The book of Ezekiel is always an incredible joy and means of grace for me when I read it. I am humbled by the sinfulness of man, amazed at the grandeur of the holiness and glory of God, and overjoyed at the God-given gift of the hope of restoration found through repentance that leads to salvation. While there are innumerable points I could discuss, I want to touch on a five insights I gleaned from Ezekiel 11:14-21.
And the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, your brothers, even your brothers, your kinsmen, the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those of whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, ‘Go far from the LORD; to us this land is given for a possession.’ Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.’ Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord GOD.”
Insight #1: God is sovereign. With the cry of those left in Judah calling out to those in exile, God responds first by asserting that the exile is his doing (v.16). It was God who “removed them far off among the nations.” It was the LORD God who “scattered them among the countries.” God responds to the rebellion and continual unrepentant unfaithfulness of his people with exile into the hands of the Babylonians. No matter how unfaithful Judah became, this did nothing to remove the control of God over all things. He is Lord of all and does all that pleases him (Psalm 115:3). God’s message to those inhabitants of Jerusalem is that this exile under pagan control is not out of his control, but to the contrary it is in fact his doing. This is a hard and difficult teaching and reality to grasp. It is a medicine that may not go down so easily. This is because our minds our laden and burdened with sin and we so often forget that we are not ultimate, yet God is. We are finite in all things. He is infinite in all things. When we forget this, we tend to blame calamities on outside causes or forces, when indeed God is sovereign over all of his creation and in all things. What is even more difficult is the fact that despite this great sovereignty, man is still responsible. Babylon is not given a pass because God is in control of their doings. Babylon will not go unpunished simply because God is using them as an instrument. And this may be the greatest mystery of all—divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Though we may not fully understand this conundrum, we must affirm the inerrant truth of its existence. “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:22-23).
Insight #2: The temple is a mere expressions or reflections of a greater Reality. God continues his message to those left in Jerusalem by saying, “I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone” (v. 16). God redefines his relationship with his people by stating that the true sanctuary is not the temple, but it is God himself. The temple served to represent the presence of the Lord, but God dwells with his people. He is the sanctuary in which his people will find everlasting shalom.
Insight #3: The terms of this new relationship are found in the giving of a new heart and spirit and the fruit is obedience and repentance. This new relationship, which defines God (not the temple) as the true sanctuary, is marked by a new spirit and a heart of flesh, both of which are provided by God (v. 19). This regeneration is necessary for true faithful living. God takes the initiative by removing the heart of stone that resides in sinful man and replacing it with a heart of flesh that enables obedience to God. And what is so strikingly beautiful and unfathomable about this divine-initiated work of salvation is that he gives this gift of regeneration to his enemies. How thankful I am for this glorious grace. Though my heart was hard, cold, and unwilling to repent and walk in obedience, God replaced it by the mighty power of his grace with a heart of flesh that can repent and obey. And what a glorious work of recreation God does in sinners like me! He takes dead spirits and gives them life. He takes hard, stone-like hearts and replaces them with rich and softened flesh-like hearts. Our lives as Christians should be lived in obedience and repentance and should stand in complete opposition to the life we once lived. We are new creations in Christ Jesus and our works should give evidence of the heart that produces them. All who are under the new covenant of the blood of Jesus are of one heart–a regenerated heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26; Jer. 31:31; Luke 22:20).
Praise God for his saving work and glorious initiative to have relationship with unworthy sinners through the giving of new spirits and new hearts. May we all pray with David:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
Insight #4: The Ultimate Joy. There is a sentence here in Ezekiel 11 that may just be the most joyful statement in all the Bible. This statement is found in the Bible 9 times (Jeremiah 24:7; 31:33; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 37:23, 27; Zechariah 8:8; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Hebrews 8:10). The goal of redemption, the goal of the cross, the goal of the Christian life of repentance and obedience is summed up in this one, short, beautiful, glimmering sentence: “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:20). Praise God! Ladies and gentlemen, one day, we will be with Him! In this statement, all fear is extinguished. All hope is grounded! Sacrificial living is wise. Sacrificial giving is expected. And sacrificial going is logical. By the gift of regeneration (“new spirit…heart of flesh”), we are redeemed in this new covenant by the blood of the suffering Lamb, the great I AM. We are his. He is ours. Need we any more reason to rejoice? This is our ultimate joy. No, HE is our ultimate joy. And his joy is full (Psalm 16:11). And so must ours be (John 15:11).
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God (Revelation 21:3).
It doesn’t get any better than this, folks!
Insight #5: God is Just. Finally, we see many aspects of God’s character in these verses. We have seen his sovereignty, holiness, glory, power, grace, mercy, and love. Verse 21 gives us a glimpse of his justice and wrath toward sin and sinners.
But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord GOD (Ezekiel 11:21).
God hates sin and sinners. Let me try that again. God hates sin and sinners. Oh, yes that is right. If you disagree with me, take it up with God (Psalm 5:5-6; 11:5). The point here is that God is just to forgive and regenerate because of the substitutionary death of Christ (Romans 3:26) and he is just to condemn sinners who have rebelled against him and have reached for, desired, and grabbed onto “detestable things and their abominations.” The reason they desire these things is that they have a heart of stone, rather than a heart of flesh. Therefore, what we see here is God’s absolute judgment of the hearts of sinners and his unbelievable sovereignty in his salvation of a remnant of mankind. Let this be an exhortation to Christians. When we sin and refuse to repent, we behave like those who maintain a heart of stone. We act as one who is under the judgment of God. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34; 15:18). However, Christ has been judged in our place. We stand justified. We stand without the fear of condemnation (Romans 8:1). However, our new spirit and new heart will produce fruits of obedience and repentance. One day we will all stand before Christ, who will be our judge and he will judge all of our works, and our works will prove the condition of our heart. Either works of evil that proceed from a heart of stone or works of holiness that proceed from a heart of flesh. May we pray for a desire for such things and for a greater and greater distaste for the detestable things and abominations that once plagued our stone-like hearts.
Our God is sovereign. Our God is our Sanctuary. Our God gives life. Our God is with us. Our God is just.
May we continue to grow in greater likeness to Christ, from one degree of glory to the next, abounding in holiness and love.