Commentary on Ezekiel 36:24-28
Ezekiel 36 provides some of the most comforting rhetoric in this prophetic book. Ezekiel can be quite judgmental in his declarations against the people of Israel. The earlier prophetic oracles in Ezekiel 4-7, for example, rebuke the people of God for their unfaithfulness and rebellion. They are to receive severe judgment because of their disloyal actions. The difference between those harsh oracles and this oracle concerns Jerusalem.
Now, Jerusalem has fallen.
Ezekiel 33:21b: “The city has fallen.”
This is the decisive moment for Ezekiel and his ministry. His prophetic message turns from judgment to hope, from reproach to promise. Now that God’s punishment has been received, Ezekiel turns to the future and to the ways that God will act to revive and restore God’s people.
Our focal verses (24-28) are midway through an oracle which begins in 36:16 and ends in 36:38. The opening verses of the oracle provide a history of the house of Israel focused on their misdeeds. They are reminded of their past and their disobedience, but the prophecy does not end there. Despite these actions and precisely because of God’s concern for God’s holy name, God will act now to rescue them.
The prophet’s theological proclamation does not focus on the people’s actions and responsibilities going forward. The emphasis is on God’s role. Ezekiel’s hope is not in the faithfulness of the people. His concern here is not to lay out a new set of rules for them to follow. God is their hope. God’s acts will save them.
God’s actions in summary include:
- Gathering Israel back to the land
- Cleansing Israel
- Giving Israel a new heart and spirit to obey Torah.
The result of these transformations is that God will be their God, and they will be God’s people. Right covenantal relationship is reestablished.
Let’s explore each of God’s actions further.
First, God will gather the dispersed people of God back from the nations and into their own land. The exile has scattered God’s people away from the land, the temple and the community. This experience of exile is a traumatic one for the people. God will reverse this pattern by assembling the people. In the next chapter, Ezekiel 37, we get a visual of God’s work as the dry bones receive breath and connect back together.
Second, God will purify the people, cleansing them from their rebellion and defilement. The book of Ezekiel contends that the exile is a punishment for the people’s corruption. They are therefore in need of purification. Our passage mentions idols as one element in need of cleansing.
God gives newness
Finally, God promises to give the people a new heart and new spirit. The imagery represents the people’s desires and will, their renewed commitment to God’s dream. They will think and act differently because of this gift from God. Their current heart is stone, that is, dead and unresponsive. It needs a transplant. Notice that they don’t need a spiritual heart; they need a beating, working heart. They are to come alive again to God’s desire for them and the world.
Jeremiah 31:31-34—also written in relation to the exile—mentions a new covenant (a renewed relationship between God and God’s people), which will include God placing God’s instructions (torah) within the people and writing it on their hearts.
My people, your God
The people will be transformed through heart surgery and renew their covenantal relationship with God. Ezekiel uses the language of Exodus (and Jeremiah) to explain this bond: “you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
Despite all the threats of judgment from earlier in Ezekiel and considering the people’s distressing experience of exile (loss of land, temple, kingship, community), God desires to be the people’s God. God wants a relationship with God’s people as they move forward into restoration.