Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, God, Religion, Truth

Cities Without Walls

There’s a passage in Ezekiel that some Christians view as a prophecy that has been fulfilled by modern Israel:

and say, ‘I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will fall upon the quiet people who dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having no bars or gates,’
— Ezek 38:11

How could Ezekiel have foreseen a time in which Israel’s cities would not need walls for protection? It’s true that most modern cities today do not need walls, so does this qualify as an example of a fulfilled prophecy?

I think there are two things we need to look at in examining this. First of all, let’s make sure that Israel really has no walled cities. And secondly, let’s examine the context of this prophecy to make sure we’re not missing anything.

Israel Today

It turns out that Israel actually does use walls today. The West Bank barrier will eventually be about 430 miles long. It’s still being constructed, but as of 2012 it was already 272 miles long.

Most of the barrier is a fence. While that’s not exactly the same as a wall, it serves the same basic purpose. Plus, it uses “bars and gates,” which runs counter to Ezekiel’s prophecy. And some portions of the barrier are indeed tall concrete walls, as shown in these pictures.



Photos courtesy of Wikipedia

In addition to the West Bank barrier, there’s also a barrier between Israel and the Gaza strip. Just like the West Bank barrier, it’s comprised mostly of fence with some concrete sections.

Does the current state of Israel really match Ezekiel’s description?

The Context

If we back up to Ezekiel 37, we see the famous skeleton army that God raised up for Ezekiel. And God tells him (vs 11-14) that the army represents the nation of Israel. Though it seems lost, God will restore it one day — he will be their God, and they will serve him. This is a pretty constant refrain among the prophets, Ezekiel in particular. This refers back to the kingdom of Israel, northern neighbor to Judah. The OT says that Israel and Judah were made up of the original 12 tribes. After the death of Solomon, the northern 10 tribes broke away and formed the nation of Israel (appointing a new king not of David’s line), and the southern 2 tribes formed the nation of Judah. There’s not good archaeological support for this story at this point in time. However, the existence of the two separate kingdoms is quite well attested.

In about 722 BCE, the Assyrian Empire took Israel captive, and the Jewish prophets ascribed this to their failure to serve God faithfully. However, they also predicted that the 10 lost tribes would one day return from captivity. This hasn’t happened.

Ezekiel elaborates even further:

Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. 22 And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

Notice that the end of that passage focuses on Israel’s faithfulness to God. Yet that certainly doesn’t match modern Israel. Like most modern nations, its not homogeneous in its religious views. To me, this is one of the first clues that Ezekiel is not talking about today’s Israel. In verses 26 and 27, it says that God’s sanctuary will be in their midst as well. But with the Muslim Dome of the Rock shrine occupying the Temple Mount, it seems unlikely that a Jewish or Christian worship center will ever take its place. Maybe Ezekiel meant that statement figuratively or spiritually, but it’s still something to consider.

In chapter 38, it initially looks like Ezekiel is changing subjects, because he begins talking about Gog, whom he calls a prince of Meshech and Tubal. But this will actually tie right back in to his discussion about Israel. Gog and the other terms are likely being used figuratively in this passage, though it probably doesn’t matter much either way. The point Ezekiel is making is that God will take Israel’s enemies (represented by Gog and those who serve him) and allow them to build up a mighty force to come upon Israel. It’s at this point that Ezekiel refers to Israel as a land of “unwalled villages.”

To me, this does not seem like Ezekiel cares too much about whether the villages literally have walls or not. The point seems to be that Israel will be living in peace and not have any idea that some horrible force might be amassing against them. This allows God to annihilate Gog and his armies, and it will be obvious to all the surrounding nations that God must have been the one to do it, since Israel was in such a defenseless state:

21 I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Lord God. Every man’s sword will be against his brother. 22 With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him, and I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many peoples who are with him torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur. 23 So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.

