When God’s people were first brought out of slavery in Egypt, they entered into a covenant with God to serve him and obey his commandments (Exodus 19:8). After many years of practicing idolatry and finally being told they would be sent into exile in Babylon, God’s chosen people thought they could avoid their punishment by renouncing their relationship with God altogether. God told them, “And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone. As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out will I rule over you.
In spite of their rebellion against him and continual breaking of his commandments, God would not abandon his people as they had him. God was committed to fulfilling his promise to Abraham and later to king David when he said that he would make his people into a great nation and his kingdom would be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:13). God’s plan to renew his covenant with his chosen people involved a purging of all unbelievers from the Promised Land. God said through the prophet Ezekiel that he would bring his people out of the countries to which he had scattered them “And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face. Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saint the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 20:35-36).
The Hebrew word translated plead in Ezekiel 20:35 is shaphat (shaw – fat’) which means to pronounce sentence and by extension to govern (8199). Basically, what God was saying was he intended to exercise his authority over his people and would use force as necessary to return them to the Promised Land after their captivity was completed. Even though he could have made all the people return to their homeland, God would only cause those that were willing to serve and obey to start over. He said, “And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 20:38).
As a result of God’s purging of the Israelites, he was able to accept his people back into fellowship with him. God wanted his chosen people to know that he would continue to work in their lives until the salvation of his people was completed. The one requirement on the part of the people was repentance and even that was something that God was working to bring about. He said, “I will accept you with your sweet savour when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen…And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed.