Monthly Archives: June 2017

Ezekiel 35 & 36 – Our God Turns Hearts of Stone to Hearts of Flesh

Chapter 35 is another prophecy against Edom, which goes into much greater detail than the prophecy against them in chapter 25. These people were “the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother, who occupied the rugged country southeast of the Dead Sea.” The commentary from which this quote comes explains all the detail in the chapter. One thing stands out. The Lord promises in verse 9 that he will make it desolate, and its towns will not be inhabited forever. He has kept that promise to this day. The land this people once inhabited is a wasteland because they attempted to take advantage of Yahweh’s judgment on his people. Not a good idea.

Chapter 36 includes one of the great metaphors in all of scripture, the heart as stone turned to flesh. Ezekiel is fond of the phrase, the Sovereign Lord, and it’s used 15 times alone in this chapter! The word “sovereign” doesn’t exist in the Hebrew. Rather the phrase is God’s proper name, Yahweh Adonay. Most other translations use the Lord God. It is not a distortion at all, though, to say that the Lord God is sovereign because he is the creator and ruler of all things. He has the ultimate control of all things. I think that’s the idea Ezekiel is conveying here. Nothing happens with him controlling, willing, or permitting it, including transforming hearts of stone, lost, cold, rebellious hearts, to hearts of flesh, affection, and love. The following is from chapter 8 of my book, Keeping Your Kids Christian:

The Sovereign Lord tells Ezekiel to prophecy that God will restore Israel back to their land, and that they will once again prosper. In the middle of the prophecy we read these words:

24“‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

Who does the acting here? Notice the seven “I will’s.” God does the work of saving his chosen people, and the eighth “I will” is the final result. And there are plenty more “I will’s” in this chapter. The one that stood out to me as I was discovering the Reformed Faith was God (surgically) removing the heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh. What a vivid juxtaposition, stone and flesh. Nothing is quite as inanimate (lifeless, dead, non-living, inorganic) as a stone. Flesh is alive, responsive, feeling, active. Those who are dead in their sins have hearts of stone, while those who are in Christ have hearts of flesh. Only the latter can believe, and only God himself can transform a human heart. Salvation requires divine surgery!

Some may argue this is metaphorical and only relates to the nation of Israel some six hundred years before Christ. As in much of the Old Testament, there is more than one meaning. Remember when Jesus said the Old Testament, all of it, was about him? Once you put on those Jesus glasses, passages like this take on a whole new meaning. Put them on and read, “I will save you from all your uncleanness” (v.29), or “On the day I cleanse you from all your sins . . . ” (v. 33), and you will know God is communicating more than what will happen to national Israel.

He tells them that he will again bless them in the land, which he does, but the idea of him cleansing them from “all” their sins can only refer to Christ. The cleansing from sin can only come when the wages of sin are fully paid. Sin must be atoned for. God’s wrath and judgment must be appeased. Justice must be done. In Christ, it was.

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Ezekiel 34 – The Lord Himself is Our Good Shepherd

Chapter 34 is all about shepherds and sheep, metaphorically speaking, and powerfully points yet again to the divinity of Christ. Israel’s shepherds are terrible, even harmful to the Lord’s sheep, and the Lord will hold them accountable. And because no good shepherd could be found, he himself will become that good shepherd:

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. . . . 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

Jesus, no doubt referencing just this chapter, declares in John 10: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” He also says of himself also possibly thinking of just these verses, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Notice who does the seeking. It isn’t us.

The one who does the seeking the NIV translates as “Sovereign Lord,” while other versions translate as “Lord God,” the Hebrew phrase being, Yahweh Adonay. The latter word, from Strongs, “the Lord (used as a proper name of God only).” It is THE Living God who will shepherd Israel, and Jesus says he IS that shepherd—hard to miss his claim of divinity there. And not only will he shepherd his people, but unlike the thief that “comes only to steal and kill and destroy, he has “come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.” That’s quite a claim, and one only God himself can pull off.

Like in other passages, there is both an historical as well as a spiritual dimension to the Lord’s promises. He will bring them physically back to the land, as we read about in Ezra and Nehemiah, but since all the OT points to and is about Christ, we learn here more about the nature of the salvation Jesus was to bring. The proud will be brought low, while the humble will be exalted. And in Christ God himself will not only be just, but as Paul says, the justifier of those who trust Jesus.

We also get hints of the Trinity in this chapter:

22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

So God himself will be the shepherd, but David will also be the shepherd. And since David died hundreds of years before these words were written by Ezekiel, this promise is Messianic. In some way, this Messiah would be both divine and human. Once Jesus had risen and explained all this to his followers, it made perfect sense. But imagine reading this prior to those events. It would have had to be confusing.

He speaks in the last verses of the chapter about blessing the people in the land with these touching words:

30 Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

He has to yet again remind them that they are human beings, and that he is their God. Their God will be their shepherd. This I think speaks to what I call the radical relational reversal. Something happens that turns him from their judge and executioner, to their shepherd. And we know it’s not something they can do, but that God himself does for them in Christ. The most unimaginable thing to Jesus followers, the cross and the resurrection, were the only way God could be just and the justifier. The only way he could make his enemies, we human rebels, into his people.

Ezekiel 33 – The Lord is Just in His Judgments

I noticed the words that start this chapter: “The word of the Lord came to me.” The phrase is used over and over again in Ezekiel’s book, and it occurred to me as I thought over the Old Testament stories I’ve read thus far that the Lord never speaks directly to his people. His words always need mediation. He dealt directly with the Patriarchs, but as soon as they are to be lead out of slavery in Egypt, Yahweh picks a man to be his representative. And none can enter the Holy of Holies except the High Priest, and that only once a year. Right after he tells us the Lord’s word came to him, the Lord says, “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them:” 

Why can’t or doesn’t the Lord speak directly to his people? The simple answer is that he is holy, and wholly other. There can be no confusion between Creator and created, and we by nature confuse the two. In fact, in our fallen nature and hubris, we want to usurp the Creator’s position and prerogatives, to be, as Satan said, like God. Most importantly, all OT mediators point to Christ because he is The Word. So when “the word of the Lord” comes to Ezekiel, it is Christ himself coming. The ultimate mediator on the cross, or because of it, becomes God himself become man. As Paul tells us:

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus . . .

And through this mediator we were given direct access to the Holy of Holies when “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,” and thus to God himself. To get this access we simply pray in Jesus name. No more prophets, no more priests. But the people in Ezekiel’s day didn’t have Jesus, so they had to go to prophets, or prophets to them, to hear the word of the Lord.

This word from the Lord tells Ezekiel he is to be a watchman, warning the people of the coming destruction. He is to tell them that they should turn from their sin, and if they don’t the destruction will be payment for their sin. But if they do turn from their sin, they can save themselves from the sword. What the Lord is doing is reminding them of their accountability, and that he doesn’t judge whimsically. The reason for the reminder is that the people are doing what is typical of all humans, saying the Lord is unjust, that he’s punishing them for nothing. But the Lord is very clear: they can turn from their wicked ways and live, or continue doing them and die. He implores them to turn from their evil ways in verse 11, then asks this:

Why will you die, O house of Israel?

An intriguing question, that. The Lord has established that the people are morally accountable for their actions. The question raises two assumptions that come to us from Pelagius and Augustine: the people either have the ability to turn from their wicked ways, or they don’t. Which assumption does Israel’s history support? I think we are driven to the conclusion that Augustine got it right. The answer to the Lord’s question might be that their impending physical death is a result of a current spiritual death. The inability of Israel to fulfill the demands of the covenant is the whole story of the OT, and points us to the one who did! And in our place (Isaiah 53). This is not to say that doing right has its own reward, and evil its consequences, only that we cannot attain true life, eternal life, of our own accord.

The remainder of the chapter tells us Jerusalem has finally fallen, and that the Lord plans to make it a desolate waste because of Israel’s sin. We’ve seen the message before, that the people say the right religious stuff, but their hearts aren’t in it, but are far from the Lord. They hear the prophets words, but deny their truth. They have itching ears that hear only what they want to hear. I love the way it’s put in the penultimate verse:

32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

As Jesus tells us, wisdom is proved right by her actions.

