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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 36

Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral EpistlesFairbairn's Commentaries

Verses 1-15



IN this chapter we have a continuation of the present great theme of the prophet: Israel’s prospective revival and prosperity as the Lord’s covenant-people. Bat it treats of this under different aspects. In the first section (Ezekiel 36:1-15) the prophet unfolds the essential distinction between Israel and Edom with the other nations of heathendom, in that the former had, what the others had not, an interest in the power and faithfulness of God, in consequence of which Israel’s heritage must revive and nourish, and the hopes of the heathen concerning it must be disappointed. In the next section (Ezekiel 36:16-21) the reason is given why the Lord had for a time acted toward his land and people as if their connection with him was an evil rather than a blessing; it is traced up to the incorrigible wickedness of the people, and the necessity of God’s vindicating the cause of his holiness by exercising upon them the severity of his displeasure. Then in another section (Ezekiel 36:22-33) the purpose of the Lord for their future good is unfolded his purpose for his own name’s sake to revive his cause among his people, and that in the most effectual manner, by first renewing their hearts to holiness, and then by restoring them to a flourishing condition outwardly. And in a short concluding section (Ezekiel 36:34-38) the general result is summed up, and the impressions noticed which the whole was fitted to produce upon the minds of others. We shall take up the chapter in these successive portions.

Ezekiel 36:1 . And thou, son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel, and say, Mountains of Israel, hear the word of Jehovah.

Ezekiel 36:2 . Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because the enemy says over you,” Aha! and the everlasting heights have become an inheritance for us:” (The prophecy takes the form of an address to the mountains of Israel, partly in allusion to the “Mount Seir” of the preceding prophecy, and partly also with reference to the original prophecy in Genesis 49:26, where the peculiar blessings of the covenant are spoken of in connection with the “everlasting hills.” The reference to this passage is especially manifest in the words put into the mouth of the adversaries, claiming the everlasting heights for their inheritance; as much as to say, We have seen an end of the blessings to Israel the heights with which these blessings were connected, and which stood as fixed natural memorials of them, have become ours. Here, too, the adversaries are personified as one הָאוֵֹב , the enemy; for, as was mentioned under last chapter, they were all represented in the Edomite the name Edom comprehends the whole.)

Ezekiel 36:3 . Therefore prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because, because of their breathing and snuffing after you round about, (In regard to the second of the two verbs in this clause, שָּׁאַף , there is not much diversity of opinion now. It does not properly signify to swallow up, but to snuff up, in the manner of a wild beast, which with a keen and ravenous appetite smells after its prey, in order to seize and devour it. In this sense it is used by the Psalmist (in Psalms 56:1-2) of his cruel enemies: “Be gracious to me, God, for there snuffs after me man,” etc. The other verb, שַּׁמּוֹת , is generally derived from שָׁמַם , whose proper signification is, to be made desolate, although here it has sometimes still also by Ewald and Hävernick been rendered by, to make desolate, to lay waste. But this would more appropriately have been ascribed to the Chaldeans, not to the neighbouring enemies, who are regarded here as hunting after the land of Israel as an object of desire. I think therefore, with Hitzig, that the passage is to be explained from Isaiah 42:14, where the same two verbs are used together, and the אֶשֹׁם must be taken from the root נָשַׁם , to breathe, of which נְשָׁמָת , breath, is a derivative in very frequent use. Viewed thus, the surrounding enemies are strikingly and quite appropriately represented as breathing and snuffing like wild beasts after Canaan as their prey.) in order that you might be an inheritance to the remnant of the heathen, and ye have been taken up (literally, and are gone up) in the lips of talkers, (The expression here is best understood as an elliptical one: the lip of the tongue, for, the lip of a man of tongue, בָּעַל לָשׁוֹן , a talker, or speakers generally.) and are an infamy of the people;

Ezekiel 36:4 . Therefore, mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord Jehovah; thus saith the Lord Jehovah to the mountains, and the hills, to the watered plains, and the valleys, and to the desolate wastes, and to the cities that are forsaken, which are for a prey and for a derision to the remnant of the heathen that are round about;

