1-3. How do the Babylonians ridicule worshippers of Jehovah, and why?
IMAGINE that you are a faithful Jew living in the city of Babylon. Your people have been in exile for half a century or so. As is your custom on the Sabbath day, you are going to meet with fellow believers to worship Jehovah. Making your way through the bustling streets, you pass imposing temples as well as shrines beyond counting. The people throng to those places, making offerings and singing hymns to such deities as Marduk.
2 Away from the crowds, you meet your little group of fellow worshippers. * You find a quiet spot—perhaps by one of the city’s canals—to pray, sing psalms, and reflect on God’s Word together. As you join in prayer, you can hear the gentle creaking of the wooden barges moored along the canal’s edge. You are relieved that there is a measure of peace here. You hope that none of the local people find you and disrupt the meeting as they often do. Why do they do that?
3 Babylon has a long record of winning wars, and the people attribute the city’s strength to their false gods. To the Babylonians, the utter destruction of Jerusalem proves that their god Marduk is stronger than Jehovah! Hence, they ridicule your God and his people. Sometimes they mockingly demand: “Sing for us one of the songs of Zion”! (Ps. 137:3) Many psalms celebrate Zion’s triumphs over Jehovah’s enemies. Perhaps the Babylonians love to mock those psalms in particular. Other psalms, though, speak about the Babylonians themselves. One, for example, says: “They have turned Jerusalem into a heap of ruins. . . . Those around us ridicule and jeer us.”—Ps. 79:1, 3, 4.
4, 5. What hope did Ezekiel’s prophecy offer, and what will we consider in this chapter? (See opening picture.)
4 There are also apostate Jews, who are quick to ridicule your faith in Jehovah and in his prophets. Regardless of such mockery, pure worship brings comfort to you and your family. It feels good to pray and to sing together. Reading God’s Word is soothing. (Ps. 94:19; Rom. 15:4) Imagine that on this day, one of your fellow worshippers has brought something special to the gathering—a scroll containing Ezekiel’s prophecy. You love to hear Jehovah’s promise that he will restore his people to their homeland. Your heart soars as such a prophecy is read aloud, and you contemplate the hope that you and your family may someday return and help in that thrilling time of restoration!
5 Ezekiel’s prophecy rings again and again with promises of restoration. Let us examine that hopeful theme. How were those promises fulfilled for the exiles? What meaning do such prophecies have in modern times? In some cases, we will also consider a final fulfillment in the future.
“They Will Go Into Exile, Into Captivity”
6. How had God repeatedly warned his rebellious people?
6 Through Ezekiel, Jehovah communicated clearly to his people how he would punish them for their rebellious course. “They will go into exile, into captivity,” Jehovah said. (Ezek. 12:11) As we saw in Chapter 6 of this publication, Ezekiel even acted out that sentence. But his was not the first such warning. Since the days of Moses, nearly a millennium earlier, Jehovah had warned his people that if they persisted in a rebellious course, they would suffer exile. (Deut. 28:36, 37) Such prophets as Isaiah and Jeremiah had given similar warnings.—Isa. 39:5-7; Jer. 20:3-6.
7. In what ways did Jehovah bring punishment on his people?
7 Sadly, though, those warnings largely fell on deaf ears. In time, Jehovah came to feel brokenhearted over his people’s rebellion, their idolatry, their unfaithfulness, and their corruption under the influence of bad shepherds. He thus allowed them to suffer famine—which was a disaster and a disgrace, considering that their land had been “one flowing with milk and honey.” (Ezek. 20:6, 7) Then, as he had long foretold, Jehovah allowed his wayward people to be punished with exile. In 607 B.C.E., Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon struck the final blow, destroying Jerusalem and her temple. Many thousands of the surviving Jews were carried off into exile in Babylon. There they suffered the mockery and opposition described at the outset of this chapter.
8, 9. How did God provide the Christian congregation with warnings against apostasy?
8 Did something similar to the Babylonian exile befall the Christian congregation? It did indeed! Like the Jews of ancient times, Christ’s followers were warned ahead of time. Early in his ministry, Jesus said: “Be on the watch for the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves.” (Matt. 7:15) Years later, the apostle Paul was inspired to issue a similar warning: “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.”—Acts 20:29, 30.
