1, 2. (a) How had Israel been like a lone sheep amid wolves? (See opening picture.) (b) What did the Israelites and their kings allow to happen?
FOR hundreds of years, Israel had been like a lone sheep amid a pack of wolves. The Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites menaced Israel on its eastern border. The Philistines, constant enemies of Israel, maintained a foothold to the west. To the north lay the city of Tyre, the rich and powerful hub of a vast trading empire. To the south sprawled the ancient nation of Egypt, ruled by its god-king, Pharaoh.
2 When the Israelites relied on Jehovah, he protected them from their enemies. Time and again, though, his people and their kings allowed themselves to be corrupted by the nations that surrounded them. King Ahab is just one example of such a weak-willed ruler. A contemporary of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, he ruled the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. He married a daughter of the Sidonian king who controlled the prosperous city of Tyre. That woman, named Jezebel, fanatically promoted Baal worship in Israel and influenced her husband to contaminate pure worship on an unprecedented scale.—1 Ki. 16:30-33; 18:4, 19.
3, 4. (a) To whom did Ezekiel now turn his attention? (b) What questions will we consider?
3 Jehovah had warned his people about the consequences of disloyalty to him. Now his patience had finally run out. (Jer. 21:7, 10; Ezek. 5:7-9) In 609 B.C.E., the Babylonian army returned to the Promised Land for the third time. It had been almost ten years since their last invasion. This time, they would tear down the walls of Jerusalem and crush those who rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. As the siege began and Ezekiel’s inspired prophecies were fulfilled in grim detail, the prophet turned his attention to the nations surrounding the Promised Land.
The nations that slandered Jehovah’s name would not escape the consequences of their actions
4 Jehovah revealed to Ezekiel that Judah’s enemies would rejoice over the destruction of Jerusalem and harass the survivors. But the nations that slandered Jehovah’s name and persecuted or corrupted his people would not escape the consequences of their actions. What practical lessons can we learn from Israel’s interaction with those nations? And how do Ezekiel’s prophecies regarding the nations give us hope today?
Relatives Who Treated Israel With “Utter Scorn”
5, 6. What was the relationship between the Ammonites and the Israelites?
5 Ammon, Moab, and Edom were, in a sense, blood relatives of Israel. Despite their family ties and shared history, those nations built up a long record of hostility toward God’s people and treated them with “utter scorn.”—Ezek. 25:6.
6 Consider the Ammonites. They descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot through his younger daughter. (Gen. 19:38) Their language was so closely related to Hebrew that God’s people could likely understand it. Because of this family bond, Jehovah told the Israelites not to initiate war against Ammon. (Deut. 2:19) Yet, in the days of the Judges, the Ammonites joined Moabite King Eglon in oppressing Israel. (Judg. 3:12-15, 27-30) Later, when Saul was made king, the Ammonites attacked Israel. (1 Sam. 11:1-4) And in the days of King Jehoshaphat, they again joined forces with Moab to invade the Promised Land.—2 Chron. 20:1, 2.
7. How did the Moabites treat their cousins, the descendants of Israel?
7 The Moabites too were descendants of Lot but through his older daughter. (Gen. 19:36, 37) Jehovah told the Israelites not to engage in war with Moab. (Deut. 2:9) But the Moabites did not return the kindness. Instead of helping their cousins, who were escaping slavery in Egypt, they tried to prevent them from entering the Promised Land. Moabite King Balak hired Balaam to curse the Israelites, and Balaam taught Balak how to lure the Israelite men into committing immorality and idolatry. (Num. 22:1-8; 25:1-9; Rev. 2:14) For centuries the Moabites continued to oppress their relatives, right down to Ezekiel’s day.—2 Ki. 24:1, 2.
8. Why did Jehovah say that Edom was Israel’s brother, but how did the Edomites act?
8 The Edomites were descendants of Jacob’s twin brother, Esau. The bond with Israel was so close that Jehovah referred to the Edomites and the Israelites as brothers. (Deut. 2:1-5; 23:7, 8) Even so, the Edomites opposed Israel from the time of the Exodus to the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. (Num. 20:14, 18; Ezek. 25:12) At that time, the Edomites not only rejoiced at Israel’s suffering, urging the Babylonians to desolate Jerusalem, but also blocked the escape of any fleeing Israelites and handed them over to the enemy.—Ps. 137:7; Obad. 11, 14.
