Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentEZEKIEL 36
ISRAEL'S RETURN TO PALESTINE; AND THE NEW COVENANT
This chapter falls into two major divisions: (1) the external restoration of Israel to their homeland (Ezekiel 36:1-15), and (2) the spiritual restoration of Israel (Ezekiel 36:16-38). The smaller subdivisions will be noted below in our commentary.
THE DESTRUCTION OF ALL EDOM
And thou, son of man, prophesy unto the mountains of Israel, and say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of Jehovah. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Because the enemy hath said against you, Aha! and, The ancient high places are ours in possession; therefore prophesy, and say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Because, even because they have made you desolate, and swallowed you up on every side, that ye might be a possession unto the residue of the nations, and ye are taken up in the lips of talkers, and the evil report of the people; therefore, ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord Jehovah: Thus saith the Lord Jehovah to the mountains and to the hills, to the watercourses and to the valleys, to the desolate wastes and to the cities that are forsaken, which are become a prey and derision to the residue of the nations that are round about; therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Surely in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the nations, and against all Edom, that have appointed my land unto themselves for a possession with the joy of all their heart, with despite of soul, to cast it out for a prey. Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say unto the mountains and to the hills, to the watercourses and to the valleys, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I have spoken in my jealousy and in my wrath, because ye have borne the shame of the nations: therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I have sworn, [saying], Surely the nations that are round about you, they shall bear their shame.
To the mountains and to the hills of Israel
(Ezekiel 36:1,4,6)). The hills are included here as one of the outstanding physical features of Palestine and have no reference to the idolatrous worship associated with the high places during Israel's residence there.
"Throughout the first fifteen verses of this chapter, there is a studied contrast with what was stated concerning Edom in the previous chapter."F1 Many have pointed out that Ezek. 35 and the first fifteen verses here are actually a single chapter.
"These first seven verses betray an intensity of patriotic feeling not often seen in Ezekiel; it seems that the outrages of the nations against Israel are still in his mind as he begins this prophecy of future blessing for Israel."F2
Note that the word "therefore" is used six times in this single paragraph, followed each time with the words, "Thus saith the Lord."
On the lip of the talkers
(Ezekiel 36:3). This is an effective expression for the slanderers who were taking advantage of Israel's being cast out of Palestine to push their blasphemous charges that Jehovah was a defunct god, no longer able to protect or bless his people. It was precisely this attitude of the pagan nations of that era that required God's destruction of them. In the universally accepted theology of the pagan world of that time, the only gods were the local deities, identified with geographical limitations; and many of the Hebrews (Jonah, for example) held the same view. Therefore, if disaster befell a people, it proved the incompetence and weakness of the god of their land. This emphasizes what a compound tragedy the apostasy of Israel actually was, not merely for themselves, but for all men. The apostasy of Israel demanded God's destruction of their state and the captivity of their people; and then the pagan reaction and blasphemous charges based on that disaster required the destruction of the pagan world itself.
I have spoken against the residue of the nations, and against all Edom
(Ezekiel 36:5). This emphasizes the connection with Ezek. 35. Edom here stands as a representative of all pagan nations.F3
A summary of the meaning of these first fifteen verses is that, "The highlands of Seir (Edom) which seemed to be beginning an era of great prosperity will lose all the trump cards they think they hold; and the highlands of Israel, which seemed to have lost all hope and all power of recovery, will not only survive but will enjoy a period of unparalleled prosperity, to the disappointment of their enemies."F4
But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Israel; for they are at hand to come. For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn into you, and ye shall be tilled and sown; and I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, even all of it; and the cities shall be inhabited, and the waste places shall be builded; and I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited after your former estate, and will do better [unto you] than at your beginnings: and ye shall know that I am Jehovah. Yea, I will cause men to walk upon you, even my people Israel; and they shall possess thee, and thou shalt be their inheritance, and thou shalt no more henceforth bereave them of children. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Because they say unto you, Thou [land] art a devourer of men, and hast been a bereaver of thy nation; therefore thou shalt devour men no more, neither bereave thy nation any more, saith the Lord Jehovah; neither will I let thee hear any more the shame of the nations, neither shalt thou bear the reproach of the peoples any more, neither shalt thou cause thy nation to stumble any more, saith the Lord Jehovah.
ISRAEL'S RESTORATION TO PALESTINE (Ezekiel 36:8-15)
They are at hand to come
(Ezekiel 36:8). Despite the fact that about forty years would yet expire before Israel reentered Palestine, their repatriation is represented as something at hand. This is in keeping with the custom of all the prophets of considering that anything God has promised to do is actually at hand, regardless of exactly when it will occur. The promise of God makes itas sure as if it had already happened.
Pearson has summarized the promises of Israel's re-entry into Palestine as inclusive of: "(1) The wonderful fruitfulness and productivity of the land; (2) the re-population of Palestine; (3) the elimination of scarcity; (4) freedom from reproach; and (5) the security and prosperity of the nation in a degree even surpassing their former estate' and the time of their `beginnings.'"F5
We agree with Cook that these great promises of material blessings in their ultimate meaning were typical of the spiritual blessings in the times of Messiah; "But we may not doubt that the prophecy had as its first objective the return of prosperity to the land and the people, after their return from Babylon."F6
The sad thing is that this projected picture of the restored Israel in Palestine never turned out that way at all. There are two explanations offered by different schools of thinking as to the meaning of this fact. (1) The millennialists postpone the actual and complete fulfillment of these promises to some future time during the Millennium. (2) Others point out that, since all of God's promises are contingent, absolutely, upon some acceptable degree of obedience and cooperation of the people themselves to whom the promises came (See Jer. 17:7-10), and that no such obedience or cooperation on the part of Israel ever occurred, the prophecies have never been fulfilled, nor will they ever be. The continued apostasy of Israel, the further development of that judicial hardening already pronounced against the race of Israel by Isa. 6:9, never diminished, but became worse and wore, until it was confirmed by Jesus Christ himself as terminal and irrevocable (Matt. 13:14f), resulting finally in their rejection and murder of the Christ himself when he came, incurring the judgment of destruction upon the nation and their city of Jerusalem, as recorded in Matt. 24, a judgment executed by the overthrow of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In view of all these things, the prophecies here were unfulfilled, nor shall they ever be fulfilled.
This writer accepts this explanation as correct and is fully convinced that the Jewish race, along with all other races, as such, are not vital factors at all in the problem of human redemption. God's message to all races and nations is simply this: "Whosoever will may come!" No man will ever be either saved or lost eternally on the basis either of his race or his "nation." Salvation, beginning with the Advent of Jesus Christ and ever afterward is an individual matter.
All of the wonderful things prophesied of Israel in this chapter, as regards their physical and temporal welfare, were things God intended to do and would have done if Israel had done their part.
Look what Israel did. When God ordered them to go back to Palestine, and when Cyrus the king of Persia himself authorized their departure and even paid part of the cost, only a pitiful little handful of the captives responded. The vast majority, according to Josephus, already growing wealthy in Babylon, elected not to go.
And the group that went, look what they did. Malachi records that the priesthood itself turned out to be a bunch of robbers, robbing God himself; and the people were not paying their tithes, nor doing anything else that Jehovah had commanded; and even the ones who brought sacrifices brought the sick, the lame, and the blind and other illegal sacrifices. God even cursed the reprobate priesthood.
Malachi even challenged the people to obey the Law of Moses and to bring the whole tithe into God's storehouse, "Prove me now, saith Jehovah of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Malachi 3:10). Did it happen? Certainly not. The wickedness of Israel prevailed. This same wickedness prevented many other of the projected blessings of Israel from being given by the Lord.
And yet, enough of the promises were fulfilled to encourage and bless the remnant who "waited for the kingdom of God."
They were indeed returned to Palestine; the cities were rebuilt, the land repopulated, and they were the objects of God's signal protection, especially from the ravages of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. Also the hand of God is clearly seen in many other inter-testamental developments: (1) the provision of the Greek language as the near-universal medium of communication, (2) the tragedy leading to the building of synagogues, (3) the events leading to the reading of the prophets, along with the Law, in the weekly sabbath services, (4) the complete disillusionment of the whole pagan world with the prevailing paganism of the times, and (5) the development of the judicial hardening of all mankind as a prelude to the First Advent of Christ.
