THE VINDICATION OF GOD’S REPUTATION MOTIVATES THE GRACIOUS RESTORATION OF HIS WAYWARD ELECT NATION
This passage beautifully unfolds the process and amazing benefits of restoration for the nation of Israel. But the emphasis throughout is on God’s motivation to vindicate His holy name before the watching nations. Despite Israel’s deserved punishment of dispersion and the present desolation of her cities, God refuses to allow the nations to interpret that scenario as any type of reflection on His inability to execute His sovereignty and to accomplish His ultimate purposes for His chosen people.
Daniel Block: God’s actions in human history are driven by revelatory aims: that his people and the world may know that he is Yahweh. The recipients of divine grace are easily deluded into thinking that they are the center of the universe, that their desires determine God’s agenda. They may even be offended that sentimental pity toward a person in need takes second place to his concern for his own reputation. But the universal Lord is concerned that all may see his glory and his grace. He acts to preserve the sanctity of his reputation.
John Taylor: In this chapter we are at the heart of Ezekiel’s salvation theology. He tells us not only what God will do but why he is acting in this way. As we have seen, the two focal points of God’s purposes are his own name and the nations of the world, and these two are related. He wants his name to be great, so that the nations may regard him not as an ineffective tribal god, but as the Lord of the whole earth. And Israel is to be the channel through which this vindication is going to be achieved (through you, 23). It must have been very difficult for Israel to accept this role, and the only hint that some in Israel were able to accept it is to be found in the so-called Servant Songs of Isaiah 40–55, where Israel as the Servant of the Lord fulfils his mission among the Gentiles through suffering.
I. (:16-21) BACKGROUND FOR RESTORATION = THE SCATTERING OF ISRAEL BECAUSE OF UNCLEANNESS
“Then the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
A. (:17) Polluting God’s Holy Land
1. Activities of Defilement
“Son of man, when the house of Israel was living in their own land,
they defiled it by their ways and their deeds;”
2. Analogy of Defilement
“their way before Me was like the uncleanness of a woman in her
Peter Pett: The blood that was poured out through violence is here likened to a woman’s menstrual flow. The menstrual flow of blood was looked on with something akin to horror by the Israelite male. According to the Law it rendered the woman ‘unclean’ (Leviticus 15:19-24), so that anyone who touched her was unclean. So here the defiling of the land by their behaviour could be looked on as similar to the menstrual discharge. It rendered the land unclean before God, as ‘unholy’, and therefore not touchable by Him. Thus God withdrew in horror and kept apart. (The menstrual flow was presumably used as an example because the behaviour of the people included the wrongful spilling of blood).
B. (:18-19) Punished by Dispersion
1. (:18) Reasons for the Outpouring of God’s Wrath
“Therefore, I poured out My wrath on them
for the blood which they had shed on the land,
because they had defiled it with their idols.”
Feinberg: When the prophet spoke of blood poured out, he was probably referring to murders, judicial violence and even child sacrifice in the worship of idols (see 16:36; 23:37). For such enormities in the civil and spiritual realms they were scattered from their country.
2. (:19a) Response of Dispersion among the Nations
“Also I scattered them among the nations,
and they were dispersed throughout the lands.”
3. (:19b) Rightness of God’s Judgment
“According to their ways and their deeds I judged them.”
Wiersbe: Israel was guilty of two great sins,
– the first of which was polluting God’s land (vv. 16-19).
– Their second sin was that of profaning God’s name before the Gentiles (vv. 20-23).
C. (:20-21) Profaning God’s Holy Name
1. (:20) Israel’s Disregard for God’s Reputation
“When they came to the nations where they went,
they profaned My holy name, because it was said of them,
‘These are the people of the LORD; yet they have come out of His land.’”
2. (:21) God’s Concern for His Holy Name
“But I had concern for My holy name,
which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations
where they went.”
II. (:22-32) BASIS FOR RESTORATION = THE NEW COVENANT
“Therefore, say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’”
A. (:22b-23) Vindication of God’s Holy Name
1. (:22b) Basis for God’s Gracious Restoration of Israel
“It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act,
but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went.”
John Taylor: He wants his name to be great, so that the nations may regard him not as an ineffective tribal god, but as the Lord of the whole earth. And Israel is to be the channel through which this vindication is going to be achieved.
Feinberg: In unmistakable language Ezekiel made clear that the basis of all God’s dealings in grace are never predicted on man’s merit, but rather on His holy character and name. This is designed to humble all pride (see Deut. 9:6; Isa. 48:11).
2. (:23a) Essential to Defending the Holiness of God’s Great Name
“And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst.”
