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The present chapter is entirely devoted to the consolation of Israel, though its parts are derived from two separate "words" of Jehovah. Ezekiel 36:1-15 belong to the "word" which opened with the first verse of the preceding chapter; Ezekiel 36:16 begins another "word," which only closes at Ezekiel 37:14. The subject of the first part is the comfort offered to Israel in the destruction threatened against the heathen, and in the blessings promised to her land and people.
Prophesy unto the mountains of Israel. This prediction must be read in contrast, first, to that delivered against the mountains of Seir in the last chapter (35.), and, secondly, to that uttered against the mountains of Israel at an earlier stage of Ezekiel's activity (Ezekiel 6:1-14.). That "the mountains of Israel" was a familiar expression for the land of Israel, see Ezekiel 6:1; Ezekiel 17:22; Ezekiel 33:28; Ezekiel 34:14; Ezekiel 37:22; Ezekiel 38:8; and comp. Psalms 121:1; Isaiah 52:7.
Because the enemy hath said against you. The ground of Jehovah's purposed proceeding against Edom and the surrounding heathen peoples (Ezekiel 36:3, Ezekiel 36:5) is expressly declared to be the jubilation over the downfall of Israel, and the eagerness with which they sought to appropriate to themselves her forsaken land. Aha! Exulting over Israel's misfortune (comp. Ezekiel 25:3; Psalms 40:16). The ancient high places, which Israel's enemies fancied had become theirs in possession, were probably "the everlasting hills" of Genesis 49:26 and Deuteronomy 33:15, the principal mountains of Palestine, which, as Havernick finely observes, were "the honorable witnesses and indestructible monuments of that ancient blessing spoken by Israel's ancestor, and still resting on the people;" and to assail which was, in consequence, not only to sin against Jehovah, but to attempt an enterprise foredoomed to failure and shame. At the same time, Plumptre's suggestion ('Ezekiel: an Ideal Biography,' Expositor, vol. 8.284; and Unpublished Notes) is not without plausibility, that, considering the special significance of the term bamoth in Ezekiel, the phrase should be held as referring to the sanctuaries which stood upon those heights—including, of course, the chief sanctuary, or temple (Schroder); in support of which the dean cites the frequency with which the enemies of Israel, as, for instance, the Assyrians and the Moabites, in their inscriptions, boasted that they had captured these sanctuaries.
Therefore. Ewald calls attention to the fivefold repetition of this conjunction, saying, "It repeats itself five times, the reasons [for God's judgments] against these enemies thrusting themselves forward, before the discourse calmly dwells upon the mountains of Israel, of which it is strictly intended to treat." As it were, the prophet's emotion is so strong, and his indignation against Israel's enemies so vehement, that, though he three times in succession begins to prophesy to the mountains of Israel, he on each occasion breaks off before he can get his message told, to expatiate upon the wickedness of Israel's foes. In the prophet's estimation that wickedness was so heinous as to inevitably carry in its bosom appropriate retribution. Because—literally, because and because, or even because, a reduplication for the sake of emphasis, as in Ezekiel 13:10 and Leviticus 26:43—they have made you desolate, and swallowed you up on every side; literally, wasting of and panting after you (are) round about. Fairbairn, Ewald, and Smend, deriving שַׁמוֹת from נָשַׁם, "to pant," rather than from שָׁמַם, "to lay waste," translate, "because there is snapping and puffing at you round about," which Plumptre thinks "falls in better with the context," since "the prophet's spirit seems to dwell throughout on the derision rather than the desolation to which his country, the mountains of Israel, had been subject." And ye are taken up; literally, ye are made to come, if וַתֵּעֲלוּ be an imperf; niph. of עָלַה, "to go up "(Rosenmüller, Schroder); or, ye are come, if it be imperf; kal of עָלַל, "to press, or go in" (Ewald, Havernick); or, ye are gone up, if it be second pers. kal of עָלַה (Hitzig, Smend). In the lips of talkers; literally, upon the lip of the tongue—the lip being regarded as the instrument or organ with which the tongue speaks. Havernick unnecessarily takes "the tongue" as equivalent to "people" in the parallel clause—a signification לָשׁוֹן has only in Isaiah 66:18; while Kliefoth views it as synonymous with "slander," as in Psalms 140:11, and translates, "upon the lip of slander and of the evil report of the people." Keil sees in "the tongue" a personification for the "tongue-man" or talker of Psalms 140:11; and Gesenius considers the two clauses as tautological.
The rivers (or, channels, bottoms, dales) were the water-courses, wadies, or ravines through which mountain streams flowed, as in Ezekiel 35:8; and the residue of the heathen were the surrounding nations that had mocked Israel in her degradation, and were then profiting by her fall (comp. Psalms 79:4).
Surely. אִם־לא, the particle of adjuration, as in Ezekiel 5:11; Ezekiel 33:27; Ezekiel 34:8; Ezekiel 38:19. The fire of my jealousy. Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:18; Zephaniah 3:8) uses the same phrase. Similar expressions occur in Ezekiel 21:31, "the fire of my wrath;" and Ezekiel 38:19, "in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath" (comp. Deuteronomy 4:24). Against all Idumea. Edom. As in Ezekiel 35:15, so here, it is the wickedness, more especially of the Edomites, that excites the prophet's indignation. They had not only concluded that Israel's territory should be to them for a possession, but they had done so with the joy of all their heart, and with despiteful minds; or, with contempt of soul (comp. Ezekiel 25:6, Ezekiel 25:15); i.e. with deadly (Ewald) or hearty (Smend) contempt. "The temper of the Edomites," writes Plumptre, "might almost serve as the regulative instance of the form of evil for which Aristotle ('Eth. Nit.,' 2, 7, 15) seems to have coined the word ἐπιχαιρεκακία, the temper which rejoices in the ills that fall on others." The concluding clause, to cast it out for a prey, has been differently rendered.
(1) Regarding מִגְרָשָׁהּ as an infinitive after לְמַעַן, "to spoil it," i.e. the land (Gesenius), "empty out" (Keil) or "drive out" (Ewald, Smend) its inhabitants (so as to get it) for a prey.
(2) Taking מִגְרָשָׁהּ as a noun, "for the sake of its possession for a prey" (Kliefoth), that their suburbs should be a prey" (Hengstenberg) "on account of its pasturage for a prey" (Schroder).
(3) Changing לָבַז into לָבֹז, "in order to plunder its produce" (Hitzig) or "pasturage" (Fairbairn).
Ezekiel 36:6, Ezekiel 36:7
Because ye have borne the shame of the heathen (i.e. the shame cast upon you by the heathen, see Ezekiel 34:29)… surely the heathen that are about you, they shall bear their shame. Not the shame which should be cast upon them by Israel, which would be retaliation, but their own shame—the shame due to them in virtue of the Divine law of retribution (Ezekiel 16:52), their own curses come home to roost, Ezekiel seeming to distinguish between retaliation and retribution. "The law [of retribution] is demanded by the absolute righteousness of God. The judicial visitations of God cannot possibly be one-sided. Punishment can so much the less strike Israel alone, as precisely in its punishment the deep degradation of heathendom, its apostasy from God and its pride, has set itself forth in the most striking way" (Havernick). The certainty that this law would operate in the case of the heathen no less than in that of Israel, the prophet expresses by representing Jehovah as having lifted up his hand, or sworn that it should be so (comp. Ezekiel 20:5, Ezekiel 20:6, Ezekiel 20:15, Ezekiel 20:23, Ezekiel 20:28; Ezekiel 47:14; Exodus 6:8; Numbers 14:30; Deuteronomy 32:40; and Virgil, 'AEneid,' 12.195, "Teaditque ad sidera dextram").
For they are at hand to come. Keil and Plumptre make the subject of the verb the material blessings in which Israel's prosperity is depicted as consisting, viz. the foliage and fruit her mountains were soon to bear for the people of Jehovah. The majority of expositors believe the subject to be the people whose return from exile was in this way declared to be approaching. Nor is there any reason why Ezekiel should not have represented the return from exile as an event soon to take place, since of the seventy years of captivity predicted by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11) at least twenty years had passed, if its commencement be dated from the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Ezekiel 33:21); and the fulfillment of Jehovah's promise was to the prophet so much a matter of certainty (Ezekiel 11:17) that his fervent imagination conceived it as at hand.
I am for you. He had previously been against (Ezekiel 5:8; Ezekiel 13:8), but was now for Israel and against Seir (Ezekiel 35:3). This change of dispensation implied no mutation in God, but merely that, as God had previously visited Israel with judgment on account of sin, so henceforth would he visit her with grace on condition of repentance. I will turn unto you. Always it is presupposed that Israel turns unto Jehovah.
Ezekiel 36:10, Ezekiel 36:11
I will multiply men upon you. Jehovah's promise contemplated a return of both sections of the Golah, the whole house of Israel, Ephraim as well as Judah (comp. Ezekiel 20:40), to the land from which they had been deported, and a restoration of the united kingdom to a condition of prosperity in which its cities should again be inhabited, its ruined homesteads repaired, its fields cultivated, and its flocks and herds multiplied (see Ezekiel 16:55; Isaiah 44:26; Isaiah 54:3; Isaiah 61:4)—a condition of prosperity so great that it should surpass any measure or degree of good fortune previously enjoyed (comp. Deuteronomy 30:5; Job 42:12).
Thou shalt devour men no more. From the middle of Ezekiel 36:12 the form of address changes from the plural to the singular, the whole country, mountains, and valleys being regarded as one land, as in Deuteronomy 3:25. The charge preferred against the country by her enemies was that she had been a land that devoured men and "bereaved its nations" (or, "nation," Revised Version); literally, an eater-up of men and a bereaver of thy nations; i.e. of Israel and Judah, perhaps also of the Canaanites, their predecessors (Fausset), the image being that of a wild beast which ravages the population and makes them childless, as in Ezekiel 5:17 and Ezekiel 14:15 (Smend), rather than that of an unnatural mother, a Rabenmutter, as in 2 Kings 6:29, who devours her offspring (Ewald). This charge, in which, perhaps, the prophet detected an allusion to Numbers 13:32, had certainly in times past been true; not, however, as Hengstenberg suggests, because the land had been "an apple of discord for the Asiatic and African powers," or, as Ewald explains, because "the tremendous restlessness, the excited push and hurry of such a mentally active city must in any case have used up its inhabitants more rapidly;" but, as Keil, Plumptre, and others interpret, because of the judgments of sword, famine, and pestilence sent upon the land by Jehovah for its sins. These judgments had so destroyed its inhabitants, first the Canaanites, and latterly the two peoples of Israel and Judah, that "those who looked upon it deemed it a fatal land, which brought destruction to all who should occupy it" (Currey). In the golden age to which the prophet looked forward, no such reproach should be possible. Not only should the laud not bereave its nations (according to the Keri, followed by the Authorized and Revised Versions, as well as by Ewald and Smend), but (according to the Chethib, preferred by Keil, Kliefoth, Havernick, Heugstenberg, Schroder, and Plumptre) it should not even cause them (or it) to stumble; i.e. should no more cause its inhabitants to lapse into those sins, amongst which idolatry stood prominent, which entailed on them ruin. Hengstenberg's idea, that "moral stumbling is not to be thought of in this connection," is certainly to be rejected.
Neither will I cause men to hear in thee—let thee hear, proclaim against thee (Revised Version); or literally, cause to be heard against thee—the shame of the heathen any more; i.e. the contemptuous speech uttered against thee by the heathen, equivalent to the reproach of the people; or, peoples; i.e. the reproach cast upon thee by the nations (see Ezekiel 16:57; Ezekiel 22:4; and comp. Joshua 5:9; Micah 6:16), rather than, as Curtsy suggests, the reproach cast upon thee by thy rightful possessors for want of fertility. This prophecy clearly looked beyond the return from exile under Zerubbabel and Joshua, Ezra and Neherajah, since under these leaders only a portion of the whole house of Israel reestablished themselves in Canaan, while the land was often afterwards subjected to reproach and oppression under heathen powers. At the same time, the homecoming from Babylon and the prosperity that ensued thereupon were partial fulfillments of the blessings here promised.
The oracle, commencing with this verse and extending to Ezekiel 37:14, has an ultimate connection with that which precedes. Having predicted a golden age in the future for Israel, when her people should have returned from banishment her cities should again be inhabited and her fields cultivated, the prophet is directed
(1) to explain that the ground of this would not have in any worthiness Jehovah should behold in Israel, who had rather in the past been punished and dispersed (Ezekiel 37:16-20), but only in the regard he, Jehovah, should have for his own holy Name or character (Ezekiel 37:21-24);
(2) to intimate that this glorious period should be accompanied by a moral and spiritual renovation of the people, which, however, could and therefore would be brought about only by God himself giving them a new heart and a new spirit, again for his own Name's sake (Eze 37:25 -32), and which, when attained, should lead to a prosperity so unparalleled as to recall the pristine splendors of earth's paradisiacal condition, and convince the heathen that should then be sharers in Israel's felicity that Jehovah alone was God (verses 33-38); and
(3) to remove all doubt from the people's minds as to the possibility of this happening by the vision of the dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14).
