12 January 2018Ezekiel 36:22-27
“I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.” (v. 23)
Psalm: Psalm 36
Ezekiel had a powerful ministry as a prophet during the dark time of exile for God’s people. Jerusalem and its temple had been destroyed by invading armies, and many of the people of Israel carried off into exile. Ezekiel was a watchman, reading the signs of the times; he was a pastor, watching over God’s people in love; and he was an evangelist, bringing good news of things to come, even in their darkest hours.
Today’s passage brings good news, a message of hope: God will act to reverse the fortunes of the exiled people, and return them to their homeland! But Ezekiel’s message also invites us to see things from God’s perspective: ‘What’s in it for God?’ we might ask. ‘Why should God be faithful when the people (and especially their rulers) have been so unfaithful?’ ‘How can God possibly live up to all the promises God has made, especially when nothing seems to be going to plan?’ Ezekiel prophesies that there is a change of direction to come and God will bring it about, but, oddly, he says it won’t be primarily for the sake of the people (verse 22).
There are many times in the biblical story where God did not intervene, and many occasions when we might pray for divine help, and it apparently doesn’t come. And yet, Ezekiel seems to be saying that where God’s name and reputation are concerned, and the future of God’s purposes, God will indeed intervene powerfully and faithfully. Sometimes it takes a bit longer than we would like! God’s promises are often postponed for a while, but they are never abandoned; and God’s steadfast love endures forever.
When we read that it’s ‘for the sake of God’s name’ (verse 22), this is not about God being proud or conceited or doing it for selfish reasons, but rather because God will only act in ways that are faithful and true, acting from the depths of supreme wisdom and love. Everything that is truly of God must live up to that name.
The ultimate promise which emerges through the Old Testament is of a kingdom ruled by God which will encompass every nation, springing forth from the family of Abraham. The people of this kingdom will live in relationship with the living God, who will bring a true righteousness of the heart, true worship, and justice to the earth. This is reflected in verses 25-27, introduced by the sprinkling of clean water. Christians see this promise fulfilled in the kingdom brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Christian faith, the sprinkling or dipping in the water of Baptism is the sign of turning away from idols and towards God, united to Christ, and it is the seal of God’s promise for the believer.
- Have you ever had to fight to ‘clear your name’? To what lengths would you go to restore your reputation?
- God entrusts fallible people, with all their weaknesses and prone to sin, with the responsibility of bearing God’s name to the world. At times, we can be a very poor reflection indeed. What does this tell you about the nature of God and most especially God’s grace?
- How can Jesus bring about the “new heart” and “new spirit” (v. 26) that was promised?