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A Change for the Better

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Ezekiel 36–37

Israel’s persistent rebellion against God brought great harm on the nation, but it did not derail God’s ultimate plan for them. In accordance with His promises, Israel will yet turn to Him in faith. God’s plan is always on schedule, because He is always faithful to His promises.


A Change for the Better[1]

Ezekiel 36–37


Augustine, the fourth- and fifth-century church leader, once prayed, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” How true that is.

The people of Israel were restless, but they never should never have been. They were graciously chosen by God, but the nation never really rested in Him alone, by faith.

But here in chapters 36 and 37 of the book of Ezekiel, we are given a detailed prophecy of Israel’s glorious future, when all the people of God finally do rest in Him.

Chapter 36 begins with the restoration of the land. Here Ezekiel is instructed to address God’s message to the mountains of Israel, thereby emphasizing God’s promise of the land.

The Lord says in verse 5 concerning Judah’s enemies, especially Edom, “[They] gave my land to themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and utter contempt.” Because they delighted in the destruction of Jerusalem, God promises that they themselves will “suffer reproach” (verse 7). Their gloating will not last for long.

Now, in contrast to the judgment awaiting these nations, the Lord says the mountains of Israel are going to prosper with renewed abundance (verse 8); the people will multiply and inhabit rebuilt cities (verse 10); and Israel will be restored to a state far superior to its former glory (verse 11). And that is because they will no longer be in rebellion against God.

At Ezekiel 36:16, the Lord’s message turns to the rebirth of the people. But first He reminds the people that their scattering and exile, while a necessary act of God’s justice, has caused His name—that is, His reputation—to be mocked among the nations. However, He is going to correct all that in this future day. The Lord gives the reason in verse 22:

“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.”

There is no room for pride among God’s people. His grace will be given to undeserving people. And what is the result? All nations will see his grace toward that generation of Israel and will know He is the Lord.

Verse 24 tells us God will gather His people from all the countries around the world and bring them into their own land. They are going to be awakened spiritually to believe the gospel of Christ. Listen to verses 25-27:

“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. 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. And I will put my Spirit within you.”

Sprinkling with water symbolized cleansing from defilement in the Old Testament. So, this is a promise of future cleansing from sin.

They are going to get a new heart and a new spirit. This is describing their conversion to faith in Him—this is spiritual rebirth. They will be given new life by the Holy Spirit, who will dwell within them. 

What an amazing promise! There is coming a time when God will pour out His Spirit on the people of Israel, and as the apostle Paul writes, “All Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).

Now, this has not happened yet, but it will. When? Well, the context here is looking forward to the end of the tribulation, when Christ returns to establish His millennial kingdom on earth.

As a result of their conversion, the people of Israel will have a new relationship with God—one that is internal and personal. And even though they are graciously forgiven, the Lord says to them here in verse 31, “You will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good.” They are going to be filled with great remorse.

Verse 32 follows up with an appeal for the exiles to “be ashamed and confounded for [their] ways.” They need to repent right now. Sadly, they refuse.

This remarkable prophecy of Israel’s spiritual awakening is pictured in chapter 37 as a resurrection of the nation. This is a powerful illustration of what God is going to do in the future restoration of Israel.

In a vision, the Lord brings Ezekiel to a valley filled with human bones. They have been here for some time and have dried out. The Lord asks the prophet in verse 3, “Can these bones live?” Obviously, the answer is no. But Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, you know,” which is a nice way of saying, “Lord, I think this is a trick question—and only You know the answer.”

God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, telling them to listen to the word of the Lord, who will give them breath and life. In other words, Ezekiel is to preach a message about the power of God to bring the dead back to life. And when Ezekiel does this, all these bones begin to rattle and shake and then come together—“bone to its bone,” verse 7 says.  

“Sinews,” or tendons, along with flesh, come upon the bones as the skeletons and bodies are re-formed.

The Lord then tells Ezekiel here in verse 9 to “prophesy to the “breath . . . [saying] breathe on these slain, that they may live.” The Hebrew word for “breath” (ruach) can also mean “wind” or “spirit.” This wind or breath or spirit now arrives and breathes into these dead bodies, and they all immediately come back to life and stand up on their feet.

How is that for an amazing vision from God?

God then identifies the bones in verse 11: “These bones are the whole house of Israel.” At this moment, Ezekiel knows they are spiritually dead and dried up. In fact, the skeletal structure of their nation has decayed and is turning back to dust. All hope is lost.

You have to imagine how impossible this prophecy must have sounded to the exiles. Their homeland was devastated, Jerusalem was burned, and the temple was destroyed. For the nation to experience a “resurrection”—well, that was something only God could do.

Indeed, only God can.

The Lord then tells Ezekiel to act out a sign. He says in verses 16-17:

“Take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah’. . . then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph . . . And join them one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand.”

The two sticks joined together symbolize the two kingdoms, Judah and Israel[2]—here called Joseph or Ephraim—united again and reestablished in their land. We read in verse 22 that they will be one nation under one king. That king is David or the greater descendant of David, the Messiah and King, Jesus.

Verse 26 adds something new that will be a prominent theme later in the book of Ezekiel—namely, that God’s sanctuary, or temple, is going to be restored.

We are still waiting on the fulfillment of these astounding prophecies. But they will be fulfilled literally when Jesus Himself descends from heaven to sit on His throne as King over the earth.

These might be troubling times today, but let me urge you to rest your heart in the promises of God. The world is right on track. The divine Shepherd is at work, moving at His pace, according to His plan, until all the nations and all the peoples of the earth will acknowledge in that day that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Where is your heart resting today? Let me encourage you to find your place of trust and rest in Him.

[1] The title is taken from Elizabeth Bagwell Ficken, That You May Know the Lord (W & E Publishing, 2016).

[2] That is, the two Southern Tribes and the ten Northern Tribes.

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