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UNIVERSAL RESTORATION OF THE JEWS
Ezekiel 37:1-6. The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which teas full of bones, and caused vie to pass by them, round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knottiest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.
WHILST the Jews at large, and the generality of Christians also, believe that the dispersed of Israel will one day be restored to their own land, there is an assured expectation, both amongst the one and the other, that the Messiah will in due time reign over the face of the whole earth. But, whilst this blessed event is expected by all, there lurks in the minds of the generality a persuasion, that in the present state of the Jews their conversion to Christ is impracticable; and that, whenever it shall be effected, it will be by some miraculous interposition, like that which took place at their deliverance from Egypt: and hence all attempts to convert them to Christianity are thought nugatory at least, if not presumptuous. In opposition to these discouraging apprehensions, which would paralyze all exertions in their behalf, I have selected this portion of Holy Writ, which meets the objections in the fullest possible manner, and shews, beyond all doubt, that we are bound to use the means which God has appointed for their conversion, and that in the diligent use of those means we may reasonably hope for God’s blessing on our labours.
In the preceding chapter are plain and express promises relative to the restoration and conversion of the Jews. In the chapter before us, the same subject is continued in an emblematic form. The Jews in Babylon despaired of ever being restored to their native land. To counteract these desponding fears, there was given to the Prophet Ezekiel a vision, in which the extreme improbability of such an event is acknowledged, whilst the certainty of it is expressly declared. And, lest the import of the vision should be mistaken, it is explained by God himself, and the event predicted in it is foretold in plain and direct terms: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, and shall put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord [Note: ver. 11–14.].”
We cannot but admire the goodness and condescension of God, in so accommodating himself to the weaknesses and wants of men. His people were slow of heart to understand his word; and therefore he “gave them line upon line, and precept upon precept,” and exhibited truth to them under every form, if so be they might be able to receive it at last, and to obtain the blessings which he held forth to them in his Gospel.
The restoration promised in the chapter before us does not merely relate to the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon. To that indeed is its primary reference; but it manifestly has respect to a recovery from their present state of dispersion, and to a spiritual deliverance from their bondage to sin and Satan: for, not only are the expressions too strong to be confined to a mere temporal deliverance, but the emblem mentioned in the subsequent part of this chapter, of uniting two sticks in the prophet’s hand, shews that the whole is to be accomplished, when all the tribes of Israel, as well those which were carried captive to Assyria as those of Judah and Benjamin, shall be reunited under one head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
That this period is yet future, you cannot doubt, when you hear the words of God to the prophet: “Son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions. Then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions: and join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand. And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these? say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel, and one King shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all……And David my servant shall be king over them; and they shall have one Shepherd [Note: ver. 16–25.].” These things have never yet been fulfilled; but they shall be fulfilled in their season. What though the Jews be like dry bones scattered over the face of the whole earth? Shall any word that God has spoken respecting them fall to the ground? No: the scattered bones shall be reunited, each to its kindred bone, and they shall rise up an exceeding great array, as the Lord has said.
In explanation of this vision, I will endeavour to set before you,
The present state of the Jews;
Our duty towards them; and
Our encouragement to perform it.
Let us consider, First, The present state of the Jews—
Certainly nothing can be well conceived more unpromising than this. The obstacles to their conversion do indeed appear almost insurmountable. One most formidable barrier in their way is, the extraordinary blindness and hardness of their hearts. From the very beginning they were, as Moses himself tells them, a stiff-necked people: and their whole history is one continued confirmation of the truth of Ins assertion; insomuch that any one who is conversant with the sacred records, but unacquainted with the plague of his own heart, would be ready to imagine, that their very blood had received a deeper taint than that of others. Certainly we should have scarcely supposed it possible that human nature should be so corrupt, as they have shewn it to be. We should never have conceived that persons who had witnessed all the wonders which were wrought in their behalf in Egypt, and at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness, should be so murmuring, so rebellious, so atheistical as they were during their forty years’ continuance in the wilderness; and indeed, with the exception of some occasional and partial reformations, even till their final dispersion by the Romans. It really appears incredible, that, with the Holy Scriptures in their hands, and with the life and miracles of our blessed Lord exhibited before their eyes, they could evince such malignant dispositions towards him, and with such deliberate cruelty imbrue their hands in his blood. Yet such is their state at this hour, that I can have no doubt but that they would reject him again with all the same virulence as before, if he were again to descend from heaven, and to place himself within the reach of their power. His meek and holy conduct would not be sufficient to disarm their malice; nor could all his benevolent miracles conciliate their regard: they would still, as before, cry, “Away with him! crucify him! crucify him!” The same veil is upon their hearts at this day as there was then: and, as far as they can, they actually repeat all the iniquities of their fathers, sanctioning and approving all which they did towards him, and in their hearts transacting it afresh. Such being almost universally the predominant features of their minds, we must acknowledge, that their restoration to life is as improbable as any event that can be contemplated. But whilst I say this, let it not be thought that I mean to cast any uncharitable reflections upon them, or needlessly to asperse their character: for I well know that by nature they are no worse than others. They labour under peculiar disadvantages. From their earliest infancy they are filled with prejudice against the religion of Jesus: they hear him designated by the most opprobrious titles; and are taught to regard him as a vile impostor. This constitutes the chief difference between them, and multitudes who bear the Christian name: ungodly Christians are as averse to real piety as they; but having been taught to reverence the name of Christ, they can hear of it without disgust; whilst the Jews, who have been educated in the most envenomed hatred of it, spurn at it with indignation and abhorrence; and consequently, are proportionably hardened against all his overtures of love and mercy.
