36:24–32 Seven additional elements of restoration are present in these verses that expand ideas first presented in 11:14–21 (see the discussion there).54 First, God promised to return his people to their land (v. 24; cf 11:16–17; 20:34; 34:13; 37:21). The use of “nations” and “countries” echoes v. 19 in reverse, which recalled their dispersion. But the breadth of the reference, especially with the addition of “all,” suggests an eschatological setting. The return to the land in 535 b.c. after the exile in Babylon involved a return from one nation, Babylon, allowed by another nation, the Medo-Persians. Technically three nations were involved in the return of the exiles, Assyria, Babylon, and Medo-Persia. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, went captive to Assyria in 722 b.c. Babylon took captives from Judah in 605, 597, and 587 b.c. Babylon was overthrown by the Medo-Persians in 539 b.c., after which the Hebrews began to return to the land under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.
The reference in Ezekiel to a gathering from “all countries” seems to imply a wider scope for the return that looked beyond the first return from the Assyro-Babylonian captivity. This prophecy reflected the hope of a regathering after the a.d. 70 dispersion among all nations of the world (cf. 11:16–17; Isa 11:12; Jer 16:15).
Second, God will cleanse them from their impurities and especially their idolatry, which had defiled the land (v. 25; cf. vv. 17–18). Ezekiel used his favorite word, gillûlîm, for “idols” (vv. 18, 25; see comments on 6:3–7). Cleansing and forgiveness were symbolized by sprinkling with clean water to wash away their impurities (cf. Ps 51:7). While the reference was to ceremonial cleansing that was necessary to reestablish worship (Num 19:13, 20), it is important to remember that ceremonial cleansing was an external rite, but it was a ritual that also called for internal repentance.
Third, God promised to regenerate the people spiritually by giving them a “new heart” and a “new spirit” (v. 26). No longer would they be characterized by perverse thinking and unresponsiveness to God (see comments at 11:17–21). The change of will from “stone” to “flesh” would be made possible by the new covenant presented in Jer 31:31–34. This new internalized covenant would lead the people to turn to the new shepherd, the Messiah, and exchange their rebelliousness for a new heart, sensitive to the will of God. The enabling power to do this would be provided by a “new spirit” within them. God called this new spirit “my Spirit” (v. 27), meaning Yahweh’s Holy Spirit (11:19–20; 18:31; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28–29), who would empower them to obey the law of God.
The temptation to find the fulfillment of the “new heart” and “new spirit” of 36:25–27 exclusively in Christian conversion in this age should be resisted. New Testament conversion is only a preview of the massive spiritual revival God has in store for all of true Israel and Gentiles who believe. The New Testament concept of redemption came out of the theology of the Old Testament. The similarities exist because what God wants to do for Israel is what he wants to do for everyone. The point of Israel’s election to nationhood in Exod 19:1–8 was that they be mediators of the message of God’s salvation by fulfilling their missionary role as a “kingdom of priests.” When Israel did not fulfill its role, God used the New Testament church as a means of presenting the message of redemption. So the church will be used ultimately to reach Israel as well (Rom 10:1; 11:25–33).
Fourth, the Spirit of God will “move” them to follow (“walk in”) his laws (v. 27).55 Inability to keep the law was a primary concern presented by the apostle Paul. He lamented his struggle and failure to keep the law in his own strength (Rom 7:13–25) and followed that lament with the solution in Rom 8:1–39. The solution to his dilemma was living in the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:16–26).
Fifth, the people will live permanently in the land that God gave their forefathers (v. 28). The word “live” is from the root yāsǎb, which means “to dwell” as a permanent resident and is antithetical to gûr, “sojourner,” or “a temporary resident or resident alien.” The covenant relationship of the Hebrews will be reaffirmed (cf. 11:20; 14:11).
Sixth, God promised a new level of productivity (Amos 9:11–15). God instructed the grain to produce and the trees and crops to yield bountifully (vv. 29–30; cf. v. 8; Hos 2:21–22; Amos 9:13–15). No longer would famine disgrace God’s people or drive them from the land (see comments on 5:12; also cf. Gen 12:10; 26:1; 42:5; 43:1; 47:4; Ruth 1:1; 2 Sam 21:1).
Seventh, the people will remember their former practices, immorality and idolatry, and will “loathe” themselves (v. 31). This terminology was used in 6:9 to describe Israel’s repentance in exile. Here and in 20:43 it describes their feeling of revulsion after the return when they would recall their former lifestyle.56
Verse 32 concludes the entire section with another reminder that none of these restoration promises was provided because the Hebrews deserved them. Ezekiel reaffirmed the primary motive expressed in vv. 20–23, which was to demonstrate God’s greatness and holiness.
54 Davidson, Ezekiel, 260–61.
55 “Move” translates an unusual use of עשׂה, “to do, make.” BDB (795) gives the sense here (also Eccl 3:14) as “bring about.” Allen (Ezekiel 20–48, 175) translates “ensure.”
56 Allen, Ezekiel 20–48, 179.
Cooper, L. E. (1994). Ezekiel (Vol. 17, pp. 316–318). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.