Ezekiel 36:16-23: My Sake

The name of God admits no
rivals, approximations or substitutions.
— Victor Shepherd (Seasons of Grace)

It’s amazing that the same motivation can lead to two opposite results. A parent, fired with a motivation of love for her child can sing him to sleep one night, and violently yank him away from a hot stove the next day.

This apparent irony leaps off the page in this passage. Back before the exile, Israel was mired in sin. God wanted everyone to know his power and righteousness, so he judged his people by bringing Babylon in to destroy them. The startling admission in this passage is that the judgment did not effect God’s purpose. Instead of the nations turning around and being humbled by such an awesome display of God’s holiness in action, they mocked Israel’s God for not being able to keep her safe.

In this passage, God determines to restore Israel—but not for her sake.

. . .

God’s motivation—the motivation that led to judgment and now to restoration—is the same:

I had concern for my holy name (v. 21, NRSV)

For the sake of my holy name (v. 22, NRSV)

God is now restoring his people for his own sake—for his own reputation. I can’t imagine what the Israelites would have felt like when they first heard this message. I’m sure they would be happy—messages of restoration usually elicit joy. On the other hand, would they feel strangely shamed? How would it feel to know that God was only restoring them because the punishment didn’t do any good?

. . .

In a sense, we are in the same situation. God can punish us for our sins, but then all of humanity would have to be destroyed. Is it not better for God to show his glory by rescuing us? That is exactly what he did in Jesus.

We like to emphasize John 3:16: It is because God loved the world so much, that he gave us his son. While that is absolutely true, he was also just as validly motivated by a desire to make his name known throughout all of his creation.

. . .

One of the biggest excuses I’ve heard in Christianity is this: “Don’t look at me, I’m just a sinner—look at Jesus if you want to see a good example of godliness”. It sounds good at first because humans are weak and will always fail. But that’s not what Paul said:

I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. (1 Corinthians 4:16, NRSV)

On the surface it sounds utterly boastful and full of pride. Once you look at the character of the life that uttered it, you see a depth of responsibility and God-formed character that is inspiring for us to follow.

Are we making God’s holy name glorious in this world—or are we shaming him. Can we really say, “follow me, as I follow Christ”?

. . .

Lord Jesus, tie me so tightly to your yoke that I am able to be an example of godliness to the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 36:1-15 | Role Reversal

Ezekiel 36:24-32 | Heaping Coals >

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One Response to Ezekiel 36:16-23: My Sake

  1. Robin October 14, 2014 at 6:42 am #

    “Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes” (Ezekiel 36:23b).

    A few things jump out at me:

    1) “Then the nations will know that I am the LORD” – My NIV Study Bible note says, “The ultimate purpose of God’s plans with Israel is that the whole world may know the true God.” Even before the first sin, God’s plan was for all of us to know him. In all the grief we’ve caused him, all our unspeakable distractions, he has never once forgotten that purpose. God’s purpose has been, is, and always will be clear and he will never waver from it;

    2) “declares the Sovereign LORD” – The online Google dictionary defines “sovereign” as “supreme, absolute, unlimited, unrestricted, boundless, ultimate, total, unconditional, full.” Who is making this declaration? Can he make good on his promises? Absolutely, in the fullest possible sense! Not only is God’s purpose clear and determined, it is as good as done even as the words leave his lips;

    3) “when I show myself holy through you before their eyes” – Had the Israelites scrubbed themselves clean so that God’s holiness could indwell them? Had they seen their sin, repented and turned back to the Lord so that they would be worthy vessels of his holiness? No. Well, then, how is God going to do this? How can God be sure that he CAN show his holiness through them when they are still as dirty as, well, sin? In Romans 9:16, Paul wrote, “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” The display of God’s holiness would be due only to the will of a merciful God.

    Fast forward ~580+2014 years. Here I am, “a chosen person, a royal priest, …God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9a), and still I sin. I know I am not a worthy vessel for God’s Holy Spirit. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to keep track of the times in a day that I doubt God’s promises or purposes for me. I forget that it is not by any accomplishment of mine that I am being “conformed to the image of God’s dear Son” (Romans 8:29). Am I so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, am I now trying to finish by means of the flesh (Galatians 3:3)?

    What a joy to realize that it is only God who washes me as white as snow, who renews a right spirit within me, that I may declare the praises of him who called me out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9b). Before anything at all was created, God had me in mind. He knew all the twists and turns of my life, he knew all the choices I’d make, good and bad, and yet he chose me! He has invested so much of himself in me and I can no longer doubt the glorious end that he has not just planned for me, but that is as good as done.

    Like the Israelites, there is no way in the world I can get myself clean and presentable before God. Oh, but I am clean, not because of anything I did or do or will do, but because my God is Lord of all and the nations will know that he is the LORD.

    “Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, you his servants; praise the name of the Lord. Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children.

    “Praise the Lord” (Psalm 113).

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