Also, throughout this period, the preservation of the Jewish records of the genealogies of the tribes and of the House of David made it possible for Jesus Christ Himself to be positively and accurately identified as the legitimate heir to the throne of David, and at the same time a descendant of David through Nathan instead of Solomon (Matt. 1 and Luke 3).
Feinberg freely admitted that these prophecies were not fulfilled upon the return of Israel from Babylon, stating that, "The conditions depicted here are clearly millennial."F7 This opinion is echoed by a number of scholars; and as long as the fact of the reign of Christ in this present dispensation is understood as the Millennium, the opinion is correct. However, when the Millennium is projected as a literal thousand years reign of Jesus Christ on a literal throne in Jerusalem involving a wholesale return of racial Israel as Christ's followers, such notions must be rejected as unsupported by the Holy Scriptures. (For those who may be interested in the pursuit of this subject, see Rev. 20 of my series of commentaries on the New Testament.)
Thou shalt no more devour men. nor bereave ..
(Ezekiel 36:13). It will be remembered that this was precisely the charge that the unfaithful spies brought against the mountains of Israel when they gave their evil report to Moses (Numbers 13:32). It is still not clear what lay behind such a false charge. A land incapable of supporting its people, or wherein they suffered loss through war or other divine scourges could be said to bereave the people.F8
Whatever the basis of the saying and regardless of its truth or falsity, God here prophesied the termination of it.
Israel shall no more bear the shame of nations. neither shall (they) stumble any more ..
(Ezekiel 36:15). As we have already seen, That portion of the nation which returned from captivity not only continued under the rule of the heathen, but also, in various ways, they continued to bear the contempt of the nations; and eventually Israel not only stumbled, but fell very low in their rejection of the Saviour; and the nation of Israel was again conquered, destroyed and scattered; and the land was utterly devastated and wasted.F9
This projected return of Israel to Palestine implied a gathering of Israel from all the places where God had scattered them; and there is no way that the handful of returnees from Babylon fulfilled that intention upon God's part. When did such an ingathering happen.'? Cook, it appears to us, was absolutely correct when he declared that, "The reunion will be in those days when Israel shall be gathered into the Church of God."F10
Moreover the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their way and by their doings: their way before me was as the uncleanness of a woman in her impurity. Wherefore I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood which they had poured out upon the land, and because they had defiled it with their idols; and I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries: according to their way and according to their doings I judged them. And when they came unto the nations, whither they went, they profaned my holy name; in that men said of them, These are the people of Jehovah, and are gone forth out of his land. But I had regard for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations, whither they went.
THE REASON FOR ISRAEL'S PUNISHMENT (Ezekiel 36:16-21)
As the uncleanness of a woman in her impurity
(Ezekiel 36:19). The significance of this comparison lies in the fact that the Mosaic law required that a woman in her uncleanness was separated from the congregation (Lev. 15:19ff), the point being in the case of Israel that their uncleanness was of a type that required them to be separated from the land of Israel.
When they came into the nations
(Ezekiel 36:20). This paragraph points out that the continued profanation of the name of Jehovah in those countries where Israel had been scattered was due to what the citizens of those nations were saying.
In that the men said of them, These are the people of Jehovah
(Ezekiel 36:20). The implication of pagan enemies in such remarks was that Jehovah was an incompetent and impotent god, unable to protect his people. Although not mentioned by Ezekiel here, Israel was to blame for the blasphemy that rose among the pagan nations in other ways. Paul clearly stated in Rom. 2:21-24 that, The Jews were thieves, adulterers, robbers of temples, idolaters, and transgressors of the law, and that they dishonored the name of God, by reason of whom, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles. What Ezekiel says here in no way nullifies what Paul said.
The principal teaching of this whole paragraph is that the conduct of Israel, not only when they dwelt in Palestine, but afterward in the countries where they were scattered, fully justified and even demanded that God remove them from the promised land.
Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I do not [this] for your sake, O house of Israel, but for my holy name, which ye have profaned among the nations, whither ye went. And I will sanctify my great name, which hath been profaned among the nations, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the nations shall know that I am Jehovah, saith the Lord Jehovah, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land.
THE SPIRITUAL RESTORATION OF ISRAEL (Ezekiel 36:22-31)
Which hath been profaned. which ye have profaned among the nations ..
