After addressing “Mount Seir” in chapter 35, the Lord now speaks to “the mountains of Israel” in chapter 36. Throughout the first half of the chapter (1-15), the Lord’s prophetic message is directed to the land of Israel—the “mountains, and the hills, the ravines and the valleys”, the desolate wastes and the deserted cities” (4). After having been depopulated and desolated, the land is now given good news from the Lord: “I am for you” (9).
The Lord is about to act on behalf of the land of Israel and its scattered people. He has heard the over-reaching claims of the surrounding nations (“The ancient heights have become our possession”—2). He has seen how they “gave my land to themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and utter contempt” (5). Now, in his “hot jealous” (5) and “jealous wrath” (6), He is about to act. He will bring reproach on the nations who reproached Israel (7). He will repopulate the land with His own people and allow the land to be “tilled and sown” for them (9). The mountains of Israel are promised they will soon “shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they will soon come home” (8).
After addressing the land itself, the Lord has an explanatory word for Ezekiel to hear (16-21). The word of the Lord comes to him to clarify the reason God is acting on behalf of the land of Israel and its beleaguered people. Ezekiel is told that the nation of Israel was “scattered among the nations” because of their uncleanness before God (17). They had defiled the land God gave them through their bloodshed and idolatry (18). God’s holy wrath had been “poured out” on them, chasing them from their own land and dispersing them to other countries (19). As Israelites settled in other nations, they “profaned” God’s name. People from other nations saw these exiled Israelites and thought poorly of their God: “They are the people of the Lord and yet they had to go out of his land” (20). The fact they were no longer in their own land, made God look bad. His glory was defiled, His name profaned.
This leads to the final section in chapter 36, where the Lord has Ezekiel address His people (22-38). The Lord wants His people to know that His actions on their behalf are not a reward for their faithful obedience to Him. He is restoring them to their land, not to vindicate them, but the holiness of His great name, which they profaned among the nations (23). When He acts with passion and power to resettle them in their homeland, Israel and the surrounding nations will know that He is the Lord (23).
His zeal for His land and His name leads the Lord to work in wondrous ways for His sinful, scattered people. He will re-gather them from exile (24), cleanse them from all their uncleanness and idols (25), give them a new disposition and inner inclination (“a new heart and a new spirit”—26), and put His Spirit within them to “cause” them to obey His statutes and rules (27). As a result, God’s enduring desire will be accomplished: “You shall be my people and I will be your God” (28).
When the Lord restores His people to a place of spiritual and material blessing, they will “remember” their evil ways and be ashamed of themselves (“loath yourselves”—31; “Be ashamed and confounded”—32). Though cleansed and made new (33), they will not forget their shameful past and the desolation it caused. Yet, they will enjoy the goodness of their God and their blossoming homeland (“like the garden of Eden”—35).
Since they will return as only a remnant, the Lord says He will “let the house of Israel ask me” to do something for them. They will be able to ask Him to multiply “their people like a flock” (37). When the land is once again filled with people, they will know—in deep and powerful ways—that He is the Lord (38).
Visions of God
The Lord is defamed by the demise of His people. At least five times the Lord says that His scattered, exiled people “profaned” His name among the nations (20, 21, 22, 23a, 23b). The word on the street was, “These are the people of the Lord and yet they had to go out of his land” (20). In other words, the Lord wasn’t able to protect and prosper His own people. Their condition reflected poorly on His character and His capacity. God’s enemies concluded He wasn’t willing or able to prevent the demise of His own people. While this conclusion was untrue, it bothered the Lord and moved Him to take action.
The Lord has a fiery passion for the land He gave His people. The land given to Israel belongs to the Lord who gave it to them. He is fired up when others infringe on His ownership and think they can possess it for themselves (5-6). So He acts to reclaim what He has previously claimed as a dwelling for His name and His people. I see no reason in Scripture to think God has lost a passion for His people and His place—the land of Israel. It still belongs to Him—no matter what international tribunals claim. My understanding of the book of Revelation leads me to conclude that God will continue to defend this special sliver of land!
The Lord’s concern for His great name moves His to act for His weak people. The Lord is clear about his reason for taking action to re-gather His people: “It is not for your sake that I will act” (32). While He is concerned for His people, His driving concern is to “vindicate the holiness of [His] great name” (23). On one level, this seems disheartening to us as God’s people; we are not His primary motivation for action. On a deeper level, this is the great comfort and security of God’s people. He is for us because He is for His great name. He has linked His name and reputation to His people. Now, He acts on their behalf because they reflect on Him.
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen declare God’s commitment to the fame of His own name. Watchmen don’t pander to the popular notion that we (people) are the centre of God’s concerns. They remind us that God is the centre of God’s concerns. While He acts on our behalf, He acts for the glory of His great name. While this deflates our pride, it provides stability for our souls. Though the Lord will discipline us for our rebellious ways, He will not abandon us—not because we are deserving, but because what happens to us reflects on Him.
Watchmen know holiness requires God-given inclination and empowerment. Ezekiel’s message makes it clear that the transformation of His people from idolatrous to devoted will take supernatural intervention. The Lord knows that simply bringing His people back to their land will not change their evil tendencies. So He promises to transform their inner inclinations (new heart and new spirit—26) and empower their obedience (“I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules”—27).