Unit: Ezekiel (Part 2)
Theme: Hope for Sinners
Lesson Text: Ezekiel 36:16-32
Supplemental Text: Ezekiel 18:30-32; Daniel 9:15-19; Hebrews 8:10-12
Aim: Pray for a new heart for you, your family, and your church for the glory of God’s holy name.
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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the Study by Mark Scott, Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_September11_2022.
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By Mark Scott
The date 9/11 reminds people of the horror in evil hearts. Twenty-one years ago today certain hearts went bad and other lives were lost. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The answer is, “Only God.” And he also is the One who can give “new lives for old; warm hearts for cold” (lyrics of a Christian song by Wayne Watson).
Ezekiel continued to prepare the exiles in Babylon for the new days ahead. He addressed the shepherds (leaders) of Israel and spoke about them helping the people obey God’s covenant (chapter 34). He prophesied against Mount Seir (the Edomites) and Israel (Ezekiel 35; 36:1-15). Now it was time to paint a brighter picture for their future beyond Babylon (Jeremiah 29:10; Daniel 9:2).
A diamond is placed on a black cloth to show its brilliance. A clean heart placed beside an unclean heart has the same effect. The word of the Lord came to this son of man (Ezekiel the prophet) to remind Israel of their previous heart condition. Israel had defiled (polluted) the land by their lifestyle (conduct and actions—mentioned twice in the paragraph). The metaphor to describe this pollution is that of a woman’s monthly period (Leviticus 15:19-23).
Three sins are specifically mentioned to underline Israel’s unclean heart. First, the people had shed blood (a reference to either murder or eating blood still in the meat). Second, the people had been idolatrous (a constant issue with Israel and the real reason for their exile). Third, the people profaned (defiled or wounded) God’s holy name. Much like Moses not treating God as holy before the people (Numbers 20:12), Israel did a horrible job of representing God to the nations. The nations could easily see that God’s people had no concern for God’s holy name. Their hearts were unclean.
The holy heart of God stood in contrast to the unclean hearts of the Israelites. The Sovereign Lord (Adonai Yahweh) always acted in relation to his own character and honor. His redemption of Israel from exile was not due to the Israelites’ nobility. God was at work to be true to his own nature and the glory of his name.
In the ancient world, someone’s name was a metonymy for the person’s character. So, even though his honor had been compromised among the nations, God would act to ensure that his name was above reproach. A major theme of the Bible is captured in the phrase, “I will show the holiness of my great name.” In Hebrew this is an interesting phrase; it heaps up the “holy” words to stress the point. Literally, “I will show the holiness of my holiness.” In doing this, God ensures his holy heart will be highly regarded by the nations.
Can God’s people ever achieve God’s heart? Can they acquire a new heart? The answer is, “Only with God’s assistance.” The promise of this paragraph is that after God fulfills his promise about bringing Israel out of exile and back to the Promised Land, he will give them a new heart.
This will require nothing short of conversion and cleansing. This is metaphorically spoken of as being sprinkled with clean water (Leviticus 15:21-22; Numbers 19:17-19). This conversion process would allow God to cleanse the Israelites from impurities (ethical filthiness) and idolatry. But Israel would need more than acquittal. They would also need some equipment to live differently. So God would need to give them a new heart. This would demand internal transformation by the Spirit of God. Ezekiel distinguished a heart of stone from a heart of flesh. What ultimately is in view here is nothing less than the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39; Acts 2:1-4, 17-21). This would supersede coming out of the exile from Babylon. It would be a coming out of the exile of sin (John 8:34).
With a new heart and Spirit, God’s people would be enabled to follow his decrees (ways) and laws (judgments). They would have internal motivation as opposed to external constraints. God would once again identify himself with his people and save them from all their uncleanness. The blessings of obedience would then be poured out (like a bountiful harvest instead of famine). The people would look back on their former life of sin and be appalled. God reminded them one final time that he was acting thusly for the sake of his own name.
It is still true that others view God by what they see in us. God is consistent in giving justice for sin and grace and faithfulness for restoration.