Ezekiel 36:5 . Therefore, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Surely in the fire of my jealousy I speak against the remnant of the heathen, and against Edom, all of it, (The כֻּלָּא is the Chaldaic form, for which many codices have substituted the more regular כֻּלָהּ . Such a Chaldaic termination, however, was not unnatural.) who have appointed my land for an inheritance to themselves with the joy of the whole heart, with contempt of soul, in order that they may plunder its pasturage. (The common rendering of this latter clause is, “that it may be cast forth as a prey.” But this is a very unnatural expression to be used of a land. Therefore taking מִגְרָשָׁהּ , not as an Aramaic inf., but as the substantive, and changing thus the pointing of לָבֹז , so as to make it the inf. instead of the noun, we have the sense: in order to plunder its pasturage; a quite suitable meaning. In Ezekiel 21:20, we have also לְמַעַן coupled with ל of the infinitive. In this, again, I follow Hitzig.)

Ezekiel 36:6 . Therefore prophesy upon the land of Israel, and say to the mountains and the hills, to the watered plains and valleys, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Lo! I come, in my jealousy and in my fury I speak, because ye bear the reproach of the heathen.

Ezekiel 36:7 . Therefore, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, I lift up my hand (i.e., I swear), surely the heathen that are round about you, they shall bear their shame.

Ezekiel 36:8 . And ye mountains of Israel shall put forth your branches, and bear your fruit to my people Israel; for they are near to come.

Ezekiel 36:9 . For, lo! I come to you, and turn toward you, and ye are tilled and sown:

Ezekiel 36:10 . And I multiply upon you men, the whole house of Israel, all of it; and the cities shall be inhabited and the ruins built:

Ezekiel 36:11 . And I multiply upon you man and beast, and they shall increase, and be fruitful; and I will settle you as in your olden times, and do good to you above your former state; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah:

Ezekiel 36:12 . And I will make men to walk upon you, even my people Israel, and they shall possess thee, and thou shalt be to them for an inheritance, and thou shalt not again bereave them.

Ezekiel 36:13 . Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because they say, “A devourer of men thou art, and a bereaver of thy nation,”

Ezekiel 36:14 . Therefore thou shalt not devour men any more, and thy nation thou shalt not make to stumble any more, (There is here a play of words in the original which is necessarily lost in the translation. The prophet had mentioned the reproach against the laud as being only the grave of its people, devouring and bereaving them, like a cruel unnatural mother. But now in predicting the better future, while he says it should not devour any more, he suddenly changes the other verb, and instead of saying, לֹא תְשַּׁכְּלִי , thou shalt not bereave, he says, לֹא תְבַשְּׁלִי , thou shalt not make to stumble or fall. The Kri reading substitutes the former, evidently for the purpose of affording an easy explanation, and the ancient versions also express it. Most modern commentators adopt the Kri, so still Ewald and Hitzig; but Havernick properly adheres to the text. For the repetition of לֹא תְבַשְּׁלִי in the next verse is a proof that here a change of meaning is introduced, and a change that also very suitably prepares the way for the truths to be declared in the next section (Ezekiel 36:16, etc.), which unfolds the moral cause of the past destructions, the sins and defections of the people. Canaan must not only cease to devour and swallow up its people, but even to prove an occasion of stumbling to them. By being this in time past, it had necessarily proved a destroyer; but henceforth both cause and effect should be taken away. Throughout, the land is personified, and represented as doing that which was done on it.) saith the Lord Jehovah.

Ezekiel 36:15 . And I shall make the slander of the heathen to be no more heard in thee, nor the reproach of the peoples shalt thou bear any more; and thy nation shalt thou not make to stumble any more, saith the Lord Jehovah.

This first section is mainly intended to exhibit the contrast that still existed, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, between Israel and the surrounding heathen. As matters now stood, it seemed to the eye of flesh that the dominion and the power were connected with heathenism, as if the conquering and predominating element were there, not with Israel. For at present the most depressed and desolate region in all that neighbourhood was the land of Israel; what should have been pre-eminently the land of blessing had now become emphatically the land of emptiness and desolation; instead of cherishing and supporting, it had, as it were, ejected its inhabitants, as if weary of their presence, or opened its bosom to become their common sepulchre. It lay now like a defenceless prey before the Edomite and other heathen adversaries, who had so long waited and longed for the day of evil, and who therefore rejoiced over the fall of Israel as their greatest triumph. But this triumph, the Lord here declares by his servant, would be short; nay, it was the very reason why he must soon bring on a change, and reverse the present aspect and condition of things. Because the name of Jehovah was associated with Israel, he cannot allow this appearance of impotence in Israel, and power in the adversaries, to continue; he cannot give up his people to the scorn of the wicked, or his land to be divided by them at pleasure as their proper inheritance; he must restore everything again to its appropriate place, and settle in due order the relations of things. And he will presently do it. Israel shall again return and possess the land, whose prosperity and fulness shall be restored as at first, even more than restored, for a higher state of felicity awaited them in the future than had been experienced in the past; and the reproach would be for ever taken away of the land proving the death-region of its inhabitants.

