Chapter 36:16-23 (ESV) - The word of the Lord came to me: “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. 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. I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. 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.’ But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.
“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. 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.
Question to consider: What is God’s motivation for becoming our shepherd and restoring us to Him?
In yesterday’s passage, God promised the mountains of Israel that their desolation would be temporary, and they would one day become fruitful with God’s people again. I framed this in light of Christ who reigns from the heavenly mountain and provides for us “...an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [us].” (1 Peter 1:4) When Christ returns to fully and finally judge the living and the dead in the resurrection, this heavenly kingdom will be made totally manifest in the earth. Anything short of sinless perfection would fall short of God’s promise to the mountains. Even in the prayer that Jesus gave to the disciples, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and as the church has gone throughout the earth and rightly proclaimed the faith once for all delivered to the saints, we have seen God’s hand in plentiful harvests and hope among the people.
Admittedly, there have been those who have committed horrible violence in the name of Christ, but I would argue that they acted in opposition to the new covenant in Christ (or at least in ignorance of it). The new covenant is described as one in which we “...shall beat [our] swords into plowshares, and [our] spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Micah 4:3) Plowshares are for tilling soil and pruning hooks are for tending vines, for we are no longer the sword of God, but His sowers of the gospel and harvesters of righteousness in Christ. There are those who have tried to revise history to make the church a scourge on the earth, but there’s not much I can do about a false witness other than emphasize the truth.
In today’s passage, God lets Ezekiel know why He was to take over as shepherd and usher in a new covenant of peace in which He would preserve the house of Israel. The covenant of Moses was mediated by men, and therefore the land became defiled by blood and idols to the point where God had to judge them and scatter them throughout the nations.
Throughout ancient history, when nations were toppled, it was a sign that their gods were defeated. However, in the case of Israel, their God was still mighty in power— kicking the people out of the land and making it desolate. God said it profaned His name that other nations would say, “These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.” It was for the sake of His holy name that God would redeem His people.
It is good that we proclaim the love of Christ in paying for the sins of the whole world, but it is inaccurate to say that Christ did this because we were (or are) “lovable”. Christ did it for the sake of the Father to preserve His holy name. As Paul told the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Dear heavenly father, thank You for showing love to us even in our sinful state, and that Your covenant with us is not dependent on our own goodness but Yours. May the love You have shown us overflow from us to our neighbor, and may Your will be done in all the earth. Amen.