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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 36

Verses 1-15

Chapter 36:1-15

The prophet’s third word of comfort obviates the grief for the desolation of the holy land. It shall cease in no long time. The sentence, “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah,” constantly recurring in this prophecy, shows how little hold the consolation of the prophet, justified by history, had in visible things.

Ezekiel 36:1-15. And thou, son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel, and say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord. 2. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because the enemy saith against you, Aha, and the perpetual heights are become our possession: 3. Therefore prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because and since ye are desolated, and they long after you round about, that ye may become a possession to the residue of the heathen, and ye are taken up in the word of the tongue, and for a reproach of the people: 4. Therefore, ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord Jehovah, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah to the mountains and to the hills, to the dales and to the valleys, and to the desolate ruins, and to the forsaken cities, which are become a prey and a derision to the residue of the heathen that are round about; 5. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Surely in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the heathen, and against all Edom, who have given themselves my land for a possession, in the joy of all their heart, in contempt of soul, that their suburbs should be a prey. 6. Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say to the mountains and to the hills, to the dales and to the valleys, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I have spoken in my jealousy and in my fury, because ye have borne the reproach of the heathen: 7. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, I have lifted up my hand; surely the heathen that are about you, they shall bear their shame. 8. And ye mountains of Israel shall shoot forth your leaves, and yield your fruit to my people Israel; for it is nigh to come. 9. For, behold, I am for you, and will turn unto you, and ye shall be tilled and sown. 10. And I will multiply upon you men, the whole house of Israel, all of it; and the cities shall be inhabited, and the wastes builded. 11. And I will multiply upon you man and beast, and they shall multiply and bear fruit; and I will make you to sit as in your foretime, and will do unto you better than in your past; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. 12. And I will bring upon you men, my people Israel; and they shall possess thee, and thou shalt be their inheritance, and thou shalt no more make them childless. 13. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Because they say unto you. Thou land devourest men, and makest thy people childless; 14. Therefore shalt thou no more devour men, and no more make thy people stumble, saith the Lord Jehovah. 15. And I will no more cause to be heard in you the shame of the heathen, and ye shall no more take upon you the reproach of the nations, and thou shalt no more make thy people stumble, saith the Lord Jehovah.

