YHWH’s directive to Ezekiel, a “son of man” or a mortal in his service, called upon him to “prophesy to the mountains of Israel (apparently meaning the entire land) and say, “Mountains of Israel, hear the word of YHWH.” Although the mountains did not have the capacity to “hear,” or to pay attention to, YHWH’s “word” or message (“word of prophecy” [Targum]), they would be affected by the future developments, and all who would be able to return to the “mountains of Israel” from exile could listen to the message and should have done so. (36:1)
The Lord YHWH is quoted as referring to the enemies of his people as saying, “Aha [Good (LXX)]! And the ancient heights have become our possession!” (36:2) “Therefore,” Ezekiel was to prophesy, proclaiming a message that pointed to a restoration of the ancient heights to a thriving state but a message that initially referred to their devastation. “From all sides,” there had been “desolations” from enemy invasions, and the people had been “crushed.” The “mountains of Israel” (or the entire land) had become the possession of the “remaining ones of the nations” or of the people of other nations. As a devastated land and a defeated people, the “mountains of Israel” and the inhabitants had become the object of disparaging talk of every tongue (or language) and of the “evil report” or gloating gossip of other peoples (a “reproach for nations” [LXX]). (36:3; see the Notes section.)
“Therefore” (in view of what had happened to the entire land of his people), the Lord YHWH is quoted as telling the “mountains of Israel” to “hear” his “word” or message. To indicate that no part of the land would remain unaffected by what he would do or cause to happen, he directed his “word” to the mountains, hills, wadis, valleys, the places that enemy troops had devastated and left behind in ruins, and the deserted cities that had been plundered and had become an object of mockery (trampling [LXX]) to the remaining nations round about. (36:4) To those who had shared in seizing the land of his people, the word of YHWH continued, “In the fire [or heat] of my zeal [fury (LXX)], I will speak against the rest of the nations, against Edom [Idumea (LXX)], all of it, that gave my land to themselves as a possession.” Their seizure of the land was accompanied with malicious glee (literally, “joy of all the heart”) and “contempt of soul” or an all-out contempt. They drove out the people so that they might plunder. According to the Septuagint, they dishonored “souls” (people of Israel) in order to destroy them by despoiling them. (36:5)
“Therefore” (in view of what enemy nations had done), Ezekiel was to “prophesy about the land of Israel and say to the mountains,” hills, wadis, and valleys, “Thus says the Lord YHWH, Look, I, in my zeal and in my wrath, speak because you have borne the reproach of the nations.” The word rendered “look” served to focus on what YHWH purposed to do in effecting a transformation of the devastated land. In the desolated state, the land had suffered reproach or shame from the people of surrounding nations. (36:6) “Therefore,” the Lord YHWH declared with an oath (literally, “I lifted up my hand” [as one would when swearing]) that the nations round about his land would have to bear reproach, indicating that they would be laid waste. The Septuagint indicates that God would raise his hand against the surrounding nations. (36:7) Whereas the lands of other nations would be devastated, the “mountains of Israel” would return to a flourishing state, yielding “branches” or being productive and bearing “fruit” for God’s “people Israel.” His people would be restored to their land (literally, “brought near to come”). According to the Septuagint rendering, God’s people would “consume” (“eat” [P967]) the grape cluster and the fruit of the mountains of Israel. (36:8)
YHWH is quoted as saying that he would be “for” the mountains (the land areas) or grant his favor to the land of Israel, and the introductory words (“for look, I”) serve to focus attention on this aspect. He would turn, or give his favorable attention, to the “mountains,” and they would be “cultivated and sown.” Apparently the designation “mountains” here represents the entire land — mountains, hills, valleys, and plains. (36:9) Upon the “mountains” or the land, YHWH would multiply “man” (“men” [LXX]) or the people, “all the house of Israel, all of it [to the end, to the last one, or totally (LXX)].” The cities that had been reduced to ruins would again be inhabited, and the devastated places would be rebuilt. (36:10) YHWH promised to multiply “man and beast” (people and domestic animals) upon the mountains or the land areas. People and animals would increase in number and be fruitful. YHWH would cause the mountains or land areas to be inhabited as they had been in the past, doing more good for them than had been the case in former times. As a consequence, the people would “know” YHWH, recognizing him as the God who had done this for them. (36:11) He would cause “man” (“men” [LXX]), “even [his] people Israel,” to walk on the mountains or the land areas, and they would possess the land, and the mountains or land areas would be the inheritance of the people of Israel. The mountains or land areas would no longer bereave the people of children. This former bereavement may have reference to the death of children from famine when the land produced little, from infectious disease, or from the slaughter by enemy troops in the land. (36:12)
Apparently regarding the land of Israel, YHWH is quoted as referring to people as saying that it devoured “man” (“men” [LXX]) and caused its “nation” or “nations” (Israel and Judah) to be bereaved of children. When droughts, insect plagues, or enemy invasions led to poor or ruined harvests, the cultivated land areas appeared as though they devoured the starving populace and brought about the bereavement of children. Malnourished people died from lack of food and infectious disease. As enemy troops marched through the land, it seemed as though the land had turned against its inhabitants. People perished as victims of warfare, from lack of food and potable water in besieged towns and cities, and through encounters with beasts of prey that had left or been forced out of their usual habitat. Possibly the bereavement of children could allude to the abominable practice of child sacrifice. (36:13; see the Notes section.) YHWH declared that this would not continue. The land would no longer devour “man” (“men” [LXX]) or the people and bereave (stumble [Masoretic Text]) its “nation” or “nations” (Israel and Judah). (36:14; see the Notes section.)