9 Christians were taught how to identify and avoid such dangerous men. Christian elders were instructed to remove apostates from the congregation. (1 Tim. 1:19; 2 Tim. 2:16-19; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 2 John 10) Nonetheless, as was the case with Israel and Judah of old, many Christians gradually turned a deaf ear to loving warnings. By the end of the first century, apostasy had taken root in the congregation. John, the last of the apostles still living at the close of the first century C.E., observed that the congregation was suffering such corruption and widespread rebellion. He was the only remaining restraint against that wicked trend. (2 Thess. 2:6-8; 1 John 2:18) What happened after John died?
10, 11. Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds saw what fulfillment from the second century C.E. onward?
10 After John’s death, Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds began to see fulfillment. (Read Matthew 13:24-30.) As Jesus had foreseen, Satan oversowed the congregation with “weeds,” or imitation Christians, and the corruption of the congregation sped up. How heartbroken Jehovah must have been to see the congregation his Son had founded become polluted with idolatry, pagan holidays and practices, and false doctrines adopted from godless philosophers and satanic religions! What did Jehovah do? As he had done with unfaithful Israel, he let his people be taken into exile. From sometime in the second century C.E. onward, the wheatlike ones were lost among the imitation Christians. The true Christian congregation was, in effect, in exile in Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, whereas the imitation Christians were absorbed by that corrupt empire. As the imitation Christians flourished, Christendom came into being.
11 Throughout the dark centuries of Christendom’s dominance, there were some genuine Christians, the “wheat” of Jesus’ parable. Like the Jewish exiles described at Ezekiel 6:9, they remembered the true God. Some courageously opposed the false doctrines of Christendom. They faced mockery and persecution. Did Jehovah intend to forsake his people permanently in that realm of spiritual darkness? No! As was the case with Israel of old, Jehovah’s anger was expressed to the proper degree and for the right amount of time. (Jer. 46:28) Furthermore, Jehovah did not leave his people without hope. Let us return to those Jewish exiles in ancient Babylon and see how Jehovah gave them hope for an end to their captivity.
“My Anger Will Come to an End”
12, 13. Why would Jehovah’s anger against his exiled people of Ezekiel’s day eventually subside?
12 Jehovah was forthright about his anger toward his people, but he also reassured them that his righteous indignation would not last forever. Note, for instance, these words: “My anger will come to an end, and my wrath against them will subside, and I will be satisfied. And they will have to know that I, Jehovah, have spoken in my insistence on exclusive devotion, when I have finished unleashing my wrath against them.” (Ezek. 5:13) Why would Jehovah’s wrath eventually subside?
13 Among the captives were faithful Jews who were taken into exile along with their unfaithful counterparts. In addition, through Ezekiel, God foretold that some of His people would repent while in exile. Those remorseful Jews would recount the shameful things that they had done in rebellion against their God, and they would implore Jehovah for forgiveness and favor. (Ezek. 6:8-10; 12:16) Ezekiel was among the faithful ones, as were the prophet Daniel and his three companions. In fact, Daniel lived long enough to see both the beginning and the end of the exile. His heartfelt prayer of repentance over the sins of Israel is recorded in Daniel chapter 9. No doubt his sentiments represented the feelings of many thousands of exiles who longed for Jehovah’s forgiveness and renewed blessings. How thrilling, then, were Ezekiel’s inspired promises of release and restoration!
14. Why would Jehovah restore his people to their homeland?
14 There was, however, a more important factor in the release and restoration of Jehovah’s people. Their long exile would end, not because they deserved liberation, but because it was again Jehovah’s time to sanctify his own name before all the nations. (Ezek. 36:22) Those Babylonians would know once and for all that their demonic gods, such as Marduk, were no match for the Sovereign Lord Jehovah! Let us consider five promises that Jehovah inspired Ezekiel to share with his fellow exiles. First, let us discuss what each promise would have meant to those faithful ones. Then, we will see how those promises saw a greater fulfillment.
15. What change would be made in the religious practices of the returnees?
15 PROMISE 1. No more idolatry or other disgusting practices associated with false religion. (Read Ezekiel 11:18; 12:24.) As discussed in Chapter 5 of this publication, Jerusalem and her temple had been polluted with false religious practices, such as idolatry. The people were thus corrupt, alienated from Jehovah. Through Ezekiel, Jehovah foretold that the exiles could look forward to a time when they would once again take part in worship that was clean and undefiled. All other blessings of the restoration would depend on this primary matter: the restoration of God’s arrangement for pure worship.