It is clear, from the whole tenor of this prophecy, that the good it contemplates and promises for Israel must have begun at an early period to be realized; for not only is it expressly said that it was near to come, or nigh at hand, but the Edomites and other heathen neighbours are represented as still occupying the same relations towards Israel as they had done only henceforth themselves bearing the reproach which they were then casting upon Israel, and incapable of any longer speaking scornfully of the covenant land and people. I should hold it to be a dishonest shift, first to take the terms of the prophecy in their literal import, and then say there has as yet been no fulfilment in the past, but there shall be one in the future a literal Israel shall yet find the literal Canaan all that is here predicted. For if there has been no fulfilment in the past of a literal kind, neither can there be in the future; there shall certainly want two most essential elements of literality: first, the nearness of accomplishment spoken of by the prophet; and the existence of the Edomites and other heathen neighbours, who for the present rejoiced in Canaan as lying at their feet, but were again to find its reproach and humiliation become their own, while it and Israel were exalted. These ancient adversaries are for ever gone; the external relations of that olden time have entirely ceased; and if Israel were restored to-morrow, it would be necessary to take this part of the prophecy in another than the literal sense.

But do we, on the other hand, hold by nothing literal in the interpretation, and look for nothing literal in the fulfilment? By no means. We regard the passage as a prophecy of the full return of prosperity and blessing to the Lord’s covenant-people, and even the perpetual enjoyment of this exhibited under the form of the Old Testament relations, the only ones lying within the ken of the prophet. As soon as the prophecy was uttered, it was the duty of the Lord’s people to deal with him respecting the fulfilment of the word, and to look for the fulfilment in the most exact and literal manner. There can be no question that some amongst them did this; and, within a period that might justly be called near, the Lord showed, by a marvellous turn in providence, how ready he was on his part to accomplish what was promised, and how he laid open to them the way of a speedy return to national greatness and prosperity. The opportunity was not embraced as it should have been by the children of the dispersion: only a comparatively small number of them actually returned to the land of their fathers when the opening was presented to them; and of those who did, many still wanted the spirit of piety, which alone God promised to bless. Still, with all the shortcomings and imperfections that existed, a certain fulfilment of the most literal kind began at an early period to be given to the prophecy. People of the stock of Israel did again possess the land of their fathers; by them the mountains of Israel were again cultivated, and for them the land yielded its fruit; there again, as of old, the seed of man and of beast did greatly increase and multiply, so that the region was known for ages as one of the most fertile and prosperous in Asia; and that too while the old and hereditary enemies of Israel in the neighbourhood sank into comparative insignificance, and lost their original place in the scale of nations. Had Israel but seen in all this the hand of God, and viewed the whole in connection with his unchangeable righteousness, there should certainly have been nothing wanting to complete the correspondence between the description of the prophet and the facts of history; the fulfilment would have been, not partial and temporary, but full and permanent, while the old relations lasted; and even when they changed, the good for the natural Israel, so far from ceasing, would only have risen to a higher sphere, and passed into a nobler realization.

So long, therefore, as the relations of the prophet’s time existed that is, so long as the kingdom of God was connected with the people of Israel as a distinct nation, with the land of Canaan as their proper inheritance, and heathen rivals and enemies for their neighbours so long as this was the case, we hold that as nothing but a literal fulfilment should have been looked for, so a very considerable fulfilment of this nature, and one that sufficiently marked the hand of God, did take place. Still all was then marred with imperfection. The religion itself of the covenant-people was such, it could make nothing perfect; and we can only look for the promised good being realized in any degree of completeness when the better things of the new dispensation come in. But then, at the same time, the old relations of necessity give way: the outward Israel are no longer distinctively the covenant-people; all the children of faith of every land become the seed of blessing, and heirs according to the promise. And while it is only under the Gospel dispensation that we can expect the perfect realization of the promised good, we must now no longer expect it after the old form, or according to the simply literal interpretation. The good is too great and expansive to be now shut up within such narrow limits; for since wherever there is a royal priesthood offering up spiritual services to God, there the incense and offerings of the temple are perpetuated (Malachi 1:11; 1 Peter 2:5); so wherever there are members of Christ, there also are the mountains of Canaan, there are the people who have the promise of all things for their portion, on whom descends the blessing life for evermore. Nor can the old evils properly return again; for the good is avowedly connected with nothing but a spiritual qualification, and is entirely dissevered from a merely ancestral relationship or a political existence in the world.

