will overturn, overturn, overturn.... until He come Whose right it is;
and I will give it Him" (Ezekiel 21:27).
will see, if you look, that those words have an immediate and a much
wider context. Their immediate context is the life-ministry of the
prophet. His times were to see the beginning and the carrying forward,
to some quite serious degree, of the fulfilment of these words. But
there is also an expanded context, and the expanse of that context has
not yet reached its final phase. But here in the Scriptures much of
that expanded context is noted and mentioned. The overturning had begun
when the prophet was caused to make this proclamation of Jehovah's
intention. The immediate context, then, was that of Jerusalem, and
Jerusalem as the symbol and representation of the nation: the nation
which was chosen of God for a purpose, God's special purpose: the
nation which had been carefully, painstakingly and patiently
constituted and disciplined unto that purpose, and then had so
lamentably failed, so tragically missed the mark. Unto that nation the
words were addressed: "I will overturn, overturn, overturn... until...."
It was a progressive movement unto Christ's second coming.
The reason? The lost distinctiveness of
that nation's life. They had gone out to the world in illicit and
forbidden relationship of a spiritual character, and the world had been
let into them in a defiling and corrupting way, resulting in that end
which is always and ever an abomination to God - mixture. In and
amongst His people there was the lost distinctiveness of their life,
the lost vitality in the means which God had provided for the
realization of His purpose. He had provided tabernacle and temple,
priesthood and ordinances, sacrifices and feasts, and much more. He had
made a great provision in this way, but all was intended to be a vital
and effective means to an end, not as an end in itself. That vitality
had been lost in temple, priesthood, sacrifices, ordinances, and they
had all become a formality, a mere daily routine; something being kept
up, something just in itself: a great formalism, without life. Vitality
in the means had gone and God's deposit was dead in their midst. They
had lost the vision as to the purpose of their existence. They had lost
both the consciousness and the knowledge of why they were the Lord's
people. They were claiming to be a special people amongst the peoples
of the earth. They were using His Name, but the purpose for which they
were the Lord's people had been lost to their consciousness; their
vision of the great object and end of God in choosing them from among
all the peoples of the earth had been lost.
You know that that is the cry of the
prophets. Their cry is against this mixture, this defilement, and
against this mere formalism. Through Isaiah the Word of the Lord came: "Cry
aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet and show My people
their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sin. Yet they seek Me
daily, and delight to know My ways" (Isaiah 58:1,2a). They were
carrying on, but without vision, without purity, without vitality.
All that led to this "I will
overturn, overturn, overturn." It was as though the Lord
was saying: 'I am not going to preserve mere form, mere shell, mere
profession. To Me it is all hypocrisy, unreality. I will overturn.'
Why? Because these things, the things that really matter, the things
that characterize a people under the true government and in the true
energies of the Holy Spirit, are gone. Because of the lack of these
things authority was lost in Israel, authority in the nations, an
authoritative voice in their own midst. They were not registering in
life, in word, and in testimony.
It is a tragic situation when the people
of God lose their authority in the world, and they always do so when
they mix in with the world, and when the world is mixed in with them.
Then there was lost unity. We see the
crumbling of the nation, the breaking up and disintegration, until the
only suitable picture is that of the valley of dry bones, very many and
much scattered, unrelated, unarticulated, disintegrated.
Then again there was the loss of the
position to which God had brought them. He had brought them by covenant
into the land and set them there as His own place for them. God's place
for the nation was the land, and they lost their position, their
God-appointed position, and were cast out of it.
Finally, the prophecies lead to the lost
glory in and over the people of God. The glory was lifted up and moved
right away, and the Lord says about such a state: "I will
overturn, overturn, overturn" - 'This cannot go on.'
The Ever Widening Context
You can see the widening context and
application here, and I must remind you that Ezekiel overlapped at two
ends. At one end he overlapped the ministry of Jeremiah and at the
other end he overlapped the ministry of Daniel. You remember the word
of the Lord which came to Jeremiah: "I have set thee this day over
the nations... to pluck up, to break down... to plant" (Jeremiah
1:10; ASVB). 'Over the nations.' At the other end - Daniel. We
are all familiar with how Daniel in his book is set right in the midst
of the nations. We will come to that in a moment. Here is a wide
context, in the midst of which Ezekiel is set. There passes in review
the rise and fall of the world-powers, of the peoples and nations who
have exercised power and influence in the history of this world.
The prophet here, Ezekiel, begins with
the first four: Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia. You are not expecting,
nor wanting, that I should trace their history and give their full
meaning. Sufficient to say that it was Ammon and Moab who conspired and
joined hands to hire Balaam to curse Israel. Balak, king of Moab, sent
for Balaam to come "Curse me Israel." All right, Ammon! All
"The mills of God grind slowly,
But they grind exceeding small:
Though with patience He stands waiting,
With exactness grinds He all."
Ammon, Moab, you are going to be grist
for God's mill! We will see. The third was Edom: And what a history
Edom had as a menace to Israel and the interests of the Lord! And the
fourth was Philistia. Oh, we are tired and sick of reading of the
interferences with the interests of the Lord by the Philistines -
'uncircumcised Philistines,' as they are called. They were that
constant, almost perpetual, menace to the Lord's interests in Israel.
