Moving to Ezekiel 36, we find in verse 16 again that (as one can find multiple times while studying the book of Ezekiel), Ezekiel the priest receives another message from God.
“Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman’s monthly uncleanness in my sight.
Ezekiel 36:17 NIV
Now, this isn’t necessarily a metaphor that you normally hear in a typical sermon, but yes, this verse does compare the Israelite’s behavior with what you probably think it says.
In fact, while we have things in our culture that aren’t normally talked about (although the rules seem to have become a lot looser in recent years), the reality is that God created humanity, and He knows everything that goes on…even “that”. As the Babylon Bee (a Christian satire web site) wrote in one of its articles (12 Lesser-Known Benefits Of Reading Your Bible) that, “The Bible has more sex and violence than Game of Thrones”.
Regardless of the metaphor, the fact is that – as of the time of this prophecy – the Israelites’ behavior had been pretty icky.
And, with repeated unrighteous behavior, there were (and are) consequences.
So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions.
Ezekiel 36:18-19 NIV
The people had “shed blood” (which sounds to me like they were murdering other people, although the Lookout – cited below – proposes that this might also be eating meat with the blood still in it), and they had brought idols into the land. These behaviors are simply not acceptable for God’s chosen people (nor for anyone else, really), as we learn in laws like the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:1-4, 13), or – with regard to the prohibition of eating meat with the blood in it – see Deuteronomy 12:20-25).
So, the consequences are God’s judgment, resulting in the Israelites being driven out of the promised land, into other countries. They are exiles (or maybe fugitives, per Asbury).
Even in the modern era, we think of Jewish people scattered around the world in the last century, before having their country restored (in the span of human history, after all, 1948 was relatively recent), so that they could return to it. I’m not here to sort out why this was the case (whether historically or spiritually), but for those who have spoken with and read about the Jewish people today, there is a big difference to them between having a country and being dispersed among other nations.
I agree that being on one’s own country is still a big deal, even though people are probably more mobile among countries today than they were in centuries past. I – for one – would be really discouraged if I were no longer welcome in the United States of America. When I have traveled overseas to other countries (except maybe Canada, which isn’t quite as big of a deal to return from, as a friendly neighboring country), there’s a point in my return journey where I get to Passport control, and the agent at the desk approves my return to the U.S., and sometimes says, “Welcome back”. That’s a great feeling, even if the other places that I visited were interesting and friendly. Having said that, we should also remember that there are many people today who remember – or are still – living away from their homeland.
However, to the Israelites, their land meant even more to them, both because of the culture and time that they lived in, and because this was their promised land. Without a land, they weren’t a people in the same way that they had been.
In the time of Ezekiel’s prophecy here, this is the punishment that the Israelites were experiencing. However, with God, there is hope. God doesn’t disappear when we go through the messy parts of life, and He sees what lies on the other side of our trials, whether they are meant to forge our faith or they are part of God’s loving discipline.
Let’s continue this study in Ezekiel in upcoming articles.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for September 11, 2022
- The Lookout, September 11, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Asbury Bible Commentary. Copyright © 1992 by The Zondervan Corporation, via BibleGateway.com.