Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
Setting the Scene
Hearts can be tricky. I don’t mean our literal hearts beating in our chests, but our capacity for responding to God’s Word. When we hear a message from the Bible confronting sin we can either reject that message or agree with it. When we reject it, the Bible says we have a “hard heart.” But when we embrace God’s Word, we have a “soft heart.”
In the midst of Ezekiel’s second vision, he has witnessed Israel’s flagrant idolatry and hypocrisy in Jerusalem. As a direct consequence of that sin, he has also witnessed the glory of God departing from the Temple. This dramatic vision confronts spiritual complacency in all its forms. The Jews in exile with Ezekiel needed this warning: the end result of sin is judgment. We do too.
Have you noticed times when your heart was particularly hard? What was going in on your life? Perhaps the best examples would be before you became a Christian. God calls us to live one way, but why would we? We want what we want. Others around us worship other gods, why can’t we? So we stiff-arm the Lord.
In the conclusion to Ezekiel’s second vision, God underlines the seriousness of sin and its consequences. He also gives us a taste of his grace, even in light of such hypocrisy. In short, he describes what, or who, makes hard hearts soft.
Ezek. 11:1 The Spirit then lifted me up and brought me to the eastern gate of the LORD’s house, which faces east, and at the gate’s entrance were twenty-five men. Among them I saw Jaazaniah son of Azzur, and Pelatiah son of Benaiah, leaders of the people. 2 The LORD said to me, “Son of man, these are the men who plot evil and give wicked advice in this city. 3 They are saying, ‘Isn’t the time near to build houses? The city is the pot, and we are the meat.’ 4 Therefore, prophesy against them. Prophesy, son of man!”
Ezekiel sees Israel’s elders advising the people with wicked counsel. They were suggesting that everything was great—people should build houses because there was no threat. Scholars aren’t totally sure what the saying, “The city is the pot, and we are the meat” means, but it seems to be another statement affirming that they were safe and even prosperous. The reality, however, was the opposite. Due to their sin, judgment was coming their way. In this moment, Ezekiel is called to participate in the vision and prophesy against these leaders, confronting them on their sin.
Ezek. 11:5 Then the Spirit of the LORD came on me, and he told me, “You are to say, ‘This is what the LORD says: That is what you are thinking, house of Israel; and I know the thoughts that arise in your mind. 6 You have multiplied your slain in this city, filling its streets with them.
God commands Ezekiel to confront the reality of their sinful intentions and behavior. These “holy leaders” had facilitated murder for gain in Jerusalem.
Ezek. 11:7 “‘Therefore, this is what the Lord GOD says: The slain you have put within it are the meat, and the city is the pot, but I will take you out of it. 8 You fear the sword, so I will bring the sword against you. This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. 9 I will take you out of the city and hand you over to foreigners; I will execute judgments against you. 10 You will fall by the sword, and I will judge you at the border of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD. 11 The city will not be a pot for you, and you will not be the meat within it. I will judge you at the border of Israel, 12 so you will know that I am the LORD, whose statutes you have not followed and whose ordinances you have not practiced. Instead, you have acted according to the ordinances of the nations around you.’”
These hypocritical rulers thought they were safe in the city, but God affirms that they will be defeated and taken into exile. Many will be killed. God intends this judgment to teach Israel that he is the Lord, and his Law is the standard. Rather than act in faith-driven obedience, they lived just like the nations around them.
It’s so easy to go with the flow, to be influenced by culture rather than by God and his word. One of Satan’s ploys is to convince us that sin isn’t sin. This is why we must heed and cherish the word of God, even when it means going against the norms of our culture.
Ezek. 11:13 Now while I was prophesying, Pelatiah son of Benaiah died. Then I fell facedown and cried out loudly, “Oh, Lord GOD! You are bringing the remnant of Israel to an end!”
While Ezekiel is giving this prophetic message within the vision, one of the leaders fell down dead. Ezekiel realizes the severity of the situation and cries out for God’s mercy. If he continues, no one will be left!
In judgment, God shows himself to be glorious. By maintaining his righteous standard, God demonstrates that he will not tolerate evil. His character is at stake. But God hasn’t forgotten his promises, and he will preserve a remnant. God’s grace abounds.
Eek. 11:14 The word of the LORD came to me again: 15 “Son of man, your own relatives, those who have the right to redeem your property, along with the entire house of Israel—all of them—are those to whom the residents of Jerusalem have said, ‘You are far from the LORD; this land has been given to us as a possession.’
The Lord speaks to Ezekiel and recognizes the attitude of those who weren’t in exile (yet). They assumed that those taken in exile five years before were in sin, while those still in Jerusalem had been spared. That’s why the land was their “possession.” They were wrong.
Ezek. 11:16 “Therefore say, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says: Though I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.’
Exile was not the end of God’s protection. The Lord was still a sanctuary for his people even in Assyria or Babylon. The judgment of Israel due to the people’s sin didn’t negate God’s grace. The exiles needed to hear this. Perhaps they had fallen into the trap, believing what the people in Jerusalem were saying. Their hope wasn’t in insisting they were innocent; their hope was in God’s gracious commitment to fulfill his promises despite their sin.
Ezek. 11:17 “Therefore say, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’
Exile was not the end of God’s promises. Here God affirms that he would gather Israel again from the nations—Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, or anywhere else. He would once again give them the land promised to their forefather Abraham. Yes, those in exile would possess the inheritance once again.
Ezek. 11:18 “When they arrive there, they will remove all its abhorrent acts and detestable practices from it. 19 I will give them integrity of heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, 20 so that they will follow my statutes, keep my ordinances, and practice them. They will be my people, and I will be their God. 21 But as for those whose hearts pursue their desire for abhorrent acts and detestable practices, I will bring their conduct down on their own heads.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD.
The return to land would also be a spiritual revival. The people would tear down the idols. Why? Not because they figured it out, but because God would change their hearts. He would remove their stubborn, obstinate hearts of stone and give them beating hearts that would respond to his word. They will finally be his people. He will be their God.
But those who love idols, who refuse to repent, they would face God’s judgment. The Lord is gracious, but his grace cannot ignore sin. He makes a way for forgiveness, but only for those who humble themselves and put their faith in him. Ezekiel’s readers needed to consider the state of their hearts, as do we.
Ezek. 11:22 Then the cherubim, with the wheels beside them, lifted their wings, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. 23 The glory of the LORD rose up from within the city and stopped on the mountain east of the city. 24 The Spirit lifted me up and brought me to Chaldea and to the exiles in a vision from the Spirit of God. After the vision I had seen left me, 25 I spoke to the exiles about all the things the LORD had shown me.
Ezekiel’s second vision concludes with a dramatic vista: he sees the glory of God depart from Jerusalem. God’s exodus from the Temple, described in chapter 10, was now complete. After the vision, Ezekiel immediately shared it with the people in exile in Babylon. There should be no question as to why they were in exile and why Jerusalem would fall not long after: unrepentant sin.
The Big Picture
We must confront idolatry and hypocrisy in our hearts. We must refuse to be just like the world, just like our culture. The sad truth is that idolatry is deeply entrenched in our hearts. We often live like we have hearts of stone, impervious to God’s word.
What will take for us to get the message? We need a heart transplant. This vivid metaphor describes the stubborn idolatry of Israel. It applies just as well to us. In order for us to confess our sin, to admit our idolatry and hypocrisy, God must work a miracle and change our hearts.
The Apostle Paul uses similar language in Ephesians 2:1-5 where he describes people pre-conversion as “dead in our trespasses and sins.” So what changes? God “made us alive” together with Christ. God did something to us.
In one sense, Jesus’ ministry is performing heart surgery on sinners. People preach the good news that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead, and God by his power changes our hearts and we respond by faith. That change in heart is permanent, but many days we still resist. So we must constantly seek to walk by faith, to follow the Holy Spirit. We must reject a stubborn heart of unbelief as long as today is called today.
Taking It Home
The Spirit of God changes the hearts of people. He softens our hearts, bringing us to a place of repentance and faith. Israel’s hope in exile was that God was still their sanctuary, that he would bring them back to the land, and that he would change their hearts. This is our hope.
We see our need for God to change our hearts in two ways. First, this applies to our conversion. Recall the circumstances when you first responded to the gospel with repentance and faith. What happened? Who shared the gospel with you? How did you finally come to the place where you were ready to confess your sin? Now consider how God was active in changing your heart. How did you feel? How did you respond?
Second, this applies to our ongoing walk as Christians. In what ways does your heart show its old pattern of stubborn unbelief and idolatry? Be specific. We need to honestly appraise the way we think, speak, and act. We know our weak spots, and often we know exactly what God wants from us in those areas. So what will you do about it?
As we consider the totality of Ezekiel’s second vision, we must also read it as a warning. Those whose hearts are set after idols will reap what they have sown. Perhaps some in exile had thrown up their hands in frustration. Perhaps they fell prey to Babylon’s gods. Ezekiel’s vision was a warning to never be complacent, and to be on guard for hypocrisy. God had called Israel to vigilant faith in him. What about you? Are you on guard against hypocrisy? How?
Thankfully, confrontation isn’t the end of the prophet’s work. Ezekiel’s third vision focuses on the miraculous nature of spiritual life. He has confronted sin, now God grants him a glorious view into his saving work.
- Ask God to help you confess your sin and repent. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify pockets of resistance to his leadership.
- Ask God to keep your heart soft, responsive to his Spirit using his word. Ask him to send you a faithful brother or sister to walk with you, helping you love him more. Thank him for the church, and the ways that the church helps us see our sin.
- Praise God for his grace, evident in his mercy even to stubborn sinners like us. Praise Jesus for dying for our heard hearts, and for his work of making us alive in him! Praise God that we have hope every day because of his grace.