We can see nothing fanciful or arbitrary in this mode of interpretation, and are persuaded that it rests upon an indispensable necessity, partly in the nature of things, and partly in the operations of the human mind. For the grounds of this we refer to the remarks on the preceding chapter, and proceed to the next section of the prophecy.

Verses 16-21

Ezekiel 36:16 . And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,

Ezekiel 36:17 . Son of man, the house of Israel, those that dwelt upon their land, and they denied it by their ways and their doings, their way before me was as the defilement of a removed woman.

Ezekiel 36:18 . And I poured out (the future in the original, to denote continued action) my fury upon them, because of the blood which they shed upon the land, and because they defiled it with their idols;

Ezekiel 36:19 . And I scattered them among the nations, and dispersed them in the lands; according to their way and according to their doings I judged them.

Ezekiel 36:20 . And when they came to the heathen, whither they went, they profaned my holy name, since it was said of them, “Jehovah’s people are these, and from his land have they gone forth.”

Ezekiel 36:21 . And I felt pity for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the heathen, whither they went. (The only peculiar expression in the passage is that in the first clause of this last verse: “I felt pity for my holy name.” This is undoubtedly the proper rendering; as the עַל after חָטַל denotes the object in behalf of which the pity is exercised. The LXX., whom Hävernick follows, refer it to the people: I spared them for my holy name. Undoubtedly the people were spared because of the affection indicated here; but the affection itself was one of tender regard, or pitying concern for the Lord’s own abused and dishonoured name.)

The passage, it will be observed, is of an unfinished and incomplete nature, being chiefly intended to form a sort of preamble to the great promise contained in the next section. It assigns the reason of all the severities which had been exercised by God upon the covenant-people; which it traces to their own sinful ways, viewed in connection with the holiness of God. Because of this he had banished them from his presence, and driven them as exiles into foreign lands. And even then so inveterate was their attachment to sin, they still continued to follow their forbidden practices; and by so doing, as also by the abject condition in which they appeared, they still further brought reproach upon the holy name of God. Had he therefore sought merely in them the reason of his procedure, nothing could have been expected but a continuance of the severity until they were utterly consumed. But a higher reason presented itself to the mind of God in regard to his own name, which he must vindicate from the dishonour thus brought upon it; and which, situated as matters were, he could only effectually do by accomplishing a change to the better in their condition. But this change must be no superficial one. The evil had its seat in the opposition between them and the righteousness of God, and the first grand step to an effectual and permanent recovery must consist in their thorough renewal of heart to the Divine image. This is what is promised in the verses that follow.

Verses 22-32

Ezekiel 36:22 . Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Not for your sakes do I it, house of Israel, but on account of my holy name, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye have gone.

Ezekiel 36:23 . And I sanctify my name, the great, the profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in your midst; and the heathen know that I am Jehovah, saith the Lord Jehovah, when I sanctify myself in you before your eyes.

Ezekiel 36:24 . And I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your land. (It should be noted that this part of the promise very clearly implied the breaking of the yoke of Babylon, and the precipitation of that power in some way from its present ascendancy. No one could mistake this to- be implied in such predictions; but it is only by this sort of implication that the doom of Babylon is referred to in Ezekiel.)

Ezekiel 36:25 . And I will sprinkle upon you clean water, and ye shall be clean; from all your defilements and from all your idols will I cleanse you.

Ezekiel 36:26 . And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the heart of stone out of your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:27 . And my Spirit will I put within you, and cause that ye walk in my statutes; and my judgments ye shall keep and do them.

Ezekiel 36:28 . And ye shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and ye shall be to me a people, and I will be to you a God.

Ezekiel 36:29 . And I will deliver you from all your defilements, and will call to the corn and increase it, and will not send famine upon you.