(Ezekiel 36:23). Let it be observed that the profanation is here indicated in its double nature, derived from the blasphemous words of the pagans, and from the conduct of Israel also. Not only did those citizens in pagan lands profane God's name, the word of the Lord states, which ye have profaned.
There is not a more eloquent passage in the Bible stressing the fact that, in the last analysis, salvation was undeserved by ancient Israel, even as it is also undeserved in the New Israel. There is no such thing as a salvation from God being merited, deserved, or earned by the ones saved. The best Christians on earth are still unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10), even as were the citizens of ancient Israel. The reason for ancient Israel's return from captivity was not their merit, but the glory of God as required by his eternal purpose.
I will bring you into your own land
(Ezekiel 36:24). Yes indeed, God did it through his servant Cyrus, just as he had promised more than a century earlier. There cannot possibly be any doubt that such an event as Cyrus' sending Israel back to Palestine would have been hailed as a signal act of God all over the world. The reestablishing of Israel in Canaan was a giant step indeed toward the redemption of the reputation of Jehovah as the God of all nations. What a shame it was that Israel's response was so inadequate, yet sufficient for God's purpose.
And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the grain, and will multiply it, and lay no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye may receive no more the reproach of famine among the nations. Then shall ye remember your evil ways, and your doings that were not good; and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations.
THE SPIRITUAL CLEANSING OF ISRAEL
Ye shall be clean from your filthiness. a new heart will I give you ... I will put my Spirit within you ..
(Ezek. 36:25,26.27). As Pearson analyzed this cleansing of Israel, it consisted of three steps: (1) the forgiveness of sins; (2) regeneration; and (3) the reception of the Holy Spirit.F11 Significantly, none of these was available under the Law of Moses. Only under the gracious terms of the New Covenant has there ever been available to mortal men such blessings as these. There was no forgiveness of sins under Moses; there was no Holy Spirit within all the people; there was no regeneration.
Conservative scholars have no trouble at all with this passage. The cleansing of Israel will take place in the kingdom of Messiah established by the First Advent of the Son of God. Just as the terms of Israel's peace, prosperity, and security in regard to their possession of Canaan were conditional; so also are the promises here with regard to their forgiveness, their regeneration, and their receiving the Spirit of God.
The double tragedy is that Israel's hardening and rebellion against God hindered their return to Palestine and greatly reduced the blessings; and the second phase of it was that, for the vast majority of them, they rejected the Christ, preferring to die in their sins.
"This prophecy teaches that this cleansing of Israel would be through the New Covenant, as in Jer. 31:31-34. This would follow the return of Israel to Canaan, where, in time, the people would accept the Messiah as their Saviour through whose death sin would be forgiven; their former iniquity would be remembered no more; they would despise themselves for their former sins; and in possession of a new heart and the Spirit of God, they would lead righteous lives."F12
The new Testament reveals that this projection was frustrated, although not completely, by the apostate and rebellious Israel. That "righteous remnant" mentioned ages previously in the writings of the great prophets of God persevered in their devotion to the kingdom of heaven. The relatively small group who were faithful to the Word of God rallied around the holy apostles of Jesus Christ, forming the nucleus of the New Israel of God, under whose leadership virtually the whole world were turned to Christianity. There is nothing in all history to compare with this.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you
(Ezekiel 36:25). This metaphor probably came from the Mosaic law which prescribed the sprinkling of water mingled with ashes of a red heifer in the ceremonial cleansing of certain guilt. However, since the whole passage speaks of the New Covenant, it appears that Heb. 10:22; John 3:5; Eph. 5:25-26; Titus 3:5, etc. provide the true anti-type of which the Levitical sprinkling was only a symbol.
"It is clear enough in this passage that the physical return of Israel to Canaan does not hold the center of the stage; this was only a preliminary to the bestowal of salvation upon all men."F13
I will call for the grain, and multiply it
(Ezekiel 36:29). It is strange that commentators do not make more of the fact that the rich and abundant places of the earth today are precisely those lands which operate under Christian principles, and where, although imperfectly, God through Jesus Christ is worshipped continually by vast numbers of the people.
