The Cleansing of Israel

Ezekiel 36:22-32

“The Cleansing of Israel”

by: David Zadok

Netherlands, October 2017

 

Introduction

Book of Ezekiel is probably one of the more difficult books to study and understand in the Old Testament. It is the more challenging also in light of the visions and oracles. Most of us are familiar with the vision of the dry bones, but much of the book is a real challenge for us to understand. However, like many other books of the scripture, it was written in a certain historical setting and in specific circumstances in which people of God existed, and also in a particular junction of God’s historical redemptive plan. Understanding the background and the circumstances would help us better relate to the truths of the passage before us.

 

Ezekiel gives us the date and the location of the time when God gave him the visions. He was by the Chebar River in Babylonia and in the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin. The backdrop of the situation is that of the power struggles between the various regional forces of the time and to some degree we can say that not much has changed since then in this regard. As even in our days and times in the Middle East we see how Iran and Turkey, as well as Russia, are trying to gain from the chaos in Syria.

 

God in his great wisdom gave his people a promise and a promised land. But though the land was a good land flowing with milk and honey, it also had other important characteristics as well. Unlike Egypt that because of Nile, was not so depended on rain, the Promised Land needed and was depended on the yearly rain. The people of Israel had to look to the heavens for their daily bread, and manna was not coming down anymore. And we know that God often used the rain as a blessing, and at times by withholding it he draws the attention of his rebellious people to himself. God even warned them in Deut. 28:23 (KJV) And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. God wanted to teach his people to rely on him and depend on him as their provider and sustainer.

 

But another important characteristic of the land was that it was situated in the middle of great states – Egypt in the south and the Assyrian in the north, and the Edomite kingdom in the south-east. There was often unrest and power struggles between these nations and others who at different times played a role in the region. The Promised Land which was a fertile piece of land, had to rely on God to be protected from the powerful nations. So God gave them another reason to learn to rely on him. But from the Old Testament and extra-biblical writings, we know that often God’s people preferred to gamble over which nation is stronger and to make a treaty with them, rather than to put their trust in Yahweh.

 

Chapter 33 of Ezekiel is in many ways the dividing point in the book, where the oracles of doom and destruction of the nations and Israel are placed by oracles of restoration and prosperity.

 

The immediate context of our passage is chapter 35:1-15 where God promises a dark future for the mountains of Seir and the Edomite Kingdom, they would be destroyed. And he gave them the reason for his judgment:

Ezekiel 35:5-7 Because you cherished perpetual enmity and gave over the people of Israel to the power of the sword at the time of their calamity, at the time of their final punishment,  6 therefore, as I live, declares the Lord GOD, I will prepare you for blood, and blood shall pursue you; because you did not hate bloodshed, therefore blood shall pursue you.  7 I will make Mount Seir a waste and a desolation, and I will cut off from it all who come and go.

 

In the past when Israelite came out of Egypt the Edomite’s did not allow them to come through their land and send a large army (Num. 20:14-21) to oppose them. But later David conquered them (2 Sam 8:14), and they remained subject till the time of Jehoram when they reestablished their kingdom again after rebelling (2Kin 8:20). But now they rejoiced over the fall of Jerusalem and cheered the Babylonian destroyers as we read in Psalm 137:7. However, they forgot that Israel even in its desolation and weakness, still carried the name of God and they still were his people. Opposing God’s people for whatever reason and in whatever condition the people maybe would bring upon them the wrath of God. God’s judgment of the Edomite kingdom can be seen in Isaiah 34:2-10, Malachi 1:4 and Obadiah as well. Dr. Ian Duguid (My OT Professor in Seminary) writes in his commentary on this chapter: “It becomes clear as the oracle progresses that Edom in Ezekiel 35 is merely one representative of all who opposes God’s plan.’[1] These are the real representative of the non-elect. God would revenge the enemy of his people and would bring upon them his anger, but they will know that he and he alone is the Lord God.