Again, this does not match today’s Israel. Israel knows that it’s surrounded by nations who are opposed to them, so it seems unlikely that they could be caught unaware. And their level of military might is quite high.

Ezekiel 39 continues the curse against Gog and reiterates much of what we’ve already covered. However, it also says that once God has dealt with Gog’s armies, the people of Israel will take spoils from their remains:

9 “Then those who dwell in the cities of Israel will go out and make fires of the weapons and burn them, shields and bucklers, bow and arrows, clubs and spears; and they will make fires of them for seven years, 10 so that they will not need to take wood out of the field or cut down any out of the forests, for they will make their fires of the weapons. They will seize the spoil of those who despoiled them, and plunder those who plundered them, declares the Lord God.

I suppose language like this could be viewed figuratively, but I find it a bit striking that this language is so obviously suited for the warfare and way of life of Ezekiel’s time, yet some claim that he foresaw a future in which walls would not be needed for cities? If he could foresee that, why wouldn’t he have foreseen technological advances as well?

I feel that these 3 chapters paint a very clear picture. Ezekiel still believed that the 10 tribes of Israel would one day come back. He was certain that his god was the only true God, and he could understand why God might be angry with his people — but abandon them? Surely he would one day restore them. One day God’s people would be mighty and live under his protection — one day they would finally, fully realize those promises that were made to Abraham. I think that’s the future he was looking toward and describing. But even if he meant something else, there’s really no indication that he was imagining anything like the Israel of today.

Some Closing Thoughts

Since Ezekiel gave no timeline for his prophecy, it’s hard to point to it as a failure. In other words, no one would likely point to this passage and say “see, the Bible can’t be inspired because this prophecy didn’t come true.” That’s really a conversation for another post. But can the converse be said? Can someone really point to Ezekiel 38:11 and say that modern Israel is its fulfillment? I just don’t see it. I think the fact that Israel uses barriers today, that its safety and security always seem tenuous, and that the context of this passage seems to be talking about something completely unrelated to modern Israel shows that it is a very poor example of prophecy fulfillment.

137 thoughts on “Cities Without Walls”

  1. @ Nate,

    But I also want to stop talking so derogatively about groups in particular: (fundamentalists are either stupid or insane, such beliefs are hogwash, atheists aren’t objective, etc.).

    I agree with this. I used to believe this hogwash(noted objections notwithstanding) and I don’t think I’m stupid or insane. It does tend to put people on the defensive and some are likely to come out swinging.

    Like

  2. Thanks Sabio.

    In my opinion, TBlacksman, Ark, and Arch have all stepped over the line in this thread already. And it’s a shame, because there are some really substantive things in those posts as well.

    I’d suggest that both Ark and TB avoid addressing one another for a while, as it seems they’re headed toward a pissing contest. Let’s just bypass that altogether.

    Like

  3. And how likely are we to get someone to see our position if we’re so demeaning?

    Revealing bias here: when someone is so demeaning toward me I don’t really evaluate what the have to say objectively. I try to find the reasons they’re wrong. No one likes to be insulted.

    Like

  4. Thanks Nate. I agree, both have great substantial stuff — but easily ignored with that sort of rhetoric. Too bad, because the rhetoric causes loss of the good points and any progress in dialogue.
    BTW, Think about those two tabs I mentioned above, mate!

    Like

  5. “if we can take a block of text and carve out a sentence here and a few there and proclaim them fulfillment of prophecy when other prophecies are clearly connected that are not. That makes it pretty ambiguous.”

    The fact that prophecies are connected in no way means that they are to be all fulfilled at the same time PARTICULARLY when there are prophecies where its stated they are not fulfilled at the same time. This is actually just ignoring interim prophecies in order to invalidate ones that have come to pass. You are acting as if its arbitrary when thats utterly false. Its just a fact of prophecy. first Israel has to come back as a nation, then they have to live without walls and gates then the events of revelation have to take place (one of the key battles alluded to in Ezek 38). to say aha everything has not come to pass when they were never prophecied to come to pass simultaneously is disregarding the nature of prophecy to get to a conclusion that you might want to get to but its not what the text says.

