Monday, March 24, 2008

My inability/God's ability: Ezekiel 11:14-21

For my undergrad class on the prophets, this week’s exegesis was on Ezekiel 11:14-21, pitting the self-righteous Jerusalemites against the exiles in Babylon. The more I read, the richer this text became. Several things particularly struck me.

The word of the Lord through Ezekiel for the exiles is one of overwhelming grace. Ezekiel was at the point of despair in verse 13, asking if the remnant were to be destroyed. This passage full of mercy, love and grace is God’s answer. The remnant in exile (verses 19-20) “will be renewed spiritually, so … they will be God’s obedient people … from the heart … an echo of Jeremiah’s New Covenant idea (Jer. 31:31-34).[1] That renewal is wrought “by virtue of an unanticipated and unmerited act of grace.”[2] God will: regather them (v.17a), restore them to the land (v.17b), cleanse the land of abominations (v. 18), and fulfill a new covenant with them (vv. 19-20).[3]

The remnant and true sanctuary being with the exiles corresponds to the true circumcision in the Gentile church (Rom 2:29; Phil 3:2-3). A new heart of flesh foreshadows God’s work through Christ (Rom 2:15, 29; 2 Cor 3:3; Gal 4:6; Eph 3:17 etc.). Grace’s echoes resound as God makes his people new in Ezekiel 11:18-21, a reminder of our inability to merit God’s favor because “A new Israel will arise only through a new creation”[4] (2 Cor 5:17).

Our inability makes room for God’s ability. Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, on being made holy, states:

I believe that in my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith…[5]

[1] Gordon McConville, A Guide to the Prophets, Exploring the Old Testament, vol. 4 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 90.

[2] Joseph Blenkinsopp, Ezekiel, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, eds. James Luther Mays and Patrick D. Miller (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 64.

[3] Ralph H. Alexander, Ezekiel, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 6, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 793.

[4] Bruce Vawter and Leslie J. Hoppe, A New Heart: A Commentary on the Book of Ezekiel, International Theological Commentary, eds. Frederick Carlson Holmgren and George A. F. Knight (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), 75.

[5] Martin Luther, “The Small Catechism,” in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 1162.

The Bible. New International Version.

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