Another obstacle in their way is the contempt in which they are held. It had been foretold by Moses concerning them, that they should “become an astonishment and a proverb, and a bye-word among all nations [Note: Deuteronomy 28:37.];” and such they have been ever since their dispersion by the Romans. There is not a quarter of the globe where this prediction is not verified. Mahometans and Heathens of every description pour contempt upon them, and load them with all manner of indignities. Nor have Christians been at all more kindly disposed towards them: on the contrary, we have been foremost in executing upon them the Divine vengeance, just as if our religion, instead of prescribing acts of mercy and love, had dictated nothing but cruelty and oppression. To this hour, the very name of a Jew is amongst us a term of reproach, a symbol of every thing that is odious and contemptible. And what is the natural effect of this? Can we wonder that it should excite resentment in their breasts? Has it not a necessary tendency to embitter them against us, and to make them detest the principles we profess? What can they think of Christianity, when they see such conduct universally practised by its professors? We complain of their blindness and obduracy; but can we wonder at their state, when we ourselves have done, and are yet continually doing, so much to produce it? And what effect has it on ourselves, but to weaken any kind dispositions which may be cherished in the hearts of a few towards them, and to make us despair of ever effecting any thing in their behalf? This effect, I say, it does produce: for, whilst we make extensive efforts for the conversion and salvation of the Heathen, we pass by the Jew with utter disdain, and deride as visionary all endeavours for his welfare. If we saw but a beast fallen into a pit, our bowels of compassion would move towards him, and we should make some efforts for his deliverance: but we behold millions of Jews perishing in their sins, and we never sigh over their lamentable condition, nor use any means for the salvation of their souls. They are not allowed even the contingent benefits of social intercourse with us: the wall of partition which God has broken down in his Gospel, is built up by us; as if by general consent they were proscribed, and debarred all access to the light that we enjoy. Their fathers, in the apostolic age, laboured and died for us, when we were sunk in the depths of sin and misery: but we will not stretch out a hand for them, or point them to the rock, on which they may be saved from the overwhelming surge. Thus they are left to famish, whilst the heavenly manna lies around our tents; and they are immured in darkness, whilst we are enjoying all the blessings of the noon-day sun. Say, then, whether this be not a formidable barrier in their way, so as to render their access to the true Messiah beyond measure difficult?
But a yet further obstacle to their conversion arises from the efforts which they themselves use to prevent the introduction of Christianity among them. The Rulers of their Church exercise authority over them with a strong hand: and the first appearance among them of an inclination to embrace the Gospel of Christ is checked with great severity. Every species of threatening is used to intimidate those who have begun to ask the way to Zion, and to deter them from prosecuting their inquiries: and, if a person yield to his convictions, and embrace the Gospel, he is instantly loaded with all the odium that can be heaped upon him: every kind of employment is withheld from him; and he would be left to perish with hunger, if he were not aided by those whose principles he has embraced. An apprehension of those evils deters vast multitudes from free inquiry; and constrains not a few to stifle their convictions, because they cannot prevail on themselves to sacrifice their all for Christ.
Such being the present state of the Jews, it may well be asked, “Can these bones live?” Can it be hoped that the feeble efforts which we are using should succeed? If, when in Babylon, they despaired, saying, “Our bones are dried; our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts:” may they not with far greater propriety adopt the same language now? and may not we regard all attempts for their conversion as altogether hopeless, even as hopeless as the resuscitation of dry bones, that have been for ages crumbled into dust?
Yet hopeless as their state appears, we should not be discouraged from performing,
Our duty towards them—
The command which God gave to the prophet in my text was not personal to him, but general to all who are partakers of superior light and liberty. The whole was not a real transaction, but a vision, intended for the instruction of the Church of God in all ages, and especially for those who should be alive at the period destined for the accomplishment of the prophecy. We may consider therefore the directions here given as applicable to ourselves, and as comprising our duty towards the house of Israel. It consists in these two things, The communicating of instruction to them, and The praying unto God for them.
We should, as far as lies in our power, communicate instruction to them. The word “prophecy” does not necessarily import an utterance of predictions; it is often used for the conveying of instruction in the name of God: and this is what we are bound to do to the Jewish people, each of us according to the abilities we possess, and the opportunities that are afforded us. We are not all called to exercise the ministerial office; but we are to impart in conversation the knowledge we have received. No Christian whatever is to put his light under a bushel or a bed, but on a candlestick, that it may give light to those who are within the sphere of its influence. If we have but one talent, we are to use it for the honour of our God, and the benefit of our fellow-creatures.