Galen Doughty: God’s holiness in this context is not so much his moral purity as his power, prestige, honor and worthiness to be worshipped. The Jews have profaned all those things by their rebellion and conduct and the Babylonians and other nations around Israel have seen their behavior. Some would have concluded that Yahweh was a weak God because he allowed his people to be conquered and his temple to be destroyed. The prophets however have been clear. Israel deserved her punishment from God for her sin and rebellion. They do not deserve his deliverance and grace to them.
3. (:23b) Recognition Refrain
“’Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.’”
B. (:24-30) Sovereign Progressive Actions Accomplishing Israel’s Restoration
1. (:24) Regathered
“For I will take you from the nations,
gather you from all the lands,
and bring you into your own land.”
Lamar Cooper: The reference in Ezekiel to a gathering from “all countries” seems to imply a wider scope for the return that looked beyond the first return from the Assyro-Babylonian captivity. This prophecy reflected the hope of a regathering after the a.d. 70 dispersion among all nations of the world (cf. 11:16–17; Isa 11:12; Jer 16:15).
2. (:25) Cleansed
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean;
I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.”
David Guzik: This reference to cleansing by the clean water of the new covenant is the likely connection Jesus had in mind when He spoke of being born of water in John 3:5. As Paul would later write of the believer, you were washed (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Lamar Cooper: While the reference was to ceremonial cleansing that was necessary to reestablish worship (Num 19:13, 20), it is important to remember that ceremonial cleansing was an external rite, but it was a ritual that also called for internal repentance.
3. (:26) Regenerated
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
Lamar Cooper: No longer would they be characterized by perverse thinking and unresponsiveness to God. . .
The temptation to find the fulfillment of the ‘new heart’ and ‘new spirit’ of 36:25-27 exclusively in Christian conversion in this age should be resisted. New Testament conversion is only a preview of the massive spiritual revival God has in store for all of true Israel and Gentiles who believe.
Vawter and Hoppe: In the ancient world the heart was the center for volition and the intellectual catalyst for feeling and action. A ‘heart of stone’ implied inflexibility and willfulness, while a ‘heart of flesh’ meant submission and compliance.
John Taylor: The terms heart and spirit (26) also need careful understanding. They are not so much parts of man’s make-up as aspects of his total personality. The heart includes the mind and the will, as well as the emotions; it is in fact the seat of the personality, the inmost nature of man. The spirit is the impulse which drives the man and regulates his desires, his thoughts and his conduct. Both of these will be replaced and renewed: the heart that is stubborn, rebellious and insensitive (a heart of stone) by one that is soft, impressionable and responsive (a heart of flesh), and the spirit of disobedience by the Spirit of God. It goes without saying that there is nothing in the Hebrew word ‘flesh’ which suggests the corrupting tendency of the Greek sarx, as used in the New Testament and particularly by the apostle Paul in Romans 8. The result of this psychological transplant will be that Israel will experience a real ‘change of heart’ and will become, by God’s gracious initiative, the kind of people that they have in the past so signally failed to be. The implanting of God’s Spirit within them will transform their motives and empower them to live according to God’s statutes and judgments (27).
4. (:27) Empowered by Indwelling Holy Spirit
“And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
Leslie Allen: Yahweh would creatively endow Israel with new wills that were to be sensitive rather than stony and hard in their reactions to Yahweh’s will. Thanks to him, their lives would be governed by a new impulse that was to be an expression of Yahweh’s own spirit. He would re-make their human natures, so that they marched to the music of the covenant terms that expressed Yahweh’s nature and will. Only thus could the covenant relationship become a living actuality rather than a doctrinal truth. Only thus could the old ideal of Yahweh’s people in Yahweh’s land (cf. v 20) become a reality.
Daniel Block: God will put his spirit into them, he will alter their hearts (their minds) and make it impossible for them to be anything but obedient to his rules and his commandments. The declaration abandons all hope that Israel, in her present condition, can achieve the ideals of covenant relationship originally intended by Yahweh. The status quo can be altered only by direct divine intervention.
Feinberg: This is the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Israel I the future, not that at Pentecost. The gift of the Spirit is frequently connected with the coming of the new economy for Israel (see 39:29; Isa. 44:3; 59:21; Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:16 f.).
5. (:28) Secured – in the Land and in their Covenant Relationship with God
“And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers;
so you will be My people, and I will be your God.”
Constable: They would, fifth, live in the Promised Land and enjoy a permanent, intimate relationship with God (cf. Jer. 31:33).
6. (:29a) Sanctified and Protected from Relapse into Idolatry
“Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness;”
7. (:29b-30) Prospered – Fertility and Fruitfulness
“and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, that you may not receive again the disgrace of famine among the nations.”