Ezekiel 36:30 . And I will increase the fruit of the tree, and the produce of the field, that the reproach of hunger may no more light upon you among the heathen.

Ezekiel 36:31 . And ye shall remember your ways that are evil, and your doings that are not good, and abhor yourselves on account of your iniquities, and on account of your abominations.

Ezekiel 36:32 . Not for your sakes do I it, saith the Lord Jehovah, be it known to you: be ashamed and confounded because of your ways, O house of Israel.

In this rich and encouraging promise of good things to come there is, first, a very strong asseveration as to the ground on which God’s contemplated interference for Israel’s behoof was to proceed; negatively, not on their own account, positively, on account of his own name, which they had profaned. Looking simply to their state and conduct, the Lord, it is declared, could find occasion only for continued severity of dealing, and they themselves for profound humiliation and silent shame. The axe was here, therefore, laid at the root of all self-righteous boasting and fleshly confidences. Just as at first, when Moses said to their fathers, “Not for thy righteousness or for the uprightness of thy heart dost thou go to possess this land, for thou art a stiff-necked people” (Deuteronomy 9:5-6); so here the prophet disclosed the utter absence of any personal claim on the Divine goodness, and showed that whatever might henceforth be experienced, it must proceed from the upper spring of God’s own grace and righteousness. In himself alone could the Lord find the motive of benevolent action. And while this laid all human merit in the dust, it furnished at the same time a rich ground of consolation and hope, such as could not be found in any inferior consideration or fleshly confidence. For it carried the humble heart of faith above the very sins and backslidings which had caused the judgments of Heaven to alight, and presented to it a source of life and blessing which even these could not stanch. And need we say, that as this was then the only hope of Israel, so now it is the one fountain-head of all the salvation that is experienced by the Christian? “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by his mercy, he saved us,” is the truth which is written on the threshold of faith, and which must pass into the experience of every sinner as he enters therein. No real life is attainable but such as carries in its bosom the death of all self-trust, and the renunciation of every personal claim on the goodness of God. And mortifying as this is to human pride, it yet provides the only solid and abiding peace for those who have come rightly to know the evil of sin; for it draws the soul up to God, and teaches it to form its expectations of good, not by any merit or demerit of its own, but by the large measures of God’s own free and spontaneous beneficence, and the eternal principles of his high administration. The creature thus exchanges the vanity of a human ground for the infinite sufficiency of a Divine one, and the feebleness of an arm of flesh for the all-prevailing might of omnipotence.