    Like

  6. to say aha everything has not come to pass when they were never prophecied to come to pass simultaneously is disregarding the nature of prophecy to get to a conclusion that you might want to get to but its not what the text says.

    I can see where you got that, but it’s not exactly what I meant. And I do understand that the nature of prophecy in itself means that it might not all come to pass simultaneously. But it does make it a bit more tenuous to say “aha, prophecy is fulfilled” when a good bit of it has not been. That kind of cuts both ways. Because then what you find is that one can never quite prove that it has or hasn’t been.

    Can you show me in this text where it PARTICULARLY states this won’t be fulfilled at the same time? Or do you need other prophecies to interpret this prophecy by?

    Like

  7. “I have to agree again with TBlacksman.

    It was Ark’s comments that actually inspired my “violation” alert — exactly as TBlacksman elaborated.”

    Well heres the thing Sabio and I may or may not get honest answers here but really does anyone believe as Nate is now saying that if in my answer to him I said

    “atheist like to fudge the Bible.”

    “the thing with people who claimed to be Christian is they tend not to have read their bibles very well”

    “former church of Christ members seem oblivious to the context”

    It would mean that I was not specifying NAtea slong as I did not say you? that Nate would not object to it ? Give me a break . We ALL know he would object. The distinction to side step not having taken on Ark is totally ridiculous and Ark made it clear in subsequent posts he had me in mind as EVERY SINGLE regular reader on this blog KNOWS he did.

    Meanwhile do tell. If any of you tell me that I am unaware of certain facts about archaeology that dispute the Bible is nate now going to step in and say you can’t tell me that because it would be no different than his objection to

    “you seem oblivious to the context”?

    Who are we really kidding here? LOL I mean really?

    Like

  8. Mike msy be right, but I still think prophecies that are given in such a way would not be meant to convince the non-believer.

    Again, very detailed specifics including precisely defined timelines, literal and specifc events, etc would go much further to convince the naysayers.

    That doesn’t mean this prophecy is not true, just that I see it as being more for thosr who already believe – and would by consequence mean that it’s not very good evidence in support of the bible’s truthfulness – at least to the non-believers.

    Like

  9. Complaints duly noted. I shall behave.

    [– This section edited to comply with comment policy –]

    Sigh…to the post….

    The major problem with biblical prophecy is it is contained within the covers of a book supposedly inspired by a deity – Yahweh/Jesus of Nazareth – and should not be open to interpretation.
    The terms, ”Er,’ ‘Um’, ‘Maybe’ ‘Oh, all right then’, do not strike me as being in the lexicon of ”God Words”

    Why should one part of the bible be given credence when other parts aren’t?

    If one considers how much of the text is fallacious, including such erroneous examples as the Virgin Birth prophecy, and one or two other unfulfilled escatological turns of phrase, then there is no reason whatsoever to take any of it seriously.

    Like

  10. “Can you show me in this text where it PARTICULARLY states this won’t be fulfilled at the same time? Or do you need other prophecies to interpret this prophecy by?”

    Actually with a basic understanding of the context of Ezekiel it requires nothing else. I have already posted one verse out of Ezek 39 . I’ll post a fuller quote again

    Ezekiel 39:27-29 (KJV)
    27 When I have brought them again from the people, and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations;
    28 Then shall they know that I am the LORD their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them any more there.
    29 Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I have poured out my spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.

    Its pretty clear there that its after the battle is when Israel gets to the point that they know fully who the Lord is, that only then they have complete revelation. Do other passages illuminate that? why yes and makes it very clear that Nate’s requirement that they be the righteous nation he claims they have to be to fulfill the prophecy does NOT happen before the battle n it not expected to. Claiming that what is not expected from a reading of the passage to happen yet is some knock against what has happened, Israel returning, their farming to be reknown, living withthout walls doesn’t hold any water….unless you wan it to.

