Ezekiel’s prophecy to Israel contained “new covenant” terminology similar to that which was foretold by the prophet Jeremiah before the nation of Judah was destroyed. Jeremiah said specifically, “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). The basis or foundation of the new covenant was forgiveness of sins. God said through Jeremiah, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). Ezekiel used the term sanctify to identify the process whereby God’s people would be set apart to do his work on earth (Ezekiel 36:23). Ezekiel described four stages of restoration (Ezekiel 36:24-30) that would lead to God’s people being sanctified and specifically detailed a point of regeneration that was necessary for them to be saved. He said:

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh, and I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Jeremiah 36:26-27).

Jesus referred to regeneration as being “born again” (John 3:7) and said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The idea that a person could be born a second time confused the religious leader, Nicodemus. He asked Jesus, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to understand heavenly things in order to enter into God’s kingdom and revealed that the only way he could do that was by believing in him (John 3:15-16).

A key to understanding the concept of regeneration was the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Before Jesus’ birth, God used Israel’s return from captivity and restoration of the Promised Land as an illustration of what was yet to be done by his Messiah. Ezekiel recorded, ” Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities, I will cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded. And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited. Then the heathen that are left round about you shall know that I the LORD build the ruined places and plant that that was desolate: I the LORD have spoken it, and I will do it” (Ezekiel 36:33-36).


The good shepherd

The leaders of Israel, kings as well as prophets and priests, were sometimes referred to as shepherds because they were responsible for the safety and well-being of God’s people. God condemned the shepherds of Israel and said, “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flock? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock” (Ezekiel 34:2-3). King Zedekiah in particular proved to be a worthless shepherd. When Jerusalem was attacked by Nebuchadnezzar, the desperate king fled by night with his army into the desert and left the people of Jerusalem to starve to death (Destruction of Jerusalem 586 B.C.).

Using the metaphor of sheep that were scattered (Ezekiel 34:5), Ezekiel blamed the exile and dispersion of the Jews on a lack of leadership in God’s kingdom. He said, “because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock…Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock” (Ezekiel 34:8-10). God promised to seek out his flock and to himself become their shepherd (Ezekiel 34:11-12). He said of the Messiah, “And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them, I the LORD have spoken it” (Ezekiel 34:23-24).

Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd and talked about entering in by the door of the sheepfold (John 10). In order to differentiate himself from the leaders of the Old Testament, Jesus said, “But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out” (John 10:2-3). Jesus’ reference to calling his own by name implied the existence of a relationship, a personal relationship in which a recognition of his voice was possible. The leaders of the Old Testament did not associate with the common or average people with the exception of king David who was himself a shepherd before he became king. It is possible God chose David to be the king of Israel for that very reason.

Jesus’ explanation of his role as the good shepherd pointed to the salvation of his people. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:7-9). Although Jesus’ reference to being saved included both Jews and Gentiles, his primary concern was the nation of Israel which had been lost due to mismanagement of God’s kingdom. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Ultimately, Jesus’ death served the purpose of setting God’s people free from the political and religious influences that blinded them to God’s love. Ezekiel concluded, “Thus shall they know that I the LORD their God am with them, and that they, even the house of Israel, are my people, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 34:30).

The mark

In his divine judgment of the city of Jerusalem, God demonstrated his ability to exercise self-control, in spite of fierce emotions that caused him to destroy everything, including his holy temple. Before he undertook the action to kill everyone within the city walls, God ordered a mark to be placed on the forehead of every person who shared his disgust with the situation. Calling forth the seven guardian angels that protected his people, God gave instructions to set apart those who were faithful to him. It says in Ezekiel 9:4, “And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.”

The seventh angel, who was clothed in linen, carried a writer’s inkhorn with which he was to place the mark (Ezekiel 9:2). Although it is not specified exactly what type of mark was made, the Hebrew word translated mark in Ezekiel 9:4, tav or taw, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, specifies a signature. The signature may have only been represented by an X, but the implication was that the mark was a sign of ownership that was imprinted on the forehead. A similar marking is found in the book of Revelation where it says of the Antichrist, “And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive the mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:16-17).

