This week on the blog we are seeking to learn if and how a cold heart can be transformed into a warm heart. In other words, can people change? If so, how? After learning about the prophecy against Edom in chapter 35, in the previous post, we now begin chapter 36, and God asks Ezekiel to prophesy to Israel. In this amazing prophecy in chapter 36, God describes how a cold heart can change.
To start off, please read verses 1-7. To summarize these verses, God is saying, “Israel the nations around you, like Edom which I just talked about, have plundered you and ridiculed while you have been going through your time of distress, but I am going to take care of them.” What distress? God is referring to the recent invasion of Israel by Babylon, during which time Babylon destroyed the land, including the city of Jerusalem, sending a second wave of exiles to Babylon.
Did the surrounding nations come to Israel’s aid? No. Instead, those nations saw an opportunity to enrich themselves, sending raiding parties in to see what the Babylonians left behind and take it. It was a land grab, punching Israel while they were down. To make matters worse, those nations, like Edom, also ridiculed Israel. The surrounding nations talked trash about Israel. That’s the worst, right? To not only lose the game, but also to lose when your opponent is arrogantly making fun of how bad your skills are. That cuts deep, doesn’t it? So imagine how Israel was feeling. Like losers. Like people with little hope.
In a situation of desperation, such as what Israel was experiencing, it seemed they forgot about their part in the awful situation. It wasn’t as if they were just unlucky, or surprised, or that this situation was random. The people of Israel had persistently turned their backs on God, and as we saw in previous chapters, God called Israel out as well. Now he will call out their sin again. They had lost their land, more of them were in exile, the surrounding nations were plundering them and ridiculing them, and God was watching. He was not happy.
What will he do? Pause reading this blog and see what God says in Ezekiel 36, verses 8-12.
How about that? God says he will restore them to the land of Israel where they will flourish! Skim down through those verses and look at the very positive words God uses: “produce, fruit, soon come home, I am concerned for you, will look on you with favor, I will multiply, towns inhabited, ruins rebuilt, increase, fruitful, prosper.” This is an extremely positive, hopeful message!
In verse 11 we read, “Then you will know that I am the Lord,” that most important phrase of the book of Ezekiel. God is saying that he is going to be involved in restoring Israel, and then they will know that he is the Lord. In their previous situation, they did not know that he was the Lord. Their relationship was broken. They were not in a loving, trusting relationship with him. But one day they will be.
How? How will this happen that Israel, who has not known God, will come to know him? In verses 8-12, he says that he will restore them to their land and cause them to flourish. Here God gives not only Israel, but us as well, a wonderful reminder that he is at work in the world. When we feel like he is not, when we don’t see evidence of his work, we need to dwell on the truth that he is still alive and active, desiring a relationship with not only his people, but the whole world.
There is a problem, though, and it is the problem of humanity’s rebellion against God. That problem is serious and needs to be dealt with. God does exactly that in verses 13-23. Go ahead and read those verses to see how God addresses the sinful rebellion of his people
As God reminds them that this mess they found themselves in was their doing, I find it so interesting how he describes their reputation in verses 20-21. Wherever the people of Israel intermingle with other nations, it was said of them, “These are Yahweh’s people, and yet they had to leave his land.” More than likely your English translation says, “They are the LORD’s people,” and it prints LORD in all capital letters. Whenever the Old Testament prints the word LORD in all capital letters, it is referring to the actual name of God, Yahweh. This is important because there were loads of gods in the ancient near east, and they all had names. The Egyptians had gods, the Canaanites had gods, and so did the Assyrians and Babylonians. Much of international relations in that time was a matter of whose gods were more powerful.
Of course, as we know from the history of the nation of Israel, their God Yahweh, is the only true God, and he is powerful beyond imagination. We read the stories of God’s power unleashed time and time again, giving tiny powerless Israel astounding victories. So Israel knew their God Yahweh was real, and that he was utterly more powerful than the supposed gods of the foreign nations, who were not really gods at all.
But what happens when Babylon invades Israel, defeats Israel, burns the city of Jerusalem down to the ground, including the total destruction of the temple of Yahweh, and then carts the people of Israel away? Who is more powerful now? Clearly the Babylonians believed that they and their gods were more powerful than Yahweh. That’s exactly what the Lord, Yahweh, is getting at in verses 20-21, when he says that his name is being profaned. Clearly the people of Israel are at fault that his name was being profaned. Their sinful rebellion let to this. But God is still God. He is still concerned for his name.
Notice how he expands on this theme with the very honest words of verses 22-23.
God says that it is not for their sake that he will restore them, but for the sake of his holy name. God is concerned for his reputation! He speaks truthfully pointing out that they had profaned his name. He doesn’t just say it once, but multiple times in verses 22-23. Though they have profaned his name by their rebellious behavior, he will show himself to be holy through them. That means there is still hope for them. God is bigger than their rebellion. He is not accepting their rebellion. He is not allowing their rebellion. He is saying that he will make a way that through them, his holiness will shine. And all the nations will know that he is the Lord.
We see God’s heart in this. It is a heart for people to experience change. That speaks of his desire for a close relationship with people. He wants people becoming the kind of people in which he will dwell. Don’t think about that in the abstract, as if that only applies to other people. Make it personal. That’s how God thinks about you and me. This was not just a promise for the ancient people of Israel. God says clearly that he wants all people to experience this. God’s vision is global. God wants all people to be people through whom his holiness can shine. But how? How will God do this work of transformation so that he can dwell with us?
We have seen in this section a critical first step toward transformation: an honest assessment of ourselves. While God said to Israel that he was going to rescue them, he also wanted them to be very clear about their current condition. They were rebellious and sinful, and they needed to see that, to own up to that. That is the first step in transformation, to admit who we really are, even if who we are is very difficult to admit to. Truth is the first step.
Check back in to the next post, and we’ll find out what comes next.