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The mountains of Israel

The word of God came to Ezekiel and said to him.

“Turn your face to the mountains of Israel, prophesy against them and say, ‘You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the sovereign God. This is what the sovereign Lord says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys: I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars will be demolished and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will slay your people in front of their idols. I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. Wherever you live, the towns will be laid to waste and the high places demolished, so that your altars will be laid waste and devastated, your idols smashed and ruined, you incense altars broken down, and what you have made, wiped out. Your people will fall slain among you, and you will know that I am God.”

“But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the land and nations. Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me – how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. And they will know that I am the Lord; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.”

“Strike your hand together and stamp your feet and cry out, “Alas!” because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the people of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine, and plague. One who is far away will die of the plague, and one who is near will fall by the sword, and anyone who survives and is spared will die of famine. So, will I pour out my wrath on them. And they will know that I am the Lord, when their people lie slain among their idols around their altars, on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak – places where they offered fragrant incense to their idols. And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land a desolate waste from the desert to Diblah – wherever they live. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

What the story means to us today

When we misbehave, God feels pain

It’s hard it to ignore the harshness of God’s punishment on Ezekiel’s people. God did not want to impose punishment on his people – but they had been warned. As God noted, “I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.”

But notice that God says he was “grieved” by their adulterous hearts, those that turned away from him and “lusted after their idols”. Grief is a profound sadness, the type of emotional pain one feels when a loved one dies. Although we cannot be sure if God expressed his feelings to Ezekiel in a metaphorical manner, we cannot ignore the fact that God feels sadness!

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Like a parent punishing a misbehaving child, God is saddened when we do bad things and must be punished. After all, we are his creations and he wants us to be safe and happy. He knows what we must do to remain secure and content and thus, when we disobey his commands, he feels sadness. Still, as a parent must punish a misbehaving child to promote learning, God too must invoke punishment, sometimes severe (at least in human terms), on those who disobey him.

Additional thoughts and considerations

A jealous god detests idols

Ancient idolA prominent point of this story is God’s loathing of idols and the importance of Israel’s recognition of the Lord as the one true god. This should come as no surprise. If people worship “foreign gods”, then God’s plan for mankind cannot be carried out. Thus, God will not allow worship of any god or any other entity that usurps his plan for mankind.

It is not only the worship of physical objects (e.g. idols) that can stimulate God’s jealousy. Anything that distracts mankind from his plan is subject to God’s wrath. Unbeknownst to most, we have seen this scenario play out in all civilizations since the beginning of recorded history. Inevitably, without exception, civilizations begin to decline after reaching the pinnacle of their success. As citizens live in an abundance of riches, they indulge, become lazy, and the morality of their society declines. It is at this point that the civilization begins to lose interest in religion. Unsurprisingly these societies wither and die (while others are reborn in its place). It is a cycle that has repeated itself since the beginning of time.  The Bible (and modern-day history) tells us that anything that distracts a society from God, will never last unscathed.

Whether you find this fearful or not depends on your standpoint. For those who chose to turn their backs on God, it is truly an unenviable position to be in. Christians however, should find God’s “jealousy” comforting – it ensures God will intervene if anything or anyone attempts to deviate from his objective which of course, is intended to benefit mankind and ensure his safety and survival.

Israelites had been warned

If God’s punishment of Israel makes you uneasy, understand that like a parent teaching a child, God clearly spelled out the rewards and punishments for obedience. The covenant law in Leviticus 26:1 plainly instructs the Israelites to avoid making idols, images, and sacred stones and explains the rewards for obeying God’s commands. Ten verses later, God explains in no uncertain terms, the punishment for disobeying his commands – “I will punish you for your sins seven times over.”  The Israelites understood the rules and the consequences of ignoring them.

As always, an escape for the righteous is available

God always provides a way for the righteous to escape judgement. In this instance, God tells Ezekiel “I will spare some”. But God will allow no escape for those who refuse to live according to his law. Man is not granted unlimited choice – especially when his choices violate God’s law and endanger the righteous. In instances such as this, God must step in and correct mankind’s deviation from the path God intends them to travel down.

Ezekiel faces the mountains of Israel

God instructs Ezekiel to “face against the mountains of Israel” and prophesy against them. The significance of the location ties with the theme of the chapter – God’s loathing of foreign gods. Although the phrase “mountains of Israel” typically means all of Israel, in this instance, we know that cultic platforms (where sacrifices and other rituals were performed) were typically placed on high places and thus the mountains became centers for cultic worship, especially shrines dedicated to Canaanite gods.

We see a similar reference in Numbers 33:52 where Israel was commanded to destroy the enemy’s carved images, idols, and their “high places” and in 2 Kings 23:14 when Josiah smashes the altars at the “high place” in Bethel.

The science and history behind the story

The area known as Diblah

God tells Ezekiel he will make the land a desolate waste from the “desert to Diblah”. The name is only mentioned in Ezekiel and the geographical location of Diblah is unknown. Some argue that the original Hebrew word could be translated as Riblah (in Hebrew, the letters “D” (dalet) and “R” (resh) are easily confused) and some translations do render the word as “Riblah”. Riblah is a city to the north of the Orontes River and south of Kedesh (i.e. north of Damascus, the northern border of Israel).

In short, God’s reference to the boundary of his desolation could be Riblah, the northern border of Israel – or Diblah, an as-yet-unknown location.

Notes on Biblical translation

Those nasty “Idols”

There are multiple words used in Hebrew to express the concept of a “idol”. Reflecting God’s detestation of idolatry, Ezekiel humorously uses a word that is closely related to “dung pellets”.

