Israel more bitter. Their enmity was perpetual. In some way they participate in the humiliating of Israel in order to give vent to their implacable hatred. Advantage is taken of Israel's calamity to satisfy old grudges; this, perhaps, is the reason for judgment being inflicted upon them by the children of Israel themselves, v. 14. How grim the vindication of God can be! For example, what fear and shame must have possessed the blasphemer Shimei when David the king returned to the throne! The feeling of Ziba must have been sore when, at the return of David, he was exposed as the slanderer of the faithful Mephibosheth; see 2 Sam. 19. 16-30. Here, in truth, is a heart-searching principle.
Philistia, 25. 15-17. "Because the Philistines have dealt by revenge, and have taken vengeance with a despiteful heart", v. 15. These people who constantly harassed and oppressed Israel, although at this time but "the remnant", v. 16, are told of "great vengeance" to come for their sin akin to that of Edom. The unrelenting retribution of God gives emphasis to the heinous nature of the crime of perpetual hatred. The black crime of revenge burns to ashes the heart that entertains it. "It is like the stinging black smoke which returns by the winds of providence upon those who directed it first toward those they hated". Philistia was taught the folly of its crime. Its downfall spells out the danger of revengeful intolerance.
Tyre, 26. 1 to 28. 19. "Because that Tyrus hath said against Jerusalem, Aha, she is broken that was the gates of the people ... I shall be replenished, now she is laid waste", 26. 2. Almost a seventh part of the book of Ezekiel is devoted to Tyre. Full commitment to trade characterises Tyre, proud of its geographical security and commercial importance. In this oracle the features of carnal prosperity are illustrated. Its inhumanity: "They traded the souls of men", 27. 13 marg. Human consideration is disregarded in order to amass profits. Its ostentation: "perfect beauty", "very glorious", buildings, clothes, foods, furnishings. Its crookedness: "the multitude of thine iniquities", 28. 18. Its pride: "Behold, thou art wiser than Daniel", 28. 3, a remark doubtless of keen irony. All success is attributed to her own wisdom and not to God. The Tyrian prince used his talents to enrich himself, and made his own desires to be a life-goal. Now that Israel has fallen, irrespective of long friendship, Tyre thinks only of the increase of profits by now being exempt from taxes previously raised by Israel on the trading caravans passing through the land. When this spirit engrosses the whole mind of man, making all other thoughts secondary and subservient, then the throne of God in the heart is usurped. Man has yet to listen to the words of Christ, "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?". Matt. 16. 26.
Zidon, 28.22-26. "Behold, I am against thee, 0 Zidon . . . and there shall be no more a pricking brier unto the house of Israel", 28. 22, 24. Having dealt at length on the characteristics of Tyre, the prophet need not repeat these in relation to the parent state of Zidon. As Tyre, Zidon thinks of using others as stepping-stones for her own advancement. Their "pricking brier" and "grieving thorn" tactics that had impeded Israel's progress are to be removed in judgment. The oracle contains the great principle that our best interests are promoted by assisting the prosperity of our neighbours. In the language of Paul, "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves", Phil. 2. 3.
Egypt, chs. 29-32. "Because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel", Ezek. 29. 6. The seven oracles against Egypt are marked by the dates found in the course of these chapters. They are all, largely, variations of one theme, namely, the destruction of the power of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar. Egypt had a deceptive fascination that seduced Israel away from truth in Jehovah. Warning of this was sounded by the faithful prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. These oracles enable us to penetrate a little further into the meaning of Stephen's words concerning the Israelitish fathers, who "in their hearts turned back again into Egypt", Acts 7. 39. Egypt's pride of heart is expressed in the words, "My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself", Ezek. 29. 3. Such proud peoples are always untrustworthy. To Egypt, treaties were but paper to be torn at her own convenience. Covenants made with other peoples were held in dishonest spirit, and without regard for great losses in national emergencies. Egypt is rightly described, "A staff of reed", v. 6. To be proud is to be unhelpful. A conscience cannot be both vainglorious and good. Let us remember the word, "He that exalteth himself shall be abased", Luke 14. 11.
The Moral Lessons are clear in the prophecies, but other purposes demand attention. From a literary point of view, their insertion at this point of the book serves to prepare the mind for the great change in Ezekiel's ministry to the captives in Chebar. "They are inserted in this place with the obvious intention of separating the two sharply contrasted situations in which our prophet found himself before and after the siege of Jerusalem", Skinner. Governmentally they teach Israel's place of universal significance in the world. These people who are the key to international politics are a chosen people. Davidson writes, "He who is God alone has become God of Israel, and it is through Israel and her history that He will reveal Himself to the peoples of the world". The period covered in the oracles is, virtually, the introduction of the new period of divine dealings with men, called by the Lord "the times of the Gentiles", Luke 21. 24. Nebuchadnezzar was but an instrument of God. His victories were but a preliminary clearing of the way for the new world empires to run their course. The prophet Daniel was called to give further information concerning this important development.
Further, let us re-emphasize that the rise and fall of nations is determined by God. Each nation holds its position in responsibility before Him. No nation, whatever power, intelligence, or technical achievement it possesses, will escape the retributive dealings of God if it refuses His standards of moral values and the purpose of His programme with men.
Finally, it may be of special interest to us in the present day to see in the attitudes of the nations surrounding Israel some samples of anti-Semitism in the world. Some of these nations just considered have their modern successors, and doubtless, according to the word of prophecy, there will arise a universal spirit of opposition to Israel; see Matt. 24. 9.