Against the Nations
Against the Nations
Following the prophecy of Jerusalem’s fall (Ezek 24), the next major section in the book of Ezekiel is a series of oracles against the foreign, enemy nations that celebrated the city’s demise. Seven nations are denounced by the prophet as under Yahweh’s judgment. Nearly every book classified among the major and minor prophets contains a collection of such oracles (e.g., Isaiah 13–23; Jeremiah 46–51). This episode discusses the nature of these oracles and discusses how the oracles of Chapter 25 can be read in the context of the Deuteronomy 32 cosmic-geographical worldview of Israel.
Well, let's jump in here. This is going to be chapter 25, but before we hit 25, I'm also going to use this episode as sort of an introduction to what this section is. Scholars typically refer to this as "the oracles against the nations." This is something that the prophetic books do. With most of the prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible, there's a section in the book somewhere where we have what are essentially prophecies or prophetic utterances—diatribes—against the nations. A lot of prophetic content is, of course, directed against Israel (God's own people). Just like Ezekiel has been saying, "You've been bad—all this stuff that you're doing—and this is why you're under judgment,” and so on and so forth. But then there's always this section devoted to, "Oh, well, we're not forgetting about our enemies. Even though God's using your enemies against you to judge you, God's going to get them, too." These sections in the prophetic books are called "oracles against the nations."
So let's jump into 25. Again, in terms of the section (chapters 25-32), we're going to have oracles against seven nations. You're going to get five of them in this one chapter! After this chapter we're going to have chapters 26-28, where it's Tyre and then the rest of it's going to be Egypt. They're going to get a lot of attention, and then we have these five smaller groups here in this chapter. And the five are Ammon, Moab, Seir, Edom, and the Philistines. They're the ones that are targeted specifically in this chapter. I think probably the easiest thing to do is just read through the chapter—maybe not all of it, but we might have time to do all of it. Let's just jump in here. So in the first seven verses, it starts against Ammon.
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward the Ammonites and prophesy against them. Say to the Ammonites, Hear the word of the Lord God: Thus says the Lord God, Because you said, ‘Aha!’ over my sanctuary when it was profaned, and over the land of Israel when it was made desolate, and over the house of Judah when they went into exile, therefore behold, I am handing you over to the people of the East for a possession, and they shall set their encampments among you and make their dwellings in your midst. They shall eat your fruit, and they shall drink your milk. I will make Rabbah a pasture for camels and Ammon a fold for flocks. Then you will know that I am the Lord. For thus says the Lord God: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel, therefore, behold, I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations. And I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries; I will destroy you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.
He says to Ammon, "Boy, you had a good time watching Israel get the tar kicked out of them, but the same guys who did that are going to take care of you, too." The Ammonites and the Israelites (if you're familiar with the Old Testament), they're not exactly the best of friends. There's a lot of conflict there. You have references in Judges 10 and 11, 1 Samuel 11, 2 Samuel 10, where Israel is getting into it with the Ammonites. Taylor notes:
After the fall of Jerusalem, their king Baalis appears to have encouraged Ishmael
in the assassination of Gedaliah (Jer. 40:14). Their crime in this oracle was that of gloating at Judah’s misfortune (3, 6)… and their punishment would be to be overrun by nomadic desert tribesmen (men of the east)…
Tribesmen or, of course, the Babylonians themselves. Commentators go either way there. So just think about this. We're not going to go into every one in specific detail, but their specific crime is (to quote the text) "because you said 'Aha!'" (essentially like, "All right! High five!" or something like that)... because you rejoiced over my sanctuary when it was profaned and over the land when it was made desolate, over the house of Judah when it went into exile. That's the reason this is going to happen to you now. So just tuck that away.
