Ezekiel 39:21-29: Forgetting Shame

So I saw in my dream that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do, till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre where it fell in, and I saw it no more.
— John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

Have you ever considered how much past shame influences our current lives? It doesn’t take an average human being very long to remember something they’re ashamed of!

Here at the end of the Gog narrative, Ezekiel summed up everything by repeating the grand twin themes of exile (vv. 21-24) and redemption (vv. 25-29). Israel sinned so God delivered her into exile. God remembered his covenant, and restored his people. The one tiny phrase that leapt off the page when I read this section was in the restoration section:

“They shall forget their shame” (v. 26, NRSV).

. . .

There are a couple of grand statements in this redemptive passage I wanted to point out.

The first is found in v. 28: “I sent them into exile among the nations, and then gathered them into their own land. I will leave none of them behind” (NRSV).

On the surface, this sounds like a typical verse. Once you consider the implications, though, it’s very important. No other passage in the Old Testament states so clearly that everyone will return from exile. Even the stragglers. The leftovers.

When you watch war movies, you often hear the sentiment that no one gets left behind in a military operation. That’s what God’s saying here. He knows the depth of their sin: still, no one will gets left behind.

. . .

The second is found in v. 29: “when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel” (NRSV)

Ezekiel has developed a characteristic way of describing God’s judgment. It is šāpak hămātî, “I will pour out my wrath”. What makes v. 29 so powerful is evident in Hebrew. Instead of šāpak hămātî, we see šāpak rûhî. Instead of “I will pour out my wrath,” we find “I will pour out my Spirit”.

What a relief.  Can you imagine hearing these words for the first time? Do you think Ezekiel delivered them slowly?  “I . . . will . . . pour . . . out . . . my . . . [no!, not again!] . . . Spirit [phew].” The merciful turn of phrase would not have been lost on the hearers.

Just how that Spirit outpouring would reshape Israel is laid out in the last 9 chapters of Ezekiel. We’re through with Gog now. Starting in chapter 40 we’ll look at the new Temple, the new Torah, and the new Land, and the new City.

None of that is possible without leaving past shame behind to embrace the promise of God’s Spirit.

. . .

Do we live in the light of these promises—no one left behind, and the replacement of wrath with Spirit—or do we hold on to the shame of past failure?

When we live from our shame, it prevents us from enjoying grace. It places a wall between our conscience and real freedom. It hinders our ability to accept the influence of God’s Spirit. It insults the cross.

I’ll finish with Mike Knott’s take on grace, works, and freedom:

Striving for the answer
Fighting for the streets of gold
Hope you’re not forgotten
You wonder if you’ve killed your soul
I’ve heard the words of judgment but
Not from the one I know

It falls down on me
It falls down on you
Grace falls free
The proud feel the need to work the loom
Yet grace falls free
—L.S.U. (Grace Shaker, 1994)

. . .

Almighty God, release me from my shame like you’ve released me from sin. Set me free to respond to your Spirit’s call. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 39:17-20 | Uncouth Cad

Ezekiel 40:1-4 | Half Way There >

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One Response to Ezekiel 39:21-29: Forgetting Shame

  1. Robin October 27, 2014 at 8:56 am #

    This call to shame (Ez. 6:9; 20:43; 36:31) and release from it (Ez. 39:26) is interesting. I can see how Christians can interpret this to mean that we should only feel shame once, and that is at “first contact” with salvation. From then on, there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1,2).

    Do we still sin after we accept God’s gift of salvation? Will shame again play a part in our lives? I’ve seen plenty of Christians struggling with this, as if they’re not supposed to feel shame for a wrong they’ve committed since conversion. They stuff it down, only to have it rear its ugly head again at the most inconvenient of times.

    In reading the Book of Ezekiel and many other instances throughout the entire Bible, I see many examples of recurrent shame and repentance in the life of one person, before and after their initial dedication to the Lord. Take Simon Peter, for example.

    Christians still sin. As long as we are in the flesh, we will break God’s law and we need to recognize that sin for what it is, confess it to God and to each other (James 5:16), deliberately turn away from it and follow God. Legitimate shame is not something to be “ashamed” of in the Christian’s life. I remember the song “Stranger to Holiness” by Steve Camp:

    Looks like the boy’s in trouble again
    Living much too close to the edge of sin
    Now he finds himself where he should not have been
    Oh, God, why is your peace so hard to find
    And the answer to the questions that haunt my mind?
    Oh, Lord, your ways are not like mine

    And it pounds like thunder within my breast
    All the anger, all my humanness
    And though I call you Lord, I must confess
    I’m a stranger to your holiness
    A stranger to your holiness

    Can we really be what we were meant to be?
    Jesus people, living by the Spirit, living free
    My heart longs to serve, but wanders so aimlessly
    Oh Lord, you deserve every part of me.

    Hear my cry of desperation
    As I see the wickedness of my ways
    You alone are my salvation
    And, Lord, I’ve learned this one thing to be true Is that the closer I get to you
    I see I’m a stranger to your holiness

    Don’t stop loving the stranger

    That perfection of God’s strength in our weakness of which Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 is not an excuse to be jerks for Christ, but it is our turning all we are over to the Lord, our weaknesses and strengths, our Ishmael’s and Isaac’s, and letting his will overtake ours, letting his Spirit fill and animate us. Everything good in us is not from ourselves; it is from God (Eph. 2:8, 9).

    The irony in this perpetual admission of our weakness and acknowledgement of and surrender to the sovereign strength of our God is that the resultant freedom and joy of calling this giant spade a spade becomes our strength (Neh. 8:10). What is of us is not good (Rom. 7:18), but “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).

    Even as Christians, we will fall. When we give our sin to the Lord, he wipes it out and, by the power of his Spirit, he also removes our shame. When our eyes are on the Lord and not on ourselves, we find that, by God’s power, those sins are fewer and farther between. Like Peter walking on the water to Jesus, as long as our eyes are on him and not the sea around us, we will not sink.

    I end with this:

    “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

    “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:7-14).

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