That Israel's restoration should not be brought about on account of Israel's merit, the prophet shows by briefly rehearsing the story of Israel's demerit, as the reason of her exile.
Their way was before me. Their ways and doings, i.e. their violent deeds and idolatrous practices (Ezekiel 36:18), were as morally loathsome in Jehovah's sight as the uncleanness of a woman in her separation was materially disgusting. The comparison may have been derived from Isaiah 64:6, but was as likely to have been original, seeing Ezekiel was a priest-prophet, to whom the details of the Levitical Law must have been familiar (comp. Ezekiel 18:6; Leviticus 15:19).
According to their way and according to their doings I judged them. The language hints at a correspondence between the punishment and the crime. As a woman in her separation was not only defiled, but separated from the congregation Leviticus 15:19), so Israel, having defiled both herself and her land, required to be removed from it (Le Ezekiel 18:28). And she was. Jehovah scattered her among the heathen and dispersed her through the countries.
They profaned my holy Name; or, the name of my holiness. According to Kliefoth, the subject of the verb is "the heathen," but expositors generally regard it as "the house of Israel" of Ezekiel 36:17. Plumptre thinks that "while grammatically the words may refer to either the heathen or the exiles of Israel, possibly the sentence was purposely left vague, so as to describe the fact in which both were sharers," and cites in support of this view similar constructions in Isaiah 55:5 and Romans 2:24. What led to the profanation of Jehovah's Name by the heathen was the arrival among them, not of the news of the calamity which had befallen Israel (Kliefoth, Hengstenberg), but of the house of Israel itself; and the actual profanation lay in this, that, having beheld the exiles, they said, These are the people of the Lord, and they are gone forth out of his land. As the heathen recognized only local divinities, they concluded Jehovah had either behaved capriciously towards his people and east them off (comp. Jeremiah 23:40; Jeremiah 29:18; Jeremiah 33:24), or had proved unequal to the task of protecting them so that they had been driven off (comp. Ezekiel 20:5, etc.; Numbers 14:16; Jeremiah 14:9). In either case, the honor of Jehovah had been lessened in the minds and tarnished by the words of the heathen, and inasmuch as this result had been brought about by Israel's sin, on Israel properly the blame lay.
I had pity for mille holy Name. Havernick, after the LXX; wrongly renders, "I spared (them, i.e. Israel) for my holy Name s sake; but the preposition for or "upon" following the verb usually marks the object upon which the action of the verb terminates (see Ezekiel 16:5). Gesenius translates, "I will be sparing of my holy Name;" i.e. I will care for its honor.
Not for your sakes … but for mine holy Name's sake. Thus Jehovah repudiates the claim of merit on Israel's part (comp. Ezekiel 36:32); and if Israel had no claim on Jehovah for deliverance from the Babylonish exile any more than she had at first to be put in possession of Canaan (Deuteronomy 9:6), much less has fallen man a claim on God for salvation from the condemnation and dominion of sin (Romans 11:6; Ephesians 2:8-10). As the essential holiness and righteousness of God were the real reason of Israel's exile and dispersion among the nations, so were these qualities in God the ultimate grounds to which Israel's recovery and restoration should be traced.
I will sanctify my great Name; i.e. the name of my holiness (Deuteronomy 28:58; Psalms 8:1; Malachi 1:11). As Israel's dispersion had caused that Name to be profaned, so Israel's restoration would secure that it should be magnified among the heathen (Ezekiel 38:23), who should learn from this event that their previous ideas of Jehovah, as a feeble and local divinity, had been wrong. The question whether your eyes, as in the Hebrew text, or "their eyes," as in many ancient versions, should be read is debated. The latter reading appears to be demanded by the usus loquendi of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 20:41; Ezekiel 28:25; Ezekiel 38:16; Ezekiel 39:27), and is adopted by both English versions as well as by interpreters of eminence; but other expositors of equal name adhere to the former reading on the ground that the sanctifying of Jehovah's Name in the eyes of Israel was an indispensable preliminary to its sanctification in the eyes of the heathen. Havernick regards "their eyes" as "an obvious emendation to relieve a difficulty," to which in no case should criticism accord the preference; while Keil gives it the preference, though admitting that "your eyes" can be justified.
I will take you from among the heathen; or, nations. The first step in the sanctification of Jehovah's Name. A promise already given (Ezekiel 11:17; Ezekiel 20:41, Ezekiel 20:42), and afterwards repeated (Ezekiel 37:21). The mention of "all countries" shows the prophet's gaze to have been directed beyond the present or immediate future. The Israel of Ezekiel's time had not been scattered among and could not be gathered from all, countries; yet in the years that have passed since then Ezekiel's language as to Israel's dispersion has been literally fulfilled. Wherefore the inference is reasonable that the reassembling to which Ezekiel refers is an event that has not yet occurred, at least in its fullest measure and degree, but will only then be realized completely and finally when the scattered members of the house of Israel shall have been received into the Christian Church (Romans 11:25, Romans 11:26).
Then (literally, and) I will sprinkle clean water upon you. The second step in the sanctification of Jehovah's Name, and one absolutely necessary to render the preceding either permanent or valuable, was the moral renovation of the people; and in this the first stage was the forgiveness of the people's sins. The image under which this is set forth, "sprinkling with clean water," would naturally present itself to a priest-prophet such as Ezekiel. Jarchi, Rosenmüller, Hengstenberg, and others suppose the allusion to be to the water of purification prepared by mixing running water with the ashes of a red heifer (Numbers 19:17-19), and in the account given of this rite the verb for "sprinkle" is that used by Ezekiel, viz. זָרַק. Havernick prefers the rite performed in the consecration of the Levites (Numbers 8:7, Numbers 8:21). Smend, who holds the priest-code had no existence in Ezekiel's day, traces the image to Zechariah 13:1 or Psalms 51:2, though he also cites Numbers 8:19. Hitzig, Kliefoth, and Currey think of the lustrations of the Law in general; and perhaps this best explains the prophet's language, since the element sprinkled is not "blood" or "water mixed with ashes," but "clean water," "the best known means of purification" (Schroder). As to whether legal or moral cleansing were intended by the prophet, possibly Ezekiel drew no sharp distinction between the two, such as the New Testament draws between justification and sanctification; if he did, then the figure in the text must be taken as alluding rather to the former than to the latter—rather to the forgiveness of Israel's sin than to the regeneration of Israel's heart, which is next referred to.
Ezekiel 36:26, Ezekiel 36:27
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you. The third step in the progress of sanctifying Jehovah's Name (comp. Ezekiel 11:19, where a similar promise is made, and Ezekiel 18:31, where the new heart is represented as a thing Israel must make for herself). This antinomy frequently occurs in Scripture, which never shrinks from holding man responsible for the production of that, as e.g. faith, for which he is incompetent without the help of Divine grace. Besides the cleansing of her guilt and her restitution in consequence to Jehovah's favor, Israel is promised such an inward renovation of her moral and spiritual disposition as to secure that she shall in future adhere to the worship and service of Jehovah. This change is described in a fourfold way.
(1) Negatively, as a removal of the old, stony, unsusceptible heart, which had remained impervious to all appeals and insertsible to all higher feelings (Zechariah 7:12).
(2) Positively, as a new heart and a new spirit, called elsewhere "one heart" and "a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 11:19; Jeremiah 32:39), "a heart to know God" (Jeremiah 24:7).
(3) Causally, its existence being traced to the indwelling of God's Spirit, who writes God's Law upon the new heart, and inclines it to a life of obedience thereto (Jeremiah 31:33).
(4) Practically, by its manifestation, walking in God's statutes and keeping God s judgments (Ezekiel 11:20). The account here furnished of the moral and spiritual change proposed to be inwrought on Israel cot-responds exactly with that given in the New Testament of the regeneration of the individual soul (John 3:3-8; Romans 8:2, Romans 8:5, Romans 8:9; Galatians 5:22; Titus 3:5, Titus 3:6; 1 Peter 1:22).
describe the results which should follow in Israel's experience when God should have thus gathered, cleansed, and renewed them. They should then have
(1) permanent occupation of the land (Ezekiel 36:28);
(2) covenant relationship with God as his people (Ezekiel 36:28);
(3) protection against future lapsing into idolatry and immorality (verse
(4) abundant supply for every want (Ezekiel 36:29, Ezekiel 36:30); and
(5) a deepening sense of self-humiliation on account of and repentance for past sin (Ezekiel 36:31).
Ye shall dwell in the land. As the Jews who returned from Babylon did not permanently dwell in the land, but were again ejected from it, the promise contained in these words must be viewed as having been conditional on the realization of the moral and spiritual purity above described. If, therefore, it be aroused that inasmuch as this promise must be fulfilled (2 Corinthians 1:20; Hebrews 10:23), the Jews must yet be restored to Palestine, the reply is that their return can only take place when they have been converted to Christianity; so that the whole promise must be regarded as receiving its highest fulfillment in the experiences of the Church of Christ. That this view is correct is vouched for by the fact that the words, Ye shall be my people and I will be your God (comp. Ezekiel 11:20 : Jeremiah 7:23; Jeremiah 11:4; Jeremiah 30:22), descriptive of the covenant relationship in which Jehovah stood towards Israel (Exodus 19:5; Le Exodus 26:12; Deuteronomy 26:17, Deuteronomy 26:18), have been chosen by New Testament writers to set forth the relationship of God towards the Christian Church, first here on earth (2 Corinthians 6:16-18), and afterwards in the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:3).
From all your uncleannesses. The same word as in Ezekiel 36:25, though with difference in meaning. From their uncleanness of the past they have already been saved (Ezekiel 36:25); the present promise guarantees preservation against future lapsing into uncleanness, i.e. the filthiness of idol-service. "With this," writes Plumptre, "the necessity for temporal chastisements as a corrective discipline should cease, and there would be nothing to check the full outpouring of all material as well as spiritual blessings." With the phrase, I will call for the corn, compare the similar expressions in 2 Kings 8:1; Hosea 2:23, etc.; Jeremiah 31:12; Zechariah 9:17.
Ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight (comp. Ezekiel 16:61; Ezekiel 42:10). The last result of this enlarged experience of the Divine goodness would be to quicken in the heart of forgiven and renewed Israel a sense of shame and a feeling of repentance (comp. Romans 2:4).
repeats and emphasizes the thought of Ezekiel 36:22, that the true ground of God's gracious dealing with Israel should be found, not in their merit, but in his grace. So far as their ways were concerned, there was cause only for judgment on his part and self-humiliation on theirs.
describe the effect of Israel's restored prosperity on the surrounding nations.
This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden. (For the reverse picture, see Joel 2:3.) The thought of the first Paradise (Genesis 2:8), in the historicity of which clearly Ezekiel believed, was one on which his mind often dwelt (Ezekiel 28:13; Ezekiel 31:9) as an ideal of earthly beauty and fertility which should recur in the closing age of the world—a hope which appears to have been shared by Isaiah (Isaiah 51:3), and taken up by John (Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:1-3). In the day when that hope should be realized for Israel, the waste, desolate, and ruined cities, on which the passers-by who visited Palestine gazed, should be fenced and inhabited; literally, inhabited as fortresses. The three predicates, "waste," "desolate," and" ruined," have been distinguished as signifying "stripped of its inhabitants," "untilled in its lands," and "broken down in its buildings;" in contrast with which, in the golden era of the future, the towns should be inhabited, the fields tilled, and the ruined fortresses built.
The heathen that are left round about you. The language presupposes that at or before the time of Israel's restoration the judgments pronounced against the nations will have overtaken them, so that only a remnant of them will be then in existence. Kliefoth and Currey view this remnant as those who shall have been converted out of heathendom and become attached to the community of Israel, like "the nations of the saved" in Revelation 21:24; Keil, with more accuracy, regards their conversion as resulting from their recognition of the hand of God in building again the wastes places of Jerusalem.
I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel. On two previous occasions (Ezekiel 14:3; Ezekiel 20:3), Jehovah had declined to be inquired of by the hypocritical and idol-loving elders of Israel, who pretended to consult him through his prophet; now he makes it known that in the future era no barrier of moral and spiritual unfitness on their part will prevent their free approach to his throne, but rather that they will come to him with fervent supplications for the very blessings he has pro-raised. In answer to their prayers, he engages, going back to the language of Ezekiel 34:22, to increase them with men like a flock—incorrectly rendered by Kliefoth to "multiply them so that they shall become the flock of mankind." Thus he meets the despondency of those among the exiles who, fixing their attention on the small number of them who should form the new Israel—those who should return with those, perhaps, who still remained in the land-could not see how Israel's future prosperity was to be secured.