In the last dozen years, the United States alone has been feeding half of the vast empire of the Russians, where Christianity has been outlawed for three generations. Does this tell us anything? We believe that it does. Where are the vast populations of earth suffering from famine and starvation? It is precisely in those places where there is the least evidence of any knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
May our beloved nation never forget the source of their bounty, attributing it to themselves, their system of government, their economic system, or anything else except Almighty God "from whom all blessings flow!."
Cook has wisely noted that in Ezekiel we have a shift of emphasis from the nation or the country to the individual, "From congregation to the individual, from the letter to the spirit, from the Law to the Gospel, and from Moses to Christ."F14 To this we would add, "from the Old Israel to the New Israel."
Nor for your sake do I [this], saith the Lord Jehovah, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: In the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be builded. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, whereas it was a desolation in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited. Then the nations that are left round about you shall know that I, Jehovah, have builded the ruined places, and planted that which was desolate: I, Jehovah, have spoken it, and I will do it. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: For this, moreover, will I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them: I will increase them with men like a flock. As the flock for sacrifice, as the flock of Jerusalem in her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of men; and they shall know that I am Jehovah.
THE GREAT OBJECTIVE IS GOD'S GLORY (Ezekiel 36:32-28)
In the day that I cleanse you from your iniquities
(Ezekiel 36:33). This means that all of the great temporal blessings promised for Israel will come after the New Covenant has been established, and after Israel has accepted it, that at that time God will pour out all of these rich blessings upon Israel. Of course, that is not the way it turned out; but it is the way that it would have turned out if Israel had only accepted the Lord when he came.
What really happened was that Israel not only rejected the Saviour, they contrived his crucifixion by a cunning combination of suborned testimony, political pressure, and mob violence. They manufactured lies about his resurrection, they opposed with the bitterest hatred the work of the holy apostles and successfully enlisted the power of Rome itself against the Church. In that last sin, they also accomplished their own destruction. For Rome learned that the Church of Christ was a legitimate offspring of Judaism; and having been set against the Church through Judaistic efforts, Rome decided to destroy Judaism also. This resulted in the war against Jerusalem itself, the destruction of the Temple and the City, the murder of 1,100,000 of the Jewish people, the sending of 30,000 of them back into Egypt as captives, and a bitter campaign against Jews throughout the ancient Roman empire.
The contrast between this tragic record of what really happened and what God had intended emphasizes the awful consequences of Israel's refusal to accept Christ, not merely for Israel, but for the Church and for all mankind.
Despite this dismal tragedy which is verified not only by the New Testament but by the full history of the first century of this era, there are still people on earth who suppose that all of the wonderful things God promised to Israel in this chapter with reference to the vast population, the great cities, and the abundant prosperity are still going to happen. Feinberg caught the spirit of this expectation in these words: "The words of this chapter should fill us with joy. Is there not something the Lord wants you to do to work toward the day of Israel's deliverance and glory."F15
Our Saviour wept aloud over the failure of Israel to receive the glory God intended, saying:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, but ye would not (Matthew 24:37). If thou hadst known in this thy day the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, when thine enemies shall cast a bank about thee, and compass thee round and keep thee in on every side, and they shall dash thee to the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation (Luke 19:42-44)."
This is exactly what happened to the old Israel and it affords a dramatic contrast with what Ezekiel prophesied and what could have happened except for Israel's apostasy and judicial hardening.
Now should we pray for the day to come when the old racial Israel is going to be restored to glory? No! All of the glorious promises that once belonged to racial Israel now pertain exclusively to the New Israel. There is no revealed formula by which ancient peoples who missed their opportunities shall be able to find them again. The Saviour wept over their loss, but he could do nothing about it, and neither can we.
Footnotes for Ezekiel 36
1: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Moody Press), p. 205.
2: John Skinner in the Expositor's Bible Commentary, p. 331.
3: Anton T. Pearson in Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 753.
4: WE, p. 489.
5: Anton T. Pearson in Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 753.
6: Albert Barnes' Commentary, p. 385.
7: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Moody Press), p. 207
8: G. R. Beasley-Murray in the New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 681.
9: Carl Friedrich Keil, Keil-Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 104.
10: Albert Barnes' Commentary, p. 386.
11: Anton T. Pearson in Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 753.
12: RHA, p. 922.
13: WE, p. 498.
14: Albert Barnes' Commentary, p. 387.
15: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Moody Press), p. 211.