Bible Text

NIV

6 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face against the mountains of Israel; prophesy against them 3 and say: ‘You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys: I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. 4 Your altars will be demolished and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will slay your people in front of your idols. 5 I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. 6 Wherever you live, the towns will be laid waste and the high places demolished, so that your altars will be laid waste and devastated, your idols smashed and ruined, your incense altars broken down, and what you have made wiped out. 7 Your people will fall slain among you, and you will know that I am the LORD.

8 “ ‘But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. 9 Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me—how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. 10 And they will know that I am the LORD; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.

11 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Strike your hands together and stamp your feet and cry out “Alas!” because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the people of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine and plague. 12 One who is far away will die of the plague, and one who is near will fall by the sword, and anyone who survives and is spared will die of famine. So will I pour out my wrath on them. 13 And they will know that I am the LORD, when their people lie slain among their idols around their altars, on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak—places where they offered fragrant incense to all their idols. 14 And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land a desolate waste from the desert to Diblah—wherever they live. Then they will know that I am the LORD.’ ”

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The Message

Then the Word of GOD came to me: “Son of man, now turn and face the mountains of Israel and preach against them: ‘O Mountains of Israel, listen to the Message of GOD, the Master. GOD, the Master, speaks to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and the valleys: I’m about to destroy your sacred god and goddess shrines. I’ll level your altars, bust up your sun-god pillars, and kill your people as they bow down to your no-god idols. I’ll stack the dead bodies of Israelites in front of your idols and then scatter your bones around your shrines. Every place where you’ve lived, the towns will be torn down and the pagan shrines demolished—altars busted up, idols smashed, all your custom-made sun-god pillars in ruins. Corpses everywhere you look! Then you’ll know that I am GOD.

8–10 “ ‘But I’ll let a few escape the killing as you are scattered through other lands and nations. In the foreign countries where they’re taken as prisoners of war, they’ll remember me. They’ll realize how devastated I was by their betrayals, by their voracious lust for gratifying themselves in their idolatries. They’ll be disgusted with their evil ways, disgusting to God in the way they’ve lived. They’ll know that I am GOD. They’ll know that my judgment against them was no empty threat.

11–14 “ ‘This is what GOD, the Master, says: Clap your hands, stamp your feet, yell out, “No, no, no!” because of all the evil obscenities rife in Israel. They’re going to be killed, dying of hunger, dying of disease—death everywhere you look, people dropping like flies, people far away dying, people nearby dying, and whoever’s left in the city starving to death. Why? Because I’m angry, furiously angry. They’ll realize that I am GOD when they see their people’s corpses strewn over and around all their ruined sex-and-religion shrines on the bare hills and in the lush fertility groves, in all the places where they indulged their sensual rites. I’ll bring my hand down hard on them, demolish the country wherever they live, turn it into wasteland from one end to the other, from the wilderness to Riblah. Then they’ll know that I am GOD!’ ”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

The NET Bible

6:1 The word of the LORD came to me: 6:2 “Son of man, turn toward the mountains of Israel and prophesy against them: 6:3 Say, ‘Mountains of Israel, Hear the word of the sovereign LORD! This is what the sovereign LORD says to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: I am bringing a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. 6:4 Your altars will be ruined and your incense altars will be broken. I will throw down your slain in front of your idols. 6:5 I will place the corpses of the people of Israel in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. 6:6 In all your dwellings, the cities will be laid waste and the high places ruined so that your altars will be laid waste and ruined, your idols will be shattered and demolished, your incense altars will be broken down, and your works wiped out. 6:7 The slain will fall among you and then you will know that I am the LORD.

6:8 “ ‘But I will spare some of you. Some will escape the sword when you are scattered in foreign lands. 6:9 Then your survivors will remember me among the nations where they are exiled. They will realize how I was crushed by their unfaithful heart which turned from me and by their eyes which lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves because of the evil they have done and because of all their abominable practices. 6:10 They will know that I am the LORD; my threats to bring this catastrophe on them were not empty.’

6:11 “ ‘This is what the sovereign LORD says: Clap your hands, stamp your feet, and say, “Ah!” because of all the evil, abominable practices of the house of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine, and pestilence. 6:12 The one far away will die by pestilence, the one close by will fall by the sword, and whoever is left and has escaped these will die by famine. I will fully vent my rage against them. 6:13 Then you will know that I am the LORD—when their dead lie among their idols around their altars, on every high hill and all the mountaintops, under every green tree and every leafy oak, the places where they have offered fragrant incense to all their idols. 6:14 I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land a desolate waste from the wilderness to Riblah, in all the places where they live. Then they will know that I am the LORD!”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

King James Version

6 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2 Son of man, set thy face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, 3 And say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord GOD; Thus saith the Lord GOD to the mountains, and to the hills, to dthe rivers, and eto the valleys; Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. 4 And your altars shall be desolate, and your images shall be broken: and gI will cast down your slain men before your idols. 5 And I will lay the dead carcases of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars. 6 In all your dwellingplaces the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished. 7 And the slain shall fall in the midst of you, and ye shall know that I am the LORD.

8 Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries. 9 And they that escape of you pshall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and tthey shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations. 10 And they shall know that I am the LORD, and that I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them.

11 Thus saith the Lord GOD; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence. 12 He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remaineth and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus will I accomplish my fury upon them. 13 Then shall ye know that I am the LORD, when their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars, upon every high hill, in all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak, the place where they did offer sweet savour to all their idols. 14 So will I stretch out my hand upon them, and make the land desolate, yea, more desolate than the wilderness toward Diblath, in all their habitations: and they shall know that I am the LORD.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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