When I no more can stir my soul to move,
And life is but the ashes of a fire;
When I can but remember that my heart
Once used to live and love, long and aspire—
Oh, be thou then the first, the one thou art;
Be thou the calling, before all answering love,
And in me wake hope, fear, boundless desire.
— George MacDonald (Diary of an Old Soul)
Beauty is most apparent in contrast. We hear this in music. The verses of most popular songs are little more than vehicles sent to move the song along to the chorus. We see this in nature. A plain old cedar tree doesn’t command a second look in the forest, but when it grows out of a crevasse in the centre of a rocky hill, it’s an inspiration.
These verses from Ezekiel are like the chorus of a song, or a cedar on a cliff. They are words of hope, set against the bleak backdrop of near-total judgment. God tells Ezekiel to prophesy using three verbs to describe God’s future disposition toward the remnant of Israel: gather, assemble, give.
. . .
God has already made it clear that the people left in Jerusalem after the Ezekiel’s deportment were not the remnant of Israel. The remnant were those who had been scattered abroad. God has already said that he was their sanctuary while they were in foreign lands. Now, he promises to gather them in from those lands.
Have you ever felt homesick? Imagine being forced from you home, and being compelled to live in a place where you could not practice your religion. God’s promise to gather them from foreign lands would be balm to their homesick souls.
. . .
The second verb is assemble. Not only would God take the remnant from foreign lands, he would assemble them back together.
Why are so many churches called “assemblies”? They are people whom God has rescued from spiritually foreign lands, and has brought together as his people, his body, his church. Assembling carries the idea of fitting pieces back together (assembly line). God’s body is scattered, and reassembled in his church.
. . .
This third verb would be sweet music to the ears of the remnant. God completes what he begins. He will gather the remnant from the nations, and assemble them as his people. Then, he will give them back the land they forfeited because of their sin.
In the midst of his prophecies of judgment, God shows that he is already looking forward to the day when he will gather, assemble, and give the Israelites back what he had promised them all along.
. . .
There is one caveat, though. God will gather the remnant, and assemble them. He will give them their land back. They are responsible to remove all the idols from the land once they return. This is not God’s responsibility. The act of removing idols from the land will be a vivid reminder of the consequences of playing slipshod with Yahweh.
. . .
Loving God, thank you for not losing sight of mercy in the midst of judgment. In Jesus’ name, Amen.