Ezekiel 25-32 – “Then They Will Know That I Am The Lord”

These nine chapters are a series of prophecies against the lands and peoples surrounding Israel, that they too will be destroyed by the Babylonians for their own sins. Several things stand out to me. One is that Ezekiel is very specific (as he has been previously in the book) about exactly when each prophecy was delivered to him by the Lord. Several times in these chapters he gives the year, the month, and the day. I can only speculate why he does this, but one reason may be that the Lord wants everyone to know that the coming destruction was predicted and caused by him.

In fact, Babylon or Nebuchadnezzar doing something is often synonymous with the Lord doing it. In other words, when Babylon crushes Egypt, for example, he says (32):

15 When I make the land of Egypt desolate,
    and when the land is desolate of all that fills it,
when I strike down all who dwell in it,
    then they will know that I am the Lord.

God providentially moves all things toward that one eventual end, that all will know that he is the Lord. We, even we Christians who serve the Lord, are so steeped in the secularism of Western culture that we often attribute the movement of nations to the will of men (and women), as if anything can happen apart from his directly willing it. It’s not unlike the subtle naturalism that infects our assumptions of how the natural world works. We tend to look at a tree, for instance, and think it grows because of the dirt, and the sun, and the water, instead of the animating will and power of God. His being is the ground, the reason for, every living thing that exists. All of reality, every molecule, is ontologically contingent, and nothing exists of its own accord.

Another thing that stands out is that the arrogance of man will not be allowed to stand. All of these peoples thought they were hot stuff, that they were autonomous and indestructible. And we know that even though he uses Babylon to do his will, their arrogance will also be crushed. He says this of the king of Tyre in chapter 28:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God:

“Because your heart is proud,
    and you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of the gods,
    in the heart of the seas,’
yet you are but a man, and no god,
    though you make your heart like the heart of a god—

Man’s arrogance, one way or the other, sooner or later, will be brought low. He further says to this king, and I quote at length because it is so poetically powerful:

therefore thus says the Lord God:
Because you make your heart
    like the heart of a god,
therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you,
    the most ruthless of the nations;
and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom
    and defile your splendor.
They shall thrust you down into the pit,
    and you shall die the death of the slain
    in the heart of the seas.
Will you still say, ‘I am a god,’
    in the presence of those who kill you,
though you are but a man, and no god,
    in the hands of those who slay you?
10 You shall die the death of the uncircumcised
    by the hand of foreigners;
    for I have spoken, declares the Lord God.”

Man’s hubris is pathetic. He, being mortal, deludes himself into thinking he is immortal, and thus blasphemes his maker. He thinks what he has comes from his own hand, his own mind and will, but we know as Paul says, God “gives all mankind life and breath and everything else.”

Lastly, the way Ezekiel records his and the Lord’s thoughts tells us we are reading history. In the prophetic case, before it happens. And as Dominic and I learned at an apologetics conference about archeology in March, that field of study pretty much confirms everything we read about in these chapters. The Bible never reads like a made up fairy tale, as the skeptics insist, and it doesn’t read like other religious texts—it always reads plausible, even if some of it is hard to take. We learn from it what the Israelites learned from Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal in I kings 18:

39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”

Too bad they so quickly forgot what was so apparent at that time. Let us never forgot who is God.

Ezekiel 24 – What or Who is the Object of Our Affection?

The chapter opens with the Lord telling Ezekiel to mark this date because on it “the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem.” Then another metaphor comes depicting its sin and impending judgment, and ends with these words:

13 “‘Now your impurity is lewdness. Because I tried to cleanse you but you would not be cleansed from your impurity, you will not be clean again until my wrath against you has subsided.

To be clean or morally right with a holy God can only come on the other side of his wrath. He says in the next verse that they will be judged according to their conduct and actions (he doesn’t say it, but we’re even guilty because of the thoughts and intentions of our heart). Thus the human dilemma. We, like Jerusalem, stand condemned because of what we do. We, like they, cannot do otherwise, to one degree or another. And since perfect holiness is the criteria, we’re screwed. Without a Savior, that is. The whole of the OT is basically telling us just this, using Israel as an object lesson.

