The Greater Egypt in Ezekiel 20
Having seen the value of context in Ezekiel 11 and Ezekiel 12, the next important passage points more directly to a new covenant with God’s people. It reviews some of Israel’s history and it makes a strong thematic link to the exodus from Egypt,
34 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. 35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. 36 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. 37 I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. 38 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. – Ezekiel 20:34-38
This passage of Ezekiel 20 provides an outstanding link between the eleventh chapter and the rest of the prophetic book. In Ezekiel 11 the groundwork for a historic pre-fulfillment of the new covenant was laid. This pre-fulfillment was primarily based on the insight that the exile was a new wilderness and that the gathering together was a new exodus. Unsurprisingly this theme shows up again even more explicitly in a deeper development of Ezekiel’s message. The chapter starts with a reminder of Israel’s history in and coming out of Egypt (Eze 20:1-13). There is an exodus, a giving of the law, a provision of covenant signs, and eventually rebellion. The chapter develops the familiar story of God bringing in the covenant children into the promised land only to see them depart from faithfulness yet again (Eze 20:14-32). This history lesson sets up God’s message of deliverance to a people in captivity.
The passage brings all of these elements to the surface to explicate the promise. God is going to deliver them again (Eze 20:34) and bring them back into the wilderness (Eze 20:35). If the pattern holds then God will graciously provide both signs of His covenant and a law. The passage does in fact contain an explicit reference to “covenant” (Eze 20:37) and every single person will “pass under the rod.” This is the rod of a ruler (Gen 49:10). God is going to bring to them a new law/ruler which presumes within Ezekiel's context a new covenant (Eze 40:41-44). Like the rebellion that keeps the people out of the promised land (Num 14) so the new exodus will purge the people unsuited for the promises of God.
All of this language is deliberately reiterated in instruction for a Jewish audience by the author of Hebrews (Heb 3-4). Keeping in mind these conceptual pre-fulfillment ideas about the new covenant will provide the necessary elements to understand covenant warnings in the New Testament. In that context also the author is fearful of a rebellious spirit (Heb 3:12-15) that leads individuals to not enter because of their lack of faith (Heb 3:18-19). There remains the completely satisfied new covenant promise to be entered into by God’s people (Heb 4:11).
The new covenant promised in Ezekiel is a historical event on par with the exodus of Egypt. This would seem to parlay the teaching of Jeremiah about the historical annals of the exodus from Egypt,
14 “Therefore behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 15 but, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers. – Jeremiah 16:14-15
7 “Therefore behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when they will no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ 8 but, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up and led back the descendants of the household of Israel from the north land and from all the countries where I had driven them.’ Then they will live on their own soil.” – Jeremiah 23:7-8
The prophet Jeremiah was speaking of the exile from Babylon. Ezekiel is expecting his great visions, so far at least, to be fulfilled in the exodus from Babylon. Its valid fulfillment was still meant as a pointer to the greater fulfillment to be found in Jesus Christ. This new covenant fulfillment in Jesus Christ contains many of the same elements as described in the book of Ezekiel. As both Hebrews and Ezekiel will show this new covenant brings a unique relationship to the Holy Spirit.