The people who should occupy the land of Israel in the coming age should be as the holy flock—literally, as the flock of holy things, or beasts; i.e. of sacrificial lambs—as the flock of Jerusalem in her solemn feasts; literally, in her appointed times; i.e. her festal seasons (comp. Micah 2:12), referring to the three well-known annual occasions when the male population of the land came to the sanctuary (Deuteronomy 16:16), and when in consequence the flocks and herds poured into the metropolis were well-nigh past reckoning (see 2Ch 29:33; 2 Chronicles 35:7; and comp. Josephus, 'Wars,' 6.9. 3). Perhaps in addition to the idea of the multiplication of the people, that of their dedication to the service of Jehovah is suggested by the prophet's language.
The enemies of Israel were triumphing over the fallen nation, but prematurely; for they did not reckon on a possibility of a restoration. This is like the triumph of evil over the ruined world.
I. THERE IS A TRIUMPH OF EVIL.
1. In the fall of man. When Adam fell it seemed as though the greatest work of God had been hopelessly ruined almost as soon as it appeared. No sooner was man made in the image of God than he groveled in the dust, and marred the heavenly likeness with ugly stains of sins.
2. In the history of primitive man. So evil is man that the whole race, with the exception of a single family, is swept off the face of the earth. Once more the world is reduced to a desolate condition, once more evil seems to have conquered.
3. In the troubles of the Hebrews. The people of God become oppressed slaves in Egypt. "Where is the promise delivered to the fathers?'
4. In the failure to enter Palestine. The Israelites reach the borders of the land, and are then driven back defeated, and compelled to wander in the wilderness for forty years.
5. In the miserable days of the judges. When the land was at length possessed, it was not found to be all milk and honey. War and wickedness, sorrow and shame, make the first ages of the possession of Canaan almost the darkest period in Jewish history.
6. The wickedness of later days. The story of Israel is a story of repeated rebellions against God, and repeated Divine chastisements.
7. In the Captivity. When the two nations were driven into captivity, and their territory devastated by the heathen, the triumph of the enemies of the people of God seemed to be complete.
8. In the cruelty of later days. Eastern empires, the Seleucidae, and the Romans successively triumphed over and oppressed the once favored people.
9. In the cross of Christ. Here, indeed, the enemies of righteousness reach their crowning triumph. Satan now exults over the sorrow and death of the Son of man.
10. In the history of Christendom. This has not been a history of continuous growth and victory over evil. First there were the great persecutions. Then followed the great apostasy. The dark ages marked the triumph of ignorance and cruelty. Today the powers of evil are mighty and exultant.
II. THIS TRIUMPH WILL BE REVERSED. It is premature. We have not yet reached the end of the story. The battle is still raging; it is too early for the foe to sing his paeans of victory. All along the dark recital of victories of evil there has been the alternative picture of Divine deliverance. We make a mistake when we dwell only on the gloomy side of history. God has been revealing himself in history. Not only did he save the eight in the ark. He delivered all Israel from Egypt. He gave Canaan, and he gave restoration from the Captivity. He sent his Son to save the world. In the darkest hour when Christ hung dying on the cross while evil seemed to be most triumphant, victory was really being won by that very death of the world's Savior. We have not seen the end yet. Perhaps we are on the fringe of a great contest between the servants of Christ and his foes. But never was the work of Christ more manifest than it is today in Christian activity at home and in the harvest of the mission-field abroad. While the unbeliever exults in what he thinks is the demonstration of the falsehood of Christianity and the sure prospect of its speedy downfall, there are more earnest active Christians at work than ever there were. By the grace of God we may trust that, though the battle is still fierce, we are moving on to victory under the Captain of our salvation.
Ezekiel 36:8, Ezekiel 36:9
I. RESTORATION OF CHARACTER BRINGS A RETURN OF PROSPERITY. During the absence of the captives in Babylon their land fell into decay. The mountains which had been carefully terraced for vines were neglected, just as they are today on the hills about Jerusalem, where rows of stones mark the site of the ancient terraces. Sin ultimately ruins the outer as well as the inner man, for the prosperity of the wicked is but temporary, and though it may extend through an individual lifetime, it must break down during the course of the longer life of a nation. But on the other hand, restoration to God undoes the ruin of the outer life. This too may be a slow process. The individual man who has beggared himself with sinful extravagance may never become rich; but the nation that has returned to better ways of living will in time reap the good results of its renovation of character even on earth. When we think not only of external prosperity, but of inward blessedness, the result is seen sooner, and it is found in every individual soul that is pardoned and renewed. No one need despair of his present desolation. Repentance renews the face of the penitent's whole life.
II. This RETURN OF PROSPERITY IS CAUSED BY A RETURN OF GOD. "For behold I am with you, and I will turn unto you." God had abandoned the guilty land. Therefore a blight had fallen upon it. If God deserts a man, nothing can really prosper with him. He may still coin gold in his business, but it will be a curse to him. When God smiles upon a man's life he brings, not necessarily wealth, but certainly welfare. It would be well for everybody to ask himself—Is my business such that I dare ask God into it? Can I regard my workshop as a temple, or my work as a sacrifice? For these are the conditions on which true prosperity depends, because they are the conditions of God's gracious help.
III. THE RETURN OF GOD IS ACCOMPANIED BY A REVIVAL OF HUMAN ACTIVITY. "And ye shall be tilled and sown." That work will not be done directly by God, nor will it be accomplished by the unseen hands of angel-husbandmen. Men must till and sow. God's blessing does not dispense with man's labor. Assuredly it is not an excuse for human idleness. On the contrary, it is the inspiration of the highest activity. God blesses by stirring men up to wise and earnest work. St. Paul teaches us that God gives the increase after man's sowing and watering (1 Corinthians 3:6). But Ezekiel shows that God's great work does not only follow man's smaller toil; it precedes that toil, and is the spring from which the energy for it proceeds. We are first told that God will turn unto his people, and not till after this is it said, "And ye shall be tilled and sown." This is the happiest way of giving prosperity. If all the glory is God's, still the joy of service is man's. The same is true of spiritual prosperity. If we would reap a harvest in Christian work, we must not only bring it to God and ask his blessing upon it; we must first of all seek his presence m it, that it may be his work from the first. Then he will be the Inspiration of his servants' activity. We shall be able to till and sow just because God is with us. The glorious prosperity will come from God as a fruit of his gracious benediction, and it will come through us as the human instruments who are called by God like laborers to work in his vineyard.
I. THE TRUE WEALTH OF A PEOPLE IS IN ITS POPULATION. God makes this promise to the house of Israel, that he "will multiply men." The land is desolate for want of inhabitants, the fields untilled for want of laborers, and the cities lying in ruins for lack of men to build up the waste places, The restoration shall be signalized by a return of the captives and a consequent increase of population. Now, the striking fact is that this multiplication of the population is noted as a great good for the land. Other things being equal, every country is strong in proportion to the number of its able-bodied citizens. In times of war this is obvious; the strong nation is one that can command a large army. But in industrial relations the same is equally true. The more producers there are the more wealth must be produced—either in the form of food or in the form of commodities that may be exchanged for food purchased elsewhere. These plain facts are obscured by bad social habits.
1. Overcrowding in cities. The waste places should be built—not the reeking fever-dens crammed with an overflowing population of sickly creatures, who have no energy for work, and whose surroundings do not permit decent living. One of the greatest evils of our day is the depletion of our rural districts and the pressing of the population into the cities. What is needed is not a reduction of the population, but a scattering of it over the face of the land at home and also throughout the colonies. The mistake that led to the building of the tower of Babel is still fatally prevalent.
2. Unworthy living. Too many men are not doing men's work—idle rich men who consume without producing, and idle poor men who are always near the border-land of crime, on the further side of which they would become positive destroyers. We cannot have too many true men, but they must be men indeed—workers, not drones.
II. THE STRENGTH OF THE CHURCH IS IN ITS MEMBERSHIP. The word "Church" stands for a community. The great Catholic Church of all nations and creeds is the whole body of Christians. This obvious fact is too often neglected. Thus the Church is sometimes regarded as an institution apart from the souls of which it consists; it is said to have its rights, its triumphs, while no thought is given to the people in it. This is a pure delusion—the glorification of an empty abstraction. Again, for the Church some would substitute its officers. The Christian ministry is regarded as the Church. This was the case in the Middle Ages, when popes and great ecclesiastical dignitaries contended with emperors and kings for the privileges of the Church. In those contests little account was taken of the interest of the people—the townsfolk and village folk who constituted the body of the Church. But in these democratic days the rights of the people are being better recognized, and now we are coming to see that the Church is just the men, women, and children that constitute it, viewed in their corporate relation as the body of Christ on earth. The Church is honored when men are multiplied in her midst. She cannot be in health if the missionary spirit dies out of her. But while she gathers in the heathen her first duty is to train her own children. She should thus grow her own members. Here, however, we need a caution. Mere numbers will count for nothing apart from character. Statistical Christianity is a poor production. We want true men—living souls united to Christ and working for his glory. Still, the honor of the Church is not in remaining small and select, and keeping her privileges to herself and neglecting the world, but in multiplying men. She should he a great popular institution, true to the spirit of Christ, who called himself "the Son of man."
("And I will do better unto you than at your beginnings")
The better future.
I. THE BETTER FUTURE OF THE WORLD. There is a natural tendency among men to say, "The former times were better." Nations cherish legends of an ancient golden age. People talk about "the good old times." But when we search history we cannot find these happy days. On the contrary, writers in the very ages to which some of our contemporary dreamers look back with sentimental regret deplore the degeneracy of their days. Our own age is bad enough, but it is not easy to lay our finger on any previous age that was not worse. This, however, is not the principal question. Waiving the point as to whether the past history of our race has been characterized by progress or by a process of degeneration, we have still to ask whether the future may not be better than anything that has been experienced in the past. Now, it is the distinct teaching of the Bible that it will be so. "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." While men turn back wistfully to the lost Eden, God promises a better heaven. We do not need to discuss the idea of a Paradise regained, for we have the more glowing picture of the heavenly Jerusalem. Even if we grant the worst that has been said of man's continuous decline, the New Testament points to an arrest of this dreadful movement, to a redemption and more than a restoration, to a perfection of humanity never attained in the past.
II. THE BETTER FUTURE OF THE CHURCH. The Church, which has the seed of Divine life in her, should be continually growing in grace. While like the mustard tree she enlarges her size, she should also, like the rising temple, become ever more radiant with the beauty of holiness. Perhaps there is no sadder story than that of the history of the Church. No doubt there have been ages of glorious zeal and devotion; no doubt God has been continuously educating his people. But there have been awful times of relapse. We think we can see progress in our own day—a wiser thought, a larger charity, a more practical activity in the service of man. But we are far indeed from realizing Christ's great ideal. That ideal, however, is the picture of the future, and the pattern after which we are to toil with the utmost hopefulness. The New Testament promises a glorious future to the people of God (Ephesians 2:21).
III. THE BETTER FUTURE OF THE SOUL. In our melancholy moods we yearn after the old sweet days of childhood—their innocence, their simplicity, their joyousness. We forget their limitations, their fears, their infantine distresses. But perhaps we have fallen far from those early days. Then we knew nothing of the world's dreadful sin. Now we must confess that we have not kept ourselves unspotted. And with the soul's fall has come the soul's sorrow, and many disappointments and losses have made the day which dawned in golden sunshine overcast with gloomy clouds. Still, we have not reached the end. After bathing in the Jordan, Naaman's leprous flesh became healthy as that of a little child. The leprous soul may he cleansed, the worn-out life renewed. "If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Then the future is full of hope. The victorious Christian, with all his scars, and even with his memory of shameful unfaithfulness, stands higher than the unfallen because untried child. God has a blessed future in the heavenly inheritance reserved for the most weary souls. The secret of this happy prospect is in the power and grace of God. It is he who will do better for his people than at the beginning.
God saving for his own Name's sake.
I. A PRINCIPLE OF DIVINE ACTION. We are here admitted to the secret council-chamber of heaven. The inner motive of God's activity is revealed to us. He shows on what grounds he proceeds in redeeming man. Man is redeemed for the sake of God's Name, and not on account of any human deserts and claims.
1. God's faithfulness. A person's good name is associated with his keeping his word. If a man has put his name to a document, he must not ignore its stipulations. A just person will swear to his own hurt and not change. Now, God is the type and pattern of all truth and fidelity. His eternal constancy lies at the root of the order of the universe. What he has promised he will do, because he is faithful. But he has promised redemption (e.g. Ezekiel 34:22-31). Therefore he will redeem his people, that he may redeem his word. Though it costs the sacrifice of his Son, nothing shall be wanting to a faithful execution of his promise.
