Ezekiel 36: A new heart (part one)

This is week three of a series in Ezekiel 33-37, about God’s promised reboot of his people. If you’ve just joined, you can either go to the start of the series, or simply begin the new chapter with us today.

On the 3rd of December, 1967, a team of doctors in South Africa performed the world’s first successful heart transplant. The recipient was a 53 year old man who was dying from chronic heart disease. He received his new heart from a young woman who died in a car accident, aged 25. They took out his old, dying heart—and put a new one in. And for 18 days the new heart functioned perfectly.

It probably would have for much longer, but the powerful anti-rejection drugs suppressed his immune system so much that he died from double pneumonia. But despite the outcome, the transplant itself was described as “successful”. The first of many successful heart transplants.

Except it wasn’t the first, metaphorically speaking. A few thousand years earlier, there was a dying patient named Israel. The people of God, whose collective heart had become hardened. Centuries of sin—of idolatry—had built up in their arteries, until their heart was no longer responsive to God.

Over the last two weeks we’ve seen how it got so bad that Israel was effectively dead. The only hope of life was the fact that God had hooked them up to a heart bypass in Babylon: a small group of exiles by the Kebar River, kept on spiritual life support by a prophet named Ezekiel. Israel’s old heart of stone had been taken out—and they were waiting for a new one to replace it. To restart; to reboot their life. Let’s look now at chapter 36.

The patient is prepped for surgery

God says to Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 36:1 “Son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel and say, ‘Mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord.'”

And you’re thinking, why is he talking to the mountains? Are the hills alive with more than just the sound of music?

Firstly, those mountains had seen a lot of stuff go down over the years. For a start, they’d been the scene of Israel’s idolatry—where they worshipped pagan gods and goddesses on the “high places.”

Secondly, the mountains were also the source of water. And whenever God’s people started trusting in these idols to provide for them, God says: “OK, I’ll leave you to it, then. Let’s see how that works out…” And the land ends up in drought. And the mountains are where he metaphorically turns off the tap and the rivers dry up.

Thirdly, to be quite frank, there was not a lot else left in Israel to talk to. The mountains are just about the only things that hadn’t been carried off to Babylon. So God speaks to his empty land.

Ezekiel 36:2 ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: The enemy said of you, “Aha! The ancient heights have become our possession.”‘

The nations around are mocking the land: God’s left his land empty. Let’s help ourselves to its resources.

Ezekiel 36:3-5 “Therefore prophesy and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because they ravaged and crushed you from every side so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations and the object of people’s malicious talk and slander, 4 therefore, mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign Lord: This is what the Sovereign Lord says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys, to the desolate ruins and the deserted towns that have been plundered and ridiculed by the rest of the nations around you — 5 this is what the Sovereign Lord says: In my burning zeal I have spoken against the rest of the nations, and against all Edom [Israel’s neighbours], for with glee and with malice in their hearts they made my land their own possession so that they might plunder its pastureland.'”

God’s about to take back his land:

Ezekiel 36:6-7 “Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel and say to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I speak in my jealous wrath because you have suffered the scorn of the nations… I swear with uplifted hand that the nations around you will also suffer scorn.'”

God wasn’t happy with his people. But he’s also not happy with the nations around for mocking them. For taking pleasure in their downfall. And worse—for coming in to his land and defiling it with their idols.

But since God’s going to restore his people into the land, he’s going to get the land ready for them. He’s prepping the patient for the new heart:

Ezekiel 36:8 “‘But you, mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home.'”

God’s turning the tap back on.

Ezekiel 36:9-12 “I am concerned for you and will look on you with favour; you will be ploughed and sown, 10 and I will cause many people to live on you—yes, all of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. 11 I will increase the number of people and animals living on you, and they will be fruitful and become numerous. I will settle people on you as in the past and will make you prosper more than before. Then you will know that I am the Lord. 12 I will cause people, my people Israel, to live on you. They will possess you, and you will be their inheritance; you will never again deprive them of their children.”

In sum, God’s restoring the honour of his mountains; his land:

Ezekiel 36:13-15 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because some say to you, “You devour people and deprive your nation of its children,” 14 therefore you will no longer devour people or make your nation childless, declares the Sovereign Lord. 15 No longer will I make you hear the taunts of the nations, and no longer will you suffer the scorn of the peoples or cause your nation to fall, declares the Sovereign Lord.'”

God’s rebooting his people. And the first step is to prepare the mountains to water his land. Because providing for his people is the sign of his blessing; the sign that he’s once more on their side.

To think about

God’s about to restore Israel. Does Israel deserve it?

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