In this chapter we see the encouraging dawn of blessings already fulfilled though there are further blessings to come in the Messianic Age. Israel has been inhabited, Jewish people have returned to Israel from destinations worldwide and a remnant have come to faith. Verses 25-30 are well-known to those who have studied John 3 in depth, and they focus on cleansing and regeneration, known as the new birth and bring us to the heart of the gospel. Having said all this, verse 37 encourages us to inquire of the Lord for these things.
Background concerning the Edomites
It is important to consider Ezekiel 35 leading into Chapter 36 concerning Edom (Mount Seir-c.f. Ezekiel 35:15). Mount Seir (Edom) would be judged for their ancient and lasting hatred towards Israel and their descendants. Esau was the father of the Edomites, and Jacob had his name changed by God to Israel when he wrestled with Him till the break of day (Gen. 32:22-32). In Numbers 20:14-21 the Edomites refused the Israelites safe passage through their land and even threatened them with the sword though the Israelites offered them compensation if even their animals drank water from their territory. This was a malicious response characteristic of future dealings though they would reap the consequences.
This enmity is further developed in Obadiah which centres around this conflict but also in Jeremiah 49:7-22. Maybe some of us have visited the dreamy and loft and meandering chasms in Petra which bring the Bible to life. Buildings are carved into the rock which gives a surreal and impressive façade, and the elevation is somewhat staggering, giving the location an impregnable appearance. This location was also featured in one of the Indiana Jones films but today it is a desolate place and now merely a tourist site although well worth visiting. Because of their location, the Edomites thought they were immovable and invincible and had grown increasingly haughty. Centuries later the enmity resurfaced since King Herod was an Edomite and was responsible for the massacre of the Bethlehem infants in an effort to prevent the King of Israel and promised Messiah from being born.
Jerusalem to be blessed
But now in Ezekiel Chapter 36, Israel is the head and not the tail and the situation is about to alter dramatically. If we compare Ezekiel 6:1-7 with Ezekiel 36:1-9 there is a stark contrast. Formerly Israel was punished for idolatry though now there is the promise of multiple blessings. We normally speak of ‘going up to Jerusalem’ since the city is mountainous and it is the location for the three major festivals namely Passover, Shavuot, and Tabernacles. In both passages the mountains, valleys and desolate places refer to the whole of Israel and in addition there is a noticeable contrast between Mount Seir and the mountains of Israel.
The Lord spoke in his jealousy which is not the same as envy since jealousy pertains to that which belongs to Him. In verse 5 He speaks of “My land” being plundered and in verse 7 God raised His hand in an oath since He is the highest authority in heaven and on earth. It is much like today when Israel has survived the onslaught of attacks simultaneously and even as I write Israel has been bombarded with rockets over the last few days.
In Ezekiel 36 there are several “but you” turning points and Ezekiel 36:8 is no exception and mentions agricultural prosperity and an increase in the population. Verse 12 confirms that they shall no more be bereaved of children hence this foretells a time of peace still future, and which refers to the Millennium. We are already seeing the early signs of outstanding fruit production (Ezekiel 36:8-9; c.f. Isaiah 27:6; 35:1-2). Visitors cannot fail to notice abundant and striking rows of fruit crops in the desert causing one to look a second time and stare in amazement at how the land has been transformed. If anyone has read Mark Twain’s 1869 account ‘The Innocents Abroad’ the land was either swampy, disease ridden or barren and dry and did not look too promising at the time.
So the population has increased, cities are inhabited, and ruins have been rebuilt (Ezekiel 36:8-9). I visited friends in Rishon Le Zion (the first in Zion), which was founded on July 31st, 1882. Isaiah asked whether a nation could be formed in a day (Isaiah 66:8-9)? That day came on May 14th, 1948, when Israel was re-established as a Nation-State.
In verse 15 the Lord reassures Israel that they will no longer hear the taunts of the nations anyone. Sadly and obviously this is still future, and the taunts of the nations are occurring in abundance currently. However there have been some encouraging signs in connection with the United Arab Emirates and a few other countries though many nations remain hostile to Israel and proud of it. The United Nations make every effort to impose sanctions on Israel and seem to be blind to the fact that Israel is a lone democracy in the Middle East. Even within the borders of Israel there are frequent attacks on Jewish people as well as from outside the country. Online abuse continues but notice Ezekiel 36:3 mentions the “talkers’ who “slander” the people.
The “talkers” will be silenced and there will come a time when Israel will no longer bear the reproach of the nations. Israel will no longer cause itself to stumble though idolatry and “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). The last reference refers to a great ingathering of Jewish souls trusting in Messiah and does not refer to every Jewish person that ever lived.
The cleansing, preservation, and regathering of Israel
Ezekiel 36:17 tells us that formerly Israel defiled herself, much like a woman in her customary impurity. During that time, everything that was touched would be rendered unclean. It would inevitably also mean temporary separation from the congregation. This was comparable to the impurity of the people’s lives which was the cause of them being scattered from the land before the regathering we are witnessing now. It is a salutary reminder for everyone that our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), the latter referring to menstrual cloths. Before the Lord saves someone, they are separated from Him and corrupted by sin.