But here it is to be regretted, that the generality of Christians are themselves destitute of the information which they are called upon to communicate. Nor is this true of the laity only: even those who bear the ministerial office are by no means so well instructed in the points at issue between the Jews and us, as to be competent to the task of entering into controversy with the more learned Jews. Even those ministers who have somewhat of a deeper insight into the mysteries of the Gospel, are for the most part but ill furnished with that species of knowledge which qualifies them for instructing the Jews. They are not aware of the principal objections of the Jews to Christianity, nor of the answers which ought to be given to them. Even the peculiar excellencies of the Christian system, as contradistinguished from Judaism, are not so familiar to them as they ought to be. With Heathens they can argue, and with different sects of Christians they can maintain their stand: but so utterly have they disregarded and despised the Jew, that they have thought it not worth their while to furnish themselves with knowledge suited to his case. This is greatly to the shame of Christians in general, and of Christian Ministers in particular. Nor does it offer any just excuse for our continuing to neglect the Jews, since we ought instantly to make ourselves acquainted with all that is necessary for the conviction of our Jewish Brother; and in the mean time should procure for him, from others, the instruction which we ourselves are unable to impart. This is what we should do, if we saw a brother perishing of wounds that had been inflicted on him: we should not account our want of medical skill as any reason for neglecting his case; but we should endeavour to procure for him from others the aid he stood in need of. And this is what we should do for his soul, procuring for him such books as are suited to his capacity, and bringing him into contact with such persons as are better qualified than ourselves to enlighten and instruct his soul.
To withhold these efforts under an idea that God will convert them without the instrumentality of man, is to belie our consciences, and to deceive our own souls. Such an excuse is nothing but a veil to cover our own supineness. Where has God told us that he will convert them without means? He did not do so even on the day of Pentecost. He has commanded that “his Gospel should be preached in all the world, to every creature.” Where has he made them an exception? This I say, then, that our duty towards them is, to use all possible means for the illumination of their minds, and for the conversion of their souls to the faith of Christ.
But it is our duty at the same time to pray for them. The prophet was not only to prophesy to the dry bones, but to “say, Thus saith the Lord God, Come from the four winds, O breath! (O thou eternal Spirit!) and breathe upon these slain, that they may live [Note: ver. 9.].” Whoever may attempt to convey instruction, it will be attended with little benefit, if God do not accompany the word with power from on high. “Paul may plant, and Apollos may water; but it is God alone that can give the increase.” If we set about any thing in our own strength, and expect any thing from the means, without looking directly to God in and through the means, we shall be rebuked, and left without success; just as Elisha was, when he expected his staff to raise to life the widow’s child [Note: 2 Kings 4:29-31.]. Like the prophet in our text, we are to pray for the influences of the Holy Spirit to give efficacy to the word. To this effect we are taught by God himself; “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth [Note: Isaiah 62:6-7.].” If we conscientiously combine our personal exertions with fervent prayer, there is not any thing which we may not hope for. Wonderful is the efficacy of fervent and believing prayer: and, if we employ it diligently in behalf of the Jews, desperate as their condition to all appearance is, it shall prevail, to the bringing forth of their souls from the prison in which they are immured, and for the introducing of them into the light and liberty of God’s dear children.
True it is, we may without any saving influences of the Spirit effect a previous work, like that of bringing together the kindred bones, and causing the flesh and skin to come upon them: but God alone can breathe life into them. We may bring them possibly to “a form of godliness; but God alone can give the power:” and it is only when our “word comes to men in demonstration of the Spirit,” that it ever proves “the power of God to the salvation” of their souls.
Such is our duty towards them: and that we may not draw back from it through despondency, let us consider,
Our encouragement to perform it—
We have the express promise of God to render it effectual. What can we want more? The promise is repeated again and again; “Ye shall live;” “Ye shall live;” “I will bring you up out of your graves, and ye shall live [Note: ver 5, 6, 12, 14.].” And is not God able to do it? Look at the heavens and the earth: Hath he created all these out of nothing? hath he spoken them into existence by the word of his mouth, and is he not able to effect the conversion of the Jews? Has he declared that he will raise the dead at the last day, and bring into judgment every child of man; and cannot he, who shall accomplish that in its season, effect this also at the appointed time? True, the bones are, as he has said, “dry, very dry” but they are not beyond the reach of his power. What if the resuscitation of them be “marvellous in our eyes, must it therefore be marvellous in God’s eyes?” (Zechariah 8:6.) His word in the mouth of Jews has been effectual for the conversion of the Gentiles; and that same word in the mouth of Gentiles shall be effectual for the conversion of the Jews: for “his hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither is his ear heavy, that it cannot hear.” “Hath he said, and shall he not do it? hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Tell me, Did he not bring out his people from Egypt at the appointed time? Yes, “at the self-same hour did he bring them forth, with a mighty hand, and a stretched-out arm.” In like manner he delivered them also in due season from Babylon, according to his word: and these are sure pledges, that he will in due season fulfil all his promises towards them, and not suffer one jot or tittle of his word to fail.
