4. The Renewal of Grace (36:22–38)
This passage is one of the mountain peaks of the Old Testament. God’s pure grace is manifested in a promise to His people. Skinner says:
It contains the clearest and most comprehensive statement of the process of redemption to be found in the whole book, exhibiting as it does in logical order all the elements that enter into the divine scheme of salvation.50
The passage has two movements of thought: the work of God’s grace in the individual (vv. 22–31), and the work of God’s grace in society (vv. 33–38).
a. The Work of Grace (36:22–31)
22 Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I do not this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for my holy name, which ye have profaned among the nations, whither ye went. 23 And I will sanctify my great name, which hath been profaned among the nations, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the nations shall know that I am Jehovah, saith the Lord Jehovah, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. 24 For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. 25 And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. 26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them. 28 And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the grain, and will multiply it, and lay no famine upon you. 30 And I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye may receive no more the reproach of famine among the nations. 31 Then shall ye remember your evil ways, and your doings that were not good; and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations.
Ezekiel begins the passage by showing the need of divine vindication. The holy name of Jehovah has been profaned among the nations because of Israel’s sin. To restore His divine dignity, God will manifest His power through divine grace. By His own work, He will sanctify His great name. And how does He do it? By working in His people so that they will be “new creatures in Christ Jesus,” for divine grace always renews and regenerates. The divine dignity will be restored when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.
The work of grace comes through four great acts of God: (1) restoration (v. 24); (2) regeneration (v. 25); (3) sanctification (v. 26); and (4) purification (vv. 27f.). These correspond to the great works of grace in Christian salvation.
Restoration is closely related to conversion. Israel is to be taken from among the nations, and brought into your own land. In the same way, the Christian is taken from the world and brought into Christ. He lives in the new realm of the Spirit (Gal. 5:24).
Regeneration is the new birth. The promise, I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean, recalls the ceremonial washings of the law, especially purification by sprinkling with water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer (cf. Num. 19:17–19). The New Covenant fulfills this in “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” spoken of by Paul (Titus 3:5, 6). The new birth is a cleansing from the sins of the past, from all your filthiness, and from all your idols (cf. 1 Thess. 1:9–10).
Sanctification is the work of God in the depths of the heart, spoken of by the prophet as, A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you. Sanctification is both negative and positive. Negatively it is the elimination of the old: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh. Positively it is the addition of the new: and I will give you a heart of flesh. Adam Clarke comments:
Here is the salvation that God promises to give to restored Israel; and here is the salvation that is the birthright of every Christian believer; the complete destruction of all sin in the soul, and the complete renewal of the heart; no sin having any place within, and no unrighteousness having any place without.51
Purification, says the prophet, is the work of the Holy Spirit: And I will put my Spirit within you. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit empowered believers; in the New Testament age the Holy Spirit purifies believers from sins and from sin (1 John 1:9; 1 Thess. 4:3–8). The purity and power of the Spirit enable the believer to walk in the statutes of God: and cause you to walk in my statutes. The Hebrew for cause you to walk is a strong word meaning, “I myself will bring it about that you will be enabled to walk.…”
The believer’s walk is sustained by three gracious promises: (1) I will be your God (v. 28); (2) I will save you from all your uncleanness (v. 29); and (3) I will multiply the fruit of the tree (v. 30). Fellowship, purity, and fruitfulness are the divine blessings of restoration, whether it is the restoration of Israel from the land of captivity, or the restoration of the sinner from the captivity of sin.
Man’s response to the gracious salvation of God is expressed in verse 31: then shall ye remember your evil ways. God’s saving activity for the believer results in a life of humility lived in the spirit of repentance. The divine initiative in salvation is met by the irrepressible gratitude of man. One who is truly forgiven can never forget the depths from which he was delivered (Ps. 40:1–4).
50 John Skinner, “Ezekiel,” Expositor’s Bible, p. 306.
51 Op. cit., Ezek. 36:27.
Hall, B. H. (1969). The Book of Ezekiel. In Isaiah-Malachi (Vol. 3, pp. 464–465). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.