Chapter 20:33-44 (ESV) - “As I live, declares the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares the Lord God. I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. I will purge out the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against me. I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.
“As for you, O house of Israel, thus says the Lord God: Go serve every one of you his idols, now and hereafter, if you will not listen to me; but my holy name you shall no more profane with your gifts and your idols.
“For on my holy mountain, the mountain height of Israel, declares the Lord God, there all the house of Israel, all of them, shall serve me in the land. There I will accept them, and there I will require your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your sacred offerings. As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the country that I swore to give to your fathers. And there you shall remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves, and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name's sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.”
Question to consider: How did God bring the people out of the countries in which they were scattered?
The judgment of God is not merely punitive but restorative. Despite the fact that Israel was being scattered among the nations, God would not forget about them, but would at some point reach out and gather them back into His kingdom. This time in exile would be used as a process to weed out the unfaithful just as God did so in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt. He compared it with a shepherd using his rod at a sheep’s gate to make sure only His flock could enter the land.
At the end of the time of the exile, God used Nehemiah and Ezra to begin the process of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and calling people from the nations back home. Just as God gave Israel the Law while they were in the wilderness and made a covenant with them, so the Law would be rediscovered, and the people would be cut to the heart in reading it, and it would separate the faithful from the faithless like a shepherd’s rod.
The city and temple were built under stress and difficulty, but God would speak through His prophets Haggai and Zechariah to establish Zerubbabel as king to rebuild the temple (God’s holy mountain) and Joshua the high priest to restore the sacrifices– not by might, nor by power, but by God’s Spirit. If you read through my study in Zechariah, it was the Lord who would clothe Joshua the high priest in righteousness in order for him to mediate the covenant with the people even before the temple was complete.
The time for idolatry was ending. God was asking them to make a choice– Him or the idols. This is similar to the restoration of the covenant at Shechem when Joshua, the successor to Moses, proclaimed, “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
Once the covenant was restored and the temple was rebuilt, God once again received their sacrifices and dealt with Israel as His people. Of course, the faithfulness of the people would be short-lived, but all of this pointed to a time in which God would manifest His holiness among the people through His Son. Jesus would gather the lost sheep of Israel throughout the land and pay for their sins on the cross in an unbreakable, everlasting covenant. After Christ rose from the dead and ascended to the throne of God, He sent out His apostles into the world to preach the gospel, first to the Jews in the synagogues and then to the Gentiles.
Dear Lord, thank You for giving us a spirit of repentance and the means of being reconciled to You. May Your word cut us to the heart and give us a desire to know You and seek life in Your name. Amen.