YHWH would not permit the “insult of the nations” to be heard regarding the land of Israel nor to have the land bear the “reproach of peoples.” This indicated that the land would not be subjected to devastating enemy invasions and be left in ruins. The land would not cause its “nations to stumble,” possibly meaning that the land would be free from sites for idolatrous worship that formerly stumbled the people or led the “nations” of Israel and Judah to sin seriously against YHWH. (36:15; see the Notes section.)
Again YHWH’s “word” or message (“word of prophecy” [Targum]) came to Ezekiel (36:16), a “son of man” or a mortal in the service of YHWH, the eternal God. The message related to the sinful action of the people of Israel, the merited punishment they experienced, and their future restoration. While the “house [or people] of Israel” resided in the God-given land, they defiled it with their “way” or corrupt conduct and their “doings” or wrong actions. To YHWH, their abominable “way” or conduct had become like the “uncleanness” of a woman in a state of impurity. According to the oldest extant Greek text (P967), the people defiled the land with “their idols,” “their way” or conduct, and “their sins.” (36:17) YHWH poured out his wrath upon them for the “blood” they had poured out on the land and for having defiled the land with their idols (literally, “dungy things” [an expression of contempt]). The innocent blood that was spilled would have included that of children who were sacrificed to nonexistent deities. Additionally, judicial corruption led to wrongful executions of guiltless persons. (36:18; see the Notes section.)
By means of conquering enemy troops, YHWH scattered his disobedient people “among the nations” and dispersed them throughout many lands. In keeping with their “way” or conduct and their “doings” or actions (“sin” [LXX]), YHWH judged them. (36:19)
Wherever the people of Israel came to be among the nations, they were responsible for profaning God’s “name” or his reputation [“holy name” (LXX)] as the God who could aid and protect them. People of those nations would say regarding them, “They are the people of YHWH, and out of his land they had to go,” implying that he was powerless to prevent the exile of his people. (36:20) On the basis of concern (literally, “compassion” or intense feeling) for his “holy name” that the “house of Israel” caused to be profaned among the nations among which they had been scattered as exiles, YHWH purposed to take action. (36:21) “Therefore,” the Lord YHWH directed Ezekiel to say to the “house” or people of Israel, “Not for your sake am I about to act, O house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name that you have profaned among the nations to which you came” as exiles. In view of their conduct, the people did not merit having YHWH’s favorable attention and being restored to their land. (36:22)
YHWH purposed to “sanctify his great name” or make his reputation holy, clearing it of all reproach that had come upon it through his people who had been scattered among the nations. The people of these nations would then know or be forced to recognize that he is YHWH, the God who had taken action for his people. Thus before the “eyes” of the people of the nations, YHWH would be sanctified in relation to his people. Apparently the sanctification would occur through what the people of the nations could observe about the changed status of his people. (36:23; see the Notes section.) YHWH purposed to take his people “from the nations,” gather them “from all the lands” to which they had been exiled, and bring them back to their own land. (36:24)
YHWH determined to cleanse his people from their uncleanness, doing so as if sprinkling clean water upon them. The uncleanness resulting from their idolatry would be removed, for they would be cleansed from their idols (literally, “dungy things” [an expression of contempt]). This promise particularly found its fulfillment in the cleansing from sin that was made possible when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, surrendered his life. (36:25; see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Hebrews 9:13, 14; 10:14-18; 1 John 2:2.) To all who are cleansed in this way, YHWH would give a “new heart,” a transformed inner self, and put within them a “new spirit,” a new activating, motivating, and energizing power that would cause them to have a disposition that would motivate them to think, speak, and act in a divinely approved manner. The former “heart of stone,” one that was unresponsive to divine guidance and commands would be removed and replaced with a “heart of flesh,” one that would be responsive to doing God’s will. (36:26; compare Jeremiah 31:31-34.) With those into whom YHWH would put his spirit, he would act so that they would observe his statutes and carry out his “judgments” or ordinances. His spirit would be the motivating power in their lives, impelling them to be upright in disposition, word, and action. (36:27)
A repentant remnant of the people of Israel did return from exile and again lived in the land that YHWH had given to their “fathers” or ancestors. He recognized them as his people, and he proved to be their God to whom they were devoted and who cared for them. All who centuries later accepted Jesus as the unique Son of God and his sacrifice for them were assured of a permanent residence in a spiritual realm associated with the heavenly Jerusalem. (36:28; see John 14:2, 3; Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22-24.)