2. God's character. The name is supposed to express the nature. God is named after what he is. Now, God's nature is essentially good and gracious. With the New Testament before us, we know that God's best name is Love (1 John 4:8). Jesus Christ has taught us to concentrate our thoughts of God on his Fatherhood. God will act according to his Name, i.e. according to his nature. Love must characterize his conduct, and whatever he does he will do it "like as a father." His fatherly character will lead him to redeem and save, irrespective of desert, for sheer love and pity.
3. God's glory. To get a name is to receive glory. When Christ is glorified he is said to receive "a Name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:9). God's Name is his glory. Now, God is glorified in many ways, but in none so highly as in his saving the lost. The best song of heavenly praise is the hymn of redemption (Revelation 5:9). There is glory in creation; and the greatness, the order, the beauty, the life of the universe praise God. There is glory in Divine government; and the manner in which God rules all things and establishes righteousness displays his glory. But we know of no glory like that of God's grace revealed at Calvary. This fact should help us to understand how God can ask for his own glory without being selfish. When men seek their own glory they usually do so at the expense of, or to the neglect of, others. But God's glory shines out of his supreme self-sacrifice. This is the secret of the highest glory.
II. ITS PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES.
1. We can never hope to earn salvation. It is a gift of God, never a work or reward of man.
(1) This is a rebuke for pride.
(2) It also warns us against the folly of seeking to establish some claim with God by penance, works, or sacrifice.
"Nothing in my hands I bring;
Simply to thy cross I cling."
2. We need never despair of salvation. If it were given for our own sakes in any way, we might well torture ourselves with doubts as to whether we should merit it, nay, we had better give up all hope at once, for we could not earn it. But now the ground is shifted from ourselves to God. The question is not as to what is in us, but as to what is in him. The most unworthy, those who have made the worst failures in life, the weakest or the most sinful, may yet dare to hope for full and perfect salvation through the great grace of God, for his Name's sake.
3. We have the highest reasons for joy and adoration. The redemption is offered to the worst sinners—to all men, on their repenting and seeking the grace of God. Here is a glad fact and one to inspire eternal praise. Translating it into Christian language, we see that we are to rejoice and glory in salvation given to us through Christ; for Christ is "the Word" (John 1:1), i.e. the Name of God. God saves for the sake of his Name when he saves for Christ's sake.
I. SOULS NEED CLEANSING FROM SIN. Here we come to the deeper part of man's need. The Jews perceived their external disasters only too clearly. War, captivity, poverty, sickness, death, were visible evils. But they did not so readily discern the unseen spiritual evils which were behind those troubles, as their causes. The greatest calamity is not so bad as sin. While we are eager to elude the consequences of wrong-doing, God sees that the wrong-doing itself is our chief evil. The principal part of the redemption required by Israel was not deliverance from the power of Babylon, but deliverance from the tyranny of sin; their most needed recovery was not restoration to Palestine, but restoration to God. To be cleansed from their idolatry and brought into a condition of spiritual worship was their greatest salvation. Israel is restored if that is done, even though she be stir far from possessing her land; she is not restored without it, though she have the fee simple of every acre of Palestine.
II. THE CLEANSING OF SOULS WILL REMOVE BOTH THE GUILT AND THE POWER OF SIN.
1. The guilt. Sin leaves a stain behind. Blame justly attaches itself to all wrongdoing, and, though the deed of evil may be swiftly accomplished, the blame lingers long. The stain of sin is not merely an ugly fact; it produces dreadful consequences.
(1) It excludes the soul from the presence of God. No stained souls can be permitted to tread the courts of heaven.
(2) It draws down the wrath of God.
(3) It carries with it continuous shame.
2. The power. The evil is more than a stain upon the conscience. It is a poison within the soul. It works harm by its corrupting as well as its defiling influence. We need some antidote to this poison, or some wonderful cleansing that shall completely purge it out of our being—a real internal washing, not merely a clearing of a darkened reputation.
III. GOD HAS PROVIDED CLEANSING WATER. What is needed is clean water. New, this is just what is not to be got in places of defilement. The foul soil stains and poisons the streams that flow through it. No human thing is clean from the contamination of man's great sin. Therefore there can be no human fountain for uncleanness. But God has opened a fountain, and the gospel of Christ introduces us to it. He is pure, and he can give perfect purification. The water that flows from this rock is not defiled with earth's contamination. "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). Here we have the double cleansing. The guilt is washed out by a Divine pardon given through the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, and the impurity is purged away by the Holy Spirit communicated to us by the grace of God in Christ. The cross redeems from all sin. The Lamb of God taketh away the sin of the world. There is perfect cleansing of character, motive, heart, and soul in Christ.
IV. THIS CLEANSING WATER IS SPRINKLED ON INDIVIDUAL SOULS FOR THEIR CLEANSING. It is not enough that the water exists, nor that we behold it, nor that it flows in a full, free torrent.
1. It must be applied to each individual soul—sprinkled. This great fact is suggested by the rite of baptism. The future tense is here used. The prophecy was written before the advent of Christ. But even now the future tense must be used for all who are still in sin and earnestly desire cleansing. Christ's atonement is finished; but his cleansing must be continually given afresh to separate souls.
2. This cleansing is divinely given. "I will sprinkle," etc. God himself cleanses souls. We have to repent and seek his mercy. Then he will work directly in his pardoning and purifying grace.
A new heart.
We are here introduced to one of those profound utterances in which the Old Testament anticipates some of the richest truths of the New. The grace here promised was doubtless given in all ages to those who truly repented and sought it. But reading these words in the light of the gospel, we are able to see much more clearly what is their eternal significance.
I. THE ESSENCE OF SALVATION IS THE RENEWAL OF THE HEART. The commonest mistake is to ignore this most significant fact. People regard salvation too much as a change in the soul's estate rather than a change in its very nature. But while there is a change of condition, and while the greatest possible external consequences flow from the redemption of souls, that redemption does not consist in these things; they are but of secondary importance. The primary fact is internal. To be saved from the visible fires of a material hell, and to be carried aloft to the tunable pleasures of a celestial Paradise, may satisfy the Mohammedan-minded Christian, but it will not fulfill the great thought of Christ. Hearts are wrong, foul, diseased. Men have false ideas, corrupt desires and affections, evil imaginations, or perhaps a blank deadness of soul. Here is the seat of the disease; here, then, the cure must begin. Sin is heart-disease; salvation is heart-renewal.
II. THE OLD EVIL HEART IS OF STONE. A terrible and most significant description.
1. It is hard. It does not respond to the call of God; it neither perceives spiritual truth, nor feels Divine influences, nor responds to heavenly voices. It has no sympathy with God. It is inflexible and immobile.
2. It is cold. Not only does it not respond to the influences of God; in itself and in its new condition it is unfeeling. There is no glow of generous affection in the sinful heart.
3. It is dead. The heart is the most vital organ. For this part of the body to be petrified involves a fearful condition of utter death. The hands might be turned to stone, and yet the man might live. But if he bad a heart of stone he must be dead. Souls are "dead in trespasses and sin" (Ephesians 2:1). Men fear a future death, but the Bible teaches that there is a present death of godless souls.
4. It is unnatural. A heart of stone—what can be more monstrous? Sin is all unnatural. It is contrary to nature not to have feelings of love for our heavenly Father.
III. GOD GIVES A NEW HEART OF FLESH.
1. It is a new heart. There is no curing the old one. "Ye must be born again" (John 3:3). To be in Christ is to be "a new creature." Thus Christ gives complete renewal. Now, the hope of the world lies in this great fact. We try to patch up the face of society, but it is mortifying at the core; and Christ goes at once to the root of the matter. With creative power he makes the heart afresh, i.e. he gives quite new thoughts, feelings, and desires. The most abandoned wrecks of society may take courage and believe that even they can be saved if this is the glorious work of Christ in souls.
2. It is a heart of flesh.
(1) Tender. The old coldness and hardness pass away. Pride, stubbornness, obstinacy, are broken down, the penitent soul is melted. The softening of the hardened spirit is an essential part of conversion.
(2) Sympathetic. The renewed heart readily answers to the call of God and to the joys and sorrows of men.
(3) Living. This new heart beats, It drives life-blood through the whole being. The fainting soul is invigorated. Energy springs from the new heart. It pulsates with the vigor of a glad, strong life.
(4) Natural. The heart is of flesh, not of some foreign angelic substance. Sin is monstrous, goodness natural. The true Christian is natural; he is intensely human. God's work in the soul brings a man into close sympathy with his fellows. It restores true human nature.
The indwelling Spirit.
Three stages in redemption are successively brought before us. First, cleansing: "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you," etc.; second, renewal: "A new heart also will I give you," etc.; third, inspiration: "And I will put my Spirit within you." Let us now consider this third stage of the grand process of redemption.
I. THE PRESENCE OF GOD'S SPIRIT DEPENDS ON THE CONDITION OF MEN'S HEARTS AND LIVES. The third stage of redemption is closely connected with those that precede. It cannot be attained without them, any more than the top of the staircase can be reached without passing over the lower steps. We cannot reverse the order. Cleansing and renewal must precede inspiration. God does not dwell equally with all men. There are God-haunted souls and there are God-deserted souls. The Spirit of God entered into Samson (Judges 14:6), but Satan entered into Judas (Luke 22:3). Here is one great motive for our seeking to attain to the two earlier stages. They are the conditions on which we may enter into the highest privileges of all religion.
II. GOD PUTS HIS SPIRIT IN THE HEARTS OF HIS PEOPLE. He does not merely give gifts; he also comes in his own Spirit's presence. The good man walks with God (Genesis 5:24). He enjoys God's abiding presence. He is a temple of the Holy Ghost. These facts show us that religion is not only a human experience of beliefs and devotion. Its creeds and its worship are but one side of it. Its deeper character lies on the other side, in the Divine action. In true religion God enters the soul and touches its secret centers.
III. THE PRESENCE OF GOD'S SPIRIT IS MANIFESTED BY ITS EFFECTS. We need not look for mystical signs like the incorruptible light which the monks of Mount Athos imagined they were able to see as the revelation of the very presence of God in our souls. We need not despair if immediate consciousness does not give us a vision of God's Spirit. The joy of communion should be very real. Yet it is rather by the fruits of the Spirit that we are to be assured of his presence (Galatians 5:22). They are of two kinds.
1. Graces. There are given to every soul, and consist in the illuminating, sanctifying, strengthening influence of the Holy Spirit. Thus God helps us to understand his truth, baptizes us with his holiness, and breathes into us the power of the Divine life.
2. Gifts. It is important to distinguish the graces of the Spirit from its gifts. While the former are for all Christians, the latter are special and distinctive. They vary in different ages and with different persons. There were gifts of healing, of prophesying, of tongues, in the ancient Church (Romans 12:6). Bezaleel had a gift for art (Exodus 35:30, Exodus 35:31); Samson, a gift of strength (Judges 13:25), etc.—all from the Spirit of God. Christ now gives gifts unto men through his Spirit—not exactly those of New Testament times, but such as the present age needs.
IV. CHRISTIANS SHOULD ACT ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE INDWELLING SPIRIT.
1. Making use of His aid. If we are Christ's, we are not left to our own resources. It is much to know that the gracious Spirit is with us to cheer and help.
2. Not grieving him away. We may grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). We are to remember that we are temples of the Holy Ghost, and therefore to keep the dwelling of God cigar of all defilement (1 Corinthians 6:19).
The restored people are to be cleansed, renewed, and inspired. Yet they will still carry with them sad memories of their former sins.
I. THE PARDONED PENITENT CANNOT FORGET HIS PAST. The hardened sinner may do so; or at least he may carry the memory of his ill deeds with so light a heart that it will be no burden to him. While he thus bears the whole weight of his sin, its guilt, and its hurtful influence, he is scarcely conscious of it; but directly he begins to repeat, the sin grows into an unbearable burden, and the sinner becomes keenly con-solons of its continuous presence. He carries about with him the vision of his life's story written in letters of fire. Now, after forgiveness and renewal, the burden and stain of guilt are gone. Still the sin is not undone. The restored penitent must feel that his was an evil past. God forgets his sin, but he cannot forget it himself.
II. THE MEMORY OF PAST SIN SHOULD NOT BECOME A HAMPERING BURDEN. It is possible that it may be so in a morbid conscience. But if God has forgiven our sin, we need not feel continuous distress at the thought of it. It is hard for the penitent ever to forgive himself. Yet he may do dishonor to the grace of God by dwelling too painfully on the memory of sin, so that he even forgets the wealth of pardoning love with which it has been covered. We need courage to take the grace of God, and to dare to go on our way rejoicing in the gladness which it is meant to afford us.
III. SAD MEMORIES MAY BE TURNED TO WHOLESOME USES.
1. They may keep us humble. Though restored now, we cannot forget the pit from which we have been digged. Let us, then, beware of falling back into it. "The burnt child dreads the fire." The soul that has fallen once should fear temptation for the future.
