I am excited to start studying this prophetic book of Ezekiel. Prophets are often conceived of people who predict the future. They seem glamorous. They hear from God. What I have come to learn, and this is only bolstered by my introductory studies of Ezekiel, is that the prophetic life is not glamorous, and it rarely involves predicting the future. Instead, prophets tell the truth about the current world, and it is often a truth that we don’t want to hear. We know it is true deep down, but it is a truth that says, “This situation is messed up, and there needs to be a change.” In a word: “Repent.”
Generally, people, humans, do not enjoy hearing that we need to repent. We do not enjoy it when someone confronts us. Most of us don’t like to confront others, and we don’t want others to confront us. We would much rather exist in a false reality where things are just fine, like a dreamworld, a fantasy. But we live in the real world, and we need to embrace and welcome the prophet in our lives. We need a person to tell us to repent, to restore what is broken. Repentance is sometimes conceived of a 180 change of direction. That’s not wrong, but it is not the full picture. Repentance is better understood as a restoration of relationship between God and creation. When we repent, we return to God, we renew our relationship with him, and of course that means we will stop sin, fight against sin, receive his forgiveness, and pursue him anew, including restoration in our human relationships and restoration of justice in our world.
This is the vision of restoration that we will see in Ezekiel, and it is one of his major metaphors, that of the transformation of the heart. Israel was hardhearted. A hard heart symbolizes a will, a desire and resulting action to live in such a way that breaks or goes against covenant relationship with God. The hard heart also has a permanence about it. It is set in stone, it is concrete, unchanging and dead. That is very bad news. It certainly describes Israel. They were dead to God. God, through Ezekiel, says that Israel needs a new heart, a heart of flesh, a heart that is alive to him, and he will give them that heart.
Thankfully we can know the end of this story in our lives now! Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, God did the very thing Ezekiel says he would do. He made it possible for us to have a transformed heart. When we believe in him, God the Spirit lives with us and transforms us, so that the life of the Spirit energizes us and flows out of us. This is called the Fruit of the Spirit, and it grows in us and is visible for all to see in our interactions with other people. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. They are the evidence of a transformed heart. This is precisely what God, through Ezekiel, says will happen in his people who repent and are restored to him in covenant relationship.
Furthermore, this transformation will envelop the land in justice. What we will see in Ezekiel is a vision of societal transformation. We participate in the first-fruits of the Kingdom of God now when we usher in the Kingdom of righteousness and justice in our community. Is it the fully consummated Kingdom? No. That will only occur when Jesus returns. Instead, what Ezekiel helps us see is that our work of pursuing God’s heart of justice in our community is in line with what Jesus prayed in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”