    Like

  11. I will add: It is important to appreciate that fundamentalists will approach every biblical argument on the basis that the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth, was/is a real individual and is also the creator of the universe.
    As it is their belief that their god is perfect and by extension his word ( the bible) is also perfect.
    Thus to acknowledge an opponent’s argument in this regard immediately implies that their god and his word are imperfect and, by extension, fallible. This is an untenable situation for a theist.

    Like

  12. Ezekiel 37 also talks about God reuniting Israel and returning them to the land. He’ll set them up to be his people, and he will be their God. It’s in chapter 38 that God allows Gog to build up armies and come against the unsuspecting and peaceful Israelites, so I think the text is still pretty clear that Israel would inhabit the land and turn to God faithfully before any of the Gog stuff. The passage in Ezek 39 that Mike quoted seems to simply be the summary of everything that happened in the preceding verses.

    One could still claim that these things haven’t all happened yet, but I agree with Ruth that it’s hard to take one facet of it (a questionable one, considering Israel’s current state of security), and say it’s been fulfilled when the rest obviously hasn’t.

    Like

  13. 27 When I have brought them again from the people, and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations;
    28 Then shall they know that I am the LORD their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them any more there.
    29 Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I have poured out my spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.

    I have more questions:

    Will Yahweh only be sanctified in them after they are all gathered into Israel? When there are no more Jews left that are not in Israel? Is this about race or beliefs? There are gentiles who have converted to Judaism. How many Jews are in captivity in other lands now who are not free to go there at any time now or since WWII?

    Like

  14. Thus to acknowledge an opponent’s argument in this regard immediately implies that their god and his word are imperfect and, by extension, fallible. This is an untenable situation for a theist.

    I think this is true, Ark. It does make it difficult to talk about the issues, because they can’t afford for any statement in the Bible to be inaccurate. This is definitely how I saw it when I was a believer.

    Like

  15. @Ruth

    There’s also the question of what does it mean to turn to God faithfully? Does it mean Judaism, as Ezekiel would have understood it, or does it mean Christianity? And does it have to be a particular version of one of these?

    Like

  16. Does it mean Judaism, as Ezekiel would have understood it, or does it mean Christianity? And does it have to be a particular version of one of these?</i.

    Well, if city walls are to be interpreted the way that Ezekiel and his audience would have understood it….

    Like

  17. This is why I raised the point, as I knew you had been in the same boat. It was probably only once you experienced serious doubt and worked through the ensuing confusion/trauma (?) that you would have been able to look at the bible with any degree of objectivity.
    No doubt, this applies to all deconvetees.

    Like

  18. “The passage in Ezek 39 that Mike quoted seems to simply be the summary of everything that happened in the preceding verses.”

    Sorry Nate . NO can do. That won’t work. The verse that sets up your alleged summary rebuffs it. From that Day forward is not language of a summary

    21 “I will set My glory among the nations; all the nations shall see My judgment which I have executed, and My hand which I have laid on them. 22 So the house of Israel shall know that I am the LORD their God FROM THAT DAY FORWARD
    The New King James Version. (1982). (Eze 39:21–22). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

    Like

  19. “Will Yahweh only be sanctified in them after they are all gathered into Israel?”

    The passage you quoted makes it clear – the sanctification is “in the sight of many nations”

    So yes this has to occur for that to happen

    “There’s also the question of what does it mean to turn to God faithfully? Does it mean Judaism, as Ezekiel would have understood it, or does it mean Christianity? ”

    It means turning to God however he manifests himself at the time to them. Simple.

    Like

  20. “And what day is he referencing, Mike?”

    A) First things first nate. Is that an expression of a summary?
    B) why does the question need be asked when its right there that its the day the nations have the judgement talked about placed?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s