overturn, overturn, overturn.... until He come Whose
right it is; and I will give it Him" (Ezekiel
You 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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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
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.'
Ever Widening Context
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
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 right, Moab!
mills of God grind slowly,
But they grind exceeding small:
Though with patience He stands waiting,
With exactness grinds He all."
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 no more.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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?
Throne Above All Thrones
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 comfort us.
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.'
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."
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
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."
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).
the message. The Lord make the application!
First published in "A Witness and A Testimony" magazine, Nov-Dec 1962, Vol 40-6