A New Heart - Ezekiel 36 & 37
Many denominational people are told that this section of Ezekiel, to the end of the book, applies to some supposed earthly millennium after Jesus returns at the Second Coming. McGuiggan notes, “The reader must grasp this firmly: According to the millennial position, it was completely unknown to the Old Testament prophets that the Messiah would establish a redeemed society composed of both Jew and Gentile. According to them, the Jews were right in expecting Jesus to establish a national-political kingdom with Jew as top nation in the world, served by abject Gentile nations. The period we are now going through is utterly unexpected; the redeemed society of both Jew and Gentile is the fulfillment of no prophet and thus cannot be justified by Old Testament Scriptures as a work of the Messiah” (pp. 173-174).
McGuiggan’s point is well made. Why would Ezekiel predict some supposed millennium and skip what would be truly earthshaking, that is, the establishment of the church (Matthew 16:18), the new covenant, and the new Spiritual Israel (Galatians 6:16)? Contrary to the claims of the millennialists, the church and the New Testament era were clearly the subject of Old Testament prophecy, for the church is part of God’s eternal purpose (Ephesians 3:10-11), it is the kingdom promised in the Old Testament (Isaiah 2:2-4; Mark 1:15; Mark 9:1), and the New Testament age (and not some millennium) is the subject of Old Testament prophecy (Acts 3:24 “Likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days”).
36:3-4 “For good reason”: God had allowed Israel to be punished because their sins were so horrific, justice demanded it. “Israel’s demise was well known and indisputable. Its reputation as a nation could hardly be lower. The land was at the present indeed a ‘forsaken’ land and a subject of mockery for other nations who had once regarded Israel with at least a grudging respect” (Stuart p. 332).
36:5 God has already said plenty about the doom that is coming upon the surrounding nations, and especially Edom, “which was the one nation that had most severely exploited Israel’s inability to fight back in the aftermath of the Babylonian conquest” (Stuart p. 332). “With wholehearted joy and with scorn of soul”: The Edomites had actually delighted in Israel’s downfall and had plundered her with malice. Here we learn that other nations had cast a covetous eye on Palestine and were making their own plans to possess it.
36:17 Israel had been cast out of the land because their deeds were defiling in nature, compare with Leviticus 18. They had been guilty of murder and idolatry (36:18). As a result they had been scattered among various nations (36:19). 36:20 “They profaned My holy name”: When the Israelites showed up in other lands as exiles, the Gentiles assumed that the God of the Jews must not be worth much if He could not even protect His own people from conquest. There is a powerful lesson here that unfaithfulness among the people of God does negatively reflect upon God Himself in the eyes of unbelievers. 36:21 “I had concern for My holy name”: God does jealously guard His reputation. “While a punishment well deserved, was also an invitation for scoffers from other peoples to conclude that Israel’s God was a loser, unable to protect His people. God’s concern was worldwide, of course, because He is the world’s only real God” (Stuart p. 338).
36:22 “It is not for your sake”: God will bring back a remnant, not because they deserve it, but because God is going to restore His reputation among the Gentiles. Are we concerned about God’s reputation among unbelievers? What are we presently doing to guard that reputation? 36:23-25 But God is not bringing back idolaters and unbelievers, rather He is only bringing back those who have been cleansed. “The nations will know”: That is, people among the nations who were willing to think. Such a restoration proved that God could have kept Israel from entering captivity in the first place, “thus the thinking mind is urged to look elsewhere than God’s alleged weakness for the reason behind Israel’s captivity” (McGuiggan p. 203). 36:26-27 Those who come back will be converted, they will have a new heart, that is, a heart receptive to God’s commands. “I will put My Spirit within you”: Ezekiel has already asserted that man has a free will (chapter 18), therefore this verse is not speaking of any “irresistible” work of the Spirit on man. The Holy Spirit in the manner of salvation and sanctification is resistible (Acts 7:51ff). Yet, people who are receptive to God’s truth, will be people whose God’s Spirit can influence through the Spirit’s teachings found in Scripture (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:18). Compare this section with Deuteronomy 30:6. A circumcised heart or a new heart is only possible when one is willing to return to the Lord (30:2). And even with a new heart—obedience still is a choice (30:10). Many feel that this section is speaking of God’s blessings that were to be found in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
36:31 “And will loathe yourselves”: Here is a tender conscience concerning their sinful past. With genuine repentance or conversion must come an abhorrence to former sin (1 Timothy 1:13-16). 36:32 As previously noted, they do not deserve such a second chance. “A nation that has done almost nothing during its history to honor God hardly deserves honor in return” (Stuart p. 339). Compare with Romans 5:6-9. 36:35-36 “This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden. Then the nations that are left round about you will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places”: “In other words, Ezekiel’s prophecy is making the point that God’s control of Israel’s history is not focused so much on Israel as it is on the world as a whole. Israel is an example to others—all others—of the power and mercy of God. Israel deserves only to be ashamed of itself (32); God deserves to be honored everywhere, within and without ethnic Israel” (Stuart p. 339). We learn here that even in the Old Testament God was tremendously interested in evangelizing the nations.
