A couple of weeks ago, I began posting portions of a paper I wrote for my Biblical Theology course titled, “That Times of Refreshing May Come: A Biblical Theology of Repentance.” This is the fifth installment of a multi-post series. The previous parts can be found at the following: parts one, two, three, and four. This one is on the prophets; I excluded Isaiah and Jeremiah and include only Ezekiel in this post.
A CALL TO RETURN / REPENT IN THE PROPHETS
Ezekiel’s 20-year prophetic ministry begins during the exile of Babylonians after their destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The Lord’s word to Ezekiel also diagnoses their fateful condition: “that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols” (Ezek 14:5). God had pronounced his judgment upon Israel, responding to their turning from him by turning from them: “When she carried on her whoring so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned in disgust from her sister” (Ezek 23:18). The terrible destruction of their city and their expulsion from their land – the land promised to them through Abraham – comes as a result of their turning from their covenant God.
However, Ezekiel 18 demonstrates both the consequence of their sin and the offer of forgiveness for those who repent and return to yhwh. The Lord’s word to Ezekiel affirms the consequence of those who choose disobedience outlined in Deuteronomy 30, namely death: “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek 18:20). But the offer to return in Deuteronomy 30 is also present in Ezekiel 18:
But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 21 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 22 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezek 18:21–23).
God does not desire that they perish in their state of rebellion in exile, with the curse of their iniquity remaining on their heads. God’s desire is for the people to choose life. And this life is available through their turning from their wicked ways to him. God’s call to repent comes through loudly at the climax of this chapter:
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 30 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 31 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live (Ezek 18:30–32; cf. Ezek 33:11).
The Lord’s promise to provide the house of Israel with a “new heart” and a “new spirit” (Ezek 36:26) and their return to the land comes upon this condition of their returning to him. The beautiful picture of restoration – namely, the valley of the dry bones – is a wonderful promise of the new life and new heart for those who repent and return. Their “backslidings” and transgressions will be cleansed and God will make a “covenant of peace” with his people (cf. Ezek 37:26).
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