“Yet I will leave some of you alive. When you have among the nations some who escape the sword, and when you are scattered through the countries, then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive” (vv. 8–9a).
Ezekiel 6 shines a ray of hope for the old covenant community for the first time in the prophet’s book. In Ezekiel 1–5, we hear the sounds of doom, predictions of starvation, destruction, and death for the ancient Jews. Today’s passage, however, reveals that they would learn God’s lessons about idolatry in the experience of exile. The chapter does not begin positively—Ezekiel addresses the “mountains of Israel” and speaks of such things as dead bodies in the Holy Land and the cities being laid waste (vv. 1–7). Since mountains are one of the dominant geographical features of Canaan, commentators believe Ezekiel addresses the entire people of God, both Israel in the north and Judah in the south, even though at the time of his prophecy, the northern kingdom had been gone for more than a century. That Ezekiel addresses the whole country reflects the prophetic insistence that though Israel and Judah were divided during the era of the writing prophets, the people were still one and that there would be a reunion of north and south in the post-exilic restoration (Jer. 3:15–18; Ezek. 37:15–28). In any case, Ezekiel is clear that the whole land was polluted by idolatry, and so the whole land needed to be purified, including the Holy City of Jerusalem. After Jerusalem’s destruction and Judah’s exile, Ezekiel foresees that those who escape with their lives will realize the error of their ways, see how they have offended the Lord, and regard themselves as “loathsome in their own sight.” This is a picture of the repentance that would come as the Jews were forced to live “among the nations” (Ezek. 6:8–9). The exile would prove that Yahweh is Lord indeed, and the people would learn the lesson that God never speaks in vain and that He keeps His promises to judge the impenitent as well as His promises to bless the faithful (v. 10). When the Lord enacted the covenant curses, the people would know Him as their only Savior and God. Ezekiel enjoys vindication historically. After the people came back to their land, they did not worship false gods like they did prior to the exile. The Jewish community as a whole finally embraced the fierce monotheism of the Old Testament, and no longer tolerated the rank idolatry and worship at pagan high places like they did before they were expelled from Canaan. Still, as we will see in the months ahead, other problems proved that the people’s post-exilic repentance was not as thorough as it should have been.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
The returned exiles, by and large, got rid of all overt idolatry in Canaan when they came back from Babylon. However, the later prophets and the New Testament show us that they did not go far enough, and groups such as the Pharisees had a relationship with God that was merely formal and not birthed by a love for the Lord in heart, soul, mind, and strength. The results of true repentance, however, are always a true, though imperfect, love of God from one’s entire being.