Commentary on Ezek 36:23-28
From an oracle on the mountains of Israel a promise that in the end all will be well.
Through his prophet, God expresses his desire that the holiness of his name become evident among all the peoples of the world. It has been profaned by the unbelieving nations but Israel, too, has profaned it in their presence. They have been very poor witnesses to the holiness of Yahweh.
But now “the nations will know that I am the Lord”. This is the ultimate purpose of God’s plans and it is his will that it will be through Israel that the whole world may come to know and acknowledge the true God. We, too, pray for this every time we say “Holy be your name; your Kingdom come; your will be done on earth as in heaven” in the Lord’s Prayer.
For this to happen God’s people must be taken from their exile among foreign nations and be brought back to their own land. Here the prophet is speaking of the return of the exiles to Jerusalem.
But he will not stop at simply restoring their homeland. There will also be a spiritual renewal. Yahweh will sprinkle clean water on them to remove all their corruption and purify them from all idolatry.
Further, they will be given a new heart and a new spirit. Their heart of stone will be replaced with a heart of warm, beating flesh. “Flesh” in the Old Testament often is a symbol for weakness and in the New Testament it often represents our sinful nature as a force in opposition to the truly spiritual. Here, however, it is contrasted with stone to indicate a warm-blooded, feeling and teachable heart.
“I will put my spirit in you.” This spirit of God is explained by the Jerusalem Bible as follows:
The spirit (breath) of God, which creates and gives life, lays hold on men to endow them with superhuman power. The characteristic of the messianic age is to be an extraordinary outpouring of the spirit on all, endowing them with special graces. But, more mysteriously, for each receiver the spirit will be the principle of an inward renewal making possible a faithful observance of the laws of God; thus the spirit will be the principle inspiring the new covenant; like life-giving water it will nourish fruits of integrity and holiness, which in turn will guarantee the favour and protection of God for man. This effusion of the spirit will be effected through the Messiah who will be the first recipient of it, to be able to accomplish his saving work. (edited)
The active and effective presence of this new spirit will be manifested by the people’s response, by their observance of God’s law, their carrying out of his will in all things. Then the covenant promise will once again be realised: “You shall be my people and I will be your God.”
This, too, is the ultimate goal of the Church as an instrument of the Kingdom, namely, that the holiness of God’s name be acknowledged by peoples everywhere. For that, we in the Church constantly need a new heart, a heart of flesh, and a new spirit. We need this both corporately and individually.
Let us pray that the community of which we are members and each member of it may experience a constant renewal of heart and spirit. Only then can we be effective instruments to proclaim the Good News to all those who thirst for meaning and a vision in their lives.