YHWH saved or freed his people from all their defilements, forgiving their sins. He is quoted as saying that he would “summon the grain and make it abundant,” not letting the people suffer from famine. Centuries later, all who put faith in Jesus as the unique Son of God experienced his Father’s loving care and flourished spiritually. (36:29) To indicate that his people would not suffer from any lack or have to endure the “reproach of famine among the nations,” YHWH is quoted as promising to make fruit trees produce abundantly and to cause the “field” or the crops growing in the field to increase. The people would not be subjected to insults on account of any serious lack. (36:30)
After experiencing a great change in their circumstances as former exiles, the liberated repentant remnant of God’s people would recall their “evil ways” or corrupt conduct and their bad dealings. They would be ashamed about their past behavior and actions, loathing themselves for who they had been as persons guilty of serious sins and abominations. These abominations would have included idolatry and the associated rites, including the abhorrent practice of child sacrifice. (36:31; how this applied to persons who became devoted disciples of Jesus Christ, see Romans 6:20, 21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Peter 4:1-4.)
The Lord YHWH made known to his people that he would not effect their deliverance from exile for their sake. They did not merit it. They, the “house of Israel,” needed to repent, looking upon their past ways or corrupt conduct with shame and humiliation. According to the Septuagint, they needed to “turn back from [their] ways,” abandoning their sinful behavior. (36:32) “In the day” or at the time the Lord YHWH would cleanse his people from all their iniquities, he would make it possible for them to inhabit the cities that had been reduced to ruins and to rebuild the places that had been laid waste. (36:33) The land itself would then be cultivated and not remain desolate “in the eyes” or the sight of all passersby. (36:34)
Persons who saw the former desolate condition of the land would say, “This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden [garden of delight (LXX)],” and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are now “fortified and inhabited.” (36:35) People of the nations remaining round about the land of Israel would “know” or come to recognize that YHWH had “rebuilt” (or caused to be rebuilt) the “ruined places” and had “planted that which was desolate” or caused the fields that had been laid waste to be cultivated. Through Ezekiel, YHWH had made known his purpose regarding the land. He had spoken, and he would do or fulfill what he had revealed. (36:36)
YHWH would permit his people, the “house of Israel,” to seek him to make an appeal, and he would act for them. Apparently the plea would be for them to be able to increase in number. This is suggested by YHWH’s promise that he would increase them with “man” or with people “like a flock” of sheep or goats. (36:37) At the time of the annual festivals, many sheep and goats would be offered in sacrifice. They would be unblemished animals, a sacred flock, acceptable as offerings to YHWH. Like such a large sacred flock at Jerusalem during the festivals, the formerly devastated cities of the land of Israel would be filled with “flocks of man” or people. At that time, the people of Israel would know or recognize YHWH as their God who had acted to fulfill his promise. (36:38)
The Hebrew text of verse 3 is somewhat obscure, and this has resulted in varying interpretive renderings. “Just because they eagerly lusted to see you become a possession of the other nations round about, so that you have become the butt of gossip in every language and of the jibes from every people — ” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Because they made you desolate indeed, and crushed you from all sides, so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations, and you became an object of gossip and slander among the people.” (NRSV) “Because you have been ridiculed and hounded on all sides for becoming a possession for the remaining nations and have become a byword and a popular jeer, …” (NAB, revised edition) “When the neighboring nations captured and plundered the mountains of Israel, everyone made fun of Israel.” (TEV) “Your enemies have attacked you from all directions, making you the property of many nations and the object of much mocking and slander.” (NLT) “You mountains of Israel, all round you men gloated over you and trampled you down when you were seized and occupied by the rest of the nations; your name was bandied about in common gossip.” (REB) “Your enemies sneered and said that you mountains belonged to them. They ruined and crushed you from every side, and foreign nations captured and made fun of you.” (CEV) The Septuagint indicates that the “mountains of Israel” were dishonored and hated.
According to the Septuagint rendering of the concluding phrase of verse 13, the land had become childless “by” its own nation (or “from” its own nation [being bereaved of its own nation]).
The rendering of verse 14 in the Septuagint does not follow the reading of the Masoretic Text about stumbling but agrees with Hebrew manuscripts that mention bereaving. In verse 15, the Septuagint does not contain a phrase about stumbling or bereaving. A number of modern translations emend the phrase in verse 15 to correspond to that of numerous Hebrew manuscripts in verse 14. “You shall never again devour your people or rob your nation of its children.” (NAB, revised edition) “You will never again rob the nation of its children.” (NJB) “The land will no longer rob the nation of its children.” (TEV)
The Septuagint rendering of verse 18 is shorter than the reading of the Hebrew text. “And I poured out my fury upon them.”
In the oldest extant Greek text (P967), verse 23 does not include the words, “and the nations will know that I am the Lord in my being sanctified among you before their eyes.” Additionally, the entire section from verses 24 through 38 is not included.