Judgment on Judah's Neighbors (Ezekiel 25) November 5-6
It is not known exactly when God gave Ezekiel the prophecies of this chapter, though it is reasonable to assume that they were given prior to the next chronologically dated section of the book. The Expositor's Bible Commentary says: "The four short oracles against Judah's immediate neighbors are a continuation of Ezekiel's dated judgment message that began at 24:1 and concludes at 25:17. This, therefore, was originally a singular series of messages, all delivered at the same time according to Ezekiel's normal chronological notices. The messages in this series announce judgment on Judah [our previous reading] and then turn to denounce the surrounding nations that had rejoiced over Judah's downfall and had hoped for personal spoil and gain. God announced judgment on these nations lest their gleeful taunts continue and the exiles question his faithfulness to his promises" (note on verses 1-7).
The siege of Jerusalem had begun but the city would not fall for more than two years. However, much of Judah had no doubt been devastated rather quickly with the invasion of the Babylonian forces. Recall also that the Chaldeans had invaded a few times before—stripping the temple of treasure and deporting many people. The Ammonites and Moabites had actually taken part in one of these invasions during the reign of Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:1-2). Though this was part of God's judgment on Judah, these ancient enemies rejoiced in Judah's calamity not for any righteous reason but out of envy and their undying hatred against God's people. This provides some background for the prophecies of Ezekiel 25.
God says to the Ammonites that they will suffer His judgment "because you said, 'Aha!' against My sanctuary when it was profaned, and against the land of Israel when it was desolate, and against the house of Judah when they went into captivity" (verse 3). This might seem to apply to their attitude after the fall of Jerusalem, and certainly God could have foreseen this even before it happened. Indeed, prophecies often portray things that are yet future in the past tense, demonstrating the certainty of their fulfillment. Nevertheless, the statement could just as well describe what had already happened by the early stages of the siege—the period in which we are chronologically placing this section. God's temple was profaned when, as already mentioned, it was twice stripped of treasure by the Babylonians. In fact, "profaned" seems to go much better with that than with the ultimate razing of the temple—which was much more than defilement. The desolation of the land of Israel could apply to what happened much earlier to the northern kingdom. It could also apply to the last item mentioned in verse 3: the massive deportations Judah had already suffered, including any carrying away of people that happened early in the current invasion.
Moab and Seir (the latter denoting the territory of Edom) are to be judged for saying, "Look! The house of Judah is like all the nations" (verse 8). Essentially, they are mocking the concept of Judah being some special nation. It's like saying, "So they think they're the 'chosen' people of the 'true' God, do they? Well look at what's happening to them now. They're going the way of all other nations by being conquered and carried away. Guess they're not so special after all!" Such sentiments, in fact, mocked God, as He had revealed through His inspired servants that Judah and Israel were indeed His special, chosen people.
As punishment, Ammon and Moab would be given into the hands of "the men of the East" (verses 4, 10). "The 'people of the East' are not identified specifically anywhere in Scripture. The phrase was used to refer to any peoples living east of another people. However, the immediate context, parallel passages...and ancient history all argue for the designation of Babylonia as Ezekiel's contemporary people of the East. Moreover, Josephus (Antiq[uities] of the Jews, [Book 10, chapters 180-81, sec. 9]) recorded that Nebuchadnezzar brought Ammon and Moab into subjection in the fifth year after the Fall of Jerusalem (c. 582/581 B.C.)" (Expositor's, note on verses 1-7).
Of the Edomites, God said they "greatly offended" by taking vengeance on His people. While Edom did this at the time of Judah's fall, it had a long history of such action: "The transgressions most characteristic of Edom were its perpetual animosity and repeated, vindictive acts of violence against Israel. The Hebrew words rendered greatly offended ('be guilty') may indicate continuous or repeated rather than intensive behavior" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 12).
In verse 14 God surprisingly declares, "I will lay My vengeance on Edom by the hand of My people Israel." This certainly did not happen in Ezekiel's day. The Expositor's Bible Commentary states: "Other passages in the O[ld] T[estament] indicate that...[Edom's] punishment would be executed by Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 9:26; 25:21; 27:1-11). Certainly Ezekiel 32:29 and Malachi 1:2-5 assume that Edom's desolation was past. However, God also declared that he would execute his vengeance on Edom in return for its vengeance on Judah and would do so through the instrumentality of Israel. The historical context of Ezekiel's day precluded this event from happening at that time. However, Ezekiel and other prophets declared that Israel would possess Edom in the end time as well (cf. 35:1-36:15; Isa 11:14; Dan 11:41; Amos 9:12; Obad 18)" (note on Ezekiel 25:12-14, emphasis added).
Observe that God punishes the Ammonites, Moabites and Philistines so that they will come to know He is the true God (verses 5, 7, 11, 17)—and consider that they will not come to truly understand this until the time of Christ's return. Of course, it should be remembered that the rulers of these peoples in Ezekiel's day would have understood it in a limited sense—as God had warned them through Jeremiah that they would either submit to Nebuchadnezzar or suffer sword, famine, pestilence and the yoke of slavery (see Jeremiah 27). Nevertheless, none of these peoples really came to understand who the true God was at that time.
In Ezekiel 25, God does not mention the Edomites coming to know Him as the true God. Rather, He simply says, "They shall know My vengeance" (verse 14). In an end-time context, this may be because Edom will apparently be completely destroyed, with no survivors left, when Christ returns (see Obadiah 18). (The Edomites will apparently have to wait for the second resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20:5 to be given their opportunity to turn to God in sincere repentance.)
As mentioned in previous comments in the Bible Reading Program, the modern descendants of Edom are likely to be found among the Turkish peoples, the Palestinians and other Middle Eastern groups. Indeed, today's Palestinians, who are concentrated in Jordan and Israel, appear to be a blending of all the peoples mentioned in Ezekiel 25—Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites and Philistines—along with others. For centuries virtually all of these peoples have been Muslims, convinced that Allah is the one true God and that the worship of Jews and Christians is corrupt. Only after Jesus Christ returns and establishes true Christianity as the religion of the world will these people—and all other Muslims worldwide—come to know and worship the true God of the Bible.
The chapter ends with God declaring vengeance to befall the Philistines (or Cherethites, as the Philistines or a major part of them are also called). "God's great vengeance against the Philistines was a judgment 'in kind' for their revengeful attitude and actions against Judah. His destruction of Philistia would be complete, even consuming the remnant of them that were on the coast... Though the time of this punishment on Philistia was not stated, the context assumes time in harmony with the three verdicts executed on Ammon, Moab, and Edom by Babylon (cf. Jer 25:20; 47:1-7). The ultimate fruition of this judgment would be realized when Israel possesses Philistia in the end time (cf. Isa 11:14; Joel 3:1-4; Obad 19; Zeph 2:4-7)" (note on Ezekiel 25:15-17). Interestingly, today's Palestinians are actually named after the Philistines—and many Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip on the southern Israeli Mediterranean coastline, the region of ancient Philistia. This land will eventually be returned to the Israelites.