As you know, I am currently working my way through the book of Ezekiel. It has been such a blessing going through some of these Old Testament books, and it really makes me quite sad that unfortunately not many churches tend to preach on them these days. The other morning I was reading Ezekiel 36, and it was so thought-provoking and inspiring that I really wanted to share a few things with you.
Someone once told me that the way to understand the Israel of the OT is to think of them as a microcosm of humanity. I often used to read the stories of the Israelites and think, "Yeah, so what does that have to do with me?" or even judge them: "Man, why do they continue to disobey God, when they know He has promised to bless them if they keep His commandments and punish them if they rebel... silly Israelites." However, when it was pointed out to me that in many ways the relationship between God and the Israelites is a projection of God's relationship with Christians, I was suddenly less critical of them. After all, how often do I disobey God... every day, every hour. More than I could ever know! Yet I know that God calls me to love Him and obey Him.
In chapter 36 God declares that he will restore Israel - that He will give them back their land, it will be fruitful (verses 8, 9), they will increase in number (verses 10, 11), and it will be peaceful (12-15). Of course, this was partially fulfilled when they returned from Babylon, but this prophecy will come into complete fulfilment in the Messiah's kingdom.
However, what really struck me about this chapter is the next passage. It explains that God drove the Israelites out of their country and scattered them because of their sin, which had essentially defiled the land. But because of His actions, other nations were now "profaning" the name of God by judging Israel and thinking that their God was not strong enough to keep them in their land.
When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name—when they said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, and yet they have gone out of His land.’ But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went. (verses 20-21).
In the next verse God tells how He is going to rectify this: by bringing them back to the land He scattered them from, and which he had pledged to them in his covenant way back in Genesis 12:7.
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the Lord GOD, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. -" (verse 22-23).
What really strikes me about this passage is how God restores Israel not because they deserve it, not because they have done anything worthy, but so that "...nations shall know that I am the LORD." This is God's fundamental reason for restoring Israel.
This also reminds me of why God chose to save us: not for anything we've done, not because we are so worthy or so deserving of God's love that Jesus died on a tree for us, but so that "...nations shall know that I am the LORD." So that people could look at us and think "Wow, he saved you!", and so that He would get all the glory and people would know that Jesus is God.
For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. (verse 24)
What is so amazing to me about this verse is that was partially fufilled in the last century. In 1948 Israel declared independence and became a nation, a day that many thought would never come to pass. Here we go - Scripture being fulfilled in the modern day.
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (verse 25-27)
God is by no means "finished" with Israel. The Church has not replaced Israel, but instead we have become a part of God's chosen people. After all, God made a covenant with Israel, and God always keeps His promises. When I read these verses, it brings me such encouragement to know that Israel will be cleansed of their sins, given a new heart under the New Covenant (belief in Jesus Christ), and God will send His Holy Spirit on them, causing them to obey and love Him - just as He has done for us.