And speaking of object lessons, the last half of the chapter is a heartbreaking object lesson for Ezekiel. His wife dies, who is “the delight” of his eyes. I don’t think he would have been that old, maybe in his 30s. And he is not allowed to mourn, but can only “groan quietly.” When this happens, the people ask what this has to do with them, and through Ezekiel the Lord says:

I am about to desecrate my sanctuary—the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword.

The Israelites think their hope is in a building, rather than the person of God whom the sanctuary represents. He alone is to be the object of our affection, but as Paul explains in his letters, our relationship to a holy God because of our sin is one of enmity. Outside of Christ, he is our judge, jury, and executioner. And who more do we take pride in, and delight in, and shower our affection on than our children. Even that will be taken from them because they are not their, or our, hope and fulfillment either.

He says pretty much the exact same thing to end the chapter (v.25), but adds their “heart’s desire” to the list. On the day when this is all taken away, he says a fugitive will come to tell Ezekiel the news. Somehow a man will escape the destruction and come and tell the exiles. Then, the Lord says, Ezekiel’s mouth will be opened, and they will all know his predictions were the truth, that he was a sign for them that this would all happen.

The purpose of it all is always the same, “that they will know the I am the Lord.” The end point of all of history, of all of God’s judgments and providence is the same:

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Lord points to this ultimate purpose through Israel over and over again so there can be no doubt.

Ezekiel 23 – The Adulterous Sisters and the Judgment to Come

The Lord certainly likes his sexual metaphors, as we’ve seen. He conceived of and created sex after all, so why not. Chapter 23 is one long metaphor of two adulterous sisters, those being Samaria and Jerusalem. The former was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel before it fell to the Assyrians in the 8th century BC. The latter will soon experience the same result from the Babylonians for its unfaithfulness.

The Lord dates their “prostitution” back to their youth in Egypt. In other words, they have unfaithful from the very start. Remember the golden calf. No sooner had Moses gone up the mountain than they were worshiping an inanimate object, forcing Aaron to make them a god to protect them. And this was after they’d been rescued from slavery in Egypt. Even there it was in her nature to lust after other gods. I bet there are few Christians who know these graphic images can be found in the Bible:

19 Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. 20 There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.21 So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled.

God was looking for a faithful bride, and this is what he got. He again details their sin, and the punishment that will come as a result, as he has done over and over in these chapters. Get the message? The purpose is always the same as it is said in the last verse: “Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.” Yahweh is looking for a faithful bride, and as we know there is only one way that will come about. He must do it himself, in Christ. The Church, clothed in garments of his righteousness, is what Israel never could be.

Ezekiel 22 – No Man Could be Found to Save Israel From Her Sin

In this chapter we see yet again a litany of Jerusalem’s sins, and it isn’t pretty. The Lord calls them “detestable practices,” and his response is a word used five times, wrath. They will be punished so that when he has poured out his wrath upon them, they will know that he is the Lord. The prophets want nothing to do with wrath, so they lie to the people that what they’re doing is no big deal, even using the phrase, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says.”

The sinful human heart loves the lie that God will not judge them for their sin. But the Sovereign Lord says sin must be punished, and anyone who says differently does not speak for him. And either we can be judged and punished for our own sin, or accept Christ’s vicarious atoning for our guilt. I think the latter is the better option.

Then comes a verse at the end of the chapter that I memorized back in the day, and I’m sure I completely missed the meaning:

30 “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.

Of course this verse was about me, that I would be the man to stand before the Lord on behalf of “the land,” which of course would be America. Or something like that. But this verse has nothing to do with me, other than that I am in Christ because he was the only man who was worthy to stand before the Lord “in the gap on behalf of the land so” he “would not have to destroy it.” Throughout Israel’s history the Lord was always looking for the man, but every man who appeared was a flawed sinner who could never save Israel from what they needed saving most, their sin.

So the Lord will pour out his wrath on the city, and on the land the people defiled, just as one day he poured out his wrath on his son. The physical land and city point to a spiritual land and city as we know from the Book of Revelation. The ultimate cleansing that Christ accomplished on the cross will eventually lead to a new heavens and a new earth that will be populated by his Church, his bride purchased by his blood, and clothed in his very own righteousness.