 

But if Ezekiel 35:1-15 is the dark side of the future, namely the destruction of the Edomite kingdom, chapter 36:1-15 shows the bright side the return of God’s favor to his rebellious people. He would not only bring them back to the land but cleanses them from their filthiness, and would pour water on them to cleanse them and give them his spirit. Chapters 35 and 36 is an old Testament proof of God’s sovereignty and election, a showcase of God’s grace and love to his covenant people.  It is in these two chapters that we see that it is not by power nor by might but by His divine plan and will, that he destroys one and prospers the other – he is God, he is the creator and he is the King.

 

Israel would once again become ammi My people, God’s people (36:8) as opposed to Lo-ammi – not my people that were called by the prophet Hosea.

“It is not merely fruitfulness that is being promised to the mountains of Israel but specifically a return to the Eden-like condition of blessing that accompanies the presence of the Lord in the midst of his people.”[2]

 

Furthermore in verses 16-21, as they are set apart and marked by the words “The word of the Lord came to me …” – God reminds Israel of their iniquities. As it was the case with the Edomite’s God the Judge of the universe, reads their indictment their criminal records to remind them that he is just in bringing his judgment upon them. He tells the Israelites that they have defiled and polluted the land by their ways and by their deeds; they have shed innocent blood and had defiled the land by their idols. God is the God of living, but by their bloodshed and idolatry, worshiping dead pieces of wood or rock, they have brought death in the land. They have profaned the name of God in the lands that He had scattered them.  And therefore the Lord had judged them according to their ways and deeds. He drove them out of the Promised Land, allowing even his own temple to be destroyed, but not allowing his name that he put upon the people of Israel to be profaned. This is a scary thought because as Christians and as his church, he has also given us his name, and we have taken upon ourselves his name. Therefore we need to ask ourselves are we living up to the great title that he has given us – namely Christians and the church. The Israelites failed, are we failing too?

 

But despite Israel’s falling, he is going to bless them after a time of judgment, punishment, and exile. And he is going to do that for his name’s sake alone – no one and nothing can take away his glory from him. He is about to act.

 

1) God Acts

In light of the judgment oracles of Edomite and Israelites, we see God acting.

Our passage is sandwiched between the two verses that talk about God acting. We see this in verse 22 and 32, where God speaks about his act. He tells his prophet that he is going to act and we see this by the number of “I will’s” in the passage. First of all look verse 22, he says: 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. (KJV) God does not leave things in the hands of the people, but he rather acts, and that is the prerogative of God. Just as he acted in the creation and in the redemption, so he does in the affairs of his world, of his kingdom.

 

He acts in five different ways:

First and foremost God will vindicate the holiness of his great name that has been profaned among the nations (V.23). He will make his name known among the nations, and they will know that He alone is the Lord of the universe. But the Lord will vindicate his name through his own people – those who have profaned his name will eventually do his will. God never gives up on his people, even if they are rebellious. Think of Jonah the prophet who God gave him the mission to go to the city of Nineveh and he goes to the opposite direction and only after some hardships and being swallowed by a big fish, he goes to the place that he should have been at the first place. The commandment that was given in verse 1 of chapter 1 is repeated word for word in verse 1 of chapter 3 – this time Jonah goes to the right direction. God does not give up on us, and how grateful we need to be for that. He does what he wills and acts as he wills and nothing can stop him, not even our stubbornness. If he is calling you, then you need to listen the first time, it is much easier to do it the first time than to do it after some hardships and suffering. We ought to learn from Jonah and from the people of Israel.

 

The second “I will” is found in verse 24 For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. (KJV) God acts, He will take his people and bring them back into their land. God will accomplish his will no matter what. Yes, he has scattered his people among the nations, but he will bring them back to the land. They will fulfill all that he has willed for them.

 

Though the focus of this second “I will” is with the land, the emphasis on the next ones is with the people. The land has to be seen in the light of God’s dealings with his people and not isolated from it.  We see the same structure also later on in verses 33-36 that focuses on land, but 37-38 focuses on the people, as the acts of God are expanded or explained in more detail.