But in regard to the promise before us, it is to be considered not only that God finds the ground of action solely in himself, but in himself with respect to his own glory, or the vindication of his name before the world. By what has happened in Israel, and what is still proceeding among them, this name is blasphemed; for it seems as if Jehovah, the God of Israel, were unable to stand before the might of heathenism, and protect and bless his people. Such thoughts, however naturally arising in the circumstances, proceeded on a partial and mistaken view of the character of Jehovah, and especially from an ignorance of his essential righteousness. The heathen judged of Jehovah from their own idol-gods, and hence had no way of accounting for the desolations that had befallen the land and people of Canaan but the comparative impotence of Him in whom they trusted. Therefore, in wiping away this foul reproach, the Lord must act in such a manner as would serve to bring clearly out in the light of day the righteousness which forms the most distinguishing element of his character, and which required only to be understood, both to explain what had taken place of evil, and secure the introduction of the contrary good. But how could such a manifestation of the Divine righteousness be given? It must plainly begin where the evil had its rise in the hearts of the people with whom God’s name was associated. The love of sin there was the polluted fountain-head from which the whole succession of troubles and disasters had sprung; and nothing could effectually reach the evil which did not provide for the re-establishment of holiness in their hearts. Therefore Israel must first of all be made a holy people, their pollutions must be done away, their hearts subdued and wrought into a conformity to God’s holiness, that they might be known to be his chosen ones from the bright reflection seen in them of his own pure and righteous character. Then, understanding from the regenerated state and exemplary lives of his people what sort of being Jehovah is, the heathen would find a ready explanation of all the tribulations that he had brought upon Israel in the past; they would perceive these to be only the necessary vindications of Jehovah’s righteousness on a people who refused to yield themselves to his authority and comply with his will. At the same time, also, the way would be opened for the introduction of a more blessed and glorious future; for the people now entering with their very hearts into the righteousness of God, became capable of the highest outward good from his hand; and all the peculiar blessings of the covenant in a land replenished with the bountifulness of heaven would once more become their portion. Thus God would vindicate the glory of his name by first forming his people to the possession of his own holiness and then by treating them, as thus renewed and sanctified, to the richest outward tokens of his favour and goodness. (Such appears to be the leading design and purport of this prophecy. Hengstenberg, in his Christology, on the passage, has viewed the matter as if it was God’s faithfulness to his covenant that was at stake, which required that a seed of blessing should still be found among the people of the covenant, notwithstanding all their sins and defections. That certainly is true, but, as Hävernick justly remarks, not the truth under consideration here. The heathen did not reproach God for want of fidelity to his own covenant; for in truth they did not know what that covenant really was or required. This was precisely the thing to be made plain; God must let them know that here holiness was everything, and that by the possession or the want of it all his outward dealings must be regulated.) Keeping in view the distinctive character of the prophecy as now explained, no difficulty can be found in regard to its particular expressions. Thus the expression in Ezekiel 36:23, “I sanctify my name,” is at once seen to refer, not to what this name is in itself, but to the reflection given of it in his people. It had been profaned by their wickedness and misery, it must again be sanctified by their returning to holiness and blessing; for God is sanctified when what he is in himself becomes apparent in the world, especially in those who stand nearest to him. So also the expression at the close of the same verse, “when I sanctify myself in you before your eyes;” for which many critical authorities, both ancient and modern, would substitute, “before their eyes,” namely, those of the heathen. This expression creates no difficulty to a person who enters thoroughly into the import of the passage, for it points to the fact that Israel as well as the heathen needed the manifestation in question of Jehovah’s righteousness. It must be done first before the eyes of the people, who by their depravity had lost sight of God’s real character; and then what was seen by them experimentally would also be seen reflectively by the heathen who dwelt around. This twofold perception of God’s character is also brought out in other passages of our prophet; as in chap. Ezekiel 20:41-42: “And I will be sanctified in you before the eyes of the heathen, and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.” Finally, the mention, in Ezekiel 36:25, of clean water to be sprinkled on the people as the means of purification can only be understood symbolically; it does not refer to any mere external rite, or to any specific ordinance of the old covenant, such as the lustration ceremony with water and the ashes of the red heifer (Rosenmüller, Hengs.), or to the ablutions connected with the consecration of the Levites (Hävernick); it is rather to be viewed in reference to the purifications by water collectively, which were all, in one respect or another, symbolical of the removal of impurity, and the establishment of the worshipper in a sound and acceptable condition. This was no more of a merely formal and outward character in Old Testament times than it is now, as we may learn from the whole tenor of this prophecy. It was by their moral pollutions most of all that the people of Israel had profaned God’s name and drawn down his displeasure; and the purification, which was to undo the evil and again to sanctify the name of God, could be nothing short of a conformity to God’s own righteousness, which throughout all ages is the same. The whole of the water-lustrations of the Jews were symbolical of this purity of heart and conduct; and in referring to them here the prophet simply expresses in symbolical language a great spiritual promise the Lord would make Israel in reality what under the law was outwardly denoted by a sprinkling with clean water. He gives himself, indeed, the interpretation in the verses that follow, where the change is described by the Lord’s imparting to them a new heart, and putting his own Spirit within them. In short, the peculiar blessing promised for the future was their being raised to the participation of God’s holiness, precisely as in the past the great evil was their having become morally so unlike him.

Verse 33

The last section, as was noticed before, is merely a gathering up of the general result, with some reference to the impressions it was fitted to produce upon the minds of others.

Ezekiel 36:33 . Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, In the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I shall also make you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins are built. 34. And the land that is desolate shall be tilled, whereas it was desolate in the eyes of all that pass by. 35. And they say, “This land that was waste is become as the garden of Eden, and the cities, ruined and deserted and destroyed, sit fortified.” 36. And the heathen that are left round about you shall know that I Jehovah build the destroyed, plant the deserted; I Jehovah speak and do. 37. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Yet for this will I be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them; I will multiply them as a flock of men. 38. As the holy flock, as the flock of Jerusalem in her solemn feasts, so shall the ruined cities be full of flocks of men; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.

