Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there by the waters.
While we need to be careful when we handle pictures, types, numbers, or metaphorical language in scripture. I am a literalist, but we can surely handle figures of speech and metaphors when we encounter them. In the case of our verse above, we will try to draw from it truths that are verified elsewhere in scripture.
A number of commentators see this picture (created from a literal event) as a picture of Israel's calling in the earth. That is, Israel has been chosen by God to serve as priests for the nations.
And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
We've looked at this conditional promise and calling (If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant) before in different ways. Here we want to note that this could never be the Body of this age or any group wanting to usurp this promise from that people. This passage speaks of a future ministry, on the earth, for a specific people to serve other nations. If the believers today are somehow "Israel," who are these other nations and how are we priests for unbelievers?
Yes, Israel failed under this covenant, which is why the Lord has made provision for a New Covenant yet future. In that coming day, after the nation and kingdom is restored in the land, Israel shall serve as priests for the nation. To do so, she must be cleansed of her sin. That will have two prongs. The first prong involves the purging of Israel of her unbelief and her unbelievers in the Time of Jacob's Trouble and the instilling of the "heart of flesh" prophesied by Ezekiel.
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
We can never read "the church" or "the Body" into Israel. We cannot teach that God "replaced" Israel with a "new Israel" we call "the Body of Christ." To do so is to do violence to scripture. Doubtless you have hear these verses in Ezekiel quoted from the pulpit as some sort of Old Testament picture of the current age. But the context does not allow this interpretation.
Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own way and by their doings: their way was before me as the uncleanness of a removed woman. Wherefore I poured my fury upon them for the blood that they had shed upon the land, and for their idols wherewith they had polluted it: and I scattered them among the heathen, and they were dispersed through the countries: according to their way and according to their doings I judged them. And when they entered unto the heathen, whither they went, they profaned my holy name, when they said to them, These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of his land. But I had pity for mine holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the heathen, whither they went. Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went. And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.
Try replacing "Israel" in this passage from Ezekiel 36 with "the Body of Christ." It makes no sense, particularly in light of how many want to use verses 25-27. God is angered with the Body of Christ and has punished us among the nations? And even if we want to cram ourselves in there, we necessarily render the supposed "gospel message" of a heart of flesh meaningless. Believers have a new heart of flesh, then punished by God by scattering us, only to give us a second "new" heart?
There is very large movement is these last days to try and claim the promises to Israel for "the church." This is dangerous and foolish in two ways:
1. By failing to rightly divide the different hopes and blessings in scripture, we fail to serve God in a way that is pleasing to him.
2. We will miss the unsearchable riches in Christ in the heavenly places if we are hoping for blessings related to the land and the earth.
So, with the goal of rightly dividing the plans of God in mind, we can look at the picture of the twelve wells of water and the seventy palm trees with more clarity. The true, believing twelve tribes of the physical sons of Abraham and Jacob (Israel) will one day bless the 70 nations of the earth and serve as priests (representatives between God and man).After the flood, God recognized 70 nations from among the descendants of Noah. To these he assigned angels, keeping Israel for himself.
These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.
Here we have the beginning of the nations. God knows them and keeps track of the nations of the earth. The order of the sons of Noah is here changed. Japheth comes first. Ham’s place is unchanged. Shem comes last. This order is given in view of Noah’s prophecy.[Excerpt: A.C Gabelein's Annotated Bible]
For the LORD hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure
For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.
When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations,
When He separated the sons of Adam,
He set the boundaries of the peoples
According to the number of the children of Israel [sons of God - LXX].
For the Lord’s portion is His people;
Jacob is the place of His inheritance.
This verse [Deut 3:8] carries us backward. The boundaries of the nations were made by God with a direct reference to the children of Israel. The name of God used here, “the Most High,” is the millennial title, which He will have when His blessed Son our Lord receives His Kingdom. (See Genesis 14:19 .) When that time of blessing comes and Israel converted is no longer the tail but the head of the nations, this divine division will then be fully made known. And how they are reminded again what Jehovah did for them! “He found him, He led him, instructed and kept him.”
[Excerpt: A.C Gabelein's Annotated Bible]
We are hard-pressed to try and jam "the church" into these promises and prophecies. We make the Word of God of no effect by our traditions (Mark 7:13). Let God lay out his plan as he will. God's plan "since the foundation of the ages" is built on his plans for his earthly treasure, Israel. His plans for us in the current age, which was hidden from "before the foundation of the ages" point us to unsearchable riches in the heavenly places where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father. Let us not confuse these.
The 12 tribes watering the 70 nations involves God's plan for the earth. While this does not apply to us in this age, we can marvel at God's goodness and his faithfulness to his promises. Israel is currently "Lo-Ammi" (not my people), but very soon Israel will again be "Ammi" (my people). We dare not step on that plan lest we offend the Lord and miss our own calling.