Help Me, Lord!

Last time, I discussed monergism and synergism in Ezekiel. The issue gets thornier! Stay with me here.

In Ezekiel 20:33-38, there is another detail in Israel’s post-exilic restoration: God will bring the Israelites to the wilderness before he leads them to the Promised Land. The wilderness will be a place of judgment, where God will separate the wheat from the chaff. God will kill the rebels who transgress against him, while he will allow the others to enter the holy land. So there are righteous people and there are wicked people in the wilderness.

Here is the thorny part: God said that he would give the Israelites a new heart after they entered the holy land (Ezekiel 36:24-26). So how are there righteous people in the wilderness, before they have even entered it? Can a person be righteous without a new heart?

We know from the Bible that there is short term repentance. The Israelites repented under Hezekiah and Josiah, but they soon relapsed into their old ways. The people of Nineveh turned to God at the preaching of Jonah, but they became wicked again. That was why Nahum predicted their destruction. But, if a person has a new heart, will his or her repentance be short term? I do not think so. Last time, I said that God will give the Israelites a new heart so that they can dwell in the holy land forever; the implication is that they will obey God forever. A new heart means permanent repentance. But a person with an old heart can perhaps repent in a short term sense.

Another relevant issue: a person with a hard heart can cry out to God. In Isaiah 63:17, the Jews cry out, “Why, O LORD, do you make us stray from your ways and harden our heart, so that we do not fear you? Turn back for the sake of your servants, for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage.” Here, the Jews look at themselves and see sinful hearts. They cry out to God for a new beginning. Their prayer is similar to what David said in Psalm 51:10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”

Back to Ezekiel 20:33-38. Here is what I believe will distinguish the Israelites in the wilderness. One the one hand, there will be those who hate God and want nothing to do with his ways. God will destroy them. Other Israelites, however, will loathe their sin and desire a clean heart. On their own, they may not be able to practice righteousness consistently. They are like a recovering alcoholic who gets thirsty whenever he passes a tavern, or a man who resolves not to lust until a pretty woman suddenly walks by him. These Israelites are saying, “Lord, I cannot be righteous on my own. Temptation is out there. My nature is capricious. Paganism is in