2. They should make us grateful. Every time we remember past sins we should also recollect the grace of God that has delivered us from them. The memory of the disease should call up the picture of the good Physician. Christ's love never shines so brightly as when it is seen against the background of man's sin.
3. They should drive us to Christ. Still do we need him. Away from him our souls are saddened with dark shadows of the horrible past. A gloom hangs over the earth when the light of Christ is withdrawn from it. Thus we are kept back from too much earthly elation that tends to frivolity. It may not be bad for us at times to be subdued to a sober sadness. Through the experience of it there may steal over the soul a sense of deep peace in God. Then we can see that Christ is our Light and the Light of the world. Life may be sunny still, but its light is from Christ.
IV. WE SHOULD BEWARE OF SOWING THE SEED OF SAD MEMORIES. This is a lesson for the young. During youth the memories that will cheer or sadden age are created and stored up for use in years to come. It is impossible to unwrite a soul's history. Then let those who are engaged on its early pages take heed what they set down upon them. It is possible to sow very carelessly seeds that will spring up in a most bitter harvest. If we would not have a gloomy old age of sad memories, let us spend our early years wisely and purely. Though God may forgive the follies of youth, old age will not forget them. In this sense, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
A new Eden.
The new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) is to be followed by a new Eden. The outer world is to be changed when the inner world is renewed, and that sweet, fair Paradise, the dream of which hovers on the distant horizon of history, is to be once more seen on earth, when men are renewed in nature. The new Adam brings the new Eden. Consider some of its features.
I. LIFE. The desolate land becomes like the garden of Eden. It was desolate in death. Parched up and neglected, unwatered and untilled, the ruined country resembles the wilderness. Sin reduces the world to a wilderness. But Isaiah had prophesied that the wilderness should blossom like the rose (Isaiah 35:1). Heathenism is characterized by deadness of civilization. The vitality and energy of the world are found in Christendom. The life of the earthly paradise of culture, art, science, invention, manufacture, and commerce is concentrated in Christian lauds. It is by no means all in the lands of Christian men. But it flourishes in an atmosphere of Christianity—some of the essential elements of which are
(4) human brotherhood, and
Without these five things progress languishes. They constitute the very air it breathes.
II. ORDER. The desolate place is in confusion; the garden is a well-ordered scene of life and growth. Its perfection is largely dependent on its perfect culture—well-kept paths, smooth lawns, flower-beds without weeds, trees pruned and trim. Christ brings order to a world of confusion. St. James wrote of the "perfect law of liberty"—for Christian freedom observes its own lofty law. The great secret of disorder is selfishness. Hence spring war and all strife and confusion. The great secret of order is love; for love involves sympathy, and sympathy inspires harmony, and harmony secures order. If human society is ever to become like an orderly garden, it will not be by means of the fierce contests of competition; nor owing to the rankling jealousy of class-differences between rich and poor, landlord and tenant, employer and workpeople; it will be through the spread of the spirit of Christian brotherhood. Thus Christ will bring "on earth peace."
III. FRUITFULNESS. The fruit-trees covering the walls of a rich and fertile old English garden give to it great value. In the East a garden is often just an orchard. The garden of Eden is described as a fruit-growing place. The wilderness is barren; the garden is fruitful. Now, there are various fruits that grow out of the redeeming work of Christ. The best and choicest are spiritual—i.e. "the fruits of the Spirit." But society also reaps external good in the activities and charities of the Christian life. A living Church must be a boon to a neighborhood—like a fruit-garden planted among weary men who sadly need its refreshing products.
IV. BEAUTY. Whenever the name of Eden is mentioned, we think of a picture of exceeding beauty. There are few more lovely sights than a cottage garden, with its quaint old-fashioned flowers—its airy columbines—its still, tall, white lilies—its sweet, rich roses.
"How the rose of orient glow
Mingles with the lily's snow!"
Alas! for the scenes of city life contrasted with this fresh vision of beauty! But Christ will plant a new Eden. He will bring beauty into faded lives, and joy to the old, weary earth. Christ does not only give grace; he adds glory. The beauty of the Lord is on his people. And this joy is not reserved for a future heaven of departed souls. The new Eden, like the old one, is to flourish on earth. Here Christ converts the wilderness into a garden.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Promise of revival.
Ezekiel is inspired to foretell the confusion of the enemies of Israel who have brought about her calamities, and who delight in her humiliation, and in their contempt deride her sorrows. But this in itself is small con-solution. And he adds predictions of the restoration, recovery, and revival of Israel after "her warfare is accomplished, and her iniquity is pardoned." The land and its inhabitants are naturally, as well as poetically, associated in his mind. The restored and rejoicing sons of Jacob till the soil which has been long neglected, and the soil rewards their labors with abundant fruitfulness. It is obvious that these prophetic descriptions have an application to the spiritual renovation of a repenting nation, to the Church of Christ under the genial influences of the Holy Spirit, and to the ransomed race of men in millennial prosperity.
I. THE AUTHOR OF THIS REVIVAL. "I," says the Lord, "am for you, and I will turn unto you." The Creator is the Source and Giver of all life, both in the natural and in the spiritual realm. If the wilderness is to be as the garden of God, it must be through the fall of showers from heaven, through dews of grace, through the Divine breath awakening the dead to life, through the sunshine from God's own countenance calling forth the vitality and the fragrance of the spiritual spring.
II. THE SCENE OF THIS REVIVAL. The land which has been so long desolate by reason of its occupation by hostile armies, and by reason of the deportation of its inhabitants, is visited by reviving mercy. The waste places, the dismantled and forsaken cities, are regarded in compassion and visited in mercy.
III. THE SUBJECTS OF THIS REVIVAL. These are living men, moral natures, capable of true life. "I will multiply men upon you;" "I will cause men to walk upon you." It is the men who make the land what it is, who till the soil, occupy the cities, garrison the fortresses, fill the temples, raise to heaven the free song of trust and praise. The return of the Hebrew captives to their inheritance, the land given to their fathers, was a joyful occasion, and was the earnest of good things to come. When God gives blessing, it is to living, spiritual, immortal natures that he gives it. He blesses his Church by raising up and consecrating to his service holy men and women, who in every position and vocation of life fulfill duty under a sacred impulse and with a noble aim.
IV. THE TOKENS OF THIS REVIVAL. Fruitfulness, increase, abundance,—these am the signs that God is working, that the winter is over and past, that the blossoms of the spring, the promise of the year, have not been delusive. "Herein," says Christ, "is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit."
V. THE MEASURE OF REVIVAL. "I will do better unto you than at your beginnings." Such is the gracious assurance of the Almighty. Israel had known times of benediction and prosperity; she should know them again, only more abundantly. All past experience is transcended when the Lord stretches out his hand to bless.—T.
Profanation and pity.
The conjunction is somewhat singular. Israel has profaned God's Name. Upon this suggestion the Lord, pitying his own Name, resolves to sanctify it, and to this end, and not for Israel's deserts, succors and restores his people. The several steps in this progress of thought should be attentively traced.
I. THE ISRAELITES HAVE PROFANED GOD'S NAME AMONG THE HEATHEN. They are universally known as the people of Jehovah. When exiled from their land, they are the objects of derision and contempt to the heathen who behold them, and who, despising them, despise also the Name of Jehovah.
II. THE LORD IS MOVED WITH PITY FOR HIS OWN NAME. The language, nay, the very thought, is remarkably bold. But especially as it is repeated, it must be taken as deliberate and intentional, and as corresponding with a wonderful and Divine, though but partially comprehensible, reality. His Name, his reputation, even among the heathen, is dear to him, and he deigns to be concerned when men speak lightly of his Name and blaspheme him openly. In human language, he is distressed at the evil things which are said of him among the enemies of his people.
III. THE PURPOSES OF GOD'S MERCY ARE NOT PROMPTED BY ANY DESERTS OF ISRAEL. "I do not this for your sake, O house of Israel." This is a principle which should ever be borne in mind in interpreting Old Testament history. The Hebrew writers are faithful, candid, and outspoken in describing the national character, in relating the actions of their countrymen. They were a rebellious and stiff-necked people. They had their good qualities, but their many and grievous sins are not extenuated. If God chose them as his peculiar people, it was not for any special excellence or meritorious ness in themselves. And when he restored them from captivity, he let it be understood that he did this not from a regard to their deserts.
IV. GOD'S PURPOSES OF MERCY TO ISRAEL ARE PROMPTED BY A REGARD TO HIS OWN NAME. He had made certain promises to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and those promises he must needs fulfill. He has intentions of mercy to mankind to be realized by means of the "children of promise," and he will not allow those intentions to be frustrated. He has his own faithfulness to vindicate, his own moral attributes to manifest. By his Name must be understood his character, especially as known among men; and, this being the case, it is not difficult to comprehend the meaning of "having pity on his holy Name."
V. PITY BECOMES PRACTICAL IN THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL TO THEIR OWN LAND, BY WHICH GOD'S NAME IS SANCTIFIED. There is dignity and even moral grandeur in the resolution which is expressed in this passage; it is felt to be worthy of him in whose lips it is placed by the prophet. When the great work of restoration is achieved, the nations who behold it see that the taunts and ridicule in which they have indulged are both foolish and blamable. Israel is proved to be the consecrated nation, preserved by God's wisdom and goodness as the instrument in effecting his purposes. The Lord God is seen to be, not powerless like the so-called gods of the nations, but omnipotent and just. His promises are vindicated as faithful. "I will sanctify my great Name and the nations shall know that I am the Lord."—T.
It is observable that, in the view of the prophet, political revival and national restoration are associated with moral and spiritual improvement and renovation. No sooner has he uttered the prediction that the people of Israel shall be delivered from their captivity and be brought back into their own land, than, in a strain of singular beauty and eloquence, he proceeds to assure his countrymen of the Divine favor revealing itself in a deeper and more precious form. Jehovah promises to complete his work of mercy on behalf of his chosen people. They shall not only be rescued from the humiliation and reproach of banishment and servitude. They shall be saved from the sin which was the occasion of their calamities. They shall experience a spiritual renovation—they shall be cleansed, renewed, and sanctified. The change shall be within the spiritual nature, and it shall manifest itself in the outer life, which shall be made a life of purity and of obedience. The figurative language in which this Divine work of renewal is described deserves careful attention; each several figure seems to present the transformation in a new light; taken together, they exhibit the most marvelous work of God in its true beauty and completeness.
I. GOD WILL GIVE FOR FOULNESS, PURITY. The defiling and offensive nature of sin is symbolized in Scripture by uncleanness of body. Of the sins with which Israel is especially charged, that of idolatry is perhaps the most prominent and the most debasing, bringing in its train a host of moral abominations. From idolatry and all its contaminations the consecrated people must needs be delivered, as a condition of all other blessing. With what simplicity and exquisite beauty is the gracious purpose of the Divine -Purifier here expressed! "I wilt sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." The moral purity of the Divine nature is imparted to the nature of man. The Holy Spirit produces the holy character, which expresses itself in the holy life. Much of the religious observance practiced among the Hebrews was intended to convey the idea and to cultivate the practice of holiness. In the New Testament the greatest stress is laid upon this disposition and habit: "Be ye holy; for your Father in heaven is holy."
II. GOD WILL GIVE FOR HARDNESS OF HEART, A TENDERNESS AND SUSCEPTIBILITY. By hardness or obduracy we understand insensibility to Divine appeals, to rebukes and to promises—a character repelling all higher and holier motive. The stony heart is to be taken away, and replaced by a heart of flesh, i.e. a heart sensitive to Divine goodness and responsive to Divine appeals. The Israelites seem to have been peculiarly hard and stubborn in character. The word addressed to them, if it was to produce any impression, must needs have been "as a fire, and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces." This was so throughout long periods of the national history. When God dealt with them in his mercy, he rendered their obdurate nature susceptible to gracious influences. Under the Christian dispensation, the softer features of the human character are brought out into prominence. The Spirit of Christ is a Spirit of meekness and gentleness. The heart of flesh which he imparts is susceptible to all that is good and winning, purifying and consolatory.
III. GOD WILL GIVE FOR OLDNESS, NEWNESS OF CHARACTER. "A new heart also will I give you, and a new Spirit will I put within you." It is remarkable that we should find in Ezekiel's prophecies so striking an anticipation of the promises and privileges of Christianity. Living, as we do, under the new covenant, we are especially able to appreciate this gracious assurance. Old things pass away, all things become new, to him who is "in Christ Jesus," who is "a new creation." The oldness of the letter, the oldness of disobedience, are left behind; and spiritual newness opens up, in all its beauty and hopefulness, before us. "Newness of life" is the plainest mark of a Christianity more than nominal and formal.
