Wilderness of the Nations by Alexander Zephyr. Foreword by Yair Davidiy.
Our organization Brit-Am/Hebrew Nations concentrates on clarifying the fact that the Ten Tribes today as recognizable entities are to be found amongst Western Nations.
We also encourage discussion of Scripture in general. We try to avoid setting down the law on any thing not concerning the Ten Tribes. The article below by Alexander Zephyr discusses the concept of the Wilderness of Nations. These are mentioned by the Prophet Ezekiel (20:33-36, 38) as a place whereto the Israelites will be taken before returning to the Land of Israel. Alexander Zephyr examines the possibilities that the Wilderness of Nations represent either a real physical region or a metaphor for spiritual emptiness. He leaves both options open but seems to favor the metaphorical possibility more. So too he sees the Resurrection of the Dead Bodies in Ezekiel 37 as metaphorical. He writes well and this is an interesting article.
We personally think that in both cases a real literal physical meaning was intended by Scripture as well as a metaphorical one.
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The general state of Exile of the Ten Tribes, exactly corresponds to the views of the Biblical Commentator Malbim. The question only remains: if the wilderness of the people is all over the places Ten Tribes reside in, how is it possible to gather them in one particular geographical place (wilderness) for God to judge and speak to them? If God had in mind the real physical location of future judgment and redemption of His People, would not had He simply said so and named this place?
Yair's statement, in my view, does not exclude the possibility that the wilderness of nations could be, among the other things, the spiritual metaphor, symbolical vision or the poetical expression of the Prophet Ezekiel, who, according to Rambam and other sages, quite often used such a vocabulary in his prophetic Book.
So, what is this 'Wilderness of the nations'?: Is it a real physical place or something of allegorical, symbolical, or spiritual nature?
Let us examine the 'Wilderness' as a real geographical place. To better understand the subject, we should find some key explanations in the verses of Ezekiel.
I quoted these verses as references for our discussion. One important clue here is the fact that the Prophet compares the coming purifying of Israel in the 'Wilderness of the people' to a real historical event. This was the "wilderness of the land of Egypt", which is known as a desert of Sinai. Is there any similarity in judgment?
Yes, there is.
Children under the age of twenty of the convicted generation of the desert were to be allowed to enter the Holy Land. The judgment of God in the 'Wilderness' of Ezekiel is almost the same. The unbelievers and sinners will be purged out and go to the slaughter (V.38). All of them will be brought out of the countries of their exile, but they will not enter the Promised Land, except those righteous believers with a 'new spirit' and a 'new heart'. We cannot doubt or speculate on the 'Wilderness of Egypt'.
This event is well known and generally accepted by the World; everybody knows the geographical location of the Sinai desert, the story of Exodus, Divine Manna, receiving of the Torah on the Mount Sinai, and the conquest of the Canaan.
There were no other people or nations in the 'Wilderness of Sinai' to witness how God judged the Israelites.
As Rashi puts it,
'When I took you out from Egypt, I took you through the wilderness where there is nothing, not even any nations, so that no one would see your shame as the rebellious ones among you were punished'.
In the 'Wilderness of the nations', on contrary, all the nations of Israelite exile will witness the judgments of God. As Radak explains, those judgments will teach all nations powerful lessons, 'The tribulations of the desert cause the nations to see and take heed'.
Another common case in both wildernesses is the fact that they serve as a jumping-off ground, the springboard for the Israelites on their way to the Promised Land.
As Yair correctly noted, 'From the Wilderness they will enter the Land of Israel'. If in the judgment of the Egyptian Exodus Wilderness the time of the wondering of Israelites before they were allowed to enter the Holy Land was forty years, in the judgment of the 'Wilderness of the Peoples' no certain time is given whatsoever. We can only guess that these events will happen in the 'End of Times', in the 'days of Mashiach'.
In any event, the judgment of the 'Wilderness of the nations' should precede the prophecies of the 'Two Sticks' of Ezekiel 37:21. This will finish the business of reconciliation and reunification of the whole house of Jacob,
'And say unto them, thus says the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, where they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land'.
Also, as in the case of the 'Wilderness of Egypt', when God created Israel as a nation, in the 'Wilderness of the people' He would reconstitute the repented Israelites as a nation of the whole House of Israel again.
This, in my view, has established similarities between the two wildernesses which, on first sight, might point out or give some hints that the 'Wilderness of the Nations' is a physical place like the 'Wilderness of the Egypt', only a different location.
Now let us analyze the 'Wilderness of the people' as the Spiritual meaning.
'I will bring you to the 'Wilderness of the people' does not indicate any particular geographical place.
What it says is that God will bring the Israelites from among the strange various nations as into a wilderness and execute judgments upon them 'face to face'. This wilderness does not indicate any physical geographical locality, or duration of time of the judgments. Being in 'the Wilderness of the nations' may be comprehended as representing the duration of time from the rejection of Israel and its punishment by Exile to their future restoration.
Why does the Prophet Ezekiel call the nations, where the Israelites live in exile, 'the Wilderness'?
My understanding goes like this: the Israelites of the Ten Tribes are the Chosen People of God, the same way as the Jewish People are also Chosen. The huge difference is that the Ten Tribes of Israel lost their identity and forgot the God of their fathers. The Jewish People, on the other hand, are the only ones from the whole House of Israel who know their identity and keep the Torah. Both sections have a Divine task to perform. The Almighty will have prepared a glorious future for them both. The prophecy of the 'Wilderness of the Nations', seems to me, to apply only to the Ten Tribes, because Judah (or at least, half of Judah) will have already been dwelling on the Promised Land.
Are not the wilderness or desert denoted as a dry sand and the fruitless soil which cannot bear fruits, nor produce anything useful for men - crop or vegetable, and where there is not enough water to support life?
We can symbolically or by the way of allegory or metaphor, in the manner of the Prophet Ezekiel, explain the meaning of this. The Heathen nations of the world where the Israelites were forcefully exiled are that 'wilderness' because they are idol worshipers. They do not know their Creator, the God of Israel. Their corrupted spiritual soil [and soul] cannot produce the holiness and righteousness required by Scripture. The absence of living waters which is the Torah, the Word of the Living God, made those nations a symbolic 'Wilderness'.
That is why God warned the Israelites:
"And that which comes into your mind shall not be at all, that you say, We will be as the Gentiles, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone" (Ezekiel 20:32).
The destiny of Israel is better than this. They will become holy nation of priests, light to the Gentiles. They will bring salvation and glory of the God of Israel to the ends of the Earth (Isaiah 49:6). All of this will happen in the time of the Messianic Age.
The expressions such as 'the wilderness' or 'the desert' applying to Israel, can be found in the Bible on many occasions.
'I will make her like a desert, turn her into a parched land, and slay her with thirst. Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her' (Hosea 2:3, 14).
The next passage from the book of Ezekiel is very impressive and confirms even more that we are on the right track:
'And now she is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty ground' (Ezekiel 19:13).
This means that Israel Exiled to the countries where is no true God of Israel, no Divine Torah ' just the dry deadly sand of idolatry and no life giving water, or reviving spirit of God. These are the harsh realities of the life of Israelites in Exile.
Why would the Prophet Ezekiel use all kind of symbols, metaphors, allegories, and other symbolic language in his prophetic Book?
This is a good question. But, on the other hand, why not?
All God's prophets used these techniques in order to properly and forcefully interpret their nightly dreams, God's revelations, and fantastic prophetic visions. There are plenty of similar figures and symbols all over the Book of Ezekiel which cannot be translated literally. One cannot find the confined geographical place of the 'Wilderness of the Nations', in the same way as there is no specified physical location for the 'Field of the Dry Bones' (Ezekiel 37:1); or 'the land of the shadow of death'' (Isaiah 9:2).
Who can positively identify the precise locations of those 'graves' of the Israelite People?
Are they in North America or England, the homeland of the sons of Joseph?
Or, are they in Europe where the rest of the Tribes are residing?
None of these is correct.
The 'graves' [whose inhabitants shall be brought to life] of the People of Israel are in 'The Wilderness of the nations', which are the Heathen countries where Israel has been dwelling in Exile.
'The Wilderness of the Peoples' does not denote a specific geographical locality but rather a state of spirituality and Godliness.
I would like to present another example of highly symbolical and allegorical expression which could help us shed more light on the discussed matter, and this is the passage of Ezekiel 37:12,
'Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel' (Ezekiel 37:12).
Many scholars think that Ezekiel speaks of the Resurrection of the Dead. This is not the case. 'Graves' here is a metaphor, a symbolic expression for the 'Exile', to which the Israelites were forcibly subjected. The exile and captivity are always considered by the Jewish People as 'like death and the abyss' (Mid. Ps. to 71:4). We may easily substitute the 'graves' with the 'Wilderness of the nations' because these symbols connote almost the same meaning. If the 'graves' means the hardship of the Exile with its unspeakable suffering and persecutions, with oppression and prison like conditions; the 'Wilderness' for the Israelites represents a spiritual death in idolatrous countries without the knowledge of the true God of Israel and His life-giving Torah.
So, why are we looking for a particular geographical location for 'The Wilderness of the Nations'?
Ezekiel uses this metaphorical symbol to show the spiritual emptiness of idolatrous nations who do not know Almighty God of Israel and His Immortal Torah. That is why God wants His People Israel get out of this 'Wilderness'!
Likewise, why are we trying to interpret the metaphorical expression of 'open graves' as a real physical Resurrection of the Dead if the Prophet had not meant a literal resurrection at all?
The 'dry bones' of Ezekiel 37:1 are also not understood as a resurrection of the dead, but rather as the two stages of return of Israelites to the Holy Land and to the Almighty God. The first stage is return to the Land in unbelief, represented by sinews, flesh, and skin (1948, Zionists, modern state of Israel); the second stage of return is in belief to God, represented by breath of life, which is the holy spirit of God (Ezekiel 37, Messianic Age). Under the layers of all strange symbols, metaphors, hyperboles, fictional figures, fantastic dreams and visions, the Prophet Ezekiel continually insists on the one and the only idea of Restoration and Redemption of the whole House of Israel which, finally, will have culminated in Ezekiel 37:16-28. There are multiple symbolic and poetical expressions like the similes 'new spirit', 'new heart', 'My sheep', 'feed in a good pasture', 'the dead will rise', 'I write My Laws in their hearts', 'clean water', bones', 'open graves', and 'The Wilderness of the people'.
All of them served the Prophet as powerful tools to convey his ideas to the readers as forcefully and clearly as the Divine Providence wishes.
Wait a minute!
What do the Sages of Rabbinical Tradition say?
Surprise, surprise: the Rabbinical Authorities, basically, have confirmed what we just said. Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed) 2:46 believes that the 'open graves' in Ezekiel prophecy is not a physical resurrection of the deaths, but rather in line with other symbolic prophetic visions often used by Ezekiel throughout his book (!!!).
Rabbi Yehudah in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 92b) says exactly the same. In his opinion, the entire episode of the 'dry bones' is a parable, a metaphor. Ezekiel did not mean the actual physical resurrection of the dead to eternal life (!!!).
The final conclusion:
'The Wilderness of the nations' of Ezekiel 20:35 is nothing else but a metaphoric expression for the godless nations who do not know the Creator of the Universe, the Almighty God of Israel and His Divine Torah. In contrast to the historical 'Wilderness of Egypt', 'The Wilderness of the nations' simply means the nations spiritual barrenness, fruitlessness or wilderness.