At the time Ezekiel saw this vision that we have been reading about, he was with the captives in Babylon, however, Jerusalem was still standing, and Zedekiah, the youngest son of Josiah, was the king, as vassal to the king of Babylon. Ezekiel is seeing the vision of the abominations which the men of Judah, even though many of their brethren have already been taken captive in two groups to Babylon, are still doing without repentance. So Ezekiel has been prophesying the complete destruction, of those who are left, by the sword. And even if they escape the land of Israel, the sword will follow them, until they are destroyed.
Ezekiel saw the glory of the LORD depart from the Temple and from Jerusalem. The manifest presence of the LORD has been with Israel since the day Moses brought them up out of Egypt. And when Solomon built and dedicated the Temple, the LORD’s glory filled it. He dwelt there, from that time to this. His patience and longsuffering is amazing to me, because He remained with His people even through the abominations and idolatry and neglect they perpetrated on His worship and His glory and His Temple, for hundreds of years.
But enough was finally enough, and the day came when His presence and His glory departed — that was the greatest calamity. The destruction of the city and the Temple followed a few years after, a natural expression of a spiritual reality. But even after all this, I love how the LORD never leaves His people without hope:
‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Although I have cast them far off among the Gentiles, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet I shall be a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.”’ Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.”’ And they will go there, and they will take away all its detestable things and all its abominations from there. Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.” Eze 11:16-20
God has been fulfilling this promise since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This passage is speaking of the new birth of a believer in Jesus Christ. He is a sanctuary for all who place their trust in Him. When a man is born again, he becomes a new creation — He puts a new spirit in them (2 Cor 5:17). The LORD gives them a spiritual heart transplant, and the stony heart is taken out, and the new heart put in. The end result of that spiritual surgery is His people walking in His statutes and doing His judgments.
That God would be Israel’s God, and Israel His people, were the terms of the covenant made with Israel at Mt Sinai, under Moses (Exo 19:3-6). The statutes and judgments that Moses received, are the only statutes and judgments that Israel ever received. These are the statutes and judgments that Ezekiel is prophesying about — the statutes and judgments that the men of Judah transgressed without repentance, so that God departed from them, and destruction came upon them.
We have been taught in the church, that Moses’ statutes and judgments don’t apply to those of the new birth. I do not believe Scripture teaches that. No one receives the new birth because they have kept statutes and judgments — and Ezekiel agrees with Paul on that point (Rom 3:20, Heb 7:19). But those who have received the new birth will keep the LORD’s statutes and judgments out of that new heart and new spirit — that is what Ezekiel is saying (and what Jesus reaffirms, Mat 7:21-23).
Even though the sword will follow Israel in all that lands God has scattered her, a remnant will be preserved, and that remnant will receive the new birth, and will keep His statutes and judgments, and will be returned to the land. That is God’s promise, that He is in the process of fulfilling in our day.