A New Heart and a New Spirit
Ezekiel 36 foretells the end-time repentance, conversion, and transformation of Israel. Of course, the offer from God to "give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you" (verse 26) ultimately applies to all people, since all people will be invited to become a part of Israel in a spiritual sense (Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 3:26-29).
Although God uses nations to punish other nations, the nations inflicting the punishment are not truly mindful of this and end up heaping guilt on themselves in each endeavor—their pride becomes worse, they boastfully take credit to themselves, they take gleeful pleasure in causing suffering, they are too harsh, they think they can steal their enemies' land and get away with it, and they don't repent of their own sins. Some of those sins are stated in Ezekiel 36:2-5 regarding "the rest of the nations and against all Edom."
In verses 6-9, God reassures the land of Israel that "I am for you" and that "the nations that are around you shall bear their own shame." In verse 8, God speaks joyfully to the mountains and land of Israel and says, "they [the returning captives] are about to come!" The return of Babylonian exiles to the Promised Land in the time soon after Ezekiel was but a small forerunner of the great second Exodus of the end-time. God says, "I will multiply upon you man and beast" (verses 10-11, 38).
The "you" in verses 13-14 is again the Holy Land, which has gotten the reputation of being a cursed land that devours its inhabitants. Yet God is going to vastly change that reputation at the return of Jesus Christ.
The analogy of verse 17 is based on the laws of a woman's monthly "uncleanness" detailed in Leviticus 15:19-24. During her monthly period, a woman was considered ritually unclean for seven days, meaning primarily that she was not allowed to go to the tabernacle to participate in any sacrifices or other worship. But, also, everyone and everything she touched were then considered unclean for a time. So God is saying that the way of the people of Israel had not only been evil, cutting themselves off from fellowship with Him, but also that the Israelites had been a bad influence on everyone they had "touched”—“wherever they went, they profaned My holy name" (Ezekiel 36:20). The Israelites caused God's name to be profaned among the nations in two ways: 1) in misrepresenting Him themselves through their evil conduct before other nations—taking His name in vain by claiming to be His people and yet not living according to His will; and 2) provoking other nations to make derogatory remarks about Israel's God and religion based on Israel's sinful conduct.
God chose and blessed Israel with the intent that it would model His way of life, thereby making a way for all nations to come to know and worship Him—and to receive His blessings. Instead, the nations of modern Israel wallow in the wealth God gave them, their people living in such gross immorality that other nations are repulsed by the emptiness of their character. Plainly, the name of Israel sets upon the United States, Britain and other nations of northwest European heritage. While these nations provide the economic engine and the military might for the entire world, their spiritual heart is hollow. The rest of the world thinks of them as materialistic, not the spiritual model for their people.
In verses 22 and 32, God gives the justification for the restoration of Israel—in a sense, God's grace. It will not be because Israel has earned it by a record of righteousness. God will do it, He says, "for My holy name's sake."
In verse 25, God says He will "sprinkle clean water" on His people. Numbers 19 describes the process of purifying those who, for whatever reason, are ritualistically "unclean." Water from a running stream (verse 17) was mixed with ashes from a burned red heifer (verses 2, 9) to make "water of purification" (verse 9) that is "sprinkled on him" who was unclean (verse 20). (Interestingly, the Hebrew term in verse 17 translated "running water" in the New King James Version literally means "living water.") Hebrews 9:13-14 calls this process the "purifying of the flesh" and goes on to say that real spiritual cleansing is only possible by the blood of Christ. This true purification is referred to in Hebrews 10:22 as having "our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience." So in Ezekiel 36:25, God is saying He will take Israel through His spiritual cleansing process.
In the Bible, water is used to represent many things, including God's Spirit (John 7:37-38). However, before one receives the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27), he must first begin to receive "the washing of water by the word [the gospel, the Word of God]" (Ephesians 5:26). So whereas the primary emphasis in Ezekiel 36:25 is on God's forgiveness of sin and the whole process of spiritual cleansing, the sprinkling of clean water on His people may also have the specific meaning of the dissemination of the gospel among them.
Ezekiel 36:25-28 is a prophecy of the New Covenant with its better promises. Peace on earth and God's showers of blessings will only come about when there is a radical change in human nature. Man's "heart of stone"—his hardened, stubborn nature—must first be replaced with a pliant "heart of flesh" (verse 26). This change of heart was earlier described in these terms in Ezekiel 11:19-20. It will happen when Satan and his demons and their corrupt society are no longer present to harden man's heart. The powerful presence of Jesus Christ will put the humble fear of God in people's hearts as well. After that, and once people learn the truth of God's plan of salvation, most will eventually repent of their sins (36:31), trust in Jesus Christ to be their Savior and receive water baptism, whereupon God will fulfill this wonderful promise: "I will put My spirit within you" (verse 27).
Studying these scriptures demonstrates the spiritual message of the Old Testament, a concept often little understood in nominal Christianity. Misled by teachers who themselves do not understand the truth, many think that the words of the Old Testament belong on a dusty library shelf and have no bearing on their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does much of the New Testament draw upon the language, events and spiritual direction of the Old Testament, but also the New Testament Church of God believed and practiced God's law as revealed there. Indeed, the point of receiving God's Spirit is to help us develop and grow in His character, which is expressed through His laws!
The rest of the chapter describes the condition of the earth during the millennial reign of Christ—peace, agricultural abundance, the rebuilding of cities, and a population explosion. "So they will say, 'This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden'" (verse 35). It will be a return to paradise, as we also read earlier in Isaiah 51:3: "For the LORD will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in it, thanksgiving and the voice of melody."