Summary: Using God’s promises to the house of Israel for our model, we learn that God has promised us – those who call on Jesus’ name – a new start.
Ezekiel 36:24-38 A New Heart
7/19/15 D. Marion Clark
A few weeks ago a soloist sang for the prelude the song that we know as “Dem Bones.” I was struck by the rendition of it, which presents more than a funny children’s song, but gets the message across about the power of God’s word. Next week we will consider the text it comes from. The message this morning treats the passage that precedes the Valley of Dry Bones passage in Ezekiel 37.
This passage is famous in its own right, especially verses 25-27. Here is the context. Jerusalem has fallen to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The nation of Judah has ended. The northern kingdom of Israel had been broken up over a century earlier and the inhabitants deported throughout the Assyrian empire of that time. A decade earlier, Judah had succumbed to Nebuchadnezzar who had then taken many of the people, especially the nobles, to Babylon. Daniel and the prophet Ezekiel were in that number. He had kept the Judean king on the throne, but that king, Zedekiah, revolted, bringing final destruction upon Jerusalem and Judah.
Ezekiel had prophesied that this destruction would take place and had explained why. It was for the same reason that all of the other prophets had said, namely, for Judah’s rebellious sins. Even so, destruction is not the last word for God’s people. Let’s listen in.
24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.
This is the good news of redemption – of being brought out of exile and restored to their homeland. God has not forgotten the people of Israel. (And from now on, they will no longer be known as Israel, the northern kingdom and Judah, the southern kingdom. They are the one covenant people of Israel.)
But deliverance from exile is not the heart of Ezekiel’s message. The good news is not merely that God’s people will move back home but that a transformation will take place within them.
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses.
In these five and a half verses “I will” occurs eight times, speaking of what God will do.
The first thing God will do is give the people a new start.
1) 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you….29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses.
The Jews are in exile, not because a stronger military defeated their military force, but because of their sins, which received the judgment of God. Just before the destruction of Jerusalem, God has Ezekiel give this message to the people:
On account of your unclean lewdness, because I would have cleansed you and you were not cleansed from your uncleanness, you shall not be cleansed anymore till I have satisfied my fury upon you. 14 I am the LORD. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it. I will not go back; I will not spare; I will not relent; according to your ways and your deeds you will be judged, declares the Lord GOD” (24:13-14).
God punished the people for their uncleanness, but now he is giving them a new start by cleansing them. He will sprinkle clean water. This image is found in Numbers 19:17ff. To cleanse a person who has become unclean, a clean person dips a hyssop branch into a bowl of water mixed with the ashes from a sin offering and then sprinkles the unclean person with that water. (With apologies to my immersion brothers and sisters, the Old Testament image of cleansing with water is that of sprinkling.) That is why Peter refers in the opening verses of his letter to those who have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ (cf. 1 Peter 1:1-2).
And so, the problem of us all before God is not that we have somehow grown apart from him, have somehow become distant from him; it is that we are unclean before a holy God, and to be brought near we must be cleansed of our sins. We need God to sprinkle us with the water that is mixed with the sacrifice of our Lamb.