God Gives not only a Forehead of Flint But a Heart of Flesh

One of the driving themes of Ezekiel is that God will save a remnant of people in Israel. Among the many striking ways in which he did this occurred in chapter 5 when Ezekiel shaved his hair, both beard and head, burned a third portion, struck with the sword a third portion and scattered a third portion salvaging only a small amount out of each of those portions and then burning even a part of that.  Since they had been so unruly, “more turbulent than the nations that are all around you,” constantly generation after generation rejecting his laws and statutes, fulfillment of the promise of good to them must clearly come by a sovereign act of giving them a new heart. In order to show both the necessity and the pure grace of such an act, God showed Ezekiel the thorough corruption of the hearts of priests, princes, prophets, and people and their stupidly irrational attachment to idols. At the end of chapter 7, Ezekiel had seen the lamentable condition of those still in Jerusalem: “They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders. The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror” (7:26, 27a) That this is both their sin and their judgment becomes clear in what follows. The just severity with which God judges them shows that he is almighty and not to be trifled with, and again, the marvelous freeness of his gift of redemption to some. Chapter seven unfolds for Ezekiel a picture of the relentless pursuit of the people by divine wrath with such a mighty and thorough display of anger that none can conclude but that it is from God: “They shall know that I am the Lord.” (7:27b)


I. For the knowledge of the exiled elders of Judah, God showed to Ezekiel the spiritual causes of the judgment just detailed in chapter 7.

A. This vision lasts from chapter 8 through chapter 11 when Ezekiel’s attention again can be directed to the elders that had gathered: “And I told the exiles all the things that the Lord had shown me” (11:25).

B. The vision began with the coming of the symbol of Christ incarnate as seen in chapter 1. When he takes him to Jerusalem, he does it by the Spirit, a foreshadowing of the relation between Christ and the Spirit’s work under the covenant of redemption. (8:3) “The Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8, 13, 14).

C. Verse 3 and 4 – He summarized the upcoming vision by presenting the striking incongruity between the meaning of the Temple, that is, the presence of the glory of God, and the present practice in the Temple, the image that provokes to jealousy.

D. Verse 5-17 – The Spirit gave Ezekiel visions of increasingly provocative practices of idolatry, indicating their complete indifference to the revelation of which they had been recipients, the privilege of the redemptive symbols over which they were to be guardians, and an embracing of the soul-destroying superstitions of nature gods. Not only so, but their leadership had led to fraud, oppression, and violence in the land.

E. Among the abominations seen by Ezekiel, this one, “engraved on the wall all around, was every form of creeping things and loathsome beasts.” There in the place of the glory of God for Israel, they had degenerated into the dregs of paganism described by Paul in Romans 1:22, “They became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” Even in the presence of divine revelation, the sinfulness of man is such that he can descend to the most irrational and irreverent of loyalties.

F. Verse 18 – Thus the verdict, “My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity.”

(Note the juxtaposition of the words “cry in my ears with a loud voice.” (8:18b and 9:1) The first comes from Israel to God which he refused to hear. The second in 9:1 came from God to Ezekiel with the words of judgment. These words cried out by God, not those of Israel, would surely come to pass.)


II. Chapter 9 – While many are set forth for destruction according to divine justice, the remnant of Israel, those that mourn and groan over the abominations committed, are marked for preservation (9:3, 4). The job of executing the mark is given to “a certain man clothed in linen with a writing case at his loins” while many of the rest are executed.

A. As the executioners, 6 of them, arrive with their weapons of destruction, (1, 2), the One tasked with preservation, a man dressed in linen came for the purpose of preservation (3, 4)- God called forth six executioners and one man with a writing case. As the glory of the Lord begins its departure from the temple (3), anticipating its departure in chapter 10, the man with the writing case marks all the faithful so that the executioners will pass them by. When he has finished marking, the executioners go “after him” to accomplish their assigned task. This is reminiscent of the Passover in Egypt when the doorposts were marked with the blood of the sacrificed animal so that the death angel would pass over them. They are instructed to “kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark” (9:6). They started with the elders in the temple.

B. Ezekiel cries for the remnant of Israel, asking if God is determined to destroy even them, those who had received the mark. Before giving him an answer, God justified his action of such judgment and reiterated his vow not to have pity (9, 10). God does not have to apologize for his justice. Sinners warned, living in the presence of divine revelation all around them of varying degrees of detail (Romans 1:19-21) , nevertheless pursue their own death by their refusal to retain God in their knowledge.

C. Then the man in linen with the writing case returned, having accomplished his assignment, and said, “I have done as you commanded” (9:11). As Jesus said, “Of all those that thou hast given men, I have lost none,” even so this linen-clothed man accomplished his task of preservation, saving them from the wrath to come.


III. The glory of God now with great deliberation and with a manifestation of power, combined with displays of both glory and mystery, moves and commits the judgment of the city with fire to the man dressed in linen (10:6). This judgment, though it will come from the invasion of godless forces, nevertheless is determined in accordance with the holy purposes of God, even from between the cherubim. When the one that marked God’s people for protection returns in glory, he is authorized to appear in judgment with flaming fire (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). The glory of God was readied to depart from the temple (10:18, 19; 11:22, 23).