9, 10. (a) What happened to Ammon, Moab, and Edom? (b) What examples show that not all members of those nations were hostile to Israel?
9 Jehovah called Israel’s extended family to account for the way they treated His people. He said: “I will give . . . the Ammonites as a possession to the people of the East, so that the Ammonites will not be remembered among the nations.” He also said: “I will execute judgment in Moab, and they will have to know that I am Jehovah.” (Ezek. 25:10, 11) Some five years after Jerusalem fell, those prophecies began to be fulfilled when the Babylonians conquered Ammon and Moab. Regarding Edom, Jehovah said that he would “cut off from it both man and livestock” and that he would “make it desolate.” (Ezek. 25:13) As foretold, Ammon, Moab, and Edom eventually ceased to exist.—Jer. 9:25, 26; 48:42; 49:17, 18.
10 However, not all members of those nations were hostile to God’s people. Zelek the Ammonite and Ithmah the Moabite, for example, are named among King David’s mighty warriors. (1 Chron. 11:26, 39, 46; 12:1) And Ruth the Moabitess became a loyal worshipper of Jehovah.—Ruth 1:4, 16, 17.
Never step off the “cliff” of compromise
11. What can we learn from Israel’s dealings with the nations of Ammon, Moab, and Edom?
11 What lessons can we learn from Israel’s dealings with those nations? First, when Israel let down her guard, the corrupting false religious practices of her relatives crept in, such as worship of the Moabite Baal of Peor and the Ammonite god Molech. (Num. 25:1-3; 1 Ki. 11:7) Something similar could happen to us. We may face pressure from unbelieving relatives who encourage us to drop our guard. For example, they may not understand why we do not celebrate Easter, exchange gifts at Christmas, or share in other popular customs that are associated with false religious beliefs. With the best of intentions, they may try to get us—even briefly—to compromise our standards. How vital it is, though, that we never succumb to such pressure! As the history of Israel shows, even one step off the “cliff” of compromise can lead to disaster.
12, 13. What opposition might we face, but what might happen if we remain loyal?
12 We can learn another lesson from Israel’s experiences with Ammon, Moab, and Edom. We may face severe opposition from unbelieving family members. Jesus warned that at times the message we preach would “cause division, with a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother.” (Matt. 10:35, 36) Jehovah instructed the Israelites not to start a quarrel with their relatives, and we do not seek confrontation with our nonbelieving family members. But we should not be surprised when opposition comes.—2 Tim. 3:12.
13 Even if our relatives do not directly oppose our worship of Jehovah, we must not let them have more influence over us than Jehovah does. Why not? Because Jehovah deserves first place in our heart. (Read Matthew 10:37.) In addition, if we remain loyal to Jehovah, some of our relatives might prove to be like Zelek, Ithmah, and Ruth and join us in pure worship. (1 Tim. 4:16) Then they too will have the pleasure of serving the only true God and enjoying his love and protection.
Jehovah’s Enemies Received “Furious Punishments”
14, 15. How did the Philistines treat the Israelites?
14 The Philistines had migrated from the island of Crete to the land that Jehovah later promised to Abraham and his descendants. Both Abraham and Isaac had dealings with these people. (Gen. 21:29-32; 26:1) By the time the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the Philistines had grown into a powerful nation with a formidable military force. They worshipped false gods, such as Baal-zebub and Dagon. (1 Sam. 5:1-4; 2 Ki. 1:2, 3) At times Israel joined in worshipping those gods.—Judg. 10:6.
15 Because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, Jehovah allowed the Philistines to dominate his people for many years. (Judg. 10:7, 8; Ezek. 25:15) They imposed oppressive restrictions on the Israelites * and slaughtered many of them. (1 Sam. 4:10) When Israel repented and returned to Jehovah, however, he rescued them. He raised up such men as Samson, Saul, and David to deliver His people. (Judg. 13:5, 24; 1 Sam. 9:15-17; 18:6, 7) And as foretold by Ezekiel, the Philistines experienced “furious punishments” when the Babylonians and later the Greeks invaded their land.—Ezek. 25:15-17.
16, 17. What lessons can we learn from Israel’s dealings with the Philistines?
16 What lessons can we learn from Israel’s dealings with the Philistines? Jehovah’s modern-day people have faced opposition from some of the most powerful nations ever to dominate mankind. Unlike Israel, we have maintained a record of steadfast loyalty to Jehovah. Even so, the enemies of pure worship may at times seem to prevail. For instance, at the beginning of the 20th century, the government of the United States attempted to stop the work of Jehovah’s people by sentencing those who took the lead in the organization to decades in prison. During the second world war, the Nazi party in Germany tried to wipe out God’s people, imprisoning thousands and killing hundreds. After that war, the Soviet Union waged a sustained campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses, sending our brothers to labor camps or exiling them to remote regions of the land.
17 Governments may continue to ban the preaching work, imprison God’s people, and even execute some of us. Should these events cause us to give in to fear or to lose faith? No! Jehovah will preserve his loyal people. (Read Matthew 10:28-31.) We have already seen powerful, repressive governments disappear, while Jehovah’s people have continued to flourish. Soon, all human governments will share an outcome similar to that of the Philistines—they will be forced to know Jehovah. And like the Philistines, they will cease to exist!
“Abundant Wealth” Gave No Lasting Protection
18. What kind of empire did Tyre control?
18 The ancient city of Tyre * sat at the center of one of the great commercial empires in the ancient world. To the west, her ships spun a web of trade routes that stretched across the Mediterranean Sea. To the east, Tyre’s web extended along the overland routes that linked her to distant empires. For centuries, she added to her vast stockpile of wealth from these far-flung locations. Her merchants and tradesmen became so rich that they viewed themselves as princes.—Isa. 23:8.
19, 20. What contrast is there between the inhabitants of Tyre and those of Gibeon?
19 Under Kings David and Solomon, Israel had close ties with the inhabitants of Tyre, who supplied material and craftsmen to help build David’s palace and later Solomon’s temple. (2 Chron. 2:1, 3, 7-16) Tyre saw the nation of Israel at its best. (1 Ki. 3:10-12; 10:4-9) Just think of the opportunity that thousands of Tyrians had to learn about pure worship, to get to know Jehovah, and to observe firsthand the benefits that come from serving the true God!
20 Despite that opportunity, however, the inhabitants of Tyre remained steadfastly materialistic in their outlook. They did not follow the example of the powerful Canaanite city of Gibeon, whose inhabitants merely heard about Jehovah’s great works and were moved to become his servants. (Josh. 9:2, 3, 22–10:2) In fact, the inhabitants of Tyre ended up opposing God’s people and even sold some of them into slavery.—Ps. 83:2, 7; Joel 3:4, 6; Amos 1:9.
Never would we want to view material things as a protective wall
21, 22. What happened to Tyre, and why?
21 Through Ezekiel, Jehovah said to those opposers: “Here I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring up many nations against you, just as the sea brings up its waves. They will destroy the walls of Tyre and tear down her towers, and I will scrape away soil and make her a shining, bare rock.” (Ezek. 26:1-5) For protection, the inhabitants of Tyre trusted in their riches, which they felt provided them with the same security as the island-city’s 150-foot-high (46 m) walls. They would have done well to pay attention to Solomon’s warning: “The wealth of the rich is his fortified city; it is like a protective wall in his imagination.”—Prov. 18:11.
22 When the Babylonians and then the Greeks fulfilled Ezekiel’s prophecy, the inhabitants of Tyre discovered that the security offered both by the city’s wealth and by her literal walls was imaginary. After destroying Jerusalem, the Babylonians waged a campaign against Tyre for 13 years. (Ezek. 29:17, 18) Then, in 332 B.C.E., Alexander the Great fulfilled a remarkable aspect of prophecies conveyed by Ezekiel. * His army scraped together the ruins of the mainland city of Tyre and threw the stones, woodwork, and soil into the water, building a path to reach the island-city. (Ezek. 26:4, 12) Alexander breached the walls, plundered the city, killed thousands of soldiers and citizens, and sold tens of thousands more into slavery. The inhabitants of Tyre were forced to know Jehovah when they learned the hard way that “abundant wealth” gives no lasting protection.—Ezek. 27:33, 34.
23. What lesson can we learn from the inhabitants of Tyre?
23 What lesson can we learn from the inhabitants of Tyre? Never would we want to allow “the deceptive power of riches” to cause us to trust in material things, viewing them as a protective wall. (Matt. 13:22) We cannot “slave for God and for Riches.” (Read Matthew 6:24.) Only those who serve Jehovah whole-souled are truly secure. (Matt. 6:31-33; John 10:27-29) Prophecies about the end of this present system will be fulfilled in every detail just as surely as the prophecies against Tyre came true. At that time, those who trust in wealth will be forced to know Jehovah when he destroys this world’s greedy, self-centered commercial system.
Political Power Was “a Piece of Straw”
24-26. (a) Why did Jehovah call Egypt “a piece of straw”? (b) How did King Zedekiah ignore Jehovah’s direction, and with what result?
24 From before the days of Joseph to the time when the Babylonians marched on Jerusalem, Egypt wielded considerable political influence in the region of the Promised Land. Her ancient roots may have made her appear to be stable, like an old-growth tree. But when compared with Jehovah, she was feeble—no stronger than “a piece of straw.”—Ezek. 29:6.
25 Apostate King Zedekiah did not recognize that about Egypt. Through the prophet Jeremiah, Jehovah had urged Zedekiah to submit to the king of Babylon. (Jer. 27:12) Zedekiah even took an oath in Jehovah’s name not to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar. But then he ignored Jehovah’s direction, broke his oath to Nebuchadnezzar, and appealed to Egypt for help in his fight against the Babylonians. (2 Chron. 36:13; Ezek. 17:12-20) However, the Israelites who relied on the political might of Egypt brought great harm to themselves. (Ezek. 29:7) As for Egypt, she may have appeared to be as formidable as a “great sea monster.” (Ezek. 29:3, 4) But Jehovah said he would deal with her in the same way that hunters capture Nile crocodiles—he would put hooks in her jaws and draw her toward destruction. He did so when he sent the Babylonians to conquer that ancient land.—Ezek. 29:9-12, 19.
26 What became of unfaithful Zedekiah? Because he rebelled against Jehovah, Ezekiel foretold that this “wicked chieftain” would lose his crown and that his rulership would end in ruin. But Ezekiel also gave hope. (Ezek. 21:25-27) Jehovah had him foretell that a king in the royal line, one who had “the legal right,” would claim the throne. In the next chapter of this publication, we will see who this proved to be.
27. What can we learn from Israel’s interaction with Egypt?
27 What lesson can we learn from Israel’s interaction with Egypt? Jehovah’s people today need to avoid putting their trust in political powers, thinking that such powers will provide lasting security. Even in our thoughts, we need to remain “no part of the world.” (John 15:19; Jas. 4:4) The political system may seem strong, but like ancient Egypt, it is as fragile as a piece of straw. How shortsighted it would be to invest our hope in mortal humans rather than in the almighty Sovereign of the universe!—Read Psalm 146:3-6.
The Nations “Will Have to Know”
28-30. What is the difference between the way that the nations “will have to know” Jehovah and the way that we know Jehovah?
28 Several times in the book of Ezekiel, Jehovah states that the nations “will have to know that I am Jehovah.” (Ezek. 25:17) Those words certainly came true in ancient times when Jehovah executed judgment on the enemies of his people. But they will have a greater fulfillment in our day. In what way?
29 Like God’s people in ancient times, we are surrounded by nations that consider us to be as defenseless as a lone sheep. (Ezek. 38:10-13) As will be discussed in Chapters 17 and 18 of this publication, the nations will soon launch a vicious, all-out attack on God’s people. But when they do, they will be taught the meaning of real power. They will be forced to know Jehovah—to recognize his sovereignty—when he destroys them at the battle of Armageddon.—Rev. 16:16; 19:17-21.
30 By contrast, Jehovah will keep us safe, and he will bless us. Why? Because we have taken the opportunity now to prove that we know Jehovah by trusting in him, by obeying him, and by giving him the pure worship he deserves.—Read Ezekiel 28:26.
^ par. 15 For example, the Philistines banned any metalworkers from operating in Israel. The Israelites had to go to the Philistines to have farming implements sharpened and were charged the equivalent of several days’ wages for the work.—1 Sam. 13:19-22.
^ par. 18 The original city of Tyre seems to have been built on a rocky outcrop located just off the coast, about 30 miles (50 km) north of Mount Carmel. Later, an extension of the city was constructed on the mainland. The Semitic name for the city, Sur, means “Rock.”