Q.

In Ezekiel 36:25 God told Israel He will sprinkle them with water to removed their uncleanness. Since sin can be removed only by blood, to what uncleanness is God referring in this passage?

A.
This passage refers to the coming restoration of Israel. The coming kingdom will be characterized by certain blessings. For example, the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon the people so that obedience to God will be the order of the day. God will have a new covenant for His people. Through its fulfillment, the people will have His law in their hearts and minds. All of this will be accomplished through forgiveness and regeneration.

It is true that the Bible emphasizes blood as necessary for cleansing and redemption concerning sin (Hebrews 9:22), but the Scriptures also use water as a picture of cleansing. We find this picture in both the Old and New Testaments.

In the New Testament we find the picture of washing to refer to the Word of God’s work in the human heart, accomplishing salvation. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:5, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God?“ Titus 3:5 states, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”

These verses do not refer to water baptism, because the phrase “renewing of the Holy Spirit” means that this washing is an internal, divine cleansing, not a symbolic act. The Holy Spirit, not water baptism, saves.

“Washing” refers to the “water” of the Word of God. The concept of a bath is present here. The Holy Spirit always does His regenerating work through the Word of God. The psalmist noted, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word” (Psalm 119:9). Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). A person is not saved apart from the influence of Scripture and the simultaneous moving of the Holy Spirit upon his or her life.

The word “washing” in Titus 3:5 literally means “laver.” Beside the brazen altar of burnt offering in Old Testament tabernacle where blood sacrifices were offered stood a piece of furniture known the “laver” in which priests would wash their hands and feet before going into the Holy Place. The brazen altar foreshadowed the cross on which Jesus Christ shed His blood for the sins of the world. The laver, in contrast, didn’t relate to deliverance from condemnation, but it was nevertheless important. It showed separation and the need for a cleansed life. “Sanctification” is the doctrinal word that comes to our minds at this point.

As a priest himself, Ezekiel was, no doubt, referring to the ritual in the Mosaic law that pictured forgiveness and cleansing, a water ritual related to the cleansing aspect of Israel’s coming restoration. Passages concerning the law’s use of water include Exodus 30:17–21, Leviticus 14:1–9, and Numbers 19.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (April 2003).
© 2003 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.