Restoration of Israel
The Lord explained the exile of Israel in covenant terms in verses 23-24. The Lord sent them away because they dealt treacherously with him. Their iniquity was great. so, the Lord hid his face from Israel. When Israel kept the covenant, the Lord’s face was toward them. He looked favorably on them. Consider the blessing the Lord told Aaron to give to Israel:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift us his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)
One of the facets of life in the New Earth is that the throne of the Father and the throne of the Son will be there and we will see the Lord’s face. (Revelation 22:4)
But, when Israel broke the covenant, the Lord did the opposite: he turned his face away or hid his face from them. Deuteronomy 31:16-18 is a good example. As Moses was about to die, the Lord told him Israel would break the covenant and go after other gods. The Lord’s reaction would be to become angry, to forsake them and hide his face from them. The people in Ezekiel’s time acknowledged this when they said “the Lord does not see us”. (Ezekiel 8:12)
When the Lord hid his face from Israel, they were conquered by their enemies. This was a punishment the Lord set out in the covenant. Leviticus 26:14-21 sets this out, along with the remainder of the chapter.
The story of the Old Testament is the story of Israel’s breaking the covenant repeatedly, being conquered by enemies, then being restored by God. The Babylonian exile was the ultimate defeat. God restored Israel afterward, but here looks forward to a permanent restoration in the future.
At the end of this oracle, the Lord turns back to Israel and says he will restore it. Jacob is a synonym for Israel. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with the Lord in Genesis 32. Verse 25 tells us the Lord will do this out of mercy, for Israel does not deserve it.
This restoration after punishment is also part of the covenant. Leviticus 26:44-45 records the Lord saying he would not destroy Israel completely. He would remember the covenant that he might be their God. Deuteronomy 4:25-30 speaks of Israel returning to the Lord in the “latter days” because the Lord is merciful. It would have been a great word of encouragement to the exiles of Ezekiel’s day.
In addition to mercy, though, the Lord acts because he is jealous for his holy name. (25) He does not want people to think he has no power to protect his people and his land, or that he does not keep his covenant. In verse 27 he speaks of vindicating his holinesss by restoring his people.
This restoration will include:
forgetting their shame (26);
dwelling securely in their land;
knowledge that Yahweh is their God;
restored access to God through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
This restoration will be permanent. Verse 29 says “I will not hide my face anymore from them when I pour out my Spirit upon them”. The Lord’s victory over Gog and his forces demonstrates this truth. Instead of pouring out his wrath on Israel, he will pour out his Spirit. It is a complete reversal of fortunes. The pouring out of the Spirit is a sign or mark of ownership. The Lord owns his people. He will never abandon them.
So, when does this great battle, victory of the Lord and restoration occur? The Lord said it would be in the “latter years” in Ezekiel 38:8. John appears to explain it as happening at the end of this age in in the defeat of the Beast in Revelation 19. In verse 11, heaven is opened and John saw Jesus. The Lord Jesus appeared on a white horse, wearing a crown. We know it is Jesus because he is called “the Word of God”. (14) John called Jesus this very thing in the first chapter of his gospel. He said “in the beginning was the Word”. (John 1:1) This Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)
But, in Revelation 19, Jesus is not the suffering savior of his first coming, but the conquering Lord. He judges in righteousness and he makes war upon the enemies of God. His robe is dipped in their blood. This is his second coming and he comes this time to judge his enemies and defeat them.
He strikes down the nations with a sword that comes from his mouth. (11) He pours out the wrath of the Father on his enemies. (15) An angel then invites the birds to feast on the dead bodies as Ezekiel did in Ezekiel 39. Then the beast is captured and thrown into the Lake of Fire that burns with sulfur. Gog is not mentioned by name, but the beast represents him (or they both represent the same figure). Sulfur was used in the judgment of Gog in Ezekiel 38:22. (Revelation 19:20) The remainder of the enemies are slain by the sword, again reflecting the story in Ezekiel 39. This time, however, the sword comes from the mouth of Jesus. (21)
John then retells the story as the defeat of Satan in Revelation 20:7-10. There he specifically mentions Gog and Magog coming out for battle against the camp of the saints and the beloved city. But fire comes down from heaven and consumes them. (Revelation 20:9) Satan is thrown into the lake of fire. (10) Premillenialists see this battle as separate from the battle of chapter 19.
Remember that Ezekiel placed this event in the “latter days”. John places the event at the very end of days, the end of this age. It is the ultimate event of this age. It shows that our God is the lord of human history. It shows him as sovereign over men, no matter how powerful the men are. He is also sovereign over Satan and his forces. He defeats them all and casts them into Hell.
Once the Lord’s enemies are defeated, he reveals the restored or new heavens and earth in Revelation 21 and 22. It is occupied by the New Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven. In our Ezekiel study, we will see that the remaining chapters are devoted to a vision of a new temple and city where the Lord dwells.
It shows him keeping covenant. Not only will the Lord ultimately win, he will deliver his people into his victory. He will ultimately restore his people to perfection, where sin no longer pollutes the land or the people.
Finally, it shows that God is not only a God of judgment, but a God of mercy. He sends the gospel over the whole earth so that rebellious men and women can be saved. He saves believers from this terrible battle and judgment. It is his mercy to which we cling in faith, believing he will save us as he promised. And because it is a function of his mercy, not our worth or righteousness, we are humble and grateful in this presence.