Let's put it this way: it has something to do with a nation who's thrilled to see the presence of Yahweh displaced from Yahweh's inheritance—thrilled to see the people of God (Yahweh's children) driven away from their inheritance. Again, I'm saying it this way deliberately. I want you to be thinking in Deuteronomy 32 Worldview terms, because that's really what this is about. They're being targeted because they hate the Most High and they hate his people, and they and their gods want the people of God destroyed. They want the land abandoned. They want to take it for themselves. Again, you have to be thinking in terms of the cosmic geographical ramifications of this to understand why God is basically making a point to tell the prophet, "Okay, all the stuff I said that was going to happen in Jerusalem has come to past, but we're not done there. I want the nations to know that it doesn't end here. I want them and their gods to know that they have not won. It's still my land, this is still my people. So I have a message for them." And you get these oracles, and it happens somewhere in all the prophetic books to some degree. If you continue on with the chapter, you get verses 8-11, and now it's Moab and Seir.
“Thus says the Lord God: Because Moab and Seir said, ‘Behold, the house of Judah is like all the other nations,’ therefore I will lay open the flank of Moab from the cities, from its cities on its frontier, the glory of the country, Beth-jeshimoth, Baal-meon, and Kiriathaim. I will give it along with the Ammonites to the people of the East as a possession, that the Ammonites may be remembered no more among the nations, and I will execute judgments upon Moab. Then they will know that I am the Lord.
In other words, Moab and Seir are going to get theirs, but look at the accusation again. Why is God angry? What's the point? What sets this whole thing off? What's their specific crime.
Because Moab and Seir said, ‘Behold, the house of Judah is like all the other nations…’
In other words, they're not ruled by the Most High, or the Most High has abandoned them. The Most High has disinherited them, too. For someone like an Israelite who is familiar with the cosmic geographical context for this kind of back and forth—this tit-for-tat—it really helps you to read between the lines here. What's sort of lurking under the surface is this worldview of the nations and their gods. "He disinherited them, too. Yahweh has no people. He's done. They're done. The land is ours; let's take it."
Verses 12-14... Now you get Edom. We've spent a lot of time talking about Edom in our episodes about Obadiah, so I don't want to go back and rehearse all that. If you want more on Edom, go listen to the two episodes on Obadiah. In Ezekiel 25 verse 12:
“Thus says the Lord God: Because Edom acted revengefully against the house of Judah and has grievously offended in taking vengeance on them, therefore thus says the Lord God, I will stretch out my hand against Edom and cut off from it man and beast. And I will make it desolate; from Teman even to Dedan they shall fall by the sword. And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they shall do in Edom according to my anger and according to my wrath, and they shall know my vengeance, declares the Lord God.
Now the specific crime here Edom had historically sided with (assisted in some way) the Babylonians when the Babylonians came in and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Here, that whole sort of thing is worded this way: their specific crime is 40:00 that they have acted vengefully against Israel. Their punishment is going to be "by Israel's own hand, I'm going to take revenge on you." In other words, Israel is not done with. They're going to come back here. (laughs) "My people are not dead. I have not cut them off entirely, and there's going to come a time when my own people will conquer you to make the point.”
I don't want to backtrack too far into that. We know that historically, some of this happens in the Intertestamental Period. Taylor notes:
…Although Edom proper was also overrun by Nabateans, the ancestors of the modern Arabs, Edomite survivors were later subdued first by Judas Maccabaeus and then by John Hyrcanus, who incorporated them into the Jewish race by compulsory circumcision.
So some scholars point to that as being the fulfillment. But remember when we talked about Obadiah, that the prophecy against Edom was really fulfilled by the conquest of Adam (humankind—all the nations) through the Gospel. If that sounds kind of strange, go listen to the episodes on Obadiah. We also talked about how certain prophecies in the book of Amos are quoted and used and theologically applied in Acts 15, where Edom becomes paradigmatic for all the nations and Babylon is sort of the source of the problem. Remember, Babylon is where the nations were disinherited (Deuteronomy 32 Worldview). And the solution to that, ultimately, is the overspread of the Gospel through all the nations, which begins in Acts 2 at the hands of God's own people—the Jews who have converted to follow Jesus. After the crucifixion and resurrection, they kickstart the reclamation of the nations. So you have all this stuff in play. Again, if this is unfamiliar content to you, you're just going to have to catch up. You could read Unseen Realm and that would help. You could watch the introductory videos on the podcast website and that would help—but especially, listening to the two episodes on Obadiah.