In dependence on his promise, then, we should address ourselves to the work assigned us. We should go forth feeling the utter hopelessness of our task, and say, “O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!” The greater the difficulty appears, the more should we hold fast our confidence in God, with whom nothing is impossible. We should go, as it were, into the midst of that vast theatre, and lift up our voice with-out either distrust or fear. If the means already used have proved ineffectual, we should, like Elisha, exert ourselves with the more earnestness, and labour more fervently in prayer with God for his blessing on our endeavours. In order to raise the son of the Shunamite, he cried mightily to the Lord, and went in and stretched himself upon the child, applying his mouth, his eyes, his hands, to the mouth, the eyes, the hands of the child [Note: 2 Kings 4:33-35.]: and thus should we go in to our Jewish Brethren: we should address ourselves to the work in the length and breadth of all our powers, accommodating ourselves to the measure and capacity of every individual amongst them, and labouring in every possible way to inspire them with love to Christ: and, if we see as yet but little effect, (as was at first the case with that holy prophet,) let us “not despise the day of small things,” but let us look upon the smallest success as an earnest of greater things, as the first-fruits before the harvest, and as the drop before the shower. Two things in particular I wish you to notice in the text: the one is that God wrought nothing till the prophet used the appointed means; and the other is, that he wrought effectually as soon as the means were used. This is twice noticed by the prophet in the verses following my text: “So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, the bones came together:” and again, “So I prophesied as he commanded me; and the breath carne into them, and they lived [Note: ver. 7, 10.].” Let this, I pray you, sink down into your ears: only let this be understood and felt, and acted upon; and I shall have gained a point of the utmost importance to the Jewish cause: for, however inadequate to the end our efforts be, God requires us to put them forth; and when they are put forth in humility and faith, he will bless them to the desired end. To expect the blessing without using the means, or to despair of success in the use of them, is equally wrong. What he has commanded, we must do: and what he has promised, we must expect. Be the difficulties ever so great, we must not stagger at the promises through unbelief, but be strong in faith, giving glory to God. Our blessed Lord, when Mary imagined that her brother was gone beyond a possibility of recovery, said to her, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” so to you I say, Be not discouraged by thinking how long our brother has been dead, or how corrupt he is; but expect assuredly, that at the sound of Jesus’ voice he shall rise out of his grave and come forth to life.
Permit me now to address myself to you in a more particular manner: and,
To those whose exertions are paralyzed by despondency.
I object not to a full consideration of all the difficulties that obstruct the conversion of the Jews. I wish them to be viewed in their utmost extent: but then they should be viewed, not as grounds for relaxing our efforts, but as motives to the most strenuous exertion. With the generality, these desponding fears are only excuses for their own supineness: they have no compassion for their perishing fellow-creatures, no zeal for the honour of their God, and therefore they cry, “A lion is in the way.” But this is a very unworthy recompence for all the exertions which the Jews of former ages made for us. What if they had said respecting the Gentiles, “They are bowing down to stocks and stones, and it is in vain to attempt their conversion?” we should have continued in our ignorance and guilt to the present hour. It was by their unremitting labours that the Gospel was spread; and to them we owe all the light and peace that we at this moment enjoy. Let us then imitate them: let us employ our talents and our influence in their service: let us combine together for the purpose of promoting their welfare more extensively than we could do by individual exertion: and whilst we go forward in dependence on the promises of our God, let us remember, that “what he has promised, he is able also to perform.”
As for the idea that the Lord’s time is not come, who is authorized to declare that? The great events that are going forward in the world give us reason to think that the time is come, or at least is very near at hand. The prophecies themselves, in the judgment of many wise and sober interpreters, appear to point to the present times, as the season for their approaching accomplishment. And certainly the attention now paid to the subject by the Christian world, and the success that has hitherto attended their efforts, are encouraging circumstances to confirm our hopes, and stimulate our exertions. We may add too, that the zeal that has been manifested of late for the universal diffusion of the Holy Scriptures, and for the conversion of the heathen, is a call from God to the Christian world, to consider the wants of his ancient people: and the general expectation of the Jews at this time, that their Messiah will soon appear, is a still further call to us to point out the Saviour to them. Nor can I pass by without notice two most astonishing events; one of which has lately occurred in a foreign country, and the other is at this moment arising in our own. In Russia, God has raised up a friend for his people, another Cyrus, in the head of that vast empire; who has assigned one, if not more places in his dominions, where the Jews who shall embrace Christianity may find a safe asylum, and enjoy all necessary means of providing for themselves, agreeably to their former habits. In our own land, an unprecedented concern begins to manifest itself in behalf of all the nations of the earth who are lying in darkness and the shadow of death. The duty of sending forth missionaries to instruct them, is now publicly acknowledged by all our governors in Church and State; and in a short time will the whole community, from the highest to the lowest, be invited to unite in this blessed work [Note: In the Prince Regent’s Letter, read in all the Churches through the kingdom, in 1815.]. And in this ebullition of religious zeal, can we suppose that the Jew shall be forgotten? Shall those to whom we ourselves are indebted for all the light that we enjoy, be overlooked? Will it not be remembered, that our blessed Lord and Saviour was a Jew; and that it is a Jew who is at this moment interceding for us at the right hand of God? Shall not our obligations to him and his Apostles be requited by a due attention to those who were the first in his estimation, and are yet “beloved by him for their fathers’sakes?” We must on no account overlook them: we must consider them as comprehended in the general commission: and let us hope that there will be a simultaneous effort through the land, to carry into effect the pious and benevolent designs of our governors.