This chapter contains the first vision report in the book since that of Chapter 11. In this chapter Ezekiel is taken by God’s Spirit to see a visionary valley filled with the skeletal remains of a fallen army. When Ezekiel receives this vision any hope for the restoration of God’s people was, from a human point of view, at a low ebb. “Israel was a defeated nation. It had been crushed militarily, its people had been separated from one another in exile. Alone, exhausted, discouraged, and impoverished, Israel was indeed as good as dead” (Stuart p. 342).
37:3 “Can these bones live?”: From a human point of view the answer would have been “no”, yet Ezekiel believes in the power of God and will not underestimate His power, so he humbly responds, “O Lord God, You know”. “The answer is, of course, yes—if God wills it” (Stuart p. 344).
37:4 “Hear the word of the God”: If God commands something, then it will happen! 37:5-11 “These bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off’”: Presently, the nation considered itself in a hopeless, dead condition, but God will resurrect the nation. “Nationally they were dead and disjointed with no prospect of anything better. God had a positive word for those discouraged exiles. The graves (that is, the foreign lands) where God’s people were languishing in captivity would be opened” (Smith p. 395). Yet, only the power of God can perform such a task.
37:12-14 Notice that God uses the illustration of a resurrection, which infers that the Old Testament faithful understood the concept of a resurrection and that God had promised such (Matthew 22; Psalm 16). “And how they tried to avoid this grave! They bought and bribed; they schemed and lied; they fought and fumed; they cried and sighed and yet, they died; they raised up armies and gathered up tribute; they sacrificed and slaughtered; and sometimes, when they could think of nothing else to do, they worshipped Jehovah. None of it worked. And here they are looking at one another as they weep. They had known Jehovah was not able to handle their problems but had believed they could themselves. They had reached the point to abandon all hope” (McGuiggan p. 203). The nation needed to learn the lesson that only God is adequate. “And does the reader think we have no lesson here for today? It is not as clear as day that no nation can sustain itself and that only God is enough?” (p. 204-A).
Reunion of Judah and Israel: 37:15-23
Here we are told that in the future God will reunite the two kingdoms that had been separate since the days following Solomon’s death. Judah and Israel would no longer remain two distinct kingdoms but would be reunited under one king (37:22). The fact that they have one king reveals that God is talking about the New Covenant, in which Jesus is the king over all of God’s people (Ephesians 1:22-23). Even after they came back to the land under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jews never again had a king. Compare this section with Jeremiah 31:31ff. “Permit me here to make a few remarks on the Mormon understanding of this section. These people hold that the two sticks speak of two books, viz., the Bible and the Book of Mormon. The Bible is said to be the stick of Judah since it came from Jesus who was of the tribe of Judah. The Book of Mormon is said to be the stick of Ephraim. The non-Mormon reader need hardly be told that this is so far from the context of the book it is almost humorous. The Mormon reader would need to be reminded that we have been told by God what the two sticks represent, two nations (17,21,22). (McGuiggan p. 205).
This section must apply to the New Covenant because:
- Israel has never had a king since the deportation to Babylon. The nation of Israel after this time would be ruled by the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Turks and other empires.
- It cannot apply to the modern state of Israel, for only 5 percent of the population in modern Israel is religiously active, and Christ, the true son of David, is rejected in Israel more firmly than ever.
- The Bible makes it clear that none of the ancestors of the Judean kings would ever again rule in Judah and prosper (Jeremiah 22:24-30). Thus, Jesus’ rule is a spiritual rule over the church, rather than an earthly rule over an earthly kingdom (John 18:36).
- God had specifically promised, not to raise David and make him king again, but to make one of David’s descendants king over God’s people (2 Samuel 7:13-16).
37:24-26 These verses apply to the time when Jesus would rule over His people in the New Covenant. The problem in attempting to interpret this section literally, and apply it to some millennium in the future is as follows: 1. David is alive on the earth when Jesus reigns, which contradicts 2 Samuel 7:12-13. 2. The earth still exists, which contradicts 2 Peter 3:10. 3. The faithful in this passage live on the land longer than 1000 years, “forever” (37:25). 4. The temple is rebuilt (37:26).