IV. In this position of manifest glory and at the point when departure of the divine glory from the house of worship in Jerusalem is initiated, the Spirit brought Ezekiel to observe another abomination (Chapter 11).

A. The civil leaders of the city who mock the words of the prophets, reject their message of quick judgment, proclaim their long term safety and mislead the inhabitants. Ezekiel is given a message of judgment and as he proclaimed it, one of the civil leaders, Pelatiah, died (13)

  1. Twenty-five men, political administrators, were gathered at the east gate of the Lord’s House. These were the leaders of the people and regularly rejected the words of the prophets who were prophesying that another wave of destruction was at hand that would bring to consummation the anger and judgment of God against the city (See Jeremiah 29:15-20).
  2. They said that danger was past and another invasion was far in the future, “It is not near.” Continue long-term provisions like building houses. We are as safe from outside invasion as meat is safe in the cauldron. Those who followed the words of the prophets did not resist the king of Babylon and he took them off, So they deserve it. But we have resisted and will continue to do so and we will be safe.
  3. In his vision in the Spirit, Ezekiel prophesied against the city and its leaders. God knew all their thoughts, their thoughts of self-reliance, of loathing the prophetic words of judgment, of supposed innocence in the matters that have brought upon the city divine wrath. The only safe ones now, so Ezekiel was to say, are those who already are dead. The caldron of the city walls can protect only them for they have no life to lose, but not those who deceive the people about the sure coming of the sword against them (10, 11). “This city will not be a pot for you.”
  4. The judgment will be so thorough that they will know that this is the promised judgment of the Lord against whose laws they have rebelled and whose prophets they have ignored and persecuted. The chose the supposed comfort of the message of the false prophets over the hard but true message of the demonstrably true prophets.
  5. As Ezekiel finished his prophecy, Pelatiah son of Benaiah died. This was a sign of the certainty of Ezekiel’s vision, an earnest of the coming invasion. The vision of it also shocked Ezekiel and he again asked if God’s intention is to destroy the remnant of Israel. Pelatiah had been spared in the preceding vision, but now, supposedly one who survived was struck down by the hand of God himself.

B. God told Ezekiel that others were ready for the experience of the judgment of God, including Ezekiel’s relatives (15).

  1. They assumed that the ones who were carried into captivity, sadly but in obedience to God’s own instructions, were now removed from the presence of God—“Go far from the Lord” (15). Those who refused to consent to the exile, so they taught, were the true heirs of God’s promises for they still were in Jerusalem. Matthew Henry paraphrases the speech: “Get you far from the Lord; we will have nothing to do with you. Unto us is this land given in possession, and you have forfeited your estates by surrendering to the king of Babylon, and we have thereby become entitled to them.”
  2. They neither believed nor heeded the words of Jeremiah, “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live! Why will you die, you and your people, by the sword, by the famine, and by pestilence, as the Lord has spoken against the nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?” (Jeremiah 27: 12, 13; 29:4-28). They felt secure and righteous in opposition to the clear command of God.

C. Instead, however, of those located physically in geographical Judah, the exiles who had obeyed the Lord found him to be a sanctuary for them (16).

  1. Theirs was not the physical presence of the temple, soon to be destroyed, but the spiritual presence of the Lord, in anticipation of Jesus’ words to the woman in Samaria (John 4:24, 25). Also, among his words to his disciples before his ascension were these, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthews 28:20).
  2. God renewed his promise to restore them to their land from the variety of places to which they had been removed in the exile (Verse 17; See Jeremiah 29:14; 30:1-3; 32:42-44). The exile would bring about a purifying of worship, an intensification of knowledge of and consent to the laws of God, and determination to be a pure people (Verse 18). “When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it.” We find this put into practice in Ezra 3:1-5; 8:35; 10:1-4; Nehemiah 8; 13.

D. In verses 19-20, God showed Ezekiel the necessary foundation of true worship, te moral and spiritual identification of those who are the Lord’s people.

  1. In order to have a people who are a chosen generation, a people of his own possession, a truly holy nation, and a peculiar people (1 Peter 2:23), God unfolded to Ezekiel his intention of giving a new heart to the remnant and of gathering his people from among the nations, removing the heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh to obey his statutes and delighting to be his people. This was an intention because it was a necessity.
  2. No restoration of pure worship and heart-obedience to the laws of God could be done apart from the renovation of the heart. Ezekiel states this again in 36:22-32. There is a similar word from the Lord about this necessary heart change in Jeremiah 31:31-37.
  3. The heart change of the returning exiles would be a prototype of the new covenant that would include just such a change among the Gentiles. This change, the new birth or regeneration, would be fundamental for Jesus’ building his church. “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, declares the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). This is in the background of Jesus’ statement to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. …On this rock I will build my church” Matthew 16:17, 18).
  4. Those upon whom God does not bring this heart change (“I will take the heart of stone our of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” 19), will nevertheless be held accountable for their love of abominations and they will be duly punished by the Lord (21). Grace alone saves; human sin damns.

E. The glory of the Lord departed the city (23, 23) and brought Ezekiel in his vision back to the elders that had gathered before him in exile (24). He told them what he had seen (25).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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