IV. GOD WILL GIVE FOR ALIENATION, ACCEPTANCE. Those who had been afar off were to be brought nigh; those who had been estranged by sin were to be restored to fellowship; those who had been in rebellion were to be reconciled. The exiled should be brought home, and the cold oppression and scorn of the foreign conqueror should be exchanged for the acceptable services of the temple, and the smile of God upon his people and their inheritance. A marvelous emblem of the restoration of God's people to himself through Jesus Christ. For our Savior has "made peace," so that those who accept his mediation, from having been alienated and at enmity, are reconciled, and enjoy the fellowship, the smile, the approval, of their God.
V. GOD WILL GIVE FOR ERROR, OBEDIENCE, SUBMISSION, AND CONFORMITY TO HIS WILL. "I will cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." To feel the force of this promise, we must remember how grievously the Israelites had erred, and how far they had strayed from the path of true and acceptable service. A renovation worthy of the name must include a thorough submission to the will which had been defied, a thorough and cordial performance of the service which had been neglected. As it was with the Israelites, so must it ever be with all upon whom God has mercy. He puts his Spirit within them, and thus the life which would otherwise have been impracticable becomes the life deliberately chosen and consistently and perseveringly followed out.—T.
Self-knowledge and self-loathing.
It is instructive to observe that this assertion that Israel shall remember and loathe past sin is placed immediately after the promise of renewal, purification, fruitfulness, and blessing. However this may' seem out of place, a little reflection will convince us that the juxtaposition is both intentional and just. Men do not truly know the heinousness of their sin until they have been turned from it. It is the holy character to which moral evil is most repugnant.
I. SIN BLINDS MEN TO THEIR REAL CONDITION, AND FOSTERS UNDUE SELF-SATISFACTION. It is when men are offending most grievously that they are least sensible of their folly and guilt. They will not think, they will not suffer conscience to speak, they will not listen to any voice save the voice of passion and the voice of prejudice. They persuade themselves, and they allow themselves to be persuaded by others, that they are not to blame in following the dictates of "nature," in conforming to the usages of "society."
II. GOD'S CHASTISEMENTS AND GOD'S MERCIES AWAKEN MEN TO REFLECTION AND TO SELF-KNOWLEDGE. Israel came to herself when she had passed through the discipline of defeat, of captivity, of national humiliation. This was needed in order to open the eyes which were blind to her own state. Yet even this was not sufficient. Restoration and favor melted the heart to penitence and to gratitude. Sensible of God's mercies, she became sensible to her own faults. And it has often been observed that, after forgiveness has been obtained and reconciliation has been experienced, after Divine kindness has made its appeal to the better nature, then men's minds become alive to the magnitude and inexcusableness of the transgressions which have been committed. In the light of God's forbearance and loving-kindness, sin is seen to be what it really is.
III. SELF-KNOWLEDGE, BY REVEALING INIQUITY IN ITS TRUE LIGHT, LEADS TO SELF-LOATHING. Israel, remembering her evil ways, loathed herself in her own sight for her iniquities and for her abominations. Now that she was restored to her own territory, now that she entered again upon the enjoyments and privileges of her national life, she reflected upon her past. The guilt and folly of her idolatry, her unfaithfulness to Jehovah, her sensuality and pride, were apparent to her conscience. She saw herself in some measure as her God saw her. And at the sight she was filled with remorse and with self-loathing. What Christian is there who has not passed through an experience somewhat similar to this? There are times when we are comparatively insensible to the blemishes and imperfections of our own character. And there are times when God's mercy in Christ comes home to our hearts; and then we feel that to such a Being, who has so dealt with us, our sin must indeed be distressing and offensive, and we hate ourselves because we are not more what he would have us to be.
IV. THUS SELF-KNOWLEDGE LEADS TO REPENTANCE AND TO A BETTER LIFE. To repent of sin is to aspire after holiness. It is well that we should have a conscience of sin; but it is not well to rest in this. This should lead us to desire both to escape and to conquer sin in the future, and to resolve, by God's grace, that there shall not in that future be the same reason for self-reproach as in the past. Thus the pardon of sin and the victory over sin are made, by the appointment of Divine wisdom, the means of progress in the spiritual life towards moral perfection. Explain the mystery of sin, we cannot. But we are at liberty to remark how, in Christian experience, even the prevalence of sin is made the occasion of the manifestation of God's grace to his people, and how in this manner evil, ever remaining evil, is overruled for good, To love God and to loathe the sinful self are very closely associated in the Christian experience. It is to be desired by all of us that we may not be the victims of self-delusion; that we may see and feel our sin, our need of a Savior; that all the motives of the gospel may be brought to bear upon our nature, with a view to our swifter progress in the Divine and holy life.—T.
Inquiry of God.
Light is cast upon the function of prayer in the Divine economy by observing that in this passage explicit promises of blessing are first given to Israel; and then, afterwards, it is affirmed that, for this blessing, God requires that his people should make supplication to him. The fact is that unless there be a basis for prayer in the explicit assurances of God, although it may be a natural and instinctive, it can hardly be a reasonable, exercise.
I. THE PROMISES OF GOD ARE AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE PRAYERS OF GOD'S PEOPLE. The fact that explicit promises have been given is a fact familiar to every reader of Scripture. These promises are numerous and repeated. They have respect to the varied wants of men, and accordingly are characterized by a wonderful and very precious variety. Blessings so valuable and so desirable may well be sought with earnestness and importunity.
II. THE PRAYERS OF GOD'S PEOPLE ARE THE CONDITION OF THE OBTAINING OF GOD'S BLESSING. This affirmation rests upon the plain declarations of God's Word. "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find." It rests also upon reason. The best gifts of God are of such a nature that they cannot be bestowed irrespectively of the moral condition, the spiritual attitude of the recipient. They are not material, they are not conferred as by mechanical, physical law. God opens the heart that it may receive the benefits he waits to bestow.
III. THE PRAYERS OF GOD'S PEOPLE ARE THE OCCASION OF GOD'S CARRYING OUT HIS PURPOSES OF MERCY. We have looked at the matter from the human side, but it must be regarded also from the Divine side. The All-wise himself propounds his own terms; he carries out his intentions of mercy in the way that seems good to him. "For this moreover will I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them." For reasons which are only very partially within our powers of comprehension, this is the ordinance, the arrangement of Jehovah himself. We may be content to understand that which is within our range, to trace the bearing of prayer upon our religious interests, and to learn from experience its reasonableness as respects ourselves. And we must, in childlike faith, accept upon God's authority what is beyond our limited powers with any completeness to comprehend.
IV. THE PRAYERS OF GOD'S PEOPLE ARE REQUIRED AND COMMANDED BY HIM WHO IS THE GIVER OF THE PROMISES. With one hand our Father in heaven offers the gifts; with the other hand he delivers to his Church his written and express command. "Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full;" "Pray without ceasing;" "If ye being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him!"—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The material creation sharing in the fortunes of men.
Man has a many-sided nature. He is linked with the past history of angels and with the past history of the entire universe. His interests and fortunes are interwoven with the material creation and with the dynamic forces of nature. He has an interest in heaven and in hell. The intelligences of the universe are interested in him, and he is interested in them.
I. THE LAND OF CANAAN IS HONORED BY A DIVINE COMMUNICATION. It is a reasonable conclusion that the main interest God felt in the mountains and hills of Palestine arose from their use as a home and storehouse for his people. Yet it is proper that we should regard God as finding a pleasure in the hills and valleys on account of their native beauty. They were the workmanship of his hand, and there is every reason why he should find pleasure in his creations. The long, past history of their internal structure was open to his eye, and the beauty of their clothing was to him a delight. But why should he dispatch to these unconscious mountains a prophetic messenger? Without doubt, this was intended as a rebuke to the people who had grievously disregarded his messages. It was as if he said indirectly to the nation, "It is vain to speak longer to your stony ears. I turn away in sorrow, and address my message to the unconscious earth. The very mountains will give me better audience than you have done. If I speak to the dew, it will obey. If I speak to the fragrant soil, it will yield its fruit. If I speak to the mountains, they will put on verdure and beauty. But, alas! if I speak to the intelligent sons of Jacob, they turn deaf ears and rebellious wills to my gracious voice! O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord!" By such methods of rebuke God endeavors to bring conviction home to the consciences of the people.
II. THE LAND OF CANAAN WAS AN IMPORTANT FACTOR IN ISRAEL'S PAST RENOWN. This land had been specially selected by God as the most fitting scene for the training of the Hebrew nation. It was the glory of all lands, the envy of surrounding nations. Compared with the territory north, or east, or south, it was splendidly fertile, while its mountains made it a secure fortress. The diversity of hill and vale gave it peculiar beauty and served to exhilarate the mind. The mountain-peaks drew heavenward men's thoughts. According to the known law, that the physical features of a country mould unconsciously the character of the inhabitants, Canaan had been a benefit to the Jewish tribes. The land was a contrast to the soft, fertile loam of Egypt. The relaxing climate of Lower Egypt, together with the wondrous facility of obtaining large crops, made the people indolent and effeminate—impatient of arduous exertion. In Palestine a totally different condition of things prevailed. For the most part the operations of husbandry were severe. The sides of the hills required to be built in terraces in order to retain the soil. But climate and soil were congenial for almost every kind of fruit. It was a territory in which it was scarcely possible for one to grow rich; it was a territory eminently suitable for the development of hardy and industrious peasants. Especially the land was singularly dependent upon the periodic rainfall. For, devoid of rain and dew, the olives dropped withered and unripe, the vines were blighted, the young corn was shriveled. Hence, in an eminent degree, the people hung in constant dependence on the good will of God. He held in his hand the helm of their prosperity.
III. THE LAND OF CANAAN HAD SHARED IN ISRAEL'S DISCOMFITURE AND SHAME. Frequent invasions on their borders had made their homes and crops insecure, and, without security for obtaining crops, men will not sow their fields. Frequent absence also, to serve on the battle-field, drew away the young men from quiet husbandry. Such losses in such a country soon became serious. A diminution in their produce left them unable and unwilling to pay tribute to their foreign conquerors, and this resulted in fresh invasion. Step by step the land went out of cultivation. The terraces on the hillsides were neglected. The people forget God, and God withdrew the light of his favor. The mountain-slopes, denuded of soil, soon became bald, bleached rocks. The high reputation for fertility which the land had enjoyed was gone. Its excellence and glory departed. Sharon was no longer a fold for flocks. Carmel laid aside her bridal garments of floral beauty. Jackals and foxes and hyenas infested the land. With the degradation of the elect people came the degradation of the elect land.
IV. THE LAND OF CANAAN WAS ABOUT TO SHARE IN ISRAEL'S NEW PROSPERITY.
1. In proportion to the infamy the land had endured was to be the fertility again to be enjoyed. The prosperity should not only rise to the former level; it should greatly surpass it. The infallible promise was made directly to every part and branch of the territory. God had a tender regard for every mountain and valley, for every river and plain; each should be enriched and gladdened by his favoring smile. The shame of the heathen should be outbalanced by corresponding reputation and honor. On condition of the faithfulness of the people this revival of prosperity should be enduring.
2. God speaks in language adapted to the age. By any other mode of speech God could not have been understood; and in such a case he may as well not have spoken. As men were stimulated to great exertions by a sentiment of national jealousy, so, in accommodation to imperfect men, God speaks of himself as stirred to activity by the fire of jealousy. Such jealousy was only another form of considerate love. It had no respect to himself. It was a jealous regard for the good of Israel, a jealous desire to fulfill his ancient promises.
3. These pledges of good were redeemed in the centuries which followed Israel's restoration. The land was reclaimed from the ravages of wild beasts. Cities and villages were rebuilt. Many parts of Canaan became fertile as a garden. Confessedly, we feel a disappointment that the revival of prosperity was not more complete, nor more abiding. But this was due alone to the folly and guilt of the people. In every promise of God there underlies a moral condition. For him to give unmingled blessing to evil-doers would be a fresh evil and an encouragement to sin. The actual fortunes of Canaan, in the later centuries, prove the faithfulness of God and the fickleness of the people.—D.
A vision of the true golden age.
Up to this point God had been revealing more clearly his active righteousness to Israel; and this with a view to arouse their drugged and drowsy consciences. The equity and justice of his scepter had been vividly portrayed. The keen edge of his judicial sword had been felt. Some movements of better feeling in the exiles were apparent. And now God hastens to foster penitential sentiments with a promise of generous kindness. Further revelations of his great nature are made. The excellence of his grace is unveiled to the opening eye of the penitents. Stupendous condescension is shown. God himself will undertake the renovation of human nature. He will go down to the very root of the evil. He will transform the innermost principles in the minds of the people, and so qualify them for national restoration and national prosperity. And he will do this mainly that he may set before the world the wealth of goodness and kindness which constitutes his glory. "I do this for my holy Name's sake, saith the Lord."
