JUST AS IN CHAPTER 35 God through Ezekiel addresses Mount Seir (the region of the Edomites), so in Ezekiel 36 he addresses the mountains of Israel (Ezek. 36:1-15). This rhetorical device has the effect of linking chapters 35 and 36 together, not least since Edom is again specifically singled out (Ezek. 36:5; see yesterday’s meditation). The first part of the address to the mountains of Israel condemns the enemies who have ravaged and plundered them, not least Edom (Ezek. 36:1-7); the second half (Ezek. 36:8-15) foresees a time when the mountains will be prosperous again. The promise that the mountains will once again be fertile and densely populated is exactly the opposite of the curse pronounced against Edom (Ezek. 35:3, 7, 15).
As if thus addressing the mountains of Israel brings with it the danger that the Israelites will start thinking of themselves as mere victims and not as sinners calling down devastation on themselves, God provides a short historical review (Ezek. 36:16-21). Its purpose is to reiterate that God poured his wrath on the land because the covenant people themselves were so wicked. They themselves “defiled it by their conduct and their actions” (Ezek. 36:17).
But to a watching pagan world it looked as if the God of Israel was not able to protect his own people. So because God is committed to showing his holiness among the nations of the world, before whom the covenant people have profaned it, God will take action. He will not do so for the sake of the house of Israel (Ezek. 36:22)—i.e., as if they deserved it—but for his own name’s sake (Ezek. 36:22-23). And what action will he take to vindicate his glory? First, he will physically return the exiles to their native land (Ezek. 36:24). Second, he will follow this up with powerful moral and spiritual changes. The sprinkling with clean water (Ezek. 36:25) means more than forgiveness of sins. The language derives from ritual washings (Ex. 30:17-21; Lev. 14:52; Num. 19:17-19), but here it is tied to cleaning up the people from the dirt of idolatry. The gift of a “new heart” and a “new spirit” does not suggest mere aspects of human personality, but the transformation of all of human character. This is the equivalent of Jeremiah’s promise of a new covenant (Jer. 31:31ff.); its language is taken up by the Lord Jesus in his description of the new birth (John 3); the transformation is described by Paul (e.g., Rom. 8). This is what drives genuine repentance (Ezek. 36:31-32).