God’s judgment of Jerusalem was in many ways the foreshadowing of God’s final judgment of everyone on earth. It says in Revelation 3:12, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” It is possible that the mark placed on the foreheads of those in Jerusalem at the time of the city’s destruction was linked to Christ and was the equivalent of receiving salvation. The remarkable thing about receiving the mark was the only  requirement was to sign or groan, as if in despair (Ezekiel 9:4).

Ezekiel’s visions of God allowed him to see beforehand the outcome of God’s judgment of Jerusalem. In spite of his lenient excusal of anyone that cried out in despair, it appeared that none would survive. After the order was given to slay everyone that did not have the mark, Ezekiel exclaimed, “And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord GOD, wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem?” (Ezekiel 9:8). God’s reply to Ezekiel’s question suggested there were none who believed and were willing to cry out to him for help. “Then he said unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness: for they say, The LORD hath forsaken the earth, and the LORD seeth not” (Ezekiel 9:9).


God identified himself to Jeremiah as “the God of all flesh” (Jeremiah 32:27) and asked him the question, “Is there any thing too hard for me?” What God was implying was that because he had created mankind, he had the power to do whatever was necessary to save his people, if he wanted to. In his role of creator, God sought to accomplish a specific outcome related to his promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation (Genesis 12:2). In its most basic sense, nation refers to a group of people with something in common (1471). In Abraham’s case, the nation God wanted to make of him was a group of faith filled believers that would worship only the LORD. Of this nation, God told Jeremiah, “Thus saith the LORD the maker thereof, the LORD that formed it, to establish it;  the LORD is his name; Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not (Jeremiah 33:2-3).

God’s plan of salvation for his people was revealed before they went into captivity because it was necessary for them to believe their captivity was a part of God’s plan, not an end to God’s involvement in their lives. One of the things that God decided to do was to demonstrate his power through the return of his people to the Promised Land. He told Jeremiah, “Behold, I will bring it health and cure and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth. And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return and will build them, as at the first and I will cleanse them from all their iniquity whereby they have sinned against me, and I will pardon all their iniquities whereby they have sinned” (Jeremiah 33:6-8).

The Hebrew terms translated health and cure suggested that after their captivity was completed, the lives of God’s people would return to normal. The only way that could happen was for God to not only cleanse, but to pardon all of his chosen people from their sins. The Hebrew word translated pardon, calach means to forgive. Forgiveness “is the Divine restoration of an offender into favor, whether through his own repentance or the intercession of another” (5545). In the case of all the Israelites that went into captivity, they were forgiven because of the intervention of another, Jesus Christ. Jeremiah was told, “In those days, and at that time will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name where with she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:15-16).

God’s restoration of the nation of Judah would ultimately make it possible for Jesus to be born. Were it not for God’s preservation of the royal bloodline, the Messiah could not fulfill both the old and the new covenants that promised an eternal kingdom to God’s people (Jeremiah 33:17). The assurance of forgiveness was a key provision in God’s plan. If it were up to the people to repent and request forgiveness, none of God’s people might have been saved. Because of his divine capabilities, Jesus was able to intercede on behalf of the Israelites, even before he was born on earth. Jesus’ kingdom was established the moment God promised Abraham he would make of him a great nation (Genesis 12:12), but it wasn’t until Abraham believed in the LORD, that his sins were forgiven and he became the first member of that nation.

The new covenant

The captivity of Judah brought an end to God’s original plan of salvation for his people, known as the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was based on God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and entered the wilderness, they became an independent people group that was later referred to as the nation of Israel. Everything that happened between God and his people was done collectively as if all the people were a single entity. When the Old Covenant was brought to a conclusion, God began to look at every person on an individual basis to determine their life’s course.

The captivity of Judah was the result of a national failure to obey God. Even though every person was guilty of sinning against God, it was their collective guilt that brought condemnation on God’s people. Describing the new approach God would take, Jeremiah declared, “In those days they shall say no more, the fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity” (Jeremiah 31:29-30). God make his new covenant “with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). The reunification of Jacob’s family and rebuilding of the nation of Israel was an important aspect of God’s revised plan that showed he did not intend to start over or abandon his chosen people in his attempt to save the world.

