The prophet had been ordered to set his face towards the mountains of Israel and prophesy against them, Ezek. 6:2. Then God was coming forth to contend with his people; but now that God is returning in mercy to them he must speak good words and comfortable words to these mountains, Ezek. 36:1, 4. You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord; and what he says to them he says to the hills, to the rivers, to the valleys, to the desolate wastes in the country, and to the cities that are forsaken, Ezek. 36:4, 6. The people were gone, some one way and some another; nothing remained there to be spoken to but the places, the mountains and valleys; these the Chaldeans could not carry away with them. The earth abides for ever. Now, to show the mercy God had in reserve for the people, he is to speak of him as having a dormant kindness for the place, which, if the Lord had been pleased for ever to abandon, he would not have called upon to hear the word of the Lord, nor would he as at this time have shown it such things as these. Here is,
I. The compassionate notice God takes of the present deplorable condition of the land of Israel. It has become both a prey and a derision to the heathen that are round about, Ezek. 36:4. 1. It has become a prey to them; and they are all enriched with the plunder of it. When the Chaldeans had conquered them all their neighbours flew to the spoil as to a shipwreck, every one thinking all his own that he could lay his hands on (Ezek. 36:3): They have made you desolate, and swallowed you up on every side, that you might be a possession to the heathen, to the residue of them, even such as had themselves narrowly escaped the like desolation. No one thought it any crime to strip an Israelite. Turba Romae sequitur fortunam ut semper—The mob of Rome still praise the elevated and despise the fallen. It is the common dry, when a man is down, Down with him. 2. It has become a derision to them. They took all they had and laughed at them when they had done. The enemy said, “Aha! even the ancient high places are ours in possession, Ezek. 36:2. Neither the antiquity, nor the dignity, neither the sanctity nor the fortifications, of the land of Israel, are its security, but we have become masters of it all.” The more honours that land had been adorned with, and the greater figure it had made among the nations, the more pride and pleasure did they take in making a spoil of it, which is an instance of a base and sordid spirit; for the more glorious and prosperity was the more piteous is the adversity. God takes notice of it here as an aggravation of the present calamity of Israel: You are taken up in the lips of talkers and are an infamy of the people, Ezek. 36:3. All the talk of the country about was concerning the overthrow of the Jewish nation; and every one that spoke of it had some peevish ill-natured reflection or other upon them. They were the scorning of those that were at ease and the contempt of the proud, Ps. 123:4. There are some that are noted for talkers, that have something to say of every body, but cannot find in their hearts to speak well of any body; God’s people, among such people, were sure to be a reproach when the crown had fallen from their head. Thus it was the lot of Christianity, in its suffering days, to be every where spoken against.
II. The expressions of God’s just displeasure against those who triumphed in the desolations of the land of Israel, as many of its neighbours did, even the residue of the brethren, and Idumea particularly. Let us see, 1. How they dealt with the Israel of God. They carved out large possessions to themselves out of their land, out of God’s land; for so indeed it was: “They have appointed my land into their possession (Ezek. 36:5), and so not only invaded their neighbour’s property, but intrenched upon God’s prerogative.” It was the holy land which they laid their sacrilegious hands upon. They did not own any dependence upon God, as the God of that land, nor acknowledge any remaining interest that Israel had in it, but cast it out for a prey, as if they had won it in a lawful war. And this they did without any dread of God and his judgments and without any compassion for Israel and their calamities, but with the joy of all their hearts, because they got by it, and with despiteful minds to Israel that lost by it. Increasing wealth, by right or wrong, is all the joy of a worldly heart; and the calamities of God’s people are all the joy of a despiteful mind. And those that had not an opportunity of making a prey of God’s people made a reproach of them; so that they were the shame of the heathen, Ezek. 36:6. Every body ridiculed them and made a jest of them; and the truth is they had by their own sin made themselves vile; so that God was righteous herein, but men were unrighteous and very barbarous. 2. How God would deal with those who were thus in word and deed abusive to his people. He has spoken against the heathen; he has passed sentence upon them; he has determined to reckon with them for it, and this in the fire of his jealousy, both for his own honour and for the honour of his people, Ezek. 36:5. Having a love for both as strong as death, he has a jealousy for both as cruel as the grave. They spoke in their malice against God’s people, and he will speak in his jealousy against them; and it is easy to say which will speak most powerfully. God will speak in his jealousy and in his fury, Ezek. 36:6. Fury is not in God; but he will exert his power against them and handle them as severely as men do when they are in a fury. He will so speak to them in his wrath as to vex them in his sore displeasure. What he says he will stand to, for it is backed with an oath. He has lifted up his hand and sworn by himself, has sworn and will not repent. And what is it that is said with so much heat, and yet with so much deliberation? It is this (Ezek. 36:7), Surely the heathen that are about you, they shall bear their shame. Note, The righteous God, to whom vengeance belongs, will render shame for shame. Those that put contempt and reproach upon God’s people will, sooner or later, have it burned upon themselves, perhaps in this world (either their follies or their calamities, their miscarriages or their mischances, shall be their reproach), at furthest in that day when all the impenitent shall rise to shame and everlasting contempt.