By the mountains, in Ezekiel 36:1, as the most prominent part, the whole land is represented. What is flat appears as an appendage to the mountains, which are to the land the same as the king and his nobles to the people. The “perpetual heights” ( Ezekiel 36:2) are the natural mountains as a figure of the unchangeable grandeur of which Israel boasted, because it had the Eternal for its protector, and in Him the security of its own perpetuity; comp. Psalms 125:2. The words are to be regarded as marked with inverted commas. The revilers take them from the mouth of Israel, who opposed His “perpetual mountains” to all their pretences and boasts. The desolation in Ezekiel 36:3, is the cause of the striving and longing. It is wasted on a good that is apparently without a master. [219] The residue of the heathen is spoken of because they had themselves already suffered severe losses by the Chaldean invasion, and greater still awaited them. The consideration of their own condition might have kept the neighbouring nations from striving after an increase of possessions. “Because and since” (comp. Ezekiel 13:10) points out that there was abundant reason for this address of God, and for His actual procedure. “In contempt of soul” ( Ezekiel 36:5); comp. Ezekiel 25:6. The “suburbs” of the land is all that lies round the central point, the capital. [220] The whole land is represented as the border of Zion, which appears often in the Psalms and prophets as the spiritual dwelling-place of the whole people. The lifting up of the hand ( Ezekiel 36:7) is the gesture of swearing; comp. Ezekiel 20:5. Leaves and branches ( Ezekiel 36:8, comp. Ezekiel 17:8, Ezekiel 17:23) come into view as food for cattle, while the fruit is for man. The use of the young branches for fodder is still very common in southern countries. “It is nigh to come;” properly, “they are nigh to come:” the old and legitimate possessors of the land soon come back. Ezekiel knows that the exile will last only a short time,—a knowledge which he also avows in ch. Ezekiel 11:16. This is in accordance with Jeremiah, according to whom the Chaldean servitude, beginning in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, is to last seventy years, and then the return of the people into their own country is to take place. Of these seventy years, according to ch. Ezekiel 33:21, twenty had already elapsed, so that many of those still living might yet see the joyful day. The sitting ( Ezekiel 36:11) forms the contrast to the lying low. “Better than in your past:” this was fulfilled when He appeared in the holy land, who could say of Himself, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,” and who far outshone Solomon in all his glory. “Thou shalt no more make them childless” ( Ezekiel 36:12): the self-evident condition is, if they do not fill up anew the measure of their sins. To those who would not there is no privilege. Our promise gives only the security that the former guilt is to be removed, and at the same time that all is to be done to guard against incurring more. This is done in the most glorious manner: God Himself came, in His Son, to His inheritance; but when His own received Him not, the promise expired, and the former threatenings revived. The supplement we have in Ezekiel himself, in ch. Ezekiel 5:3-4. In Ezekiel 36:13-15, the conclusion. “Thou devourest men” ( Ezekiel 36:13). The land of Israel had a dangerous position. It was a land of transit ( Zechariah 9:8), an apple of discord for the Asiatic and African powers, and exposed to oppression by the surrounding nations of the wilderness, who always went to it for barter. On account of this dangerous position, it is designated even in Numbers 13:32 as a land that devours its inhabitants. Precisely such a land had God chosen for His people. They should always have occasion to look up to Him; and when they fell away, the rods were also laid up. Peaceful seclusion would have produced a stagnant condition, the worst that can befall the people of God. It is essential to the church in this world to be militant. “Thou shalt no more make thy people stumble” ( Ezekiel 36:15); that is, no more make them unfortunate. Moral stumbling is not to be thought of in this connection. [221] The land had no part in this. The covenant people stumbled afterwards indeed ( Romans 11:11; 1 Peter 2:8); but God’s gift and grace remained the same, even when they were ungratefully despised. The rock on which they stumbled was the rock of salvation!

[219] On account of desolation: so we must explain, as שמם usually, and especially in Ezekiel, occurs in a passive sense. שמות is a verbal noun.

[220] Michaelis after Cocceius, suburbana terae sunt, quae extra metropolin sunt. The words literally mean, on account of their fields for a prey. The whole striving of the neighbours was that Zion’s fields might be their prey. מגרש stands always, and especially in Ezekiel, for the parks of the towns.

[221] הכשיל must in substance be equivalent to שכל , which the Keri would unadvisedly substitute for it.

Verses 16-38

Chapter 36:16-38

Here is the fourth word of comfort. Israel has found misery in the way of his sins; but God will, for His name’s sake, bring salvation, and certainly a salvation of infinite fulness,—restoration to the holy land, sprinkling with the water of forgiveness, the bestowment of a new heart, the outpouring of the Spirit, the adoption to be the true people of God, and the consequent fulness of all other blessings. The very kernel of this comfort is, that God will redeem Israel, not for anything in their own nature, but only for His own name’s sake. This was certainly very humiliating, but at the same time very, consoling; and the consolatory aspect comes absolutely into the foreground, when the prophet spake to a people who sighed under the judgments of God, and by them had attained to the knowledge of their own sinfulness. With the consolatory import is also joined the hortatory. If Israel has found misery in the way of his sins, real conversion is the means of partaking in the coming salvation. The section consists of the introduction ( Ezekiel 36:16-21), the main subject ( Ezekiel 36:22-36), and the conclusion.