I. ISRAEL'S ARRAIGNMENT.
1. The gravamen of the accusation is idolatry. Than idolatry, no greater affront can be put upon God, no greater evil can be wrought. God was deposed from his rightful throne, and senseless matter elevated into his place. The perfect will of God was set aside for the vain fancies of wicked men. The devil was preferred to Jehovah.
2. Idolatry was a system of active vice. It did not represent merely a change of belief; it was the enthronement and deification of vice. Public sanction was given to lust and unchastity. The marriage-tie was dissolved. The temple of God was desecrated with animal lust. The barbarous rites of idolatrous worship served to crush every tender feeling and to make men fiends. Wrong soon lost its hideous features in the eyes of men. They became inhuman, cruel, quarrelsome, murderous. Human life lost its sanctity, and the land was stained with blond.
3. Idolatry's fruits were most offensive to God. In order to convey to men an approximate idea of this offensiveness, God was compelled to borrow an illustration from the most loathsome thing familiar to men. As if he had said, "Picture to yourselves the thing most repulsive to your senses; this thing will feebly convey the idea of disgust I feel towards this monstrous crime." A common dung-hill is fragrance itself compared with the moral foulness of idolatry; and dead to every virtuous instinct must be the man who can endure it.
II. ISRAEL'S ARRAIGNMENT LED TO SEVEREST PENALTY.
1. A discharge of God's anger. "I poured out my fury upon them." The long-gathering storm of just indignation burst upon them as torrents from a broken reservoir. This is God's own account of his conduct, and he speaks, as usual, after the manner of a man. The violent anger of a man under a strong sense of injury has its correspondence in God, save that in God it is filled with the element of righteousness, and is in exact proportion to the sinner's deserts.
2. It embraced the dissolution of the covenant. The covenant made with Abraham and renewed with the Israelites was founded on a moral condition. That condition had been broken and abandoned by the nation; hence God publicly testified that he was no longer bound. The land of Canaan ceased to be held by Divine covenant; and, as the result of the broken compact, the Assyrians took possession. Pledges and contracts between God and man, wantonly violated, are surely followed by gravest disaster. This should teach all men the reality and the value of righteousness.
3. The penalty, though severe, was strictly equitable. "According to their doings I judged them." The fullest equity in God's dealings is guaranteed
(1) by the qualities of his nature and
(2) by the well-being of all the moral intelligences of his kingdom.
Every act of loving obedience shall be rewarded. Every deed of rebellion shall be punished according to the most equitable scale. And in this category is registered every secret design, as well as every overt deed.
III. THIS MANIFESTATION OF JUSTICE OVERSHADOWED THE BENIGNANT NATURE OF GOD. "They profaned my holy Name." It is a great responsibility to bear the Name of God—a great responsibility to belong to his kingdom. We carry his reputation in our hands. Mankind will judge him by what they see in us. If they discover in us selfishness, avarice, lust, they will conclude that our God is not over-righteous. If we, for our sins, are chastised, men will shrink from serving such a Master. Such was the case in the olden time among all the peoples that dwelt in the vicinity of Palestine. They said contemptuously, "This Jehovah, who conquered Canaan for his people, was, not able to retain it for them! Or else, he is a God easily offended! He chooses a nation for his favor one day, and casts it off on the morrow! Or else, his justice is so severe that we prefer to keep aloof from him!" Such were the judgments of men. But this was the result of ignorance. This was derogatory to God. This prejudiced the public mind against just conceptions of God. Now, it had been God's high design to unveil gradually to mankind all the fullness of his nature—his strong affection, the riches of his mercy, his self-sacrificing grace. Did men but know him thoroughly, one great hindrance to confidence and obedience would be removed. Most surely he deserves our allegiance; he is infinitely worthy of our trust. Therefore God had pity upon his Name; for his Name is the sum-total of his goodness. Men were suffering, because they did not know God—were misled by erroneous views of his character. Hence God resolved to adopt another plan—to make a grand experiment. He will make a new covenant with the people, and will write his laws on the tablet of their hearts. He will yet conquer their rebellions with his abounding grace.
IV. THE GRAND EXPERIMENT OF KINDNESS; viz. a gracious renewal of human nature.
1. The first step is cleansing. "From all your idols will I cleanse you." A disposition of repentance was already apparent. Many were beginning to ask how deliverance could be obtained; and, before they asked, the remedy is announced. God will undertake to purge out the virus of disease, and if he undertakes it, the change will be effectual. He will go to the root of the matter. The love of idols shall be rooted out of the heart; and, the root being killed, all the fruits will disappear. The instrument to be employed is the Truth—the revelation of Divine mercy. This is the "clean water" mentioned. To the same effect David declared, "The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." And Jesus the Christ affirmed, "Now ye are clean, through the word which I have spoken unto you."
2. The next step is heart-renovation. "A new heart also will I give you." By the mystic power or' his grace God produces gradually a complete change in the moral principles of every penitent man. New light enters the mind. Sin is seen in its loathsomeness. A gracious influence from heaven softens the dispositions of the heart. Feeling becomes tender. The tastes cluster round nobler objects. God is seen to be supremely good, and new affections begin to entwine round him. Old habits of evil are dissevered. New inclinations and aspirations are engendered. Step by step the man rises out of his dead self into a new life. "Old things pass away, and all things" within him "become new."
3. A further step is the indwelling of God's Spirit in the man. This is an anticipation of the new dispensation, more fully developed at Pentecost; this is the highest, noblest gift God can impart. In a word, this is spiritual evolution. On Adam God breathed, and he "became a living soul." But this is a new departure. The Spirit of God finds an entrance into the human soul, and works therein a new creation. All the dispositions of God are gradually reproduced. The man learns to think as God thinks, to feel as God feels, to love as God loves, to act as God acts. Then God's will is done, and God's image is reflected in the man as a face is reflected in a mirror.
4. A further step is national restoration. The man who truly loves God learns to love his fellow-man; and this bond of mutual love was the very thing wanted to weld the Hebrews into a nation. A people can safely be trusted with national prosperity only when they are loyal to God. The whole land of Palestine was a kind of enlarged temple, and only a consecrated people are fitted for a consecrated place. The old covenant, in its essential principles was to be restored. God would give himself to the people; they would give themselves up to him.
5. Material prosperity. "I will call for the corn, and will increase it." Soul-prosperity is the foundation; temporal fortune is the superstructure. "All things are ours if we are Christ's" "No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." In Palestine 'the state of the harvest-field was a mirror in which men saw the smile or the frown of God. To obedient Jews, land-fertility was secured by an inviolable pledge of Jehovah. The windows of heaven were opened; the vines were embellished with splendid clusters; the very mountains seemed to send out rills of oil from the olive-groves.
V. THE FINAL AIM OF THIS STUPENDOUS CHANGE; Viz. to reveal God's Name. In other words, to make known to the world his wealth of goodness. That the purpose and aim of Jehovah in this grand experiment might be made clear, it is stated both positively and negatively. "Not for your sakes do I this,' saith God, "but for my holy Name's sake." A full and accurate knowledge of God is hope and inspiration to men. If only the state of feeling in a man's heart be right, then in proportion as God is known, he will be admired, trusted, loved, served. If the soil of the heart be broken up and pulverized, the knowledge of God, like living seed, will grow and flourish and bear a rich harvest of fruit. "They that know thy Name will put their trust in thee." This heart-knowledge of God brings eternal life. Misunderstanding of God brings fear, bondage, misery, hell. The glory of God and the good of men are twin-purposes—two sides of the same coin. God's will is man's salvation. As we know God experimentally, we aspire to be like God, we yearn to do his will, heaven is begun within.—D.
Prosperity suspended on human prayer.
In the previous verses God has disclosed a new scheme of spiritual tactics. He will lay siege to man's heart with the artillery of love. He will touch and melt his will. He will gently, yet powerfully, dispose him to obedience. Yet God will not reduce man to a machine. He will not coerce his will. Men shall not become passive instruments under God's hand. There shall be place for human thought, human choice, human effort. "I will yet be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them."
I. GOD'S GIFTS ARE BESTOWED IN A DEFINITE ORDER. "Order is heaven's first law." In nature and in human nature, God works from the center outwards. Jerusalem was such a center. The home is a center. Man's soul is a center—a center for himself, his family, his fortunes, his contemporary society.
1. Soul-cleansing is the root-blessing. This embraces cleansing from the love of sin, the power of sin, the stain and curse of sin. The animal part of our nature is kept in subjection to the spiritual. The old fountain of evil is cleansed. The real man no longer lives in the cellar and scullery of his nature; he prefers now to live and move in the capacious rooms above—in the great halls of reason and conscience.
2. A better social life. They "shall dwell in the cities." It is easier to live a godly life in a garden than in a city, but that sequestered life would be narrow and poor and weak. In the city temptations and hindrances abound; and he who surmounts them is raised into a higher plane of life. Men of pure and lofty tastes constitute a society that is fruitful in goodness. They shall be cemented in strong and vital ties for mutual security and mutual help.
3. Agricultural fertility. The Jews were devoted to the pursuits of husbandry; hence fertility in the field was their greatest earthly prosperity. This fertility would be the more highly prized because of its contrast with recent desolation. That which had been like a desert was to be prolific and beauteous as the virgin soil of Eden. The last vestige of the curse was to vanish. With the smallest measure of labor shall come the largest measure of increase.
4. Growing population. An unmistakable mark of national prosperity is increase of men. The stalwart and athletic youth would not be slain on the battle-plain, nor decimated by pestilence, nor destroyed by ruinous vice. Just as the streets of Jerusalem were crowded with flocks in the time of the Passover, brought thither for the Paschal feast, so should the towns and villages teem with hale and sinewy men. "I will increase them with men like a flock."
5. Renown among the neighboring nations. "The heathen shall know" that Jehovah is the real Source of prosperity. They had learnt to think of him as an austere Ruler, or as indifferent respecting his people's weal. Truer thoughts of God and of God's goodness shall displace the old ideas. They shall understand God's high designs, and shall admire and praise. To serve such a God will be counted true honor.
II. GOD'S GIFTS ARE PLEDGED BY AN INFALLIBLE PROMISE. The advantages of making this prosperity a matter of promise was manifold.
1. It would sustain their hope. In their exiled state, they were in danger of yielding to sullen despair. Adversity had demoralized them. They had well-nigh lost heart.
2. It would encourage wise effort. The bright prospect of a golden age would stimulate them to exertion. They could the better bear the ills of banishment when they knew these were only for a time. They would more bravely face the toils of another journey homeward when they knew what splendid prosperity was guaranteed.
3. It would more clearly unfold God's moral intention in their adversity. That defeat and its consequent hardships were no mere caprices on God's part. Nor had he wholly abandoned them. The judgment, though severe, was disciplinary. It was moral medicine, destined to produce better health. Hence a window was opened through which they gained an insight into God's heart.
4. The promise gave them a grasp upon God. They well knew his faithfulness. No word of his had ever failed, nor ever would. If he had fulfilled his threats of evil, much more would he fulfill his promises of good.
III. GOD'S GIFTS ARE SUSPENDED UPON HUMAN PRAYER.
1. This was an honor conferred upon men. God takes imperfect men into partnership with himself. Great though his power may be, he loves to ally himself with men, so that he may inspire them with a sacred ambition, and lift them to a higher level of life. He would have us to feel a responsibility respecting the welfare of mankind. This expands both mind and heart.
2. Prayer itself is salutary. No other occupation of the human mind is so salutary. There is hope for the lowest sunk, if he has begun to pray. Prayer generates humility. It dissolves self-trust and fosters trust in God. It enhances the value of God's gifts if we have to ask for them. Prayer serves to purify and elevate the nobler emotions. It brings our wills into submission to the Eternal Will.
3. The most successful prayer is united prayer. The request must be made "by the house of Israel." This union of hearts in prayer promotes sympathy, brotherly love, concord, cooperation. Social piety is fostered. The whole people is prepared for the blessing. The furrows are opened to receive the heavenly rain. This announcement forecasts that of the New Testament—that if "two shall agree on earth as touching anything they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven."—D.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Encouragement in exile.
Israel was in a very deplorable condition. It was away from its native land, in the power and in the service of the enemy; its own "inheritance" was peopled by a poor and weak remnant; it was the prey and the butt of the merciless mocker; its fortunes were low, its heart was sad indeed; it could not sing the Lord's song in such a strange land as that in which it was exiled. But after words of condemnation comes the language of hope. The prophet of God is commissioned to break into their gloom with some beams of promise. Here are gracious words from his mouth; here is a prophecy delivered to "the mountains of Israel," which may well have filled the hearts of the people of God with great joy and gladness. The lessons we glean from the passage (Ezekiel 36:1-15) are—
I. THAT SOMETHING HAS LEFT US WHEN AN ENEMY HAS DONE HIS WORST. As Matthew Henry well remarks, the mountains, the hills, the rivers, and the valleys, the desolate wastes and the forsaken cities (verse 4) "remained to be spoken to …these the Chaldeans could not carry away with them." They might deport and depopulate, but they could not destroy the land which Jehovah had given to his people. Still the mountains stood, and still the rivers ran, and still the valleys stretched beneath the sun and received the rains of heaven.
