Divorce as a strategy for renewing marriage? National failure turned into worldwide blessing? I wouldn’t lay odds, but God would. Only he could pull off something like this. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone. He’s been doing the impossible since Genesis 1.
The backstory is this: God’s bride, the nation of Judah, has been unfaithful to God for nearly a thousand years, worshipping the false idols of their neighbors and doing the vilest of things–offering their babies to burn alive. God is horrified and is determined to bring them to their knees.
He sends prophets to shake them awake and warn them that unless they repent, he’ll judge them, and he does: he brings in the big guns of Babylon. Jerusalem, Judah’s capital, is destroyed, and her people are either taken captive or killed.
God’s hung in there with them all these many years, but with no real response from them except worsening debauchery, he gives up and moves out, just before their final shakedown begins. When he did the same with the kingdom of Israel 150 years before, he called it a divorce. Since he refers to Judah as his unfaithful wife by metaphor, I’m guessing this is a kind of second divorce, Je 3:8, Ez 23:4, 35-38.
But God has remarriage plans with his people, and he tells them what they are in Ezekiel 36-37. It’s an interesting strategy–God completely tips his hand. He doesn’t play hard to get; he tells them all his glorious plans. And while it had to be wonderful news to hear as they sit stirring their meager pots of beans, it doesn’t begin to happen for another 70 years. God lets them know he’s not abandoned them for good, but many of them won’t be alive to experience the reunion in their promised land.
God’s as eager in his desire to tell them of their future life with him as he’s been in his determination that they suffer their choice of life now without him. As a lover, he is both raging and forgiving. Long-suffering and exacting. His holiness meets his mercy with a kiss on the lips, and this before hearts are broken and repentance begins.
Life in exile is hard. The people carted off before destruction are the ones in leadership in Judah, but in Babylon they’re water carriers and ditch diggers. They’re on the bottom, and it’s a long time before they’re able to stand up. Ezekiel prophesies to them in Babylon in the years before and after Jerusalem is destroyed. His message to them has been, “Repent and live!”
So have they?
Just three chapters ago in Ezekiel 33, they were complaining that “Life’s too hard!” and “God’s not fair!” while news of Jerusalem’s fall is fresh in their ears (for that story, see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/14/November-14/). So the answer seems to be no, they haven’t repented. Even so, God still gives them his restoration plan.
I wonder why God didn’t think to say, “You’re right, I’m not fair. If I were fair, you would’ve died in Jerusalem last week!” [My harsh-mother-hand is showing.]. But God’s not harsh here. He’s kind. I’m guessing it’s because their consequences are severe enough. Now that Jerusalem has fallen, his words of reproach and judgment through Ezekiel are gone.
After all, they’ve lost homes and jobs and status and stuff, but undoubtedly the greatest losses are the folks they love, the ones who suffered in Jerusalem at the end. The loss of the temple itself would also have been very hard. God’s people have plenty of real losses to grieve.
But they haven’t lost God. Sometimes God doesn’t seem like enough until he’s all we have. It’s then when we open our eyes and we really see him, maybe for the first time. We see he’s more than enough; in fact, he’s all that we need. Were they at this place yet? I don’t know. As far as I can tell, they’re still making excuses for why they don’t obey.
Nonetheless, it’s here that God tells them his plan. Maybe his strategy is to give them what they need, even when they don’t yet believe? Maybe it’s not our faith that brings God near. Maybe it’s our need.
Regardless of why, four times he tells Ezekiel to prophesy to Israel’s land–her mountains, hills, ravines, and valleys, her desolate ruins and her deserted, plundered towns, 36:1,4.
God’s plan to restore Judah begins with a promise about the land. Judah has suffered periods of drought in the months and years before Jerusalem is conquered. Withholding rain is just one of the ways God tried to get their attention. As a result, crops have failed and famine has set in, 36:30.
But in anticipation of Judah’s return, God’s like a grandmother getting ready for Thanksgiving. He gets busy. He tells the mountains to produce branches and fruit for his people, “for they will soon come home.” He tells the ground that he’s “concerned” for it, implying he will enrich it so that when it’s “plowed and sown,” it will produce. He’ll increase the land’s production of fruit and crops, “I will call for the grain,” so his people will no longer feel ashamed among the nations because of famine, 36:8-9, 29-30.
God promises to restore the people to the land. He says he will gather them from all the nations where they’ve been scattered and bring them back and multiply them in the land, “even the whole house of Israel.” This would have been a stunning piece of news: Israel had been captured by Assyria 150 years before and their descendants assimilated into that nation, but God promises to bring them back, too, 36:10, 24.
“I will settle people on you as in the past and will make you prosper more than before.” God will restore the towns and ruins, and will make his people as numerous as sheep. As abundant as the flocks used in the temple in Jerusalem, there will be “flocks of people” in her cities. When people pass by their land, they’ll no longer see it desolate and barren; they’ll see it cared for and cultivated, “like the garden of Eden.” And their livestock will be multiplied, 36:10-11, 34-35, 38.
God promises to give them new hearts. God’s people have been hardened by sin and idolatry for so long, they’ll need heart transplants to repent and love him again. He says he will clean them from their sins, and “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws,” 36:25-27. Interestingly, it’s not until after God promises new hearts that he says the people feel remorse when they remember their “evil ways and wicked deeds” and will be moved to obey him 36:31-32. I wonder if until these new hearts are given, they’re unable to do so.
God promises to renew his covenant and send the Messiah. God saves the best part for last. In the space of six verses, God says three times, “You will be my people, and I will be your God.“ 36:28, 37:23, 27. It must be important to him. This was a renewal of the covenant God made with Moses and his people in the desert at Mt Sinai. After all of the heartache and heartbreak they’ve been through together ever since, God still wants to renew their vows and get married again.
When they’re restored, God says there will be one king, one shepherd over them from the line of David and this time, they’ll follow God’s words. God will make an everlasting covenant of peace with them, and he will “put [his] sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people,” 37:24-27.
Will God rebuild the destroyed temple? Yes. The exiles come back and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem 70 years later in partial fulfillment of these words, but in 70 AD, it’s destroyed again. Jesus, a descendant of David, said he was the temple. Though he, too, was destroyed, God raised him again, and by his Spirit, he lives within us, Jn 2:19, He 10:19-20, Ro 8:9.
Some think these promises of restoration were fulfilled in 1948 when the nation of Israel was reestablished in their homeland. There have been remarkable statistics of Israel’s agricultural production and reforestation rising since then. Some think these promises will be fullfilled in a millennial period of 1000 years before the end of time and judgment day to come. Others believe these promises began to be fulfilled in Jesus and the church that was established after his death and will continue into the end of time and eternity. I don’t know what God has planned, but I know it will be good, and everything will happen as it should, (Guzik and Feinberg, http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel 36/)
In all of the wonder of these promises, I’m surprised to read that God says he’s not doing this restoration for Judah, the house of Israel. In two separate places, God says it’s for the sake of his name that he will restore them, “I will show the holiness of my great name,” 36:22-23; 36:32.
He says that their scattering in other countries profaned God’s name “before the nations” because the nations knew these were God’s people. If they were being carried off, it was because Jehovah God was too weak to protect them. “These are the Lord’s people, and yet they had to leave his land,” 36:20-21.
God has more than just the restoration of his people in mind when he brings them back to the land and establishes them again. He has in mind changing the minds of those watching about who he is. Is he that insecure? No. But who he is before them matters a great deal to him, because understanding who God is is the first step of faith, “He who comes to God must believe that God is,” Heb 11:6.
The constant refrain of the book of Ezekiel has been so that “they will know that I am the Lord.” Changing the minds of the nations about who God is can open their hearts to trust him. This is his grander vision: saving the whole world. God’s desire isn’t just for this tiny nation to believe, important as they are to him. He tells the story of who he is and what he wants through their story–their failure and his saving–so that the world will see who God is and love him, too, (for another story about just that, see iwantmore.blog/2020/11/17/November-17/).
How will God accomplish such a thing after what Judah’s done by rejecting him and getting kicked out of town? God says the nations will know he’s the Lord alone “when I show myself holy through you before their eyes,” 36:23. Israel’s becoming holy will testify to who God is. The sign to the nations that will bring honor to his name will be that his people will become holy like himself.
It would have to be a holy God with holy power who could turn wicked idol worshippers into holy God lovers, so when it happens, “then they will know that I am the Lord,” 36:38. Israel’s holiness will testify about who God is. God said long before Jesus came and his Spirit was given that one day, God’s people would be known by their love and their likeness to their God. “Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever,” 37:27-28.
But is this happening, really? True Israel is God’s people scattered throughout the world, his church. They are the ones who represent God to the world. Their changed lives are what God says testifies to the truth of him. It’s astounding to me that the church continues to draw people to God, despite the fact that so often, we so poorly reflect him, Eph 2:11-22, 1 Pe 1:1-2.
But this for me is the truest testimony of God’s existence and power: that the church prevails against the gates of hell, solely because of the movement of God in and through such a sordid bride, just as he always has.
God forgives adulterers and idolaters, the regular ole’ sinners. He pours out his Spirit in all who believe and cleans them up. And he lets them participate in bringing faith to the world, whether by good example or ill.
It’s always been about God.
It’s God for the win.
“Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like the one who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it, he will be blessed in what he does.” Js 1:19-25.
I can listen to God’s words and deceive myself into thinking I’m walking in them. But unless I’m listening and doing, I’m not.
God’s words are like a magic “mirror, mirror on the wall” that shows us ourselves. If we look in the mirror but don’t make the adjustments it shows us we need, it’s as if we didn’t look in the first place. But the one who continues to look, who makes adjustments and does what it says, will be blessed.
It’s easy to look around and notice how well others are or are not adjusting themselves. And then to feel proud about mine. Something tells me I’m missing the point.
I can’t take credit for what God shows me. And I prove I’m deceived when I go there and congratulate rather than to the cross and repent.
Take my eyes off of others and my performance, God, and put them on you. If I’m going to compare, let me compare myself to you, and learn humility.
“Therefore get rid of all moral filth and the evil that its so prevalent
and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you,” Js 1:21
This is a pithy and praiseful psalm, telling in one terse verse why we praise God–for his love and faithfulness that never end.
“Praise the Lord, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.
For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord
It reminds me of Ezekiel’s message today, that God’s purpose on earth is to draw all nations, all peoples to himself for a praise party that never stops. I like it that God whittles down the reason to praise him into one main thing: his great love, what life’s all about.
I guess after we spend a few millennia getting it all said about love, we could move on to ice cream.
Your words are heard
While on this earth.
A heart is stirred.
So begins rebirth.
My take away here
is God for the win,
And love never ends.
I’m never nearer
To him than when
I let go of fear
And let him in.
When love shows the way,
I can rest in the search,
Hear what you say,
Get down off my perch.
Let praise be my play.
Let love be my story.
Let me number my days.
Show me your glory.
[I used Ezekiel chapter 36, from yesterday’s reading, in today’s comments because it spoke of the same restoration as the one in chapter 37.]