Ezekiel 36:16. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 17. Son of man, the house of Israel sat in their own land, and defiled it by their way and by their doings; like the uncleanness of the removed woman was their way before me. 18. Wherefore I poured out my fury upon them, for the blood that they had shed upon the land, and by their detestable things they polluted it. 19. And I scattered them among the heathen, and they were sprinkled through the lands: according to their way and according to their doings I judged them. 20. And it came to the heathen whither they came, and they profaned my holy name, when they said of them, These are the people of the LORD, and are gone forth out of his land. 21. And I had pity for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the heathen whither they went. 22. Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Not for your sake do I this, O house of Israel, but for my holy name’s sake, which ye profaned among the heathen, whither ye went. 23. And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye profaned among them: and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord Jehovah, when I sanctify myself in you before your eyes. 24. And I will take you out of the heathen, and gather you out of all lands, and bring you to your own land. 25. And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean from all your filthiness, and from all your detestable things will I cleanse you. 26. 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 out of your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh. 27. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them. 28. And ye shall sit in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29. And I will save you from all your defilements; and I will call for the corn, and multiply it, and not lay famine upon you. 30. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye may not receive the reproach of famine among the heathen. 31. And ye shall remember your evil ways, and your doings that were not good; and ye shall loathe your own face for your iniquities and your abominations. 32. Not for your sake do I this, saith the Lord Jehovah, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. 33. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, In the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to sit, and the ruins shall be builded. 34. And the desolate land shall be tilled, instead of being desolate in the eyes of every passer. 35. And they shall say, This desolated land is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste, and desolate, and ruined cities, sit fortified. 36. And the heathen that are left around you shall know that I the LORD builded the ruined places, planted the desolate: I the LORD speak and do. 37. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them: I will multiply them with men like a flock. 38. As the holy flock, as the flock of Jerusalem in her festivals, so shall the waste cities be full of the flock of men; and they shall know that I am the LORD.