1. Our human enemy may do much to harm us, but his power is very limited after all. At the most and the worst, he can but kill the body; after that he hath no more that he can do." He cannot kill the soul; he cannot take away faith, or love, or peace, or hope from the human heart; he cannot rob us of our real inheritance.
2. Or if our spiritual enemy injures us in a more deadly way than the tyrant or the persecutor can do; if he gain dominion over us and rob us of our rectitude, and so of our peace and rest in God; even then there remains a spiritual nature which is capable of redemption; the soil remains, which, sown again with the good seed of the kingdom, may yet bring forth very precious fruit.
II. THAT THE TENDENCY OF SIN IS TO A DANGEROUS EXTREME. Edom and other heathen lands carried their enmity and their cruelty so far that they brought down upon themselves the righteous anger of God. "Because they have made you desolate, and swallowed you up on every side," etc. (verse 3), "therefore, thus saith the Lord, surely in the fire," etc. (verse 5). These persecuting nations had succeeded only too well; they had filled their hands with spoil, and their souls with spiteful pleasure (verse 5); and the extremity to which they pushed their triumph led to their discomfiture. Such is sin everywhere. It leads to extravagance and excess; to a most guilty and ruinous indulgence; or to a high-handed arrogance and blasphemy which call forth the deep displeasure of the righteous God, and bring down the strong, stern hand of judgment. When we once give way to temptation, of whatever kind it be, we enter a path which leads and lures us on much further than we at first meant to go; and the end of it is condemnation and doom.
III. THAT GOD PITIES HIS PEOPLE, THOUGH THEY SURFER AT his OWN HAND. It was God who caused the children of Israel to lose their heritage and to be carried away as they were. Their sorrows were the penalty of their sin; it was the hand of the Lord that was laid upon them. Yet their distressing condition called forth the Divine compassion. It was in mercy, in true pity, that he saw them "bearing the shame of the heathen' (verse 6; see verse 15). Even though it is in virtue of God's own righteous laws that we "are minished and brought low," that we suffer in the flesh or in the spirit, in circumstance or in soul, as the consequence of our wrongdoing, even then, in our straits and in our misery, in our bondage and in our degradation, we are the objects of Divine compassion. God likes not to see his children suffer and "bear shame" as they do. And he sends the messenger of mercy that bids us rise from our wretchedness and ruin and return unto himself.
IV. THAT EVERYTHING MAY BE RECOVERED WHEN GOD IS ON OUR SIDE. (Verses 8-15.) When God says, "I am for you, and I will turn unto you," what is there that we may not hope for? Then the land of Israel might look to be retilled and resown, to yield its fruit as in the best days that were; to be repeopled by those who had a right to walk upon its hills and to cultivate its villages; it should no longer be a grave for the dead, but a home for the living. And when we turn in penitence and in faith to God, and he turns in mercy and in grace to us, what is there that we may not hope for? What glorious spiritual restoration is within our reach!—the peace which no earthly good can either give or take away: the joy which abides and which blesses while it lasts; the excellency of character and of life which makes us take rank with the children of God everywhere; the hope which is full of immortality.—C.
God's Name and ours.
The most striking thought contained in these words is God's regard for the honor of his own Name. But there are two truths which claim attention.
I. TWO THINGS WHICH INCUR HIS HIGH DISPLEASURE. The pouring out of his "fury" is, of course, language which is accommodated to our human feelings; but it speaks of the Divine displeasure existing in a very high degree; and the two evils which excite it are:
1. Perverted piety; the giving to another the glory due to himself: idolatry (Ezekiel 36:18).
2. Inhumanity. "They had shed blood upon the land" (Ezekiel 36:18). The wanton taking of human life is the darkest and saddest form of cruelty; but it is by no means the only one which meets the severe rebuke of God. All forms of unkindness or of wrong, by which men's circumstances are reduced or their spirits are wounded, call down his reproach and bear their penalty.
II. ONE ESPECIAL FORM OF PENALTY. God "scattered" the Israelites; he caused them to be "dispersed through the countries" (Ezekiel 36:19). The evil which they suffered in Babylon was negative rather than positive. They were not ill treated there. The misery of it lay in its unhomeliness. They were far from their own land—from Mount Zion and its glorious temple, from the happy services and holy institutions which made their childhood and their youth what they were; they were exiles, dwelling in "a strange land." This is the constant penalty of sin. It causes us to dwell afar off from God; we lose our sense of nearness to him; we are in no spiritual home; we are in the hand and in the land of the enemy. It is not that earth is far from heaven; it is that sin is far from righteousness; it is that the disloyal subject, the unfilial child, is far from his gracious Sovereign, far from his heavenly Father.
III. GOD'S SOLICITUDE CONCERNING HIS NAME. "They profaned my holy Name" (Ezekiel 36:20); "I had pity for my holy Name" (Ezekiel 36:21). Why should God be concerned thus "for his Name?" Knowing, as we do, that God is love, and that he lives not for himself, but for the good of his universe, we cannot believe that this Divine solicitude has any selfishness at the root of it. We conclude that its explanation is in the fact that it is of vital consequence to the world that he should be rightly regarded and truly honored. It is so in both aspects, affirmative and negative.
1. It is a boundless blessing when God is known and understood; when, therefore, he is honored and obeyed; and when, therefore, all the priceless blessings of obedience are secured.
2. It is an immeasurable evil when God is misrepresented and misunderstood; when his Name is profaned, and men think of him as he would not be thought of; when his Name is associated with weakness, or with indifference, or with injustice, or with any kind of wrong. Then comes irreverence, and all the long train of evils that accompany it—irreligion, disobedience, rebellion, degradation, ruin, death. We may well pray, "Hallowed be thy Name;" for as men speak of God, and as they think of him and know him, so will they order their lives and construct their character and choose their destiny. We ought, similarly, to be concerned about our name. Not that it is the part of a wise man to covet notoriety; that is weakness rather than wisdom. To wish to be notorious is simply selfish, and to be notorious is to stand on the same ground with many of the very worst men that ever strove and sinned. But we should be concerned so to live that our name, however far it may go, may be associated with all that is pure and good and wise; that such influence as God gives us to exert may all go into the right scale; that whenever and wherever we do speak or strike, we may speak what is true and strike for justice and humanity; that the issue of our lives shall be a brave and faithful witness for God, for the kingdom of Jesus Christ; that no man shall find a shelter for anything that is base or immoral behind our name; that many men may walk more steadily along the path of life or work more devotedly in the fields of usefulness because our name lends some strength to virtue and to holy service.—C.
The three elements of piety.
The Israelites were "profaning the Name' of Jehovah in the lands through which they were dispersed. But this could not be permitted to remain. For the sake of his own Divine Name, the sacredness of which was of such vital moment to mankind (see previous homily), God would work a gracious revolution (Ezekiel 36:21-23). And what he would do is this:
1. He would work within their hearts an entire change of thought and feeling, removing their strong stubbornness and replacing it with a childlike sensibility.
2. He would thus lead them to live in purity and uprightness before the eyes of those among whom they dwelt. Thus would he magnify his holy Name.
3. Then he would restore them to the old relation which they had forfeited by their sin; they should be again his people, and he would be their God, dwelling among them and ruling over them in peace and righteousness. We have here the three constantly recurring elements of true piety.
I. INWARD RENEWAL. (Ezekiel 36:26.) Consisting of:
1. Sensibility taking the place of indifference or stubborn rebelliousness. Instead of the "stony heart" is the "heart of flesh;" instead of an utter, brutish disregard of Divine claims or a perverse and froward determination to reject them, is the "new heart," the "new spirit" of openness of mind, willingness which ends in eagerness to learn of God, responsiveness of feeling when he speaks, tenderness of conscience under the spoken truth of Christ.
2. Humility taking the place of pride or careless unconcern; a sense of past sin and of present unworthiness; the inward conviction that God has not been remembered, reverenced, served, trusted, as he should have been, and that life has been stained with many errors, faults, shortcomings, transgressions; a spirit of true penitence and shame; a voice, not loud but deep, says within the soul, "I have sinned."
3. Consecration instead of selfishness. The heart turns away from selfishness and from worldliness toward God, toward the Divine Redeemer, whom it receives gladly and fully as the Savior of the soul, as the Sovereign of the life.
II. OUTWARD RECTITUDE. "I will cause you to walk in my statutes," etc. (Ezekiel 36:27). The obedience which springs from mere dread of penalty is of very small account; but that which proceeds from a loyal and a loving heart is worth everything. The Divine Son, who was also a Servant, could say, "I delight to do thy will;… thy Law is within my heart." And when the new spirit or the new heart is within us, we can speak in the same strain. Our piety passes, with perfect naturalness, from the reverent thought to the right word; from the grateful feeling to the upright action, from the consecrated spirit to the devoted and useful life. We obey God's word because we honor himself; we keep the commandments of Christ because we love our Lord (John 14:15, John 14:21, John 14:23). If the Spirit of God be in us we shall bring forth the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:23). Of the commandments of Christ, to which, by his own words or by those of his apostles, he has attached the greatest weight, as indispensable to the Christian life and as the condition of his acceptance, we must include purity, truthfulness, sobriety, honesty, reverence, love—the love which forbears, which pities, which succors in time of need.
III. HEAVENLY INTERCOURSE, (Ezekiel 36:28.) While still inhabitants of earth, our citizenship is to be in heaven (see Philippians 3:20). God is to be our God, and we are to be his people. All human and earthly relationships are to find their highest and best illustration in those which are "in the heavens," which are spiritual and eternal. Communion between ourselves and our Father in heaven is to be common and constant—a daily, an hourly incident through all our life and in all our circumstances and conditions. Far below and far above all other things, we are to be the children and the heirs of God, we are to be the servants of Jesus Christ, we are to bear witness to his truth, we are to promote the coming of his kingdom on the earth.—C.
The period of spiritual prosperity.
The promised restoration and prosperity of Israel very fitly portrays the condition of spiritual well-being in the Church of Christ. It is marked by four things.
I. SPIRITUAL STABILITY. "I will cause you to dwell in the cities" (Ezekiel 36:33). They were not to be as travelers who are always moving, sleeping beneath the trees or the stars, or as men, that pitch their tents for a few days and pass on; they should "dwell in the cities. It is one sign of a healthy moral condition when we reach some permanency of principle and of feeling; when we are not "driven with the wind and tossed," but abide where we are, dwelling in the strong cities of assured conviction, of peace, of sacred joy, of blessed hope. It is the man who has learnt much of God and has attained to no small measure of heavenly wisdom whom we know where to find, on whose constancy we may depend, who is "steadfast and immovable."
II. FRUITFUL ENERGY. The wastes shall be builded, and the desolate land shall be tilled" (Ezekiel 36:33, Ezekiel 36:34). Before the Churches of Christ there lie sad and desolate wastes—souls that are in ruins and urgently need to be restored; large stretches of manhood that are now uncultivated, but that would yield a very precious harvest if only the seed of heavenly truth were sown. The great work to which these Churches should have addressed themselves with utmost earnestness and zeal is the work of human restoration, of sacred culture. The fields lie fallow and are barren; the land is desolate; mankind is not yielding its fruit, though there are boundless capacities slumbering in the soil. But when the breath of Divine inspiration is felt by the Church, and the pulse of a Divine life is beating within it, then does it go forward in the fullness of its faithfulness and its pity, and the wastes are builded and the land is tilled.
III. IMPRESSIVENESS AND INFLUENCE. (Ezekiel 36:35, Ezekiel 36:36.) A Christian Church may not be composed of those whose outward behavior contrasts greatly with what it once was; for its members may be those who have "been with Christ from the beginning." Nevertheless, it ought to be a distinctively and unmistakably holy community; a society of men and women who are recognized by "all that pass by" as those that love righteousness and hate iniquity; as those that are seriously and earnestly endeavoring to translate the will of Christ into their daily and their public life; as those whose whole conduct is governed by Christian principle; as those who are intent upon the elevation of their country and of their race, whatever sacrifice of time, or money, or strength it may require to accomplish it. Then would the great Name of Jesus Christ be magnified, and men would know that he was the Lord, the Lord of all power and grace.
IV. PRAYERFULNESS. (Ezekiel 36:37.) God will have his children near to him in reverential and grateful thought, and he desires that they ask him for the help and the blessings they need at his hand. He will "be inquired of." As soon as we reach a point where we begin to think of independence, we are in spiritual danger. The wise, safe, prosperous condition, both of the individual and of the Church, is that of constant nearness to God and a deep sense of dependence upon him. The upward look and the earnest prayer become us well; and they not only become us, but they secure for us the responsive bounty and blessing of God.—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 36". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27