This moving promise in Ezekiel 36 comes as good news after many chapters of really bad news. The book of Ezekiel takes place during the Babylonian exile, when God’s people had been captured and taken into captivity in a foreign land. While there, Ezekiel, a young priest in training, is called by God to be a prophet to his people, and for nearly 30 chapters he rolls out the verdict of condemnation and guilt. The people of Israel have fallen into idolatry, sexual immorality, social injustice, and outright rebellion, and all of this culminates in chapter 33 when they receive the news that the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed. It is truly a dark and terrible moment in the history of Israel. God’s name is profaned among the nations (36:23).
But then comes this unexpected promise in Ezekiel 36. God says first that he will make his people clean, he will wash them with water and purify them of their filth (36:25). Then he says he will take away their stony, cold hearts and give them a new heart and a new spirit, so that they desire the right things and seek after the right ambitions (33:26). Then finally he says he will put his own Sprit in them, empowering them to keep the law and to live holy and righteous lives (33:27). It is a beautiful promise of forgiveness, cleansing and transformation.
This promise is fulfilled for us in Christ and his gift of the Spirit. To be a Christian is not just to have eternal life squared away. It is about a total transformation, the real presence of power of God coming to indwell your heart so that you begin to desire new and better things. This is one of the most astonishing gifts of the gospel. The gospel is that God does for us through Christ what we could not do for ourselves. That includes not only our salvation, but also our transformation, in which God through his Spirit enables us to live a new life that we could never live in our own. The gift of the Spirit is the gift of new life, now possible for every person who is in Christ.
In preparation for worship this Sunday, read our passage for this week, then read Romans 8:1-11, and consider the ways that the Ezekiel passage is fulfilled in and through Paul’s words.
22 “Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. 23 I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.
24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.