25 “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.
33 “Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. 34 And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. 35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ 36 Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.
37 “Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. 38 Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 36:25-38 ESV
The nations mocked the integrity and reliability of Israel’s God by questioning His failure to protect them.
“These are the people of the Lord, but he couldn’t keep them safe in his own land!” – Ezekiel 36:20 NLT
The people of Israel had flaunted their sins in the face of God despite His repeated warnings of judgment. Even after the Babylonians had begun their siege of Jerusalem, the city’s residents refused to repent of their sins and return to the Lord so that they might be pardoned and delivered. As far away as Babylon, where the exiles from Nebuchadnezzar’s first incursion into Judah had been sent, the Jews were continuing to flaunt their idolatry and immorality in the face of God.
Yet, despite these ongoing displays of stubbornness and unfaithfulness, God promised to redeem and restore a remnant of His people.
“But 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
But there is far more to this promise than the repatriation of God’s people to the land of promise. They had been cast out because of their wickedness and there had been little change in their spiritual condition. Nowhere along the way has God pointed out any sign of contrition or sorrow for their sin. He has not acknowledged a change in their behavior or any display of repentance among them. Yet, He promises to restore them to the land. How can that be? Why would God allow His rebellious and unrepentant children to occupy the land of promise again when they had shown no indication that they were ready to change their ways?
He has guaranteed their return in no uncertain terms.
“I, the Sovereign Lord, will gather you back from the nations where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel once again.” – Ezekiel 11:17 NLT
“I will reach out with my strong hand and powerful arm, and I will bring you back from the lands where you are scattered.” – Ezekiel 20:34 NLT
“I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live.” – Ezekiel 34:13 NLT
And there are no conditions tied to these promises. In other words, God has not demanded any particular action on the part of His people for these promises to be fulfilled. This message from God represents a marked change from the original agreement He had made with the Israelites when they were leaving Egypt and headed to the land of promise.
“When I led your ancestors out of Egypt, it was not burnt offerings and sacrifices I wanted from them. This is what I told them: ‘Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!’” – Jeremiah 7:22-23 NLT
That covenant was conditional, stipulating a stringent and unwavering commitment on the part of God’s people that they keep His commands. But this time, God demands nothing from His people. There are no calls to obedience or demands for a change in their behavior. What makes this passage so remarkable is its non-conditional nature. God is going to do for His people what they were incapable of doing for themselves.
The prophet Jeremiah records God’s assessment of His people’s inability to do the right thing.
“But my people would not listen to me. They kept doing whatever they wanted, following the stubborn desires of their evil hearts. They went backward instead of forward. From the day your ancestors left Egypt until now, I have continued to send my servants, the prophets—day in and day out. But my people have not listened to me or even tried to hear. They have been stubborn and sinful—even worse than their ancestors.” – Jeremiah 7:24-26 NLT
It didn’t matter how many times God warned, rebuked, or punished them; they would not repent because they could not. They didn’t have it in them. Yes, there were isolated cases of repentant Jews along the way. There was always a remnant of those who remained faithful to Yahweh, but they were few numbers.
So, God reveals that He is going to do something radically different. Rather than demand repentance, God is going to provide complete renewal – from the inside out.
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT
This does not describe some self-motivated, self-improvement strategy instigated by God’s people. No, this is a radical and supernatural transformation of their entire nature. It is exactly what Paul describes in his letter to the Corinthians.
Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT
The members of the Corinthian church to whom Paul wrote had been radically transformed by the power of God made possible through their faith in Jesus Christ. They had been cleansed, made holy, and restored to a right relationship with God through their relationship with Jesus Christ. And as Paul told the believers in Ephesus, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).
God describes the same kind of transformation taking place in the lives of His chosen people, the Israelites.
“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord.
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
“And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” – Jeremiah 31:31-34 NLT
This passage speaks of a future day when God will redeem, renew, and restore His rebellious people. It will be the greatest of all miracles, a profound surgical procedure in which He removes their hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh. Everything about them will be changed in an instant. And He makes it clear that they will have nothing to brag about because they will have done nothing to make it happen.
“I am not doing this because you deserve it. O my people of Israel, you should be utterly ashamed of all you have done!” – Ezekiel 36:32 NLT
The holy and righteous God of Israel will one day pardon His rebellious people. He will redeem a remnant from among the descendants of Abraham and restore them to the land of Canaan where they will live in perfect communion with Him. And when this unprecedented transformation takes place, everyone will know that it is the work of God. There will be no other explanation.
“Then the surrounding nations that survive will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruins and replanted the wasteland. For I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I say.” – Ezekiel 36:36 NLT
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.