28 September 2012

Ezekiel 36:24-28

"A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you." (vv. 26-27)


The prophet Ezekiel was taken into exile during the deportation that happened ten years before the final sacking of Jerusalem by Babylon. His earlier prophecies were addressed to his fellow-exiles during that decade, when many of them had failed to accept that God deemed such judgement necessary. But from chapter 34 onwards, with Jerusalem in ruins, Ezekiel presents a vision of a restored future. He offers many pictures of a new leadership, a renewed land and a renewed people.

The emphasis in these verses is on the spiritual renewal of the people, but having their "own land" (v. 24) and living in "the land that I gave to your ancestors" (v. 28) is an important aspect. It remains so for many Jewish people today, and if we think that this gives too much of a material focus, and a local one at that, to a universal hope, then we need to recognise that Old Testament theology identifies one parcel of land as God's special place as a sign that the whole earth is the Lord's. In a similar way, one sabbath day in seven is a sign that all days are God's, and one tithe or tenth given signifies that all one possesses is God's.

The first picture of the people being renewed involves cleansing water (verse 25). This is more than a symbol of forgiveness; it calls to mind the ritual washings that remove ceremonial defilement or make priests fit to perform their duties (eg Exodus 30:17-21; Leviticus 14:52; Numbers 19:17-19). Here it is involvement in idolatry that requires deep cleansing.

The "heart" (v. 26), when used metaphorically rather than of the blood-pumping organ, was understood by the Jews as being the source of mind and will as well as the emotions which we associate with it. In the same verse, the "spirit" is the driving force of our desires and motivations. A heart of stone is one that is stubborn and insensitive to God's impulse, and the same goes for the spirit which needs replacing.

Jeremiah uses somewhat similar language of God writing his law directly on human hearts in a passage which promises a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Ezekiel likewise here uses the 'covenant formula' from of old: "you shall be my people, and I will be your God" (v. 28) to convey the end result of this heart and spirit transplant.

To Ponder

  • What importance do you attach to land or a place? Is there somewhere that for you is an important location in making you aware that everywhere is God's place? Where is it and what is its importance?
  • What is there in your life that may be properly considered to be contamination from idolatry from which you need deep cleansing?
  • What would you like to change about your heart - either the way your mind operates, or the way your emotions function, or the things that seem to motivate you or fail to do so? Could you ask God to give you a new heart?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

Stephen Mosedale is a recently retired Methodist minister now living in Devon. He is enjoying the freedom that gives, whenever mood and weather dictsate, to walk on Dartmoor, photograph varied and ever-changing seascapes, or grow vegetables in the garden.