III. The promises of God’s favour to his Israel and assurances given of great mercy God had in store for them. God takes occasion from the outrage and insolence of their enemies to show himself so much the more concerned for them and ready to do them good, as David hoped that God would recompense him good for Shimei’s cursing him. Let them curse, but bless thou. In this way, as well as others, the enemies of God’s people do them real service, even by the injuries they do them, against their will and beyond their intention. We shall have no reason to complain if, the more unkind men are, the more kind God is—if, the more kindly he speaks to us by his word and Spirit, the more kindly he acts for us in his providence. The prophet must say so to the mountains of Israel, which were now desolate and despised, that God is for them and will burn to them, Ezek. 36:9. As the curse of God reaches the ground for man’s sake, so does the blessing. Now that which is promised is, 1. That their rightful owners should return to the possession of them: My people Israel are at hand to come, Ezek. 36:8. Though they are at a great distance from their own country, though they are dispersed in many countries, and though they are detained by the power of their enemies, yet they shall come again to their own border, Jer. 31:17. The time is at hand for their return. Though there were above forty years of the seventy (perhaps fifty) yet remaining, it is spoken of as near, because it is sure, and there were some among them that should live to see it. A thousand years are with God but as one day. The mountains of Israel are now desolate; but God will cause men to walk upon them again, even his people Israel, not as travellers passing over them, but as inhabitants—not tenants, but freeholders: They shall possess thee, not for term of life, but for themselves and their heirs; thou shalt be their inheritance. It was a type of the heavenly Canaan, to which all God’s children are heirs, every Israelite indeed, and into which they shall shortly be all brought together, out of the countries where they are now scattered. 2. That they should afford a plentiful comfortable maintenance for their owners at their return. When the land had enjoyed her sabbaths for so many years, it should be so much the more fruitful afterwards, as we should be after rest, especially a sabbath rest: You shall be tilled and sown (Ezek. 36:9) and shall yield your fruit to my people Israel, Ezek. 36:8. Note, It is a blessing to the earth to be made serviceable to men, especially to good men, that will serve God with cheerfulness in the use of those good things which the earth serves up to them. 3. That the people of Israel should have not only a comfortable sustenance, but a comfortable settlement, in their own land: The cities shall be inhabited; the wastes shall be builded, Ezek. 36:10. And I will settle you after your old estates, Ezek. 36:11. Their own sin had unsettled them, but now God’s favour shall resettle them. When the prodigal son has become a penitent he is settled again in his father’s house, according to his former estate. Bring hither the first robe, and put it on him. Nay, I will do better unto you now than at your beginnings. There is more joy for the sheep that is brought back than there would have been if it had never gone astray. And God sometimes multiplies his people’s comforts in proportion to the time that he has afflicted them. Thus God blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning, and doubled to him all he had. 4. That the people, after their return, should be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the land, so that it should not only be inhabited again, but as thickly inhabited, and as well peopled, as ever. God will bring back to it all the house of Israel, even all of it (observe what an emphasis is laid upon that, Ezek. 36:10), all whose spirits God stirred up to return; and those only were reckoned of the house of Israel, the rest had cut themselves off from it; or, though but few, in comparison, returned at first, yet afterwards, at divers times, they all returned; and then (says God) I will multiply these men (Ezek. 36:10), multiply man and beast; and they shall increase, Ezek. 36:11. Note, God’s kingdom in the world is a growing kingdom; and his church, though for a time it may be diminished, shall recover itself and be again replenished. 5. That the reproach long since cast up on the land of Israel by the evil spies, and of late revived, that it was a land that ate up the inhabitants of it by famine, sickness, and the sword, should be quite rolled away, and there should never be any more occasion for it. Canaan had got into a bad name. It had of old spued out the inhabitants (Lev. 18:28), the natives, the aborigines, which was turned to its reproach by those that should have put another construction upon it, Num. 13:32. It had of late devoured the Israelites, and spued them out too; so that it was commonly said of it, It is a land which, instead of supporting its nations or tribes that inhabit it, bereaves them, overthrows them, and causes them to fall; it is a tenement which breaks all the tenants that come upon it. This character it had got among the neighbours; but God now promises that it shall be so no more: Thou shalt no more bereave them of men (Ezek. 36:12), shalt devour men no more, Ezek. 36:14. But the inhabitants shall live to a good old age, and not have the number of their months cut off in the midst. Compare this with that promise, Zech. 8:4. Note, God will take away the reproach of his people by taking away that which was the occasion of it. When the nation is made to flourish in peace, plenty, and power, then they hear no more the shame of the heathen (Ezek. 36:15), especially when it is reformed; when sin, which is the reproach of any people, particularly of God’s professing people, is taken away, then they hear no more the reproach of the people. Note, When God returns in mercy to a people that return to him in duty, all their grievances will be soon redressed and their honour retrieved.