16. Jehovah made what promise regarding his people’s homeland?
16 PROMISE 2. A return to their homeland. “I will give you the land of Israel,” Jehovah told the exiles. (Ezek. 11:17) This was a remarkable promise, for the Babylonians, who taunted God’s captive people, surely never gave them any hope of returning to their beloved homeland. (Isa. 14:4, 17) Moreover, as long as the returnees remained faithful, the land would prove fertile and productive, supporting them and providing useful work. The disgrace and misery of famine would remain a thing of the past.—Read Ezekiel 36:30.
17. What would happen regarding sacrifices to Jehovah?
17 PROMISE 3. The resuming of gift offerings at Jehovah’s altar. As noted in Chapter 2 of this publication, under the Law, sacrifices and offerings formed a vital part of pure worship. As long as the returning exiles remained obedient and spiritually clean, their offerings would be acceptable to Jehovah. The people could thus find atonement for their sins and remain close to their God. Jehovah promised: “The whole house of Israel, all of them, will serve me in the land. I will take pleasure in them there, and I will require your contributions and the firstfruits of your offerings, all your holy things.” (Ezek. 20:40) Pure worship would truly be restored, bringing blessings to God’s people.
18. How would Jehovah shepherd his people?
18 PROMISE 4. The sifting out of bad shepherds. A key reason why God’s people went so wrong was the influence of corrupt men who took the lead. Jehovah promised to change that. Regarding such bad shepherds, he promised: “I will dismiss them from feeding my sheep . . . I will rescue my sheep from their mouth.” In contrast, Jehovah assured his faithful people: “I will care for my sheep.” (Ezek. 34:10, 12) How would he do so? He would use faithful, loyal men as shepherds.
19. What did Jehovah promise regarding unity?
19 PROMISE 5. Unity among worshippers of Jehovah. Imagine how distressing it was for faithful worshippers to see disunity among God’s people before the exile. Influenced by false prophets and corrupt shepherds, the people rebelled against the faithful prophets who represented Jehovah; the people even broke into opposing factions. Thus, one of the most appealing features of the restoration was this promise through Ezekiel: “I will give them a unified heart, and I will put a new spirit in them.” (Ezek. 11:19) As long as the returning Jews remained at unity with Jehovah God and with one another, no opposer could defeat them. As a nation, they could once again bring glory to Jehovah instead of reproach and dishonor.
20, 21. How were God’s promises fulfilled on the returning exiles?
20 Were those five promises fulfilled on the Jews who returned from exile? We do well to remember the words of faithful Joshua of old: “Not one word out of all the good promises that Jehovah your God has spoken to you has failed. They have all come true for you. Not one word of them has failed.” (Josh. 23:14) So it was in Joshua’s day; so it had to be in the days of the exiles who returned to their homeland.
21 The Jews gave up idolatry and the other disgusting practices of false religion that had alienated them from Jehovah. Against all likelihood, they resumed living in their homeland, cultivating it and enjoying productive lives there. One of the first things they did was to restore Jehovah’s altar in Jerusalem and make acceptable offerings there. (Ezra 3:2-6) Jehovah blessed them with fine spiritual shepherds, such men as the faithful priest and copyist Ezra, governors Nehemiah and Zerubbabel, High Priest Joshua, and the courageous prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. As long as the people remained responsive to spiritual direction and guidance, they enjoyed a unity unlike any they had known in a long, long time.—Isa. 61:1-4; read Jeremiah 3:15.
22. How do we know that the initial fulfillment of the restoration prophecies was only a foregleam of something greater?
22 Without question, the initial fulfillment of Jehovah’s restoration promises was encouraging! Still, that fulfillment was really only a foregleam of something much greater. How do we know that? Well, the promises were conditional; Jehovah would fulfill them only to the extent that the people remained obedient and responsive. In time, the Jews again became disobedient and rebellious. But as Joshua pointed out, Jehovah’s word always comes true. So the promises would see a greater, more lasting fulfillment. Let us see how that came about.
“I Will Take Pleasure in You”
23, 24. When and how did “the times of restoration of all things” begin?
23 As students of the Bible, we know that this wicked system of things entered its final decline, its last days, in 1914. For servants of Jehovah, though, this is not an era of sad decline. In fact, the Bible indicates that 1914 saw the beginning of a thrilling period—“the times of restoration of all things.” (Acts 3:21) How do we know that? Well, what happened in heaven in 1914? Jesus Christ was enthroned as the Messianic King! How was that event a restoration? Remember, Jehovah had promised King David that kingship in his family line would endure forever. (1 Chron. 17:11-14) That kingship was interrupted in 607 B.C.E. when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and ended the rule of the Davidic kings.
