Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The first fifteen verses of this chapter, as already noted, belong to Ezekiel 35, and form part of the same prophecy.
Also, thou son of man, prophesy unto the mountains of Israel, and say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the LORD:(1) The mountains of Israel.—The word “mountains” is used for the land and people of Israel, to keep up the connection (by contrast) with the Mount Seir of the previous chapter. The personification is a strong one, by which the mountains represent the people as well as the land.
Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because the enemy hath said against you, Aha, even the ancient high places are ours in possession:(2) The ancient high places.—This is very nearly the same expression as in Genesis 49:26; Deuteronomy 33:15, where it is translated “everlasting (or lasting) hills,” and is probably an allusion to those passages. “The enemy” is a general term, which may refer to Edom; but from the following verses it is more likely that it is used for the heathen at large. When Israel’s land had been left desolate, the surrounding nations claimed that God’s promise to His people had failed, and that they themselves might now enter upon its secure possession.
Therefore prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because they have made you desolate, and swallowed you up on every side, that ye might be a possession unto the residue of the heathen, and ye are taken up in the lips of talkers, and are an infamy of the people:(3) In the lips of talkers, and are an infamy.—A phrase equivalent to a by-word and a reproach. (Comp. Deuteronomy 28:37; 1Kings 9:7, &c.) In the previous clause the words, “have swallowed you up,” should rather be “pant for you,” the word being taken from the snuffing and panting of wild beasts. It was after this fashion that “the residue of the heathen,” all those whom the conquests of Nebuchadnezzar had yet left, panted for the possession of the lands of Israel.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Surely in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the heathen, and against all Idumea, which have appointed my land into their possession with the joy of all their heart, with despiteful minds, to cast it out for a prey.(5) Idumea = Edom, as in Ezekiel 35:15, where see Note. For “cast it out,” in the last clause of the verse, read, empty it out. The idea of casting out a land for a prey is incongruous, and the other sense is admissible.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; I have lifted up mine hand, Surely the heathen that are about you, they shall bear their shame.(7) Lifted up mine hand.—As in Ezekiel 20:6 = “I have sworn.”
Shall bear their shame.—Comp. Ezekiel 36:6. The Israelites have been compelled to bear the reproaches of the heathen, but these now return upon themselves.
But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel; for they are at hand to come.(8) Shoot forth your branches.—The land of Israel, represented by its mountains, is now to put forth its fruit, for the time is at hand when the people will return—a strong and vivid way of setting forth at once the certainty and the nearness of the return.
And I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and bring fruit: and I will settle you after your old estates, and will do better unto you than at your beginnings: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.(11) Will multiply upon you.—The promises of abundant blessing of this, with the previous and following verses, certainly received a partial fulfilment at the time following the return from the exile, and in the subsequent Maccabean period; yet one cannot but feel that the language of promise, if taken only in a literal sense, goes far beyond the historic fulfilment, and hence that these earthly blessings are the shadow and type by which is set forth the higher spiritual blessing given to the Church without stint.
Settle you after your old estates.—This does not mean that particular families are to have again each their own former inheritance—though, doubtless, this was true, as far as circumstances allowed, of the comparatively small number of families who returned—but that they shall in general be settled and prosperous, as of old. And even this promise is eclipsed by the next clause: “I will do better unto you than at your beginnings,” which can only be considered as fulfilled in the spiritual blessings, far higher and better than anything of earth, of the Messianic kingdom.
Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because they say unto you, Thou land devourest up men, and hast bereaved thy nations;(13) Thou land devourest up men.—Comp. Numbers 13:32, a passage probably in the prophet’s mind, though he uses it for a different reason. Israel had so often sinned, and so often, in consequence, suffered the Divine punishments, that the heathen, not recognising the true cause, superstitiously attributed the result to something in the land itself.
With the promises of this chapter comp. Isaiah 54:1-8. It is impossible to interpret that passage otherwise than of spiritual blessings; and Ezekiel, as a devout Jew, as well as a prophet, was thoroughly penetrated with the same hopes as are there expressed by the evangelic prophet.