A critical difference between the old and new covenants was the type of relationship God intended to have with his people. Initially, God acted as a husband to his people (Jeremiah 31:32), and desired an exclusive relationship with them based on a binding legal agreement. After Israel betrayed him and Judah sought military assistance from foreign nations, God determined another way to deliver his people from their sinful behavior. Rather than expecting them to make sacrifices to him, God would enable his people to be forgiven of their sins once and for all. Based on his sovereign right to show favor to whomever he chose, God designated all who accepted his free gift of salvation to be completely absolved of their sins (Jeremiah 31:34).

A description of the new covenant was given to Jeremiah in order to clarify God’s intent in restoring the nation of Israel. He said, “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). God’s ability to transform the human heart was the hallmark of his new covenant. A desire to do the will of God would be evidence that a person had been converted. Not only did God intend to bring his people back to their homeland, but he also intended to live among them (Jeremiah 31:34).

The wound

Jeremiah described the problem of sin as one of bondage, enslavement to a way of life that was contrary to God’s written laws. Referring to the restoration of Israel, Jeremiah said, “For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him: but they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them” (Jeremiah 30:8-9). God’s plan to deliver his people from sin began with their captivity. The only way God could convince them of their need for salvation was to let his people see what life was like apart from him, to experience the pagan culture of Babylon first hand.

Separation from God was a foreign concept to the people of Israel and Judah. The temple that stood in the midst of Jerusalem was a symbol of God’s constant presence. The people were unaware that their sin had caused God to turn away from them and that he was no longer paying attention to their sacrifices and prayers. The spiritual condition of the people living in Jerusalem was terrible. They thought they were doing well, but they were actually very sick. Jeremiah declared, “Thus saith the LORD; thy bruise is incurable and thy wound is grievous, there is none to plead thy cause, that thou mayest be bound up: thou hast no healing medicines” (Jeremiah 30:12-13).

Isaiah wrote about the good tidings of salvation that would be available in the future. He prophesied, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). The Hebrew word translated meek, ‘anayv refers to someone that has been humbled through affliction or difficult circumstances. The root word anah means to respond or to begin to speak. The idea behind these words is a situation that causes one to pray or cry out to God for help.

God’s promise to his people was that he would not allow them to perish or cease to exist as a nation. He said, “For I will restore health unto thee and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 30:17). The wound God was referring to was the breaking of their hearts. As with a blow that breaks a bone, the truth of God’s word can have a devastating effect on sinners. When the Israelites learned that Jeremiah had been right about Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem, they were crushed spiritually because they had not believed what he told them. After the initial group of captives were taken away to Babylon, those who remained in Jerusalem were left to fend for themselves and terror began to set in, “as a woman in travail” (Jeremiah 30:6).


Jeremiah’s vision of the figs illustrated God’s natural inclination to choose good rather than evil. Choice is an important theme in the Old Testament of the Bible, especially in connection with living in the Promised Land. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses presented the people with a choice that they needed to make. He said, I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Before he died, Joshua reiterated the choice that each person had to make and emphasized the need to serve or worship the LORD instead of idols (Joshua 24:15). In spite of their promised to do so, the people of Israel and Judah were not faithful to God, but continually chose idolatry as a way of life. The tendency of man to choose evil rather than good was first demonstrated in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden. Even though God told them they would die if they ate it, “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6).

In his vision, Jeremiah was shown two baskets of figs that were set before the  temple of the LORD as if they were an offering to God. Jeremiah recorded, “One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten they were so bad” (Jeremiah 24:2). Jeremiah’s reference to the second basket of figs as “naughty figs” was intended to portray the character rather than the condition of the people they represented. The Hebrew word translated naughty, ra‘ is a word that “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences” (7451). Ra‘ characterizes the ungodly man that has chosen a life of evil. “One of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and every one around him.”

Jeremiah was told that the good figs had been chosen or set apart by God to fulfill his plan of salvation. Jeremiah declared:

Thus saith the LORD, the  God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive in Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart. (Jeremiah 24:5-7)

In order to differentiate which of his people were the evil figs, God stated, “And as the evil figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so evil; surely thus saith the LORD, So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt: and I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them” (Jeremiah 24:8-9). In 597 B.C., 3,023 Jews, the best of Judah’s leaders and craftsmen were taken captive by Nebuchadrezzar and they went into exile in Babylon. In 588 B.C., Nebuchadrezzar’s army attacked those who remained in Jerusalem. After a two year battle, the Babylonian army finally penetrated the walls of Jerusalem and the city fell to Nebuchadrezzar who completely destroyed it.