 

God is not so concern about the land, as an end in and of itself. God is far more concern about people than the land. It is the people who would last forever. The land would one day as Peter says in 2 Peter 3:12 where all the elements would be set a fire and melted and be dissolved. God sent his son to die for people, not for the land. God put his name on the people of Israel and not on a piece of land. Our concern has to be far more for the people than the land – even if the land is called the holy land.

 

The third “I will” is found in verse 25. 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. (KJV) How wonderful it is when God washes us with clean water, that symbolizes cleansing and purification. The people of Israel truly and desperately needed the water to be poured upon them to cleanse them from their filthiness and iniquities. They have defiled the land by blood and idolatry – and water is the best way to wash away the blood. That is the message of the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, he came preaching repentance and calling the people to be baptized by the clean water of the Jordan River. But when God acts there are also results – the washing would result in real cleansing, and he would get rid of their idolatry as well. When God sprinkles clean water on us, we are surely and truly cleansed and washed completely.

 

The fourth “I will” is a series of God’s action in relation to giving his people a new heart and putting his Spirit within them. He will not only give them a new heart and put his spirit within them, but also will remove the heart of stone from them. Long before the surgeons were able to do a heart transplant, God transplanted his people’s heart – he took away the heart of stone that so often was thirsty for blood and merciless to others, and ignorant of God’s commandments and put there a heart that can truly love God and people. A heart that is hungry and thirsty for righteousness, mercy, justice, and peace.

 

The state of man’s heart was such that it needed an actual removal of the heart and putting a new one. It needed to be given from above, as an act of God, and nothing that man in and of himself can do to correct it. This was the message of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus being a Pharisee a ruler of the Jews, was sure that he can enter the kingdom based on his heritage and keeping of the law. He did not realize that he needed some outside help, from above, a new birth from above. When Jesus told him that he needs to be born again Nicodemus did not understand what he is talking about. Even when Jesus told him that he needs to be born from water and spirit, he still did not understand. Jesus expected Nicodemus to understand what he is talking about – well if Nicodemus have read and understood this passage from Ezekiel then he should have immediately understood what Jesus is talking about. The days will come as we see here, where God would act by sprinkling water on his people and giving them his spirit.

 

Today in Israel many people live and think like Nicodemus in his conversation with Jesus. They think that they are the chosen of God, the sons of Abraham and they will be saved by their heritage and good works. Many others, who are secular, do not even think that there is a God and therefore think that there is nothing from above that they need. They are the kings of their lives and the master of their destiny. But God has called us, my family and I, to tell the people of Israel the very message of Ezekiel. They need the washing and the cleansing that Messiah alone can provide. And we are witnessing a new wave in the life of the church in Israel. We are seeing an openness that we have not witnessed in the past. May young men and woman are being converted and washed through the cleansing waters of the Spirit of God. Just before I came to Holland, we had two more who were converted and baptized in our congregation.

 

The fifth and the last “I will” is related to the fact that he will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. (V. 30) When God acts he acts graciously. Not only will he cleanse them and give them his spirit, but he will provide for their needs and protect them. They will not be a disgrace to the nations as they were in the past.

 

2) People Respond

When God acts people respond, God’s act is not void and people will respond to it because he is the king and the sovereign. As the result of the acts of God, the people would be ashamed as they recall their evil deeds and see the goodness and the blessings that God has given them. When they see that God has saved them from their enemies and had ended their captivity and reproach and brought them back to their land, then they will remember their sins and their evil deeds and would repent from them. God has already brought us to the land and we see more and more coming to faith, but there is still much to be done and this gospel needs to be preached continuously. And we need your prayers and your support to accomplish this task.

 

3) All for His Name Sake

God acts and we respond but it is all about his glory and for his name’s sake alone. It is not about us and it is not about me, but him who is the creator, the king of kings and Lord of Lord’s. He does all things for his glory, for there is no one above him that he needs to give tribute or to glorify, but He himself, He alone. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

[1] Iain M. Duguid, The NIV  Application commentary, Ezekiel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999) 406.

[2] Ibid, 408.