Bible Passage: Ezekiel 36:16-38
36:16 Again the word of the LORD came to me:
17 'Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman's monthly uncleanness in my sight.
18 So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols.
19 I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions.
20 And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, "These are the LORD's people, and yet they had to leave his land."
21 I had concern for my holy name, which the people of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.
22 'Therefore say to the Israelites, "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: it is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.
23 I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.
24 '"For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the corn and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you.
30 I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine.
31 Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices.
32 I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, people of Israel!
33 '"This is what the Sovereign LORD says: on the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt.
34 The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it.
35 They will say, 'This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.'
36 Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the LORD have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it."
37 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: once again I will yield to Israel's plea and do this for them: I will make their people as numerous as sheep,
38 as numerous as the flocks for offerings at Jerusalem during her appointed festivals. So will the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the LORD.' (Ezek. 36:16-38 NIV)
Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole
It’s in Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve, newly created by God, turns their hearts against him, and first pollute the ‘land’ of Eden that God has given them with sin. By Genesis 6:5, people’s hearts were ‘only evil all the time’, and even a flood is unable to wash them clean. Indeed, it is Israel’s hard-heartedness which is fundamental to their disobedience problem (Psalm 95). The prophets see this as the reason for the exile (Zech 7:12-14), and Jesus diagnoses human hearts as the origin of human sin, and the source of defilement (Mark 7:21-23). What is needed, then, is cleansing from past defilement, and a new heart that will no longer be a fountain of sin. Under the New Covenant, predicted in Ezekiel 36, that is exactly what is on offer in the gospel (1 Cor 6:11, 2 Cor 1:21-22).
Brief note on context/key themes of book
Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile in 2 Kings 24, during the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. As he sits with the exiles by the River Kebar, God himself appears. The book of Ezekiel is full of accusations against Israel (chapters 1-24), judgement on the nations (25-32), and a picture of new hope (34-48). It is all about the failure of the old covenant, and a promise of the new (36). In essence, though, it teaches us three main things:
God is present with his people in all of his majesty and holiness
his people have hard hearts which need to be transformed
only a sin-bearing sacrifice, a new covenant and a new creation can bring about what God has promised.
Structure of the passage
This is the third of four passages about a great transformation promised by God, which encompasses a new leadership (ch.34), a new land (ch.35), a new heart (ch.36) and a new creation (ch.37). Each chapter moves from the need, to the reality, to the future blessing.
Restoring God’s honour (16-23)
What is the need for a new heart and a new indwelling of God’s spirit? Surprisingly, it is not primarily about us. Instead, it is the restoration of God’s holy name. God’s holiness is seen in the fulfilment of his promises both to judge and to save. The primary (and absolutely right) reason for God’s salvation, is to prove his ability both to be ‘just and the one who justifies’ (Rom 3:26).
Restoring God’s people (24-27)
The series of ‘I will’ statements introduce a fivefold transformation – gathering (24), washing (25), transplanting (26), indwelling (27a), transforming (27b). This is permanent, inner change. At the cross, every single aspect of this restoration is brought to conclusion and completion.
Recognising God’s name (28-38)
The final section principally looks forward to the final day. Yes, in the present we know ourselves as we are (v.31-32) and have a genuine hatred for sin. But in the future, the land will be better than Eden, full to overflowing with God’s people (v.38). The key is the recognition of God’s name (“then they will know that I am the Lord” comes 62 times in Ezekiel) – a mark of the day when Jesus Christ returns (Phil 2:10-11).
Suggestions for any tricky bits?
What does it mean about being unclean like when you have your period (17)?
The reference is to a part of the Old Testament law under Moses. Even then, there was no suggestion that there was anything sinful about having your period. But because blood had a special significance under the law of Moses, it was a reason for exclusion from God’s presence (like many similar restrictions for men – see Leviticus 15). It goes without saying that that restriction was for a time in the Old Testament, and doesn’t apply now.
Isn’t it unhealthy to be ashamed and disgraced (32)?
Modern culture often seems to produce a kind of self-loathing which is self-focussed and despairing, which, tragically, leads to things like self-harm. The kind of hatred of our sin that Ezekiel envisages is different in several key ways. It is not self-focussed – it comes from our understanding of God’s holiness. It is not despairing – it is the gateway to real hope. And it is not self-harming, because we know that God’s son was harmed for us, so that we will be kept safe forever.
Summary of author’s main point
God will restore the honour of his name, and solve the defilement of his people, by giving them cleansing, new hearts, and Spirit-empowered obedience.
Aim/purpose for original audience
As seemingly abandoned and hopeless exiles, trust that God will restore the honour of his name as you are cleansed and given a new, Spirit-indwelt heart.
Aim/purpose for us today
As seemingly hopeless sinners, trust that, in Jesus, God is restoring the honour of his name, as we are cleansed at the cross, and given new, Spirit-indwelt hearts.
Key area of application
Are we genuinely ashamed and disgraced by our conduct – do we hate sin simply because it is sin? If so, talk humbly about the heart transplant that you needed, and long confidently for the honour of God’s name.