The quickest way to the heart is through a wound.
— John Piper (Desiring God)
God wanted nothing less for Israel than to give them a new heart. God demanded to be the sole object of Israel’s affection. He would settle for nothing less than all.
Israel was wounded. The foremost prophet of God questioned whether there would be anyone left in Israel when the judgment was finally over. In the midst of God’s punishments, utter genocide looked like the only outcome! But again, God offers hope. God will gather up his people—stony hearts and all—and restore his covenant with them. This covenant is described as three gifts.
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In Hebrew, heart is “the richest biblical term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature” (TWOT). Heart refers to far more than the organ that pumps blood through our flesh. It is the deepest part of us—our inner desires and longings.
God promised to give the returning exiles “one heart”. This is far different from the way they left Jerusalem. In the past, they had dual or divided hearts. One heart wanted to serve Yahweh, their true God, while their other heart wanted to serve other gods like Baal. Is this starting to sounds like the state of our hearts today?
When the exiles would return to Israel (and remove all the idols as God had commanded), God would give them one heart—a heart for Yahweh alone. It’s also interesting to note that while Israel was to purge the false gods from their city, only God could give them the one heart. People could deal with the externals, but only God could deal with the inside.
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In addition to their single heart, God promised the remnant a new spirit. Spirit is one of the most common words in the Hebrew Bible. It can refer to everything from God’s Spirit to plain old wind that sweeps across the land.
Ezekiel saw the Spirit of God moving between the wheels supporting God’s throne. That Spirit had entered him and stood him on his feet when he fell before God like a dead man. Now God is promising that Spirit to all the exiles.
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heart of flesh
Finally, God promises to perform heart surgery on the returning exiles. He will remove their fossilized heart of stone, and replace it with a living heart of flesh. Not only will the heart be undivided, it will be sensitive to whatever God speaks to it.
This new heart will enable them to obey Yahweh. There is a great truth here that the reformers latched onto. We are unable to obey God, until he gives us a new heart.
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God summed these promises up with one statement: “They shall be my people, and I shall be their God” (v. 20, NRSV). That said, God left Jerusalem.
The presence of God lifted off the ark of the covenant in chapter 9. It moved over to the east gate in chapter 10. Now, God’s presence leaves the city and pauses over the mountain east of the city. After God offered hope to the exiles, he left his city. Having left from the eastern side of the city, could he be on his way to Babylon?
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Lord God, develop in me those gifts you promised to the exiles: an undivided heart, a new spirit, and a heart of flesh. In Jesus’ name, Amen.