For our purposes here, think about the term "act vengefully." We're going to come back to that.
The last group here, the Philistines, are accused of the same thing.
“Thus says the Lord God: Because the Philistines acted revengefully and took vengeance with malice of soul to destroy in never-ending enmity, therefore thus says the Lord God, Behold, I will stretch out my hand against the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethites and destroy the rest of the seacoast.
Now we know historically, the Philistines are a longstanding enemy. Taylor writes:
David finally broke their military ascendancy but they continued to cause occasional trouble during the monarchy, though we have no record other than this oracle of their hostility at the time of Jerusalem’s fall. The Cherethites, who were regularly linked with [the Philistines], may well be etymologically the same as the Cretans, as LXX translates. David employed them in his standing army of mercenaries, and it is likely that ‘the Pelethites’ who shared this duty with them were Philistines under a slightly different name. The punishment pronounced on them for their vengeful wrongs done against Jerusalem… is expressed in the form of a play on words: I will cut off (hikrattî) the Cherethites (’et kĕrētîm).
After Maccabaean times, the Philistines completely vanished from sight as a people and only the names of their cities remained.
That's typically the way scholars look at this. All that's legitimate, but I think there's something more going on here that is missed. Is there a pattern? As we close, this is how I want to wrap this up. Is there a pattern with these peoples and their offenses? Is there something to see here in the Divine Council Worldview?
Well, consider these few thoughts. All of these peoples (that we just went through in chapter 25) had nephilim descendants originally in their land. Look at the list: Ammon, Edom, Moab, the Philistines... Just track through Deuteronomy 2 and 3. You're going to get the drift of what I'm saying here. The Transjordan here and the Philistines, they all had that history earlier in Israel's history back in
Deuteronomy 2 and 3 (the Annakim). Of course, the Annakim went by that name in particular (those who lived in Canaan proper, the ones that the Conquest was aimed at eliminating—, but in the Transjordan they have other names. They had a name for them in
Ammon and Moab and Edom, and so on and so forth. Deuteronomy 2 and 3 says they were tall like the Annakim; they were Rephaim... blah, blah, blah. All these places in that oracle have that history.
Second thought: the first three are clearly cast as hating Yahweh's presence in the region and they also hate Judah's status as elect, as Yahweh's inheritance. They hate the people because they're Yahweh's inheritance
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.
This whole worldview. The other nations hate that, and these specific three are accused... this is why they're going to be judged; this is their crime. They rejoiced at Yahweh's presence leaving his inherited portion, and his physical people (that inherited portion) were destroyed and driven out. So God is going to retaliate for that. Why? Because he has to make the point that this is not where the story ends. You might think it is and that might thrill you, but that's going to wear off pretty quickly because that's not where the story ends.
Third thought: the offense of the last two (the Edomites and the Philistines) are described with the lemmas naqam (that's the verb) and neqamah (the noun equivalent). It's this idea of revenge or acting vengefully. It's the vocabulary of score-settling. If you actually do a search on this time (maybe not every occurrence but I'm willing to put a number on it: ninety percent or better), this is the lemma used for inter-familial antagonism—sort of fratricidal crime language in the Old Testament. It's really interesting, not only for that reason, that this is the lemma you would use where one (I'll just be blunt here) disinherited sibling wants to take revenge on the one that the father likes—that kind of situation. This is the lemma that is used in the Hebrew Bible for interfamilial fratricidal revenge warfare or killing. This is the one that's used. There are lots of lemmas that could be used to describe what happens to Jerusalem and Judah, but here the crime is specifically this lemma, and I think it's by design. I think it's drawing on the fact that at one point in human history, God had related to all of humanity, but at Babel he disinherited the nations—he divided them up according to the number of the sons of God (again, the whole Deuteronomy 32 cosmic/geographical worldview thing). And God said, "I'm not going to have a relationship with humanity anymore. I'm taking all of the nations that exist. I'm divorcing them and I'm putting them under the authority of these other gods. Of course, the other gods become corrupt (we know that from Psalm 82). They were supposed to be place-holders ruling according to Yahweh's definition of justice, but they don't do that. They're terrible; they cause chaos. Psalm 82 is about judging that. We get that. We've been down that road a lot of times in this podcast and in my other material, but with that in mind, when you use this particular lemma about taking revenge, it's suggestive.
