Physical and Spiritual Redemptions

For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filth and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:24-28)

Bible readings in the synagogue

Each week, as part of the morning service in the synagogue, a section of the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, is read. Over the course of each year, the entire five books are completed. In addition to the weekly portion from the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, a second reading is done from the books of the Prophets. 

But rather than reading through the Prophets in order, these portions were chosen for a thematic connection either to the Torah portion that was read that day, or to the important days on the Jewish calendar. For example, on the Sabbath morning preceding Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the prophetic reading is from Hosea 14, beginning with the words, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God.” That passage in Hosea focuses on repentance and return to God, and sends the message that return to God is a necessary predicate to the atonement from sin achieved on Yom Kippur.

Similarly, in the weeks leading up to Passover, a series of special portions from the prophets are read that are thematically connected to the upcoming festival. One of those portions includes the verses we are studying here. In fact, as the Jewish sages in the Talmud teach us, this chapter of Ezekiel was chosen for one of the weeks leading up to Passover because of one specific verse in our passage:

Purification and redemption

According to the Jewish sages, the connection between this verse and Passover is that all who ate from the Passover lamb were required to be ritually pure. But there is another more profound spiritual lesson in the choice of this reading before Passover. As we approach the festival that recalls and celebrates our original redemption from Egypt, this special reading reminds us that purification and redemption go hand in hand. 

Let’s use our verses to explore the relationship between spiritual purification and God’s plan for
redemption.

Our verses lay out the plan for the redemption of Israel as follows:

  1. Ingathering of the exiles to the land of Israel (v.24)
  2. Purification by God from impurities (v.25)
  3. A new heart (v.26)
  4. God’s spirit within Israel, leading to the fulfillment of the commandments (v.27)
  5. “You will live in the land … you will be My people, and I will be your God” (v.28)

Notice that the purification of Israel from impurities and idolatry happens after the ingathering of the exiles back to the land of Israel. And of course, the “new heart” and “new spirit” which then produce Israel’s full obedience to God, happen after the ingathering of the exiles as well. In other words, the spiritual cleansing of Israel from impurities and idolatry is not a prerequisite for the ingathering of the nation from exile. The ingathering happens first.

First ingathering, then purification

Why is this important? Many people of Biblical faith look at the modern state of Israel and find themselves a bit perplexed. On one hand, the millions of Jews from all corners of the earth living in the land of Israel under Jewish sovereignty are clearly a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a clearer fulfillment of Biblical prophecy than the ingathering of the exiles of Israel in our time. On the other hand, much of the Jewish population in Israel is far from obedient to God’s word. Secularism is rampant in Israeli society. Since its founding, Israel’s government has rarely been led by people who are committed to Torah law. To people of faith, the idea that God’s promises of the redemption of His people are being fulfilled through a largely secular, liberal population is troubling. 

But here’s the thing. This is exactly what the Bible says will happen

As our verses show, first God will end the exile and gather the scattered people of Israel back to the land. It is only after this ingathering that the process of the spiritual purification of Israel begins. We see the same thing in Deuteronomy 30, the first time the ingathering of the exiles was mentioned in the Bible.

The Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. – Deuteronomy 30:3-6

Just as we read here in Ezekiel 36, Deuteronomy 30 lays out the same program of redemption. First, the exiles are gathered into the land. Then, after the great ingathering, “the Lord your God will circumcise your heart…”

This is a critical lesson for anyone who seeks to understand God’s plan for the redemption of Israel. 

First, God redeems Israel physically, gathering them from the exile. Then, after this physical redemption is completed, the spiritual transformation of God’s people begins.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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