These four are brought right into the 'Song of the Sword' (Ezekiel 21):
"I will overturn, overturn, overturn," says the Lord.
And so it was. Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia went to the sword and are
The prophet passes from the first four to
another two, Tyre and Zidon. In chapter twenty-eight of these
prophecies you have one of the most amazing, startling and terrible
things in the Bible - the king of Tyre. It is not difficult to see
right through what is said here to Satan himself. "Thou hast
walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire" (Ezekiel
28:14). And this is said in the first context of the King of Tyre, but
you can see right through this to another one, inspiring this exalting
against God, this aspiring to be supreme everywhere. Read chapter
twenty-eight again and see how terrible it is. The Zidonians are in
league with Tyre, and the word reaches even unto them: "I will
overturn, overturn, overturn." And where are Tyre and
Zidon? What happened? Well, history will tell you what happened. The
desolation of Tyre! It is a tremendously thrilling but startling story.
The prophecy was fulfilled.
And then the prophet moves to one: Egypt.
After the four and the two he comes to one, Egypt, that empire of
antiquity, that wonderful civilization, that great world-power of which
many other great powers were for a long time much afraid. But Egypt
comes to the sword. The same thing is said: "I will overturn,
overturn, overturn." And we know the history. God said: "I
will overturn, overturn, overturn," and so it was.
And then we move into a still larger
context as we overlap into Daniel, and before long the great image of
Nebuchadnezzar is brought into full view. That great image, one of the
four of the greatest world-powers in history - we are with the 'Big
Four' here - Babylon. 'See this great Babylon that I have made!' said
Nebuchadnezzar. God gave him a kingdom that all nations and peoples and
tongues should bow down before him. How great was Babylon!
Then came the invasion of Cyrus, the
Persian, and the supplanting of the great Babylon with the Medo-Persian
Empire, which is proverbial. In our daily speech we speak about the
laws of the Medes and Persians, by which is meant something that has
come to stay for ever and cannot be altered. It lifts itself against
Babylon and Babylon comes down, and Medo-Persia takes the ascendancy.
And then another great world-power comes
on the horizon. Alexander the Great rises up with his Greco-Macedonian
war and treads all other powers under foot and looks for new worlds to
conquer. And when he has conquered all the worlds that he can find, he
passes in the pageant of empires, and then the greatest of them all
appears on the scene: the Roman Empire.
All these are mentioned in Daniel, and
they are presented in the great image. The great Roman Empire, the
greatest of them all that had ever been, both in extent and in power.
Here are the world-nations. Here are the world-empires. And the
prophecy extends to them all: "I will overturn, overturn,
overturn." Daniel tells us of the overturning when he says, after
describing the vision, that there was seen a stone cut out without
hands which smote the feet of the great image so that it crashed and
crumbled, and was no more. And Daniel says: "In the days of those
kingdoms, the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom." A stone cut out
without hands: the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom and it shall
endure for ever. It was in the very time of the Roman Empire that the
stone smote it and it crashed, and in representation it brought all the
other empires down with it. "I will overturn," said the Lord.
A New Testament Counterpart
And, dear friends, may I have your
forbearance if I remind you that these prophecies are not exclusively
concerning Israel in the Old Testament and the old dispensation. There
is that in the New Testament which corresponds to this immediate
context. This terrible chapter twenty-one of Ezekiel's prophecies has
been called 'The Song of the Sword.' If you read immediately associated
with these words of verse 27: 'The sword, the sword, the sword, the
point of the sword, God's unsheathed sword,' and that by the sword He
is going to "overturn, overturn, overturn," I would remind you that we
have two corresponding passages in this other realm of the Church in
the New Testament. One is in the Letter to the Hebrews: "I will
make to tremble not the earth only, but also the heaven" (12:26).
The other? It is in the coming of the Lord Jesus into the midst of the
seven lampstands, and in that comprehensive and matchless description
and presentation of Him there is this: "He that hath the sharp
two-edged sword." He begins with it at the churches (Revelation
2:12). His is an overturning in churches. The sword is cleaving,
dividing, finding out, searching and judging, and there is that which,
having so largely resulted in the loss of the specific purpose, falls
to the sword of the Lord. These are hard words, but suffer them for the
moment. It is like that. The Lord is saying to the churches, as
representing the whole Church, the same things as He said to Israel
here. 'I am not a bit interested in or concerned with your religious
form. I am not a bit interested in or concerned with much religious or
Christian activity. "I know thy works!" I am not concerned with your
profession. The thing for which you were raised up, elected, and
constituted is My eternal purpose concerning My Son, that in all things
He might have the pre-eminence, occupy the first, the full, and final
place; and anything that either falls short of that, or contradicts
that, must come under the sword. I will overturn, overturn, overturn.'
And judgment begins at the House of God.
Dear friends, if this is true and we are
not mistaken, the Church in general is going to meet the sword, is
going to be dealt with in this way, and there is going to be a whole
lot of activities and works and professions and whatnot that is going
to the sword, going to be overturned, overturned, overturned, in order
to get to that end which God has appointed.
And what is true of the whole Church will
be true of any local company of believers. If the Lord sees unreality,
sees hypocrisy, mere formality, making His Divine things just an end in
themselves, sees us turned in on ourselves and not ministering to and
forging toward the great end, progressing and developing as we go on
with this increasing fulness of Christ, the Lord will, sooner or later,
overturn that local company, upset it, will bring the sword in and will
scatter and will break down and overturn. It is the history of many a
company of the Lord's people who have become merely formal and
traditional, having lost their vitality and their vision.
And let us come nearer. It will be the
history of individual lives. As soon as you and I resolve everything -
teaching, doctrine, practice, and meetings - into some thing which
is just a rota being carried on, and it loses that great, mighty,
dynamic vision of the purpose of God, and loses that tremendous impact
of a sense of purpose, then our own individual Christian life will come
under the sword. We will just go to pieces and will have to come to
this place: 'I have been on false ground, I have been in a false
position. My position has not been true, nor real. All the teaching
that I have received is simply something in my head, in my mind, and
not a vital part of my very being. The Lord must overturn.'
That sounds very hard. But would we have
it otherwise? Is it not His faithfulness to do that? To get to reality
and to save a remnant that has the root of the matter in it?
The Throne Above All Thrones
What is the teaching of all this? In the
first place, over all the thrones we have already mentioned there is a
Throne, another Throne, which is seen at the beginning of Ezekiel's
prophecies: "Above the firmament... the likeness of a throne... and
upon the likeness of the throne was a likeness... of a man upon it
above" (1:26). Above! That spreads over all these
kingdoms, dominions and powers. To use a fragment from Daniel:
"Thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule" (4:26). 'The heavens
do rule.' There is a throne over all, and that ought to
I have been saying hard things, painful
things. Perhaps you say, gloomy things, depressing things. But what is
the lesson? Over all these terrible things there is a Throne. What is
the explanation of the downfall of all these world-powers? There is one
explanation. Every one of them sought to take the place that was
eternally appointed for God's Son. God had appointed Him "heir of all
things" (Hebrews 1:2). That is the Scripture. God's Son was destined
heir of this world and its kingdoms. God's Son is the rightful ruler of
all nations. And every one of these had stretched out a hand to take to
itself what belonged by eternal covenant to the Son of God. Spreading
from Ammon and Moab, in a very limited scope, spreading out and out and
out until Rome spreads itself over all the world, to possess it, to
rule and govern it for their own ends. And God said: 'Wait! That is My
preserve. That is the preserve of My Son. Don't touch that. Don't lay a
hand on that. That is sacred to My Son. Touch that and I will overturn,
overturn, overturn until He come whose right it is: and I will give it
to Him.' That is history.
There is a still wider context. There
have been a lot of things since Rome went down. And in our own lifetime
we have seen this thing happen. We do not like mentioning it, and we do
not like mentioning the names, but we have to in this very context.
What about Hitler? Hitler aspired with his ambition and ambitiousness
to dominate all the nations of this world: to bring them into
subjection to his ideology and to his control: to take them. And we
know how viciously he repudiated Jesus Christ and His Church. 'All
right, Mr. Hitler,' says the Throne above, 'that is the prerogative of
the Son of God. Hands off!' And we have seen the awful wreckage and
ruin both of Hitler himself and of his regime, the awful devastation,
and the terrible story of his end. Christ's rights were interfered
with, so 'I will overturn.'
And we have seen Mussolini having made
for him a great relief map of the ten kingdoms of the Roman Empire to
stretch the whole width of a great hall, setting up a statue of himself
and proclaiming himself as the last Caesar of the restored Roman
Empire. 'All right,' says the Throne above, 'so far shall thy proud
waves come and no further.' And look at the shame of his end! "I
will overturn, overturn, overturn."
But contemporary history! Our present
time is seeing something bigger than any of these. Bigger than the
biggest of the old 'Great Four,' Rome. Bigger than these that I have
just mentioned. Something is spreading itself in the denial of God and
the denial of the Son of God and the denial of the Church of God, to be
the great world-power. And the Throne above says: 'If you can't read
history, you will learn in experience.' And the same destiny and doom
is coming to it. Make no mistake about it. Why? Because this world was
made for Jesus Christ. And the day is coming when the Scripture will be
fulfilled: "The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom
of our Lord and of His Christ" (Revelation 11:15).
"Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from short to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more."
But note! While that is a glorious
prospect, it is a terrible outlook from another standpoint. And it is a
challenge. It is a challenge to us; it is a challenge to our
assemblies; it is a challenge to the Church of God; it is a challenge
to the world. The purpose of God is to gather together, to reunite, all
things in Christ, things in the heavens, things in the earth, "that
in all things He might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:13).
That is the purpose of God. It is of the most minute application in our
lives. It is the object with which the Holy Spirit is working in our
spiritual history. It is the explanation of this world's history: the
rise and fall, the glory and the shame of world-powers, empires and
dominions. "He must reign until He hath put all His enemies
under His feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25).
That is the message. The Lord make the
published in "A Witness and A Testimony" magazine, Nov-Dec 1962, Vol
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