And here's another reason: if you go back to Deuteronomy 32 in the ESV (this is the best place to go because other translations are going to have something totally different)... Deuteronomy 32:8-9 in the ESV is where we incorporate the Qumran language (“dividing them up according to the number of the sons of God”). What people know less of... I've written some things on the website and mentioned it in Unseen Realm, as well, but at the end of the chapter (Deuteronomy 32:43)... I discussed this in detail in my BibSac article on
Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God. Verse 43 is quite different in the ESV than it is in other translations for the same reason. The Dead Sea Scrolls material that gives us the correct reading ("sons of God") for verse 8 also gives us the correct reading for verse 43. And here's what it says:
“Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people’s land.”
Guess what lemma is behind "he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries?" Both instances there... guess what lemma it is? Right! It's the same that we just talked about here in Ezekiel 25: naqam—the language of score-settling within the family. Is it possible that the oracles of the nations here are written the way they are to thematically link them back to Deuteronomy 32? To say, "Here it begins—the judgment of the nations after Jerusalem's fall. Now that we've taken care of Jerusalem's apostasy problem and her sin problem, we turn our attention to the nations." Because the story doesn't end here. Is it possible that the oracles against the nations are the beginning of the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 32:43? I think it is!
I think a very careful literate reader of the Hebrew Bible (because naqam isn't used that often—it's not like it's hundreds and hundreds of times) would have thought, "Okay... 'Rise up. Rejoice with him, O heavens, bow down to him all gods.' Start bowing now because yes, Israel has been punished but now it's time to bow the knee because you're going to get what you deserve, too. Yahweh is not done with his own inheritance. He is not surrendering his own inheritance. You don't get to go grab it. In fact, you're going to be brought into submission and into the fold. And here it begins." I really do think that there's some connection point here conceptually and intertextually, and that the oracles of the nations are there to sort of prime the pump—get the ball rolling—for the submission of the disinherited nations under the authority of the king of Israel.
We know who the king of Israel is going to be. When these oracles are given, they don't have a king anymore. They're in exile. But who is the king? The king is Jesus, the son of David—all this New Testament talk. When we have the post-cross playing out of the nations being reclaimed, they are put under the authority of him.
Remember when we did the episode about how curious it was how Paul links resurrection language with the defeat of the gods? There's half a dozen passages like this that link the resurrection with the victory over the principalities and powers, over the rulers of darkness, all this geographical dominion language that Paul uses for the powers of darkness. He gets that because he inherits the Deuteronomy 32 Worldview. It's all the same kind of thing, it just takes a different form. So that's what you're dealing with here when it comes to the oracles against the nations. To penetrate the English text a little bit, to see how people would have read this back in ancient Israel—what would they have been thinking and what would their filters have been for understanding what's going on here?
In our next episode, of course, we'll get into more of these. We've got to go to chapter 32. The next three chapters are going to be about Tyre, and of course, one of those is the big one—the one we typically think of for divine rebellion (events in Eden, that sort of thing). This is the kind of thing that is just lurking under the surface. It's the judgment of divine rebellion and bringing the divine rebels into submission to the king of Israel who, in our context, is Christ. That's the story.
I can't help, but think that I'm glad I'm on this side of the crucifixion and I know Jesus. I'm glad I'm not having to face the vengeance of God in the Old Testament.
Yeah, really! That's a good understatement (laughs), not only for this. When you say that it makes me think of not just the foreign powers, but all the stuff we covered in Leviticus. Good grief, it's this constant need to do this or that to be ritually pure, but then you can't have access, either. Your access is so limited in so many different ways. And then you could do things and it would be, "Well, it doesn't matter. We don't have a sacrifice for that one. Too bad (laughs). You're either out of the community or you're dead." Yeah, we're doing a lot better.