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The Christadelphian | August 2016

In the magazine this month:

A sample article from this edition:

Israel dwelling safely

How can this happen in such a hostile environment?

Have you ever wondered how Israel, according to Ezekiel 38 (note verses 8, 11 and 14), will achieve a state of living in peace and safety with their hostile neighbours just prior to Christ’s return, while in reality everyone around them is baying for their blood and determined to destroy them? The text is clear, Israel will dwell safely in unwalled villages:

“I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates.” (verse 11) [1]

When we read this text, it flies in the face of all logic and reality, as we see that Israel is, and has been for decades, the most threatened nation in the world.

Several nations have unwittingly quoted Psalm 83:4 when they have said:

“Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.”

Even the United Nations, an organisation created to make peace between the nations, has shown animosity towards Israel over the past few decades. In the meanwhile, several presidents of the United States have tried to initiate their own versions of peace between Israel and their Arab neighbours, but all have come to naught.

The context in Ezekiel 38 reveals that Israel should be expecting a time of peace and safety just before Christ returns to the earth, when in fact the scriptures say that for the rest of the world it will be a time of trouble such as the world has never known. Just how will this peace and safety come about for Israel in such a hostile region?

The word “safely” in Ezekiel 38:11, quoted above, is the Hebrew term betach, which means a place of refuge, safety, security, a feeling of trust, assurance, boldly, without care, careless, confidence, hope, safe, and secure, etc. It does not mean ‘careless’ as we use the word clumsy, but rather they are carefree, relaxed, unprepared, with nobody on guard so to speak – as were the five foolish virgins in Matthew 25 for instance, who were careless in letting their oil run out.

When the translators came to the word betach they could see a difference between when it referred to Israel, and when it was used for Gentiles or heathen people. In almost every instance in the KJV where Israel was concerned, the word betach was translated “safely” or “safety”, as they knew that Israel were under divine providence and protection. However, when the word was used for Gentiles, or heathen people, they consistently translated the word as “careless(ly)” as their situation was immediately followed by their destruction or a major catastrophe. The translators could see that God was not on their side.

With this in mind, consider the two lists of passages below.

Israel

In this section the word betach is translated safe(ty/ly), confidently or assurance because it refers to Israel (when they are inside the covenant of promise):

“Wherefore ye shall do my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety. And the land shall yield her fruit, and ye shall eat your fill, and dwell therein in safety.” (Leviticus 25:18,19)

“And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. And I will give you peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid …” (26:5,6)

“Israel shall dwell in safety alone: the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; also his heavens shall drop down dew.” (Deuteronomy 33:28)

“The Lord sent Jerubbaal and Bedan, and Jephthah and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and ye dwelled safe.” (1 Samuel 12:11)

“And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.” (1 Kings 4:25)

“Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope (margin, dwell confidently).” (Psalm 16:9)

“He led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.” (78:53)

“The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.” (Isaiah 32:17)

“In his days shall Judah be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jeremiah 23:6)

“And they shall dwell safely therein, and shall build houses, and plant vineyards; yea, they shall dwell with confidence, when I have executed judgments upon all those that despise them round about …” (Ezekiel 28:26)

“After that they have borne their shame … [Israel shall dwell] safely in their land, and none [shall make] them afraid.” (39:26)

Gentiles

In this section the same word betach is translated boldly, secure, without care, or careless(ly) for anyone who is outside the covenant of promise:

“Simeon and Levi … took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males.” (Genesis 34:25)

Zebah and Zalmunna were dwelling “secure” when they were attacked and destroyed by Gideon (see Judges 8:10-13).

The people of Laish were dwelling “careless” (see 18:7) when the Danites attacked them without any provocation. In verse 27 the word “secure” should be translated “careless” as in verse 7, and the city was burned with fire.

The daughter of Babylon, the lady of kingdoms, was living “carelessly”, and in one day she suffers the loss of her children and became a widow (see Isaiah 47:8,9).

The people of Hazor were dwelling “without care … which had neither gates nor bars” when they were attacked by Nebuchadnezzar (see Jeremiah 49:30-32).

“I will send a fire upon Magog, and among them that dwell carelessly in the isles [they were punished by fire].” (Ezekiel 39:6)

Nineveh “dwelt carelessly” before it was destroyed (Zephaniah 2:13-15).

We notice that each one in this section did not have God’s protection.

Divine protection

In the lists above we see that the translators in almost every case used the word “safely” when referring to Israel, and “carelessly” when referring to Gentiles. This is fine for Israel whilst they are walking in God’s counsel as they will indeed dwell “safely” because God has assured them of divine protection. We see in the second section, which refers to Gentiles, this same word betach is followed immediately with destruction or calamity as a consequence of their living “carelessly” as they do not know God and so do not have divine protection. The principle of this study is found in Proverbs 1:33:

“But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.”

This “safety” is derived from Leviticus 26:3-5, where God says:

“If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them, then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase … And ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.”

However, in verses 14-21:

“But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; and if ye … break my covenant … I will even appoint over you terror, consumption and the burning ague … I will set my face against you … I will punish you seven times more for your sins … And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins.”

Two thousand years ago, Israel rejected their God and their Messiah when they said, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15) and, “his blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). Since that time they have been driven to every corner of the earth as vagabonds and nomads in accordance with the punishments described in Deuteronomy 28:64-66: “Thou shalt … have none assurance of thy life.” Israel has chosen to walk in their own counsels when they rejected their God, and, because of their present attitude, when the Gogian invaders described in Ezekiel 38 descend upon the mountains of Israel, they will suffer great humiliation and defeat because they are now dwelling “carelessly” as do the Gentile masses, and not “safely” as in former times. Israel will therefore be subjected to very severe judgements for their waywardness because they have rejected their God and His Son Jesus Christ. Israel have not hearkened, or inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, turning backward, and not forward (see Jeremiah 7:24).

God’s covenant

The translators of the KJV, placing the distinction between Jews and Gentiles, it seems were not aware that there is an even finer line of distinction which is between those inside and those outside God’s covenant. The translators have elected to use the word “safely” in Ezekiel 38:8,11,14 for Israel when ‘carelessly’ would have been more appropriate as it is followed by very severe judgements upon them. The distinction in this case is actually between those within God’s covenant and those who have chosen not to obey, as Israel, at that particular time.

We notice a few correct translations, for example in Isaiah 32:9-13. When the translators saw that Israel had turned their backs on God, they used the word “careless” for the women of Israel, which is probably more appropriate according to the context. Also in Jeremiah 7:3-8 the same word betach is translated “trust”, and here the same principle applies. In these two cases, God is reprimanding Israel with a wake-up call not to trust (betach) in false gods. He is calling on Israel to turn back to Him as He wanted them to dwell “safely” once again in full assurance of His protection. Although the covenant with Israel is an everlasting covenant, they have elected in the meanwhile to live under the curses of Deuteronomy 28:15-68 and are living “carelessly” at this present time.

A wall

Returning to Ezekiel 38:

“I will go up to the land of unwalled villages … all of them dwelling without walls.” (verse 11)

A wall can be literal, made of bricks and mortar, or it can be a symbolic wall of God’s divine protection. Consider the following passages:

“And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.” (Exodus 14:22)

This “wall” protected them from drowning in the midst of the sea.

“But the men were very good unto us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we anything, as long as we were conversant with them, when we were in the fields: they were a wall unto us both by night and day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep.” (1 Samuel 25:15,16)

“For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 9:9)

“In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.” (Isaiah 26:1,2)

“And I will make thee unto this people a fenced brazen wall: and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee saith the LORD. And I will deliver thee out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the terrible.” (Jeremiah 15:20,21)

“[The angel said], Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein: for I, saith the LORD will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.” (Zechariah 2:4,5)

All the walls in these examples are metaphors for God’s protection that He will provide for His people. Now follows some examples of the destruction that will take place when the wall of divine protection is removed:

“And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down. And I will lay it waste … [and] there shall come up briers and thorns.” (Isaiah 5:5,6)

“So will I break down the wall that ye have daubed with untempered morter, and bring it down to the ground, so that the foundation thereof shall be discovered, and it shall fall, and ye shall be consumed in the midst thereof: and ye shall know that I am the LORD. Thus will I accomplish my wrath upon the wall, and upon them that have daubed it with untempered morter, and will say unto you, the wall is no more, neither they that daubed it; to wit, the prophets of Israel which prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and which see visions of peace for her, and there is no peace, saith the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 13:14-16)

“And all men that are upon the face of the earth shall shake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.” (Ezekiel 38:20)

This means that every form of protection that man can make for himself will be rendered useless against God’s wrath in that day. In verse 20, “mountains”, “steep places” and “walls” are all metaphors for something that is different from what God is describing here.

“He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” (Proverbs 25:28)

This metaphoric wall of God’s protection is the same thing as being hedged about (as we see from the following examples: Deuteronomy 28:52; Job 1:9,10; Ezekiel 13:4,5; Mark 12:1).

When Israel dwells without bars or gates in Ezekiel 38:11, they are living without divine protection. We also find that bars and gates can be literal – like Samson carried on his shoulders in Judges 16:3 and also in 1 Samuel 23:7, or there can be a symbolic application where God provides or removes His protection.

This is based on Psalm 147:11-14:

“The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy. Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion. For he hath strengthened thy bars of thy gates; he hath blessed thy children within thee. He maketh peace in thy borders, and filleth thee with the finest of wheat.”

Deuteronomy 3:4-6: God destroyed the gates (literal) and bars of Og and Bashan so that Joshua could capture their land.

Isaiah 45:1,2: God gave Cyrus the power to overcome Babylon when the two-leaved gates (literal gates) were left open, and God broke and cut in pieces the gates of brass and the bars of iron (spiritual application).

Jeremiah 49:31: Hazor was destroyed because its inhabitants dwelt without care (betach) … They had neither bars nor gates to protect them (spiritual application).

Jeremiah 51:30: God’s judgement on Babylon – they had no power to protect themselves when God removed their bars.

“Her [Jerusalem’s] gates are sunk into the ground; he hath destroyed and broken her bars.” (Lamentations 2:9)

“I will break also the bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant from the plain of Aven.” (Amos 1:5)

God strengthens the bars and gates (bars of the gates) of all those who fear and obey Him, whereas the heathen or Gentiles had neither bars nor gates to give them divine protection.

As we can see from these examples, bars and gates is simply a reference to the divine protection that God gives communities for their loyalty and service.

Conclusion

We are aware that many symbols and metaphors are used throughout the Bible, particularly in the books of Revelation, Daniel and Zechariah.

When the Gogian invader described in Ezekiel 38 enters the land, the translation would be better rendered: ‘I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell carelessly, all of them dwelling without walls and having neither bars nor gates [i.e., all divine protection has been removed by God], to take a spoil and to take a prey.’ This means that, at the time of the Gogian invasion, Israel will still be living in utter darkness, as do the Gentiles. This current state of careless living will continue for Israel until they are finally converted, and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and their King. Only then will God hedge them about with strong walls, and they will dwell safely, when God will strengthen the bars of her gates as described in Psalm 147:11-14:

“The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy. Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem, praise thy God, O Zion. For he hath strengthened the bars of their gates; he hath blessed thy children within thee. He maketh peace within thy borders, and filleth thee with the finest of the wheat.”

Keith Worthington

[1] All quotations are from the KJV.

 

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