by Pastor David Groendyk
If you were able to track with the previous chapter, you could tell that God was slowly but steadily leaving his temple. First, he moves from the Most Holy Place to the threshold of the sanctuary (Ezek. 10:4); then, he moves from the threshold to the gateway of the courtyard (Ezek. 10:19); and, by the end of this chapter, he leaves the gateway to go all the way out to a mountain east of the temple (Ezek. 11:23). The Lord is abandoning this temple which was so filled with abominations and evils (chapter 8). As he’s about to make his final exit, he leaves Ezekiel with a parting word—half condemnation, half hope—about Israel’s future.
Verses 1–13 constitute the condemnation section. Specifically, the Lord has in mind 25 leaders of the city of Jerusalem (v. 1). These leaders have been proclaiming, “This city is the cauldron, and we are the meat!” and the Lord himself picks up on the analogy in his statement of judgment. It’s hard to say what the analogy means exactly, but the ESV Study Bible seems logical when it suggests, “It is unlikely that being cooked [like meat in a boiling cauldron] is positive.” Israel’s princes don’t want to be cooked; in other words, they’re afraid of someone with a sword coming after them in this city (v. 8). The ironic reply from God is, “Don’t worry, you won’t fall by the sword in Jerusalem… You’ll be taken all the way out to the border before you’re killed!” (v. 11). You can read about this very thing happening in 2 Kings 25:4–7 in which King Zedekiah and his cabinet are fleeing the attack of Jerusalem and end up being killed right near Jericho, the very first entrance of the people of Israel into the Promised Land about 800 years previous. The princes have ruled, counseled, devised plans, and created strategies just like all of the unbelievers around them (v. 12), and the Lord does not suffer wickedness to continue indefinitely. He has ordered every detail of the upcoming exile, down to the geographical coordinates of the deaths of the king’s cabinet.
Verses 14–21 are drastically different, and what a word to receive from God on the heels of such a terrible judgment! God promises that he will bring his people back from exile to the very land they’re leaving (v. 17), and he promises to give them a new heart and a new spirit so that they would be able to obey his statutes and rules this time around (vv. 18–19). He refuses to finally forsake his children. Notice even as his presence is leaving the temple what a long process it is. He lingers at different points along the way, essentially acting as a visual demonstration of how he is literally “slow to anger” (Ex. 34:6). But also notice how extraordinary the promise of a new heart and a new spirit is compared to being brought back to the land. God is going to change his people from the inside out. The problem with the whole history of Israel all along has been that they were incapable of keeping God’s commands. They were depraved sinners all the way down to the core. But now, God is going to change that core. A new heart and a new spirit is code for God giving his people new life and filling them with the Holy Spirit, and along with that new life comes the power to keep his commands. This is the kind of new birth that we all must go through if we want to enter the kingdom of God and be saved (see John 3:1–8). God must do a sovereign work of grace inside of us to crucify the depraved, dead, stone-cold heart and replace it with living, beating, loving one. This is not something that you can do yourself; but, once God has done it, you never have to worry about losing it. How do you think this message would have been received by the exiles living in Babylon (v. 25)? What effect would it have had on them? What effect ought it to have on Christians and on you today? How can you further live into this new life of desiring God (v. 16b) and his laws (v. 20) rather than detestable things (v. 21)?