The general meaning is, that the purpose of God was to accomplish an entire change in the outward as well as the inward condition of his people. They would be as remarkably distinguished for prosperity and blessing as they had been for distress and desolation, so that even the passing stranger could not fail to notice the happy revolution that had taken place in their circumstances; but still not as a matter of fixed and inevitable necessity, nor in any way that might supersede the obligation resting on themselves personally to seek and serve the Lord. Hence the intimation is made at Ezekiel 36:37, that for this the Lord would “yet be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them.” On former occasions he had refused to be inquired of by them (Ezekiel 14:3, Ezekiel 20:3), that is, sought after in such a manner as to be found ready to perform what was expected, because the inquirers were not in a condition to receive any token of his favour and blessing. Only, therefore, in so far as they attained to a better condition, and stood morally on right terms with God, were they warranted to look for the happy and flourishing state described in the promise. And the higher always they rose in the one respect, the higher also might they expect God to raise them in the other.

Such promises as those contained in this chapter cannot therefore be taken in an absolute sense; they must be understood to some extent conditionally. They reveal the kind propensions of God towards his people what he is disposed and ready to do toward them rather than what he will for certain accomplish at any one stage or period of their history. So far the word contains an absolute element, as God certainly pledges himself to make provision for securing, in a larger measure than formerly, a proper regeneration of heart and conduct in his people, and also for giving palpable proof of this in their more flourishing and prosperous condition generally. The goodness of God was certainly to manifest itself for these ends; but it would do so to the full extent represented, only if they continued in his goodness. In the case of God’s threatenings, even when most particular and express,, it was always possible by a change of mind to the better to escape the evil; according to the word in Jeremiah: “At what instant I speak concerning a kingdom to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy; if that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them” (Ezekiel 18:7). And there is no reason why we should not expect the same rule to hold in respect to the promises. Here also there would be but a partial realization of what was announced, if the spiritual condition on which it proceeded was not complied with, and those to whom the promise was given set themselves to resist the grace of God, The possibility of their doing this is plainly implied in the accomplishment of the promise being so specially connected with their inquiring of God concerning it; and it was still more distinctly indicated in another passage, where they are commanded to do for themselves what the Lord here promised to do for them, “make you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31),as much as to say, Do not expect the good as an absolute and inalienable heritage of blessing; like all spiritual blessing, it stands inseparably connected with your own earnestness of purpose and diligence in working.

The question, no doubt, may still be asked, Since God himself undertakes to give to Israel as a people the new heart and the right spirit, on which all depends, how could there be any failure of what was promised without unfaithfulness in God? The question, however, touches on the secret things, which belong not to us, but to God himself. For it may as well be asked, Why is there only a partial renewal in the case of any individual Christian, seeing he has the Omnipotent Spirit dwelling in him? or, Why, since the Lord promised the Spirit to convince the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment, is the world still so imperfectly convinced? Had the Spirit continued to work universally, as he did on the day of Pentecost, or with sinners individually, as he did in the case of Saul of Tarsus, the world would long ere now have been converted to the truth of Christ. But somehow there are elements at work, and ends higher even than salvation, though closely connected with it, which still limit, though they cannot altogether prevent, the realization of the good unfolded in the promises. Were we to look simply to the good exhibited in these, we might have expected to see in Israel before the coming of Messiah a people all righteous, and a land replenished through all its bounds with fruitfulness and blessing; as after his coming we might equally have expected to find a Church instinct in every part with the Spirit of life and holiness, and ordinances of grace operating with resistless might to the diffusion of light and blessing in the world. But in both respects alike the good promised on the part of God is qualified by the evil that works in the world; and though the good must ultimately triumph because it has Omnipotence on its side, yet till the last issues of Providence are brought in, we may still expect it to be to some extent countervailed by the intermingling evil. So far, then, the matter admits of an explanation, and that of a kind fitted to abase and silence man, as it charges on his own culpable negligence and waywardness whatever shortcoming may appear in the good that is realized, as compared with the larger good that is promised. But when we rise to the higher region of Divine grace, sovereignty, and power, and begin to inquire why these operate no farther, or not otherwise than they do, we soon reach an insurmountable barrier; for with our present imperfect powers of discernment we have no way of explaining how the good that is in God, the good even that is expressed in his promises of blessing, should not prevail more effectually than it does over the evil that is in man. In this respect God gives no account of his matters; and remembering that we now see but in part, it becomes us to be silent, or to say only with our blessed Lord: “Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight.”

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 36". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/ezekiel-36.html.
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