Anton Pearson: The results of Israel’s regeneration will be:
– her permanent occupation of the land (v. 28a);
– a covenant relationship with God (v. 28b);
– protection against relapse into idolatry (v. 29a);
– the abundant supply of every want (vv. 29b, 30); and
– self-humiliation and repentance on account of past sin (vv. 31, 32)
C. (:31-32) Remembrance of Sin Eliminates Nationalistic Pride
1. (:31) Loathing of Israel’s Past Sins
“Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and your abominations.”
2. (:32a) Squelching of Nationalistic Pride of Israel
“’I am not doing this for your sake,’ declares the Lord God,”
3. (:32b) Repentance and Sorrow over Prior Unfaithfulness
“let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways,
O house of Israel!”
III. (:33-36) BENEFITS OF RESTORATION = TRANSFORMATION FROM DESOLATION TO PARADISE CONDITIONS
“Thus says the Lord God,”
Lamar Cooper: vv. 33-38 — This is a final review of the benefits of the restoration that God will provide. Those benefits include cleansing from sin, resettlement, rebuilding, replanting, and productivity of the land (vv. 33–34). Mention of the “garden of Eden” in v. 35 suggests that Ezekiel saw a future fulfillment of his prophecy that went beyond the return from Babylon under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. While many aspects of the fulfillment of these prophetic promises were immediate and limited, there was also to be a distant, complete fulfillment in a messianic age. The ideal qualities of life, work, rest, peace, companionship, knowledge by revelation, dominion, productivity, and security characterized human existence before the fall. All were either lost or greatly diminished after sin entered the world. Ezekiel’s use of the garden of Eden revealed a hope for the restoration and development of the characteristics of life in Eden.
A. (:33b-34) Cleansed, Rebuilt and Cultivated
“On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places will be rebuilt. 34 And the desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passed by.”
David Guzik: The repeated promises of the restoration of national and geographical Israel as part of the new covenant show us something important and often neglected. There is no doubt that the work of Jesus on the cross and His victory at the resurrection inaugurated the new covenant (Luke 22:20). Yet, there is a real sense in which the new covenant is not yet complete until these promised blessings upon Israel are fulfilled. We may say that the glorious return of Jesus, and the millennial kingdom He then establishes, will complete all the promises of the new covenant.
B. (:35) Beautified, Fortified and Inhabited
“And they will say, ‘This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden;
and the waste, desolate, and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.’”
C. (:36) Divine Vindication and Guarantee
1. Alternate Recognition Refrain
“Then the nations that are left round about you will know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate;”
Constable: People would marvel at the lushness of the formerly desolate land and at the strength of the formerly ruined cities of Israel (cf. Isa. 11:6-9; 51:3; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13-15; Rom. 8:19- 22; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-4, 23-27). The other nations of the world would recognize that Israel’s God was responsible for this transformation.
Ralph Alexander: The most important consequence of Israel’s restoration would be the spread of the knowledge of the Lord throughout the world. The nations would unequivocably know that Israel’s God had accomplished this great restoration. They would now that he was not a weak god but the only God who does exactly what he says (v. 36). Israel herself will humbly acknowledge that the one who restored her was the Lord her God (v. 38).
“I, the LORD, have spoken and will do it.”
IV. (:37-38) THE BREADTH OF RESTORATION = MULTITUDES OF INHABITANTS
“Thus says the Lord God,”
A. (:37b-38a) Population Explosion
“This also I will let the house of Israel ask Me to do for them:
I will increase their men like a flock. 38 Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts,
so will the waste cities be filled with flocks of men.”
Iain Duguid: God will also restore the land to a “better-than-original” state. It will become “like the garden of Eden,” the ultimate symbol of fertility and fruitfulness (Ezek. 36:35; cf. Isa. 51:3; Joel 2:3). The garden land will be filled with restored cities; the places that once were torn down and desolate will be inhabited and fortified (Ezek. 36:35). In place of the one original ʾādām and his wife, the new garden land will be filled with “flocks of ʾādām,” that is, numerous “people” who will fill the cities to overflowing (36:38). The fertility and fruitfulness will thus encompass the people as well as the land itself, to the point where it will be as crowded as Jerusalem used to be on the great annual festivals, when her streets were crammed with a mass of people and animals (36:38).
Charles Dyer: Ezekiel, a priest, compared the swelling population of Israel to the numerous . . . flocks of sacrificial animals gathered for the feasts in Jerusalem. As tightly packed herds jostle for space because of their vast numbers, so Israel’s ruined cities, then empty and desolate, will be filled with flocks of people.
B. (:38b) Recognition Refrain
“Then they will know that I am the LORD.”