The Lord has great concern for His name. Therefore the Lord will perform His mighty deeds, though it is emphatically for His sake. Throughout Exodus, God desired that both Israel and Egypt might know that He is the Lord, and He must sanctify His name because of His perfect character and who He is. The Lord will be hallowed in Israel before the eyes of the other nations. This also reminds us of our priorities in prayer. The Lord’s prayer commences, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name (Matthew 6:9ff).”
More people are realising that God has preserved His people both amongst the Jewish people and Gentiles. Even amongst Jewish Atheists, I point them to the continued preservation of the Jewish people throughout the centuries and they recognise that in mere human terms and comprehension this is inexplicable and something of an enigma for them.
Ezekiel 36:24 draws our attention to the regathering of the Jews to Israel. But where is the Assyrian Empire or Babylon, the Persian Empire, the Greek or Roman Empire? Relegated to the history books, university lectures and the museums. Yet Israel has outlived them all. What about the mighty Egyptian dynasty and the various kingdoms, where are they now? Ezekiel 29:15 tells us clearly that Egypt shall never again exalt itself against the nations although the Lord has a wonderful plan in the last days to restore Israel, Egypt, and Assyria in harmony (Isaiah 19:18-25).
As foretold in Zephaniah 3:9 the Hebrew language has been restored whilst Latin is learnt it is largely a redundant language. Ezekiel 45:9 tells us that the shekel will be used. What do we see even now? Do Greece or Italy retain their ancient currency? Zechariah 8:4-5 informs us that in Jerusalem 8:4-5, the streets will be full of boys and girls playing in the streets. That is happening now, but there will come a time when they shall do so in peace.
Israel shall be sprinkled and made clean and cleansed from filthiness and idols. This is still future and not referring to immersion (water baptism), but cleansing from defilement. It is like David prayed after Nathan confronted him with his sin again Uriah, Bathsheba, and the Lord in his prayer of repentance in Psalm 51:7. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be white as snow.”
Being born again
Verse 26 speaks of regeneration (new birth) and reminds us of John 3 where Yeshua (Jesus) speaks with Nicodemus the Teacher of Israel. We normally think of being born again in terms of birth in water (natural birth) in contrast with spiritual birth. However if we consider the Jewish context this has a far broader background. In the Jewish context being ‘born again’ refers to proselyte conversion, being crowned king, water immersion, repentance, having a bar mitzvah, marriage, rabbinical ordination or becoming a head of a seminary.[i] John 3:7 though is speaking of being born of the Spirit and of salvation.
There are indeed early signs of regeneration (new birth) amongst Jewish people in Israel and worldwide though there is much more to come. What a blessing it will be to the whole world and what glory it will bring to the Lord! By God’s Spirit this will happen causing more to walk in His ways and bring glory to Him.
But how can someone recognise evidence of God’s spirit working in a person’s life. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments (John 14:15).”Obedience to the Lord is key. This will evidence itself in a change of character to conform to that which pleases Messiah and there will be new desires and a strong desire to please God, serve Him and to know Him. There will be a growing aversion to sin, a heightened sensitivity to avoid evil and a desire to walk in His ways. The good news of the gospel is about repentance, turning from sin and trusting in the Lord, not merely about ‘making a decision’.
Blessings to come
Notice in Ezekiel 36:25-30 there is a genuine inward change which precedes other blessings. The full restoration of the people goes hand in hand with the restoration of the land and there will be lasting peace. The agricultural blessings outlined in verses 29-30 will not only encourage Israel but it will be obvious to other nations who will see and recognise the God of Israel.
I love visiting Israel and when you see the fruits in the desert it is inspiring and can take your breath away, but it is not like Eden yet. I remember studying Isaiah 65 long before I studied theology formally realising that passage was much like Eden because of the restoration and harmonious state of the animal kingdom and the massive increase in life expectancy akin to that of the early patriarchs. But that is still future, the early signs are in place and the essential marker is the re-establishment of Israel as a Nation-State.
So God has a plan for Israel and the surrounding nations, and they will recognise the hand of the God of Israel. The preservation of Israel is astonishing. But when what was desolate becomes like Eden it will be plainly evident that it was the Lord’s doing.
I wonder what Spurgeon, McCheyne, Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, Wilkerson, or David Baron would think if they saw Israel restored and the number of Messianic believers in Israel. I doubt they would be surprised since they anticipated this, though certainly they would be thrilled to see prophecy fulfilled. Yet this is still bittersweet since so many do not yet know the Lord.
However Ezekiel 36:37 implores us that we have the privilege of praying for this to fulfil God’s purposes. Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised when God answers our prayers though His timing is perfect. Prayer is a mystery in the sense that God knows exactly what and how we will pray though requires us to do so. Furthermore, He delights in our prayers and uses our prayers and accomplishes His purposes.
The chapter closes with a beautiful picture of a flock at its feast days speaking of the Messianic Kingdom. Zechariah 14 shows us that all nations will keep Passover in Jerusalem and what a blessing that will be. The Lord Jesus is the chief shepherd, the good shepherd, that great shepherd of our souls and cares for and watches over His flock. This is a portrait of Jerusalem and God’s glory to come. Let us pray that what God has established and fulfilled before our eyes shall continue and that all Israel might know that He is the Lord, and that Messiah might be glorified!
[i] You must be born again http://www.hadavar.org/getting-to-know-god/you-must-be-born-again/