A new heart
Ezekiel Chapter 36
The previous section has considered the desperate condition of the human heart—we now turn our attention to Ezekiel’s teaching on God’s cure for the human heart described in chapter 36.
The promise of God in Ezekiel 36:25–26 is to give us a new heart. The way God deals with men and women has changed little from Ezekiel’s day to ours because people do not change. Certainly, in 2,500 years there have been many outward changes, but basically mankind is still the same—people’s hearts have not changed. God is concerned with our hearts, not with our intellect or culture or scientific progress. Current events prove this. All the great strides forward in popular education and all the benefits of affluence of recent years have not been able to prevent the breakdown of family life, the plague of broken marriages, battered children, and the general increase in crime. In spite of all the scientific knowledge amassed in the past one hundred years, we cannot prevent wars, we cannot find work for millions of people, and we cannot cure the racial hatred and distrust that abounds in our cities.
A defiled land
In this chapter, God is speaking to a people he has blessed in remarkable ways, yet a people who have spurned him. He accuses them of defiling the land (Ezek. 36:17). This they did by their conduct and their action of ignoring God.
Isn’t that equally true of our nation? The blessings of God on Britain over the centuries are beyond description. The spiritual blessings that came with the Protestant Reformation have enriched every part of our lives—the English Bible and the culture that flowed from that; the wealth of Christian literature in English; and the political freedom we have enjoyed so that no enemy has invaded us since 1066. Very few nations have known such mercies!
Yet today, we are godless, pagan and unbelieving because we have rejected God. Instead of putting our trust in him, we have put our hope in politicians, and they have all proved inadequate. It was not so long ago that a British Home Secretary said that the ‘permissive society’ was the ‘civilized society’. But now everyone can see that the permissive society has eroded all standards of moral behaviour and self-discipline. The defilement of the land has been going on for years in Parliament with trendy MPs who will do anything for votes; in our schools where teachers are not allowed to discipline the children; and in our homes with broken marriages and fragmented families. We have created a monster and it is beginning to devour us!
There is no answer for all this from the politicians and sociologists because the problem is the heart of mankind. Only God can deal with that.
A heart of stone
What does God mean when he says that a person has a heart of stone? He is referring to human nature defiled by sin, and he says there is nothing to be done with it. It cannot be repaired; it must be scrapped and replaced with a heart of flesh.
The politician cannot understand this, the sociologist refuses to believe it, and the humanist angrily rejects it; they all try to patch up what God has condemned as beyond repair. Human nature cannot be mended. It is not like an old house that can be put right with a grant from the council. It is rotten throughout; its foundation is gone and every timber is worm-ridden. This is why God makes no attempt to repair it. He will not shore up the walls or repair the roof. He will not repair it—it needs to be replaced. What a person needs is a new heart, a new spirit and a new nature.
It could be objected that this is a very pessimistic view of human nature. But is it really? Consider a person from God’s viewpoint. He made man and put him in Paradise. Yet it was in Paradise that man rejected God. It was neither in a slum, nor in a socially deprived environment—but in Paradise! That sin of rejecting God then dominates all that man does. Before long Cain is killing his brother Abel and then in Genesis 6:5 we read, ‘The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.’
The same result of sin can be seen throughout history right up until the time Jesus came. God sent his Son and men crucified him. Here is the depth of human sin, but it did not finish there, and all through the centuries it has dominated our thinking and actions. This is the general picture of human nature. From time to time there are spots of light, of kindness and integrity, but generally it is a picture of man without God—man with a heart of stone.
A heart of flesh
God does not want to leave us in the mess we have created for ourselves but is willing to replace the heart of stone with a heart of flesh. In other words, he is willing to give us a new nature that delights in him and is able to respond to his directions. He does this not because we deserve it, but as an act of grace. In fact, God clearly says, ‘I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake’ (Ezek. 36:32).
A heart of flesh in exchange for a heart of stone suggests a change so radical and profound that no one but God could do it. Jesus likens it to being born again (John 3:3, 7) and Paul compares it to a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Neither of these phrases is too extravagant because the change God works in human nature is miraculous.
In this change of natures there are several distinct events, some of which are mentioned in Ezekiel 36.
• restoration to god (v. 24). The reference is to the nation being brought back from Babylon to Israel. But it is also a picture of a spiritual change. For instance, the prodigal son was brought back from a foreign land to his father. All sinners are aliens to God and need to be reconciled to him.
• cleansing from sin (vv. 25–26). This is crucial. Sin separates us from God and has to be dealt with. God only cleanses from sin on the basis of Jesus dying to pay the debt our sin has incurred. Notice in verse 25 that all sin is dealt with—past, present and future—by the death of Jesus.
• the indwelling of the holy spirit (v. 27). There is a new lordship with a new direction of life and a new power given us to live our lives to the glory of God. The Holy Spirit enables us to understand the things of God and gives us a desire to want to obey God. This is far more than a person merely becoming religious.
• there is a new relationship to god (v. 28). One of the greatest privileges is to know that we are the people of God. We are no longer his enemies but his children.
• a loathing of sin (v. 31). There is a completely new attitude to sin. Being a Christian does not mean that we never sin again, but when we do, we will hate that sin and long to be free from it.
Jeffery, P. (2004). Opening up Ezekiel’s Visions (pp. 60–65). Leominster: Day One Publications.