Today’s readings: Ezekiel 35:1-36:38, James 1:1-18, Psalm 116:1-19, Proverbs 27:23-27
In yesterday’s reading from Ezekiel, I commented that God takes no delight in punishing the wicked. This is reinforced in Ezekiel 35, where God promises destruction on Edom because they took advantage of God’s punishment of Israel’s wickedness and attempted to annihilate Israel.
5 “Your eternal hatred for the people of Israel led you to butcher them when they were helpless, when I had already punished them for all their sins.
God’s purpose in disciplining Israel is stated clearly in Ezekiel 36.
8 “But the mountains of Israel will produce heavy crops of fruit for my people—for they will be coming home again soon! 9 See, I care about you, and I will pay attention to you. Your ground will be plowed and your crops planted. 10 I will greatly increase the population of Israel, and the ruined cities will be rebuilt and filled with people. 11 I will increase not only the people, but also your animals. O mountains of Israel, I will bring people to live on you once again. I will make you even more prosperous than you were before. Then you will know that I am the Lord. 12 I will cause my people to walk on you once again, and you will be their territory. You will never again rob them of their children.
God uses punishment as a lesson to His people, but His intention is always to restore and redeem. In this passage, He promises fruitful crops, more people and even more livestock. Why does God promise to restore and redeem Israel?
22 “Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations.
It is for the sake of His own reputation among all the nations, so that the world will know who He is, not because Israel deserved it. Later in Ezekiel 36, God repeats His promise to Israel to bless and prosper them, to renew His covenant and to change their hearts.
25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.[c] 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
28 “And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.
Reading these passages back in 1981 began to open my eyes to the nature of God’s discipline. His purpose is not annihilation or destruction. He condemned Edom for that in this passage. In other passages, God condemned Babylon (see Jeremiah 25, Jeremiah 50, Jeremiah 51) and Assyria (see Isaiah 33) for their excesses in defeating Judah and Israel. God’s purpose is to set us free from our wickedness, to redeem and restore us and to make His name known among the nations.