The blood and the detestable things ( Ezekiel 36:18), murder and idolatry—with reference to the first commandment of the first table, and the first of the second. “It came” ( Ezekiel 36:20), namely the fate which was spoken of in Ezekiel 36:19, the news of the calamity into which they had fallen. This came at the same time with themselves: it came whither they came: they were the embodied intelligence. “They profaned my holy name:” according to the connection with the immediately foregoing, as well as with the next following, when this came to the heathen, they of the house of Israel even thereby profaned my holy name, not by their doing ( Romans 2:12), but by their suffering, from which the unfaithfulness or weakness of their God was inferred, who would not or could not help His people. But it is the profanation to which they gave occasion by their fate, ascribed to them as a deed, because they had brought it on by their active profanation. “When they said of them, These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of His land:” a forced departure, a carrying forth into exile, is here spoken of. This appears to the heathen a striking proof that the God of this people, the Jehovah about whom they formerly made so much ado, whom they triumphantly opposed to the heathen world, does not signify much. They judged thus, because, first, they did not recognise the righteous judgment of God upon His rebellious people; and next, they looked upon their banishment from their land as permanent. If it bore this character, it would certainly be in contradiction with the word and nature of God, as He had guaranteed to His people the possession of the land, and in general a future of salvation, while temporary interruptions of gracious relations were expressly designed by God Himself, and accorded with His nature. Hence there is a point where God appears for His name’s sake. He must, by acting, remove the delusion of perpetual abandonment. “I had pity for my holy name” ( Ezekiel 36:21): the main body of the discourse shows [222] what measures resulted from this care of God for His name, which must dwell in Him as surely as He is God. “Not for your sake do I this” ( Ezekiel 36:22): here we have the action in general; in the following the sphere in which it moves is more exactly defined. The holiness of the name of God denotes His incomparable and absolute glory. [223] God sanctifies His name ( Ezekiel 36:23) when He glorifies it, and removes everything that drags it down to the dust of the earth and of the finite. “Great:” this shows why God must resist the profanation of His name. “Before your eyes:” we might expect “before their eyes;” but the thought of the manifest salvation is better so expressed, that those immediately concerned are the same whose eyes have beheld the misery, and are thus immediate spectators; comp. Job 19:27, “Mine eyes behold, and not a stranger.” “Before their eyes” is the necessary consequence of “before your eyes.” If it hold of Israel that “they shall see eye to eye when the Lord returns to Zion “( Isaiah 52:8), it holds also of the heathen. The saving gifts of God to His people, by which the sanctification or glorification of His name is effected, are more exactly described in Ezekiel 36:24 f. The first is the restoration from exile, Ezekiel 36:24; the second is the sprinkling with clean water, Ezekiel 36:25. This is, on the ground of Numbers 19:17-19, the symbolic expression for the forgiveness of sins, the exposition of the Mosaic rite in which it was incorporated. The beginning of this benefit, the root and presupposition of all others ( Jeremiah 31:34), must have preceded the restoration from exile, which holds the first place. Its various degrees are subjectively conditioned by the various degrees of acknowledgment of sin, faith in forgiving mercy, endeavour after a godly life, desire to do the will of God,—in one word, repentance. Regarded in this subjective way, the fulfilment, which precedes the return, might be only very imperfect. Repentance was then only superficial. The practical testimony for the low degree of forgiveness of sins was the indigent circumstances of those restored. Had the sprinkling with clean water been complete, their peace would have been like the river, and their righteousness like the waves of the sea. But the true fulfilment might also for this reason begin in the time of Christ, because then, first, by the propitiation of Christ, the proper foundation was gained for justification: comp. Isaiah 53:11, “My righteous Servant shall justify many;” and in general that whole prophecy, in which the propitiating act of Christ is presented as the necessary foundation of the sprinkling or absolution. The sentence here, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you,” only resumes the “He shall sprinkle “of the older prophecy, ch. Isaiah 52:15. Thus, in substance, the return from the exile precedes the sprinkling with clean water; comp. Hebrews 10:23, where having the body washed with pure water is represented as a characteristic of the believers of the New Testament. On the forgiveness of sins follows, in Ezekiel 36:26, as the third main benefit, the bestowment of a new heart, which is also in Psalms 51 immediately connected with the forgiveness of sins. Here is again taken up what was already promised in ch. Ezekiel 11:19. This promise also is essentially Messianic. The stony heart could not be entirely overcome through the means available in the old covenant. The elevation of the Son of man on the cross, and the more complete forgiveness of sins therein rooted, formed, according to John 3:14-15, the foundation of this conquest. From the bestowment of the new heart flows, according to Ezekiel 36:27, the altered position toward the law of God. On Israel, thus become the true people of God, is the fulness of all other blessings poured. “Ye shall loathe your own face” ( Ezekiel 36:31): ye shall be loathsome to yourselves; comp. Ezekiel 6:9. “I will cause the cities to sit” ( Ezekiel 36:33)—raise them up again. In Ezekiel 36:35 the passers-by say, “This land is become like the garden of Eden.” We have here the clear counterpart of the night-piece, Joel 2:3, where it is said of the time of the judgment which was to befall the people of God through the heathen world, “The land was as the garden of Eden before it (the heathen horde represented by the figure of locusts), and behind it a desolate wilderness.” The comparison of this fundamental passage, according to which the figure of the land of Eden can only signify a prosperous state in general, shows how erroneous it is to find in our passage the restoration of Canaan to a really paradisaic glory, and to charge those who cannot find this in it with a spiritualizing evaporation. Even Genesis 13:10 might have warned them against this. Through the guilt of the people the land afterwards still once more became a desolate wilderness; but the election has obtained a better inheritance, in possession of which it looks down on the old land of Canaan, on which now still to lay a weight is a miserable anachronism,—namely, the earth from end to end, and the heavenly glory. “The cities sit fortified:” the sitting here also forms the contrast to lying prostrate. A fortified city sits as such, while a city whose wall is broken lies on the ground. “I the Lord speak and do” ( Ezekiel 36:36): I Jehovah, whose name and nature afford a security that between speaking and doing no gulf can be fixed. In Ezekiel 36:37-38, the conclusion. “I will be inquired of by the house of Israel”—will give an answer to his prayer or grant his request; comp. Ezekiel 14:3. In Ezekiel 36:38, formal mention is made of the festivals in general. But the limitation lies here, as in Mark 15:6, in the connection. The passover was the only one among the festivals in which there was a great accumulation of sheep, with which the fulness of men in restored Israel is compared. But the consecrated sheep are meant here, not any other gathering of sheep, because the people that is compared with the sheep is the people of the saints of the Lord. The fulfilment is to be sought in the church of Christ still more than in the times between the exile and Christ.

[222] On Ezekiel 36:22-36, comp. Christol. ii. p. 579 f.

[223] Comp. my comment, on Psalms 22:4, Revelation 4:8.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 36". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-36.html.