16 The word of the Lord came to me: 17 “Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. 18 So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. 19 I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. 20 But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.’ 21 But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.
22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.” – Ezekiel 36:16-24 ESV
The good news was that God was going to purge the land and prepare it for the return of His chosen people. That bit of information would have come as a huge relief in the wake of all the latest news concerning Judah’s fall and Jerusalem’s destruction. As Ezekiel’s audience processed all the details of the reports from home making their way to Babylon, a pall of depression and despondency would have settled over them. They were already in exile, waiting to be joined by more of their fellow citizens, the latest round of victims from Nebuchadnezzar’s relentless siege of Jerusalem. Now that the invasion was over, so were their hopes of ever returning home.
But with Ezekiel’s latest message, their hopes were restored by the news that God was going to allow them to return home one day.
“…the mountains of Israel will produce heavy crops of fruit for my people—for they will be coming home again soon! See, I care about you, and I will pay attention to you. Your ground will be plowed and your crops planted. I will greatly increase the population of Israel, and the ruined cities will be rebuilt and filled with people.” – Ezekiel 36:8-10 NLT
After all that had happened, they could rest in the knowledge that God cared for them. He had not abandoned or forgotten them. The very fact that He had sent a prophet to minister to them in the middle of Babylon should have clued them into the fact that He still had a keen interest in their welfare.
This chapter is replete with good news concerning the rebellious people of God, and it will only get better. But God knew it was vital that His unfaithful children understand the reason for their suffering. As they rejoiced over the news of their eventual return and God’s plans to prosper them once again, He wanted them to grasp the seriousness of their guilt and the true cause of His harsh judgment of them. And God is unsparing and quite graphic in His description of their crime.
“…when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by the evil way they lived. To me their conduct was as unclean as a woman’s menstrual cloth.” – Ezekiel 36:17 NLT
He leaves little to the imagination and makes no attempt to sugarcoat or downplay the extent of their iniquity. This imagery would have hit Ezekiel’s Jewish audience quite hard because they were very familiar with the Mosaic Laws concerning this matter.
“Whenever a woman has her menstrual period, she will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. Anyone who touches her during that time will be unclean until evening. Anything on which the woman lies or sits during the time of her period will be unclean. If any of you touch her bed, you must wash your clothes and bathe yourself in water, and you will remain unclean until evening. If you touch any object she has sat on, you must wash your clothes and bathe yourself in water, and you will remain unclean until evening. This includes her bed or any other object she has sat on; you will be unclean until evening if you touch it. If a man has sexual intercourse with her and her blood touches him, her menstrual impurity will be transmitted to him. He will remain unclean for seven days, and any bed on which he lies will be unclean.” – Leviticus 15:19-24 NLT
Their sin had become as natural and normal to them as a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle. They didn’t have to plan it or think about it; it just happened. And when it did, it contaminated everything and everyone around them. Their actions made everything they touched impure and unholy. But rather than seven days out of the month, their impurity had become a 365-day-a-year problem.
And God makes it clear that this problem was not the result of normal bodily functions or a pre-programmed function of human anatomy. No, they were making personal choices that resulted in the violation of God’s will and the defamation of His holy name.
“They polluted the land with murder and the worship of idols…” – Ezekiel 36:18 NLT
A woman’s menstrual cycle is inevitable and unavoidable, but that is not true of murder and idolatry. In fact, God had provided clear prohibitions against these things.
“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them…” – Exodus 20:3-4 ESV
“You shall not murder.” – Exodus 20:13 ESV
But they had repeatedly violated these two commands, along with all the others. It seems that God pointed out these two sins because they both involved the shedding and spreading of blood. Murder requires the taking of life and the spilling of blood. And the brand of idolatry that God’s people had begun to embrace often involved human sacrifice. Their downward spiritual spiral had led them to offer up their own children to false gods like Molech. And the blood of their victims cried out to God from the soil of the polluted land of promise.
And God wants them to understand that all they have suffered has been the result of God’s anger against their blatant and unrepentant wickedness.
“I poured out my fury on them. I scattered them to many lands to punish them for the evil way they had lived.” – Ezekiel 36:18-19 NLT
They had no one to blame but themselves. While their deportation to Babylon had been God’s doing, it had been their own fault. He had simply given them what they rightly deserved. He had punished them in keeping with His own righteousness and according to His covenant commitment.
“…if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today…The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you.” – Deuteronomy 28:15, 36-37 NLT
It had all happened just as God promised, including His prediction of their continued unfaithfulness through further idolatry. His punishment of them had virtually no impact on their behavior. They were so addicted to idolatry that they couldn’t resist the temptation, even while undergoing divine judgment for that very sin.
But little did they know that their actions had been adding to their long list of crimes against the Almighty. And, worst of all, all the while they had been violating the will of God, they had been defaming the name of God.
“…they brought shame on my holy name.” – Ezekiel 36:20 NLT
It wasn’t just the fact that the people of God were living godless lives. There is no doubt that their behavior was a stain on God’s name because they were violating everything that He stood for. But God points out that their punishment had raised questions about Him among the pagan nations of the world.
“For the nations said, ‘These are the people of the Lord, but he couldn’t keep them safe in his own land!’” – Ezekiel 36:20 NLT
God doesn’t worry about public opinion. What people think about Him plays no part in His decision-making. But He does care about His name because it is a reflection of His character. Yet, He had been willing to risk the repudiation of His reputation in order to deal with the sins of His people. The very ones who bore His name and should have been declaring His greatness and goodness to the nations had become a drain on His personal reputation. And the prophet Jeremiah provides a glimpse into God’s rationale for allowing this to happen.
“Have you noticed what people are saying?—‘The Lord chose Judah and Israel and then abandoned them!’ They are sneering and saying that Israel is not worthy to be counted as a nation. But this is what the Lord says: I would no more reject my people than I would change my laws that govern night and day, earth and sky. I will never abandon the descendants of Jacob or David, my servant, or change the plan that David’s descendants will rule the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Instead, I will restore them to their land and have mercy on them.” – Jeremiah 33:24-26 NLT
And Ezekiel receives the very same message from the Lord concerning His rebellious people.
“I was concerned for my holy name, on which my people brought shame among the nations. Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it.” – Ezekiel 36:21-22 NLT
That last line is huge and should not be overlooked. None of what God was promising to do was deserved. They had done nothing to earn His affection or receive His forgiveness, and that had been true from the very beginning. His decision to make a nation called Israel and set it apart as His own had nothing to do with merit. As Moses told the people of Israel, they existed as a result of God’s love and faithfulness.
The LORD did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than the other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the LORD loved you and kept the oath He swore to your fathers… – Deuteronomy 7:7-8 BSB
And all that God was promising for the future would be based on His love and faithfulness as well. But even greater than His unwavering love for His people is His love for His own name. That is why God declared, “I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations” (Ezekiel 36:23 NLT). And when He is done, rather than mock the God of Israel, the nations will know that He alone is the Lord.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.