Ezekiel’s prophecy for the rescue of Israel from exile doesn’t centre on the people. God’s ultimate focus and emphasis in restoring Israel, he says, is ‘not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name…’
22 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. 23 I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.
24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. 30 I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. 32 I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord.
After Israel’s exile for their disobedience before God, the Lord prepared to bring them back to the land of their forefathers. Ezekiel received a prophecy for the mountains and fields of Israel, that they would be again used for sustaining God’s people.
And then he moved on to the children of Israel, promising them that he would bring them back, sprinkle clean water on them, cleanse them from sins and idols, and give them a new heart and spirit. The presence of the Spirit of God would move them to follow God’s decrees and keep his laws.
This is the prophecy of God’s rescue and restoration. It is a prophecy full of grace and mercy after a time of separation and exile. Yet the most important part of prophecy doesn’t centre on the people. God’s ultimate focus and emphasis in restoring Israel, he says, is ‘not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations.’
God wants Israel to know that he is not doing this for their sakes.
Doesn’t that blow up everything we thought about the grace of God? I thought that God loved the world – each of us – so much that he sent his son to die for us. He did! That’s true! Yet there is something seemingly greater at play here. How could that be? What could be greater than God loving us?
It turns out that God’s name and God’s place in the world is more important than my name and my place in the world. Even though God has given his own son for me, that doesn’t mean I am the focus. God made us in his image (Genesis 1) and placed us into the world which belongs to him – and everything in it (Psalm 24:1). God’s name is the focus.
It is God’s name that causes people to persecute us. Jesus said, ‘They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me,’ (John 15:21). When people do not know God, people are likely to not respect the name of God. God desires for that to change. God desires for his name to be known and to be revered.
The name of God is powerful, as we see that when we ask for the things of God in the name of Jesus, God will grant our requests (John 16:22-24). God also enacts the power of his name in protecting his children in the world, just like Jesus protected his disciples by the name the Father gave him (John 17:9-12).
And so we shouldn’t be surprised that God’s rescue and restoration of Israel – God’s rescue and restoration of each of us – is not fundamentally about us. God redeemed us as his possession, and he desires to be known for his essential qualities as saviour of his people.