An erroneous idea has obtained, that because it is said by St. Paul, “that blindness in part is happened unto Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in [Note: Romans 11:25.],” the great harvest of the Gentiles must be reaped before the sickle is put to the Jewish field. But this is directly contrary to what the same Apostle says in the very same chapter, where he represents “the fulness of the Jews as being the riches of the Gentiles [Note: Romans 11:12.].” It is the commencement, and not the completion, of the in-gathering of the Gentiles, that marks the season for the conversion of the Jews: and therefore the stir which there is at this moment amongst the Gentile world, is, amongst other signs of the times, a proof, that the time for the conversion of the Jews is near at hand. Away then with all desponding fears; and to every obstruction that presents itself in your way, say, “Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain [Note: Zechariah 4:6-7.].”
Let me next address myself,
To those who desire to be accomplishing this great work.
You will reasonably ask, What shall we do in order to advance this blessed cause? To this I answer, Be much in prayer to God for them. Were the Christian world more earnest in prayer to God for the restoration and salvation of his people, I feel no doubt but that God would arise and have mercy upon Zion, and that a great work would speedily be wrought among them. When the angel interceded for Jerusalem, saying, “O Lord God, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem?” Jehovah, we are told, answered him with good and comfortable words [Note: Zechariah 1:12-13.]. And, if a spirit of intercession for them prevailed amongst us, God would answer, not by good and comfortable words only, but by great and powerful acts, even by the displays of his pardoning grace, and the manifestations of his long-suspended love. United prayer brought Peter out of his prison: and united prayer would bring the Jews also out of their graves; and they should arise before us “an exceeding great army.”
Still however, as human means also are to be used, I would say, Form yourselves into societies and associations for the advancement of this work. Much may be done by united and systematic exertion, which cannot possibly be done without it: funds will be raised; and many will be stirred up to join with you, who would neither have inclination nor ability to do much in a way of solitary effort: and, if God has given to any one a talent of wealth or influence, let him improve it to the uttermost. It is scarcely to be conceived how much a single individual may effect, provided he set himself diligently to the work. God has said he will “bring his people one of a city and two of a family,” yea, that “he will bring them to Zion one by one.” And if only one be brought from darkness unto light, and from death to life, it is worth all our efforts: for one single soul is of greater value than the whole world. Let us up then, and be doing; for the Lord is with us: and if we see not immediately all the effect we could wish, we have the satisfaction of knowing that God approves of the desire, and that, like David, we are gathering stones which our successors shall erect into a temple of the Lord.
But let it not content us to proselyte the Jews to mere nominal Christianity. It is to no purpose to bring their bones together, and cover them with flesh, unless their souls be made alive to God, and they become living members of Christ’s mystical body. In the close of the chapter from whence our text is taken, God informs us what is to characterize the conversion of the Jews to Christ: “David, my servant, (that is, the Lord Jesus Christ,) shall be King over them; and they shall all have one Shepherd: my servant David shall be their Prince for ever. Moreover, I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and my tabernacle also shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [Note: ver. 24–27.]” Yes, this is vital Christianity; this is the only true religion that can benefit us; and therefore it is that to which we must endeavour to convert them. I ask of you, my Brethren, What is it that comforts you, but a view of the everlasting covenant, “ordered in all things and sure?” What is it that enables you to live above the things of time and sense, and to look forward with joy to the eternal world; what is it, I say, but a hope, that you stand in this near relation to a reconciled God, and a persuasion, that that Saviour, whose you are and whom you serve, will bruise Satan under your feet, and make you more than conquerors over all your enemies? Bear this in mind then, I pray you, in all your conversations with Jews, and in all your efforts for their good. Aim at nothing short of this. To convince them by argument is nothing, unless you bring them to a life of faith upon the Son of God, and to a life of entire devotedness to his service. This you must first experience in your own souls, else you can never hope to effect it in theirs. Let them see in you how truly blessed a life of faith is; and what a sanctifying efficacy it has on your hearts and lives. Let them see, that it is not a merely speculative opinion about the Lord Jesus Christ, to which you would convert them, but to the enjoyment of his love, to a participation of his image, and to a possession of his glory. In a word, be yourselves among them as living epistles of Christ, that in you they may read the excellency of his salvation: then may you hope to prevail with them; and that they will gladly unite themselves to you, when they shall see that God is with you of a truth.
SOULS QUICKENED BY THE GOSPEL
Ezekiel 37:11-13. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts. Therefore. prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves.