24 As “the Son of man,” Jesus was a descendant of David and thus became the legal heir to the Davidic kingship. (Matt. 1:1; 16:13-16; Luke 1:32, 33) In 1914 when Jehovah granted Jesus the heavenly throne, “the times of restoration of all things” began! Now the way was open for Jehovah to use that perfect King to continue the work of restoration.
25, 26. (a) When did the long exile in Babylon the Great come to an end, and how do we know? (See also the box “Why 1919?”) (b) What began to see fulfillment from 1919 onward?
25 One of Christ’s early actions as King was to join his Father in an inspection of the arrangement for pure worship on the earth. (Mal. 3:1-5) As Jesus had foretold in his illustration of the wheat and the weeds, it had long been impossible to distinguish wheat from weeds, genuine anointed Christians from impostors. * Now, though, the harvest season arrived in 1914, and the distinction was clear. For decades leading up to 1914, faithful Bible Students had been exposing the gross errors of Christendom and were beginning to separate themselves from that corrupt organization. It was Jehovah’s time to restore them fully. So in early 1919, just a few years into “the harvest season,” God’s people were set completely free from captivity in Babylon the Great. (Matt. 13:30) The exile was over!
26 The restoration prophecies of Ezekiel began to see a fulfillment far greater than any that God’s people had seen back in ancient times. Let us now consider how the five promises we have already examined have seen a greater fulfillment.
27. How did God cleanse his people of idolatry?
27 PROMISE 1. An end of idolatry and other disgusting religious practices. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, faithful Christians were gathering together and were beginning to discard false religious practices. Veneration of a triune God, belief in the immortality of the human soul, and the hellfire doctrine were all cast aside as unscriptural teachings with roots in false religion. The use of images in worship was exposed as outright idolatry. Gradually, God’s people also came to see the use of the cross in worship as a form of idolatry.—Ezek. 14:6.
28. In what sense were Jehovah’s people restored to their land?
28 PROMISE 2. A restoration to the spiritual land of God’s people. As they left Babylonish religion behind, faithful Christians found themselves in their proper spiritual land, a blessed condition, or environment, where they would never again suffer spiritual famine. (Read Ezekiel 34:13, 14.) As we will see further in Chapter 19 of this publication, Jehovah has blessed that land with an unprecedented flow of spiritual nourishment.—Ezek. 11:17.
29. How did the preaching work receive a boost in 1919?
29 PROMISE 3. The resuming of gift offerings at Jehovah’s altar. Back in the first century C.E., Christians were taught that they were to offer to God, not literal animal sacrifices, but far more valuable gifts—the words that they spoke in praising Jehovah and preaching to others about him. (Heb. 13:15) During the centuries of exile, there was no organized arrangement to make such offerings. At the close of the exile, however, God’s people were already making such sacrifices of praise. They were busy in the preaching work and happily praising God at their meetings. From 1919 on, “the faithful and discreet slave” put greater emphasis on the preaching work and organized it more thoroughly. (Matt. 24:45-47) Jehovah’s altar was thus overflowing with the sacrifices of an ever-growing army of praisers of his holy name!
30. What did Jesus do to meet his people’s need for good shepherds?
30 PROMISE 4. The sifting out of bad shepherds. Christ freed God’s people from the unscrupulous, self-serving false shepherds of Christendom. In Christ’s flock, shepherds who acted like those false shepherds were removed from their position. (Ezek. 20:38) Jesus, as the Fine Shepherd, made sure that his sheep were cared for. In 1919 he appointed his faithful and discreet slave. That small group of loyal anointed Christians took the lead in providing spiritual food, so God’s people were well-cared-for. In time, elders were trained to assist in caring for “the flock of God.” (1 Pet. 5:1, 2) The inspired description recorded at Ezekiel 34:15, 16 has often been used to remind Christian shepherds of the standard set by Jehovah God and Jesus Christ.
31. How did Jehovah fulfill the prophecy of Ezekiel 11:19?
31 PROMISE 5. Unity among worshippers of Jehovah. Over the centuries, Christendom has split into tens of thousands of denominations, including countless factions and sects that are hopelessly at odds. In contrast, Jehovah has done something truly miraculous with his restored people. His promise through Ezekiel, “I will give them a unified heart,” has seen a glorious fulfillment. (Ezek. 11:19) Around the world, Christ has millions of followers from countless ethnic, religious, economic, and social backgrounds. Yet, all are taught the same truths and carry out the same work in marvelous harmony. On the final night of his life on earth, Jesus earnestly prayed that his followers would be united. (Read John 17:11, 20-23.) In our day, Jehovah has fulfilled that request in the greatest way.
32. How do you feel about the fulfillment of the restoration prophecies? (See also the box “Prophecies of Captivity and Restoration.”)
32 Are you not delighted to live during this thrilling time of restoration? We see the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecies in every facet of our worship today. We can be confident that Jehovah now looks on his people with favor, just as he foretold through Ezekiel: “I will take pleasure in you.” (Ezek. 20:41) Do you realize what a privilege you have to be part of the unified, well-fed people who are offering praise to Jehovah around the world—a people freed after centuries of spiritual exile? Still, some of Ezekiel’s restoration prophecies will see a greater fulfillment yet.
“Like the Garden of Eden”
33 As we have seen, “the times of restoration of all things” began with the restoration of the Davidic line of kings when Jesus was enthroned in 1914. (Ezek. 37:24) Next, Jehovah empowered Christ to restore pure worship among His people after many centuries of spiritual exile. However, does Christ’s restoration work stop there? Far from it! That work will continue in a spectacular way in the future—and Ezekiel’s prophecies give us soul-stirring details.
34 Consider, for example, these inspired words: “People will say: ‘The desolate land has become like the garden of Eden.’” (Ezek. 36:35) What did that promise mean to Ezekiel and his fellow exiles? They surely did not expect a full, literal fulfillment—as if the restored land might actually be mistaken for the original garden, or Paradise, the one planted by Jehovah himself! (Gen. 2:8) Rather, they no doubt understood that Jehovah was reassuring them that their restored land would be beautiful and fruitful.
35 What does the same promise mean to us today? We do not expect a literal fulfillment now, in the midst of this wicked world ruled by Satan the Devil. Rather, we grasp that those words have a spiritual fulfillment today. As Jehovah’s servants, we inhabit a restored spiritual land, a condition, or environment, wherein we serve productively and make his sacred service the center of our lives. This spiritual land is gradually, steadily becoming ever more paradisaic. What, though, about the future?
36, 37. What promises will be fulfilled in the future Paradise?
36 After the great war of Armageddon, Jesus will expand his restoration work to cover even the physical earth. During his Thousand Year Reign, he will direct mankind to turn this planet into a global garden of Eden, a paradise, just as Jehovah always intended it to be! (Luke 23:43) Then all humans will be in harmony with one another and with their earthly home. There will be no danger, no threat, anywhere. Imagine a time when even this promise will be fulfilled: “I will make a covenant of peace with them, and I will rid the land of vicious wild beasts, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the forests.”—Ezek. 34:25.
37 Can you picture that? Without any fear, you will be able to visit any part of this vast earth. No animal will harm you. No danger will threaten your peace. You will be able to walk alone into the deepest forest, enjoying its majestic beauty, even sleeping there in perfect safety, sure to wake up rested and unharmed!
38. How do you feel about seeing the promise recorded at Ezekiel 28:26 fulfilled?
38 We will see this promise fulfilled as well: “They will dwell on [the land] in security and build houses and plant vineyards, and they will dwell in security when I execute judgment on all those around them who treat them with scorn; and they will have to know that I am Jehovah their God.” (Ezek. 28:26) After all of Jehovah’s enemies are gone, we will enjoy peace and security earth wide. As we care for the earth, we will also be able to take care of ourselves and our loved ones, building comfortable houses to live in and planting vineyards to cultivate.
39. Why can you be sure that the prophecies Ezekiel recorded about Paradise will come true?
39 Do these promises sound to you like mere dreams? Remember, then, what you have already seen during this time of “restoration of all things.” Despite Satan’s fiercest opposition, Jesus has been empowered to restore pure worship during this world’s darkest era. What powerful evidence that all of God’s promises through Ezekiel will come true!
^ par. 2 Most of the Jewish exiles lived in settlements some distance from the city of Babylon. Ezekiel, for example, lived among the Jews by the river Chebar. (Ezek. 3:15) However, there were a few Jewish exiles who lived in the city itself. Their number included “those of royal and noble descent.”—Dan. 1:3, 6; 2 Ki. 24:15.
^ par. 25 For example, we cannot confirm which of the Reformers of the 16th century may have been anointed Christians.