Profaning God’s Name Ezekiel 36:16–24
A few years ago a survey was taken to determine which events cause the greatest stress on a family. It was discovered that, next to the death of a spouse, the act of moving causes the greatest stress on family members. The history of the Jewish people has been a seemingly endless series of relocations—most not by choice.
Toward the end of the play Fiddler on the Roof, the inhabitants of the little village of Anatevka are beginning to depart into forced exile. One of the men wryly comments on the tragedy, “Maybe that is why we always wear our hats!” While such efforts at humor may help to ease the pain of Jewish suffering, the agony of exile has been only too real in the Jewish experience.
In Ezekiel 36:16–24 God tells the prophet the why, what, and wherefore of Jewish exile. The explanation revolves around three ideas: relocation, profanation, and restoration.
Moreover, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own way and by their doings; their way was before me as the uncleanness of a defiled woman. Wherefore, I poured my fury upon them for the blood that they had shed upon the land, and for their idols by which they had polluted it; And I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries; according to their way and according to their doings, I judged them (vv. 16–19).
The word describing the long period of Jewish exile from their land is Diaspora. It is actually the Greek word for scattering. It is a technical word describing the Jewish community outside the land of Israel. For more than 2,500 years the majority of Jews have lived outside their ancestral home—the land granted to Abraham, conquered by Joshua, and ruled over by David. Even today, more than twice as many Jewish people reside in the Diaspora than do in the State of Israel. Why and how did this happen?
Ezekiel tells us that it was due to Israel’s sins, particularly those of shedding blood and practicing idolatry. He compares their spiritual uncleanness to the ritual uncleanness of a menstruous woman. Because of their continued unfaithfulness to their covenant obligations, the Lord “scattered them” and “dispersed” them among the Gentile nations (v. 19).
There were actually three stages in the development of the Jewish Diaspora. The first stage of exile began in 722 B.C., after the Assyrian army conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. The second stage of exile began in 586 B.C., after the Babylonian army conquered the southern kingdom of Judah. There was a partial return from this exile, which formed the nucleus of the Jewish people throughout the New Testament period. However, this also ended when the third stage of exile began in 70 A.D., after the Roman army conquered Judæa.
Although a small remnant of Jews continued to live in their ancient homeland throughout the last 2,000 years, the vast majority have resided outside the land in nearly every country of the world. In ancient times they were found in Egypt and Ethiopia. In the Middle Ages they found their way to the northern forests of Europe and the steppes of Mongolia and China. In modern times the Jewish people have seen their numbers multiply in countries as huge as Russia and as tiny as Gibraltar.
Wherever they have gone, however, the Jewish people have always survived—a testimony to the divine promises of both exile and preservation. While living among their Gentile neighbors, they have refused to be assimilated. They are referred to as Russian Jews or German Jews or American Jews. Sometimes they were citizens, and sometimes citizenship has been fiercely denied them. Whatever the case, they have always seemed to be strangers in a strange land, asking “How shall we sing the Lᴏʀᴅ’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:4).
And when they entered unto the nations, to which they went, they profaned my holy name, when they said to them, These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of his land. But I had pity for mine holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations, to which they went. Therefore, say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Gᴏᴅ: I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the nations, to which ye went. And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the nations, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ, saith the Lord Gᴏᴅ, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes (vv. 20–23).
According to these verses, a curious and sad thing happened when Israel went into exile. Wherever they went, they actually caused God’s name to be profaned. This was not because of anything terrible that they did in those countries. In fact, Jewish people have contributed very positively to the cultures of their new homes. To note just one example, the percentage of Jewish Nobel Prize winners greatly exceeds the less than one percent that they comprise of the world’s population. What, then, does it mean?
Three times in this passage God’s “name” is mentioned. Once it is stated that in exile Israel “profaned” His name. This happened when their Gentile neighbors mocked the idea of their being God’s special people. “If this is an example of how God treats His people, then what kind of God is He?” may have been the nature of this profanity.
God’s name is His reputation and His honor. God actually risked His reputation before the eyes of the Gentiles by fulfilling His own promises to judge Israel for their sins. He risked being mocked for not being willing to take care of His own. Jewish people have only too often heard the word Jew preceded by that most blasphemous of epithets—too profane even to be mentioned in this article.
But this exile and the resulting blasphemy will not continue forever. God is jealous for the honor of His name. Therefore, God has promised that He will do something to permanently solve Israel’s predicament of exile. He will do it, not because Israel deserves it, but because the Holy One of Israel desires to refurbish the tarnished honor of His name. This is stated in Ezekiel 36:22: “Therefore, say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God: I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the nations, to which ye went.”
Here is a shining Old Testament example of God’s sovereign grace. He will do something for Israel, not because of their goodness, but because of His unmerited favor. He will honor His great name by not abandoning this disobedient people to an eternal Diaspora.
For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land (v. 24).
How will the Master of the universe restore the honor of His tarnished name? How will He prove to the nations that He exists and that He is not untrue to His Word? He will do it by reversing the exile and removing the stain and shame of the Diaspora. Nothing could be clearer than the three steps of the simple but profound promise in verse 24. The three verbs are active: “take you,” “gather you,” “bring you.” The scattered exiles will be taken and gathered from every one of the many nations to which they were exiled. They will be brought back to the same land from which they were spewed out (i.e., “your own land”—the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Heading God’s future program, therefore, will be the restored nation of Israel.
Just over a hundred years ago there was a tiny community of Jews living in a backwater area of the Turkish empire called Palestine. They were poor, living mostly on donations from their fellows abroad. But a century of intensive immigration, settlement, sacrifice, toil, and wars for their lives has led to the founding of a nation with one of the world’s strongest armies and one of its most technologically advanced societies.
Secular historians cannot explain this amazing restoration. A people who were once exiled from their ancient homeland—losing both that ancient homeland and even their ancient language—has been restored. Skeptics point to “luck,” or “American support,” or some other explanation for this unique phenomenon in the history of mankind. Theologians who have factored out the divine promises to Israel and channeled them only to the church refuse to see the real significance of this restoration. They point to the secular nature of Israel’s society as evidence that God has nothing to do with this nation. They forget that Ezekiel also prophesied that the bones would come together, without breath first, before the Spirit blows upon them (37:1–14).
It appears that unbelieving skeptics and spiritualizing theologians all refuse to admit and accept the only unbiased explanation. That explanation is grounded in the Word by dozens of Old and New Testament prophets. The God who was responsible for the exile, the God who suffered profanation of His reputation during that exile—that same God has honored His name by beginning the process of returning the wandering sons of Jacob to their ancient homeland. He is doing this not because they deserve it. He is doing it because He is gracious, merciful, and faithful. He is doing it to sanctify and magnify His great name before the Gentiles. Let us not be blind to witnessing His great work that is being done before our eyes!