One of the remaining things I want to do before I am ready to share my thoughts on the timing of Ezekiel 38 & Ezekiel 39 is to become completely comfortable with Ezekiel 20:33-38. Ezekiel 20:33-38 speaks of the Lord gathering Israel from the lands from where they are scattered and bringing them to the “wilderness of the people”. Ezekiel 20:35-38 suggests that the Lord’s people will endure a wilderness experience like the Israelites endured after they left the land of Egypt. Verse 20:38 notes that the rebels and the transgressors will not be allowed to enter the land of Israel.

(33) As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you: (34) And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out. (35) And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face. (36) Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord GOD. (37) And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant: (38) And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.” (Eze 20:33-38)

There are some different viewpoints regarding the fulfillment of Ezekiel 20:33-38.

  • Some think the passage was fulfilled between the time of the Babylonian captivity and return from Babylonian captivity.
  • Some think the passage is partially fulfilled: Israel has already been gathered from the nations, but awaits judgment in the “wilderness of the people” in the future.
  • Some think the entire passage will be fulfilled in the future.

I do not want to get into a major discussion today about whether this passage has been fulfilled, is partially fulfilled, or will be completely fulfilled in the future (I’ll save that discussion for a later date). Instead, I want to discuss some theories I’m considering about the location of the “wilderness of the people” mentioned in Ezekiel 20:35 in hopes it helps people who also have thought about this topic.

The past few days I’ve considered three theories about the location of the “wilderness of the people”.

1. The Wilderness of the Sinai: Recall that Ezekiel 20:35-36 suggests that Israel will endure a second wilderness experience. Some people use this parallel to suggest that “wilderness of the people” represents the wilderness of the Sinai since it was the location of Israel’s first wilderness experience.

The main issue with this theory is the question of how Israel would assemble in the Sinai. The theory has a problem if one assumes that the gathering of Israel from the nations mentioned in Ezekiel 20:34 occurs in the future. The Bible indicates that the nations will assist in the return of Israel, but Isaiah 66:20 suggests that the nations will bring them to Jerusalem instead of the Sinai:

The Gentiles Assist in the Return of Israel
Isa 49:22: Thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.
Isa 14:1-2: (1) For the LORD will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land: and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob. (2) And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place: and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the LORD for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors.
Isa 66:19-20: (19) And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles. (20) And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the LORD out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the LORD, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD.

2. The Mountains of Israel: Ezekiel 34:13-14 and Ezekiel 37:21-22 note that Israel will be gathered from the nations to their land and the mountains of Israel.

” (13) And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. (14) I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. (15) I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD.” (Eze 34:13-15)

“(21) And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: (22) And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all:” (Eze 37:21-22)

Some think that the mountains of Israel could be the place where Israel endures its second wilderness experience. The idea that this theory invokes is that Ezekiel 34:16-22 mentions that the Lord will separate the good from the bad of His flock (flock = Israel in Ezekiel 34:15).

“(16) I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment. (17) And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats. (18) Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet? (19) And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet. (20) Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD unto them; Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle. (21) Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad; (22) Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle.” (Eze 34:16-22)

There are a few issues that the supporters of the “wilderness of the people” = mountains of Israel theory would have to explain:

  • Why would the “mountains of Israel” be referred to as the “wilderness of the people”?
  • Ezekiel 20:38 mentions that the rebels and the transgressors would not be allowed to enter the land of Israel. How could the rebels and transgressors be allowed to enter the mountains of Israel when they are not allowed to enter the land of Israel?
  • Isaiah 66:20 poses an obstacle if one assumes that the return to the mountains of Israel and the fulfillment of Isaiah 66:20 occurs in the future. Recall that Isaiah 66:20 mentions that the nations will help Israel return to Jerusalem instead of the mountains of Israel.

3. Somewhere in the Nations: Some people think that Israel will endure its second wilderness experience while it is scattered from the land of Israel. The distinction between “wilderness of the people” in Ezekiel 20:35 and “land of Israel” in Ezekiel 20:38 suggests that the location of the second wilderness experience is distinct from/outside the land of Israel.

The main issue with this theory is that Ezekiel 20:34-35 suggests that the Lord’s people enter the “wilderness of the people” after the Lord gathers them from the nations.

(34) And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out. (35) And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face.” (Eze 20:34-35)

Where is Israel located if they have been gathered from the nations but are not in the “land of Israel”?

One possibility is that the “wilderness of the people” mentioned in Ezekiel 20:35 could be the wilderness mentioned in Revelation 12:

(6) And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days… (13) And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. (14) And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.” (Rev 12:6, 13-14)

Some believe that the wilderness location mentioned in Revelation 12 is in Jordan, a location that shall escape war (Daniel 11:41).

There is a potential issue associated with accepting the possibility that the “wilderness of the people” = the wilderness mentioned in Revelation 12:

  • A person who accepts this possibility may have to assume that the gathering mentioned in Ezekiel 20:34 has been fulfilled prior to the events described in Revelation 12:6 and Revelation 12:13-14 since they equate the location of the second wilderness experience with the location mentioned in Revelation 12. (Revelation 12:6 and Revelation 12:13-14 are generally seen as events that cover the second half of the seventieth week of Daniel-starting at its midpoint).

I am still in the process of evaluating these theories and in the process of trying to come up with other alternatives. I am very interested in hearing any interpretation of Ezekiel 20:33-38 that you may have, especially where you think the “wilderness of the people” is located and when you think the passage will be fulfilled (if it is not already). Please feel free to share your thoughts on Ezekiel 20:33-38 if you have any. Your ideas could help me a lot.

See an update on my study: Link