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.