Neither will I cause men to hear in thee the shame of the heathen any more, neither shalt thou bear the reproach of the people any more, neither shalt thou cause thy nations to fall any more, saith the Lord GOD.(15) Cause . . . to fall.—In the last four verses there is a delicate play upon words which cannot well be expressed in English. Two verbs are used, each of them twice (“bereave” in Ezekiel 36:14 should be cause to fall, as in margin), one of them meaning to bereave, the other to cause to fall; and these verbs have the same radical letters, but with the first two of them transposed.
In reviewing this whole prophecy (Eze 35:1 to Eze 36:15), it is evident that the time had in view by the prophet was one in which Edom still existed as a nation, and was rejoicing in the fall of Israel. It cannot, therefore, look forward to any literal, but still future, accomplishment, since Edom, as a nation, has long since disappeared; and no future people, occupying the same territory or bearing the same name, could possibly sustain the same historic relations to Israel as are here attributed to Edom. Whatever, therefore, is to be literally understood in the prophecy must have been long ago fulfilled. And this was much. Israel was restored to its land, and there greatly multiplied, so that the country became for ages one of the most fertile and prosperous in Asia. At the same time, the sinfulness of the people, as of old, hindered the fulness of blessing that was within their reach. But a small part of them availed themselves of the opportunity to return to their land; and they who did so suffered themselves so to live that when the crowning blessing of the ages was fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah, the mass of the nation rejected and crucified Him. The blessings promised were fulfilled literally as far as the sinfulness of the people allowed; but inasmuch as these prevented anything like the full realisation of the terms of the prophecy, and as no future realisation of these is possible, on account of the total change of conditions and circumstances, it is plain that under these earthly terms the prophet, like his predecessors, Isaiah and the others, sets forth the glories of the spiritual future, and uses earthly blessings as the types of those better ones which are heavenly.
Ezekiel 36:16-38 constitute a separate prophecy, but one closely connected with that which has gone before. It is here declared that Israel has been scattered among the heathen because they had defiled the land by their sin (Ezekiel 36:16-19); then, that although they had yet further profaned God’s name among the heathen, He yet had pity for that name’s sake (Ezekiel 36:20-23); and, accordingly, that He will gather and restore Israel, cleansing them from their sins, and giving them a heart to keep His commandments (Ezekiel 36:24-32); and in consequence of this change that He will greatly bless them (Ezekiel 36:35-38). The great point of the prophecy is the moral change foretold in Ezekiel 36:25-27; Ezekiel 36:31.
Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own way and by their doings: their way was before me as the uncleanness of a removed woman.(17) They defiled it.—In Ezekiel 36:17-20 the sin of Israel in the past is set forth as the reason of their present condition. “The land” is always regarded in Scripture as peculiarly consecrated to God, and defiled by the sin of the people. (Comp. Leviticus 18:28; Numbers 35:34.) The comparison is with a woman who has been set apart for uncleanness (Leviticus 15:19), who until her purification was not allowed to come into the sanctuary.
And when they entered unto the heathen, whither they went, they profaned my holy name, when they said to them, These are the people of the LORD, and are gone forth out of his land.(20) When they said to them.—We are not here to understand that the Israelites profaned God’s name among the heathen in the way spoken of in Romans 2:24, though this also may have been done; but they profaned it by the very fact of their captivity, the consequence of their former sins. The heathen regarded Jehovah as merely the national God of the Israelites, and seeing them dispersed, in distress, and in captivity, concluded that He was unable to protect them. Hence, for the vindication of His name (Ezekiel 36:21-24) God would restore His people to their land.
But I had pity for mine holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the heathen, whither they went.(21) Pity for mine holy name.—The meaning of this has been already explained in the Note on the previous verse; and in the following verses it is emphasised that God would restore His people, not for their sakes, but for His own.
Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name's sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went.(22) Not . . . for your sakes, . . . but for mine holy name’s sake.—Comp. Exod. xxxii; Numbers 14; Deuteronomy 9. This is the constant burden of God’s teaching to His people throughout their history. Hence it is an idle objection to the Scripture narrative that it represents Israel as the favourite of heaven, and is thus just like the human legends of every other ancient nation. In fact, this narrative is unlike any other. It speaks of God as having chosen one nation as the means of accomplishing His purpose for the salvation of the whole world, but continually chastising them for their sins, again and again setting aside the mass of them, and restoring and purifying and blessing a remnant, not for their own sake, but for the accomplishment of His own holy purpose and promise, thus sanctifying His name.
And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.(23) Before their eyes.—The Hebrew text as it stands has your eyes, as in the margin. Many manuscripts and other authorities have their. Either of them admits of an excellent sense; but the reading your brings out the important truth that God must first be sanctified in the eyes of the people themselves by their repentance and moral reformation, and then, through them and the consequent blessing upon them, He will be sanctified in the eyes of the heathen also.
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.(25) Sprinkle clean water.—Comp. Hebrews 9:13; Hebrews 10:22. Ezekiel, the priest, here refers to those manifold purifications of the Law (e.g., Numbers 8:7; Numbers 19:9; Numbers 19:17; Leviticus 14:5-7; Leviticus 14:9, &c.) which were performed by means of water; yet he refers to these as a whole, in their symbolical signification, rather than to any one of them in particular. He speaks primarily of the cleansing from idolatry and such gross outward sins, and he treats of the people collectively; yet this purification, as the following verses show, must necessarily extend much farther, and be applied to them individually. It was the same symbolism which led in later ages to the use of baptism in the admission of proselytes to the Jewish Church, a practice adopted by the forerunner of our Lord in the preparation of the people for His coming. Baptism is also alluded to by our Lord Himself in His conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:5.) and afterwards established by Him as the initiatory sacrament of the Christian Church. (Comp. Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 10:22.)
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 an heart of flesh.(26) A new heart.—Comp. Ezekiel 11:18-20, where the same promise is given, although somewhat less fully than here. On the expression “heart of flesh,” see Note there on Ezekiel 36:19. With this prophetic preaching of the Gospel comp. Jeremiah 31:31-34, and particularly the connection of that passage with the temporal promises in its continuation (Ezekiel 36:35-38).
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.(28) Ye shall dwell in the land.—The Israelites were not yet able to seek the spiritual, except as con. nected with the temporal blessing; and, indeed, the temporal was, in the ordering of Providence, a necessary means to the spiritual. Therefore the promise of earthly restoration must yet be made, and must in due time be literally fulfilled.
I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you.(29) Your uncleannesses.—In Ezekiel 36:25 they had already been made clean, and in Ezekiel 36:26 a new heart had been given them; why, then, was there yet further need of cleansing? This cannot, therefore, refer to the idolatries from which they had been already purged, but is plain enough if understood of that ordinary sinfulness of man which, being continually renewed, needs continual forgiveness.
Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations.(31) Shall lothe yourselves.—Comp. Note on Ezekiel 20:43.
Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord GOD, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel.(32) Not for your sakes.—See Ezekiel 36:22.
And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited.(35) Like the garden of Eden.—This may be meant merely to describe the exceeding excellence and prosperity of the land; but, in connection with what has been previously said, it seems rather to point forward to that state in which man shall again be entirely freed from sin, which has been the state for which the Church in all ages has been preparing.
Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock.(37) I will yet for this be enquired of.—Comp. Ezekiel 14:3-4; Ezekiel 20:3. Formerly God refused to be inquired of by a people whose hearts were far from Him; now that He has given them a new heart He is ready to hear them.
As the holy flock, as the flock of Jerusalem in her solemn feasts; so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of men: and they shall know that I am the LORD.(38) The flock of Jerusalem.—The comparison is with the vast flocks of sacrificial animals accustomed to be carried to Jerusalem at the great annual feasts. The object is to give a vivid idea of the numbers of the people, but there is an especial appropriateness in the simile from the fact that these flocks were devoted to the Lord.