THE writings both of the Old and New Testament abound with allegories; but the interpretation of them is generally given by the writers themselves. Many of our Lord’s discourses were of this nature: they are admirably calculated to convey instruction. We have a very remarkable allegory in this chapter. The prophet sees in a vision a valley of dry bones; he is interrogated with respect to the possibility of their living; he is commanded to bid them live in the name of the Lord. On issuing the proclamation he perceived a noise among the bones; the bones shook, and carne, each to its kindred bone; the sinews, flesh, and skin, then came upon them: lastly, in answer to his prayer, life was communicated to them. This allegory is then interpreted by God himself. It describes the state of the Jews in Babylon, and their unexpected deliverance from it. But it may be properly considered as relating to the deliverance of God’s people from the sorer bondage of sin.
We shall take occasion from the text to consider,
The state of unregenerate men—
The Jews in Babylon were as unlikely to return to a state of political existence, as dry bones are to the functions of animal life. They themselves despaired of such an event (ver. 11). Their condition fitly represents that of the unregenerate—
The unregenerate are dead, even as dry bones—
[In this light they are represented by the Apostle [Note: Ephesians 2:1.];. They are destitute of all inclination or ability to serve God [Note: Philippians 2:13.]: they have not a sufficiency even for the smallest good [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:5.].”]
They not unfrequently despair of ever obtaining deliverance—
[Despondency is far more common than is generally supposed. Many imagine, like Job, that they are given over by God [Note: Compare Lam 3:18 and Job 19:10.]: hence they express themselves like the desponding Jews [Note: Jeremiah 2:25.]—.]
They are not, however, beyond the reach of mercy—
This will appear by considering,
The means by which God delivers them from it—
God can work by the meanest and most contemptible means—
[By the sound of rams’ horns he overthrew Jericho: by the stroke of Elijah’s mantle he parted the waters of Jordan: so, by the preaching of his Gospel he quickens the dead.]
He commands his power and grace to be proclaimed—
[He is an almighty, all-sufficient God. He promises pardon to all who seek it in his appointed way. He offers his Spirit to renew all who call upon him. He assures the believing soul that it shall never perish [Note: Isaiah 41:10.]. Thus he encourages the weakest and the vilest to look unto him [Note: Isaiah 45:22.].]
In this way he accomplishes the deliverance of his people—
[A gradual change is made in the most obdurate sinners. There is a “great army,” of whom it may be said as of the prodigal [Note: Luke 15:24.]—: they go forth immediately to “the promised land.”]
Nor does any one remain ignorant of his benefactor—
This leads us to consider,
The effects which this deliverance produces—
While dead in sin we imagine we must quicken ourselves—
[We know not the depth of misery into which we are fallen. We little think how great a change must take place upon us; nor are we aware how entirely destitute we are of strength.]
But when once we are quickened, we see whence our deliverance came—
[We feel by experience the truth of Jeremiah’s assertion [Note: Jeremiah 13:23.]—. We see that the Apostles themselves were only God’s instruments [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:6-7.]. Then we know God to be the Lord, the source of every good. We learn also to commit all our ways to him.]
How valuable are the ordinances of religion!
[God makes use of his ordinances for the most glorious purposes. He works principally in and by them [Note: Romans 10:17.]. They who neglect them are generally left in darkness; but sincere worshippers reap the greatest benefit from them. Let us never then grow weary of attending them: let us use them with a dependence on God for his blessing.]
What care has God taken to encourage desponding sinners!
[No state can be worse than this represented in the text [Note: ver. 2. “very dry.”]; yet God has shewn how he could overrule the heart of Cyrus to proclaim liberty, and of his own people to accept it. He displayed also his mighty power in re-establishing his people; what then can he not do for those who are dead in sin? Let none say, “My hope is lost, I am cut off.” Let it he remembered that the power and grace of Christ are sufficient [Note: John 11:25.]. Let every one hear in faith the Apostle’s exhortation [Note: Ephesians 5:14.]—.]
THE STICKS OF JUDAH AND OF EPHRAIM JOINED
Ezekiel 37:15-22. The word of the Lord carne again unto me, saying, Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions: and join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand. And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these? say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick; and they shall be one in mine hand. And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes. And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountain of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all.
THE restoration of the whole Jewish people, to their own land, and to the favour of their God, is a subject on which all the prophets dwell with great delight; and not with delight only, but with the strongest confidence and assurance. There were indeed then, and there are still, in that nation, circumstances which, if viewed only after the manner of men, render the accomplishment of these predictions highly improbable. For instance; the whole people of Israel, of the ten tribes which were carried captive to Assyria, and of the two tribes in their present dispersion, are scattered, like dry bones, over the face of the whole earth: and we might as well expect a restoration of such scattered bones to life, as the return of that people to their own land. Moreover, from the period of their separation in the time of Rehoboam, to the latest hour of their existence as different states, there existed between them such inveterate hatred, as precludes a hope that they can ever be united into one people again. But the Prophet Ezekiel was inspired to declare, that both these difficulties should be overcome. The resuscitation of the dry bones he has foretold in the preceding part of the chapter; and the reunion of the two nations he foretells in the words which we have just read. He was commanded to represent this to his hearers by a very appropriate sign. He was to take two sticks; and, writing on each of them the nation which it was intended to represent, he was to cause them to become one stick in his hand; and then to explain to them the figure, by a full declaration of God’s purpose relative to their reunion in the latter-day.
His words will lead us to contemplate,
The event predicted—
The sign itself, just like the blossoming of Aaron’s rod, whilst all the others retained their own proper form without any such alteration, was a convincing proof, that the prophet both spake and acted under a divine commission. The causing of two sticks, without any previous process, in an instant to become one in his hand, was a pledge to the spectators that the prediction, however improbable, should certainly be fulfilled. Accustomed to be taught by signs, the spectators desired an explanation of that which was now before their eyes. And the prophet informed them, that it imported and prefigured,
The restoration of all the tribes to their own land—
[The names inscribed upon the two different sticks clearly shewed that the ten tribes which had been carried captive to Assyria, no less than the two who were then in Babylon, should at a future period be restored; and that all of them together should form one nation, as they had done in the days of David and of Solomon: and that they should never be divided into two nations again [Note: ver 22, 25.]. This has never yet been fulfilled; and therefore we know it shall receive its accomplishment at a period yet future. To confirm this from many passages of Scripture would be quite superfluous: for if the return of all the tribes to their own land at a future period be questioned, there is not any prediction of a future event that can be depended on. It is not necessary that the whole mass of the Jewish people should return: for there were but forty thousand that returned from Babylon; yet was that deemed a sufficient accomplishment of the prophecies relating to that event. So, if there be only a few millions that return to their own land in the latter-day, it will amply suffice to verify the predictions respecting it. But return they shall, as surely as ever the two sticks became one in the prophet’s hand. And to this effect speaks the Prophet Isaiah, whose words I record as illustrating and confirming, beyond a possibility of doubt, the declarations in my text: “It shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And he shall set up his ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim. But they shall fly, upon the shoulders of the Philistines, toward the west: they shall spoil them of the east together: they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab; and the children of Ammon shall obey them. And the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian Sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dry-shod. And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people which shall be left from Assyria; like as it was to Israel, in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt [Note: Isaiah 11:11-16.].”]
The union of them all under Christ as their common Head—
[Never have they been all under the government of one king since the revolt of the ten tribes from Rehoboam: much less has there been any king of the name of David that could lay claim to this dominion. But, at the period referred to, they shall all, even the whole twelve tribes, become one nation again; and that too under the government of the Messiah, who is frequently foretold under the name of David, and who in the New Testament also is recognized as raised up of David’s house, and as sitting upon David’s throne [Note: Luke 1:31-33; Luke 1:69.]. They will all form one flock under him, as their “Shepherd,” as, both in a preceding chapter and in that before us, is fully declared [Note: ver. 22, 24, 25 and Ezekiel 34:23-24.]. They will be deeply sensible of their error, in having so long rejected him; and will then “look on Him whom they, no less than their fathers, have pierced, and mourn, and be in bitterness, even as one that mourneth for his first-born son.” And no longer will they cast off his light and easy yoke: yea rather, they will delight in him, and glory in him, as “all their salvation and all their desire.” To this effect the Prophet Hosea also most plainly speaks: “The children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim. Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord, and his goodness, in the latter-days [Note: Hosea 3:4-5.].”]
Their enjoyment of God, as their covenant-God and portion—
[A new covenant will God make with them in that day, widely different from that which he made with their fathers, when he brought them forth out of Egypt [Note: Jeremiah 31:31-34.]. In the new covenant, provision shall be made for the remission of all their sins, for the mortification of all their lusts, and for their entire restoration both to the favour and to the image of their God [Note: ver. 23–26.]. In former days, God dwelt with them visibly, by the bright Shechinah, the symbol of his presence; and in his tabernacle he revealed himself in a way that he never had done to any people from the foundation of the world; avouching himself to be their God, and them to be his peculiar people [Note: ver. 27. with Revelation 21:2-3.]. And again, at the latter-day will his manifestations of himself to them be not a whit less bright and glorious, insomuch that all the nations of the world shall be constrained to acknowledge them as the people whom, above all others upon earth, Jehovah has been pleased to bless and honour [Note: ver. 28.]. Their holiness and happiness will far transcend any thing experienced by their forefathers; “the light of the moon will become as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun seven-fold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound [Note: Isaiah 30:26.].”
Now, from these things will be seen what is the true character of the Millennium. It is not in their external state that the Jews will be changed, more than in the state of their souls before God. In truth, it is the spiritual change which will chiefly mark the glory of their latter-day: it will consist not so much in any political revolution, like that of the restoration of the Jews to their own land, as in the establishment of Christ’s kingdom upon earth, and the subjugation of the whole world to the obedience of Christ.]
The sign intimated by the prophet having been realized before the eyes of his people, having assured to us the accomplishment of his prophecy, we will proceed to contemplate,
The prediction verified—
Let us place ourselves on an eminence, and behold it, as st were, accomplishing before our eyes. Behold in it,
What a display of God’s power!
[The Scriptures speak highly of God’s power in raising up such an innumerable seed from Abraham and Sarah, at a time when, according to the course of nature, they could have no hope of any progeny. Greatly also is his power magnified in bringing out that nation from their bondage in Egypt. The deliverance also of the Jews from Babylon is marked, as illustrating in no ordinary degree the boundless power of Jehovah. But all of these together are nothing, in comparison of that power which he will display, when he shall, in every quarter of the globe, convert the souls of his ancient people, and restore them in safety to their former inheritance. We are particularly told, that the redemption from Egypt will then no longer be mentioned, by reason of the more glorious deliverance which will be vouchsafed unto them.]
What a proof of his veracity!
[God promised to Abraham and his descendants the full and entire possession of the land of Canaan: yet it was four hundred and thirty years, before either he or his posterity possessed, with the exception of a burial-place, so much ground as to set his foot upon. Their deliverance from Egypt had been predicted; but their deliverance was delayed so long, that if it had continued one day longer, God’s promise to Abraham would have been broken. But behold, on the self-same day he brought them forth; and thereby he shewed himself mindful of the promise which he had given above four hundred years before. At the expiration, too, of seventy years, the time fixed for their captivity in Babylon, God brought them forth from thence also. As to the time fixed for their return from their present dispersion, we are unable with certainty to declare precisely when it shall arrive: but, according to every calculation, we have reason to believe it fast approaching; and at the appointed period the event shall assuredly be accomplished. And how wonderfully will it attest the unchangeableness of God, “not one jot or tittle of whose word can ever fail!”]
What an exhibition of his grace!
[The sovereignty of God was clearly shewn, in his choice of Abraham from the midst of an idolatrous family and nation: nor less so in limiting his blessings to the lines of Isaac and Jacob, to the exclusion of the eider branches of Ishmael and Esau. Every part of the Divine administration towards the people of Israel gives, in like manner, ample demonstration of the sovereignty of his grace. The preservation, too, of that people, as distinct from all the nations of the earth, proves, that nothing shall, or ever can, defeat the purposes of his grace. Certainly, if any thing could prevail on God to annul his covenant, the conduct of that people must have done it. From the very beginning, they were a disobedient and stiff-necked people. In the wilderness itself, yea, and even at the Red Sea, where such a wonderful interposition had appeared in their favour, they rebelled against their God. At all times were they ready to cast off their allegiance to God, and to place their confidence on stocks and stones. And at last they filled up the measure of their iniquities, by rejecting their Messiah, and crucifying the Lord of glory. To all this we may add their long impenitence, during eighteen centuries, notwithstanding they know and acknowledge that they are cast off from God on account of their impieties. How astonishing, then, will the freeness and richness of God’s grace appear, when he shall take these persons from their dispersion, revealing himself to them, bringing them forth from every corner of the earth, manifesting the Saviour to them, and returning himself to them as their covenant God and portion! If, in the election of them at first, the grace of God was eminently displayed, much more will it be glorified in such mercies vouchsafed to them after such heinous and manifold transgressions.]
What a call to the whole world to serve and obey him!
[God has spoken in his works; but his voice is not heard. He has also spoken by his word; but that word is known to a very small part of mankind. But in that day he will speak to all the whole world at once; and in such terms, that it will be impossible for any to misapprehend his meaning. In the chapter before us he has said, “The heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore [Note: ver. 28.].” The Jews are spread in almost every part of the world. Their conversion to God being simultaneous in every country, it will attract the attention of all, and create a vast sensation through the whole world. The victories, too, which they will gain over all who shall oppose their establishment in their own land will yet further demonstrate, not only that God is with them, but that there is no other God but He. They will be struck, as Baal’s worshippers were by the fire which descended from heaven to consume Elijah’s sacrifice; and will exclaim, with wonder and amazement, “The Lord, he is the God! the Lord, he is the God!” Instantly will multitudes, in every place, “lay hold on the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you; for we see that God is with you of a truth [Note: Zechariah 8:23.].” In truth, it will be a signal to all mankind to acknowledge Christ as their Lord and Saviour; and it will “be as life from the dead [Note: Romans 11:15.]” to the whole world.]
[And now, brethren, be ye all as one stick in my hand: and let every one amongst you, whatever be the diversity of his age or station, submit to Christ as your King, and live in dependence on him as your Shepherd. Enter now into “God’s covenant of peace,” that you may be partakers of all its privileges and blessings. Let God himself dwell in you, as in his temple of old: be ye altogether a people unto him, and let him be your God and portion for ever. These blessings will characterize the Millennial age, and be vouchsafed in a more abundant measure to his people that shall hereafter return unto him: yet are they to be enjoyed at this present hour by all who truly believe in Christ. Why then should so much as one of you remain destitute of these blessings? May God of his infinite mercy make you all like-minded in relation to them! and may the time quickly arrive, when God’s ancient people shall experience them in their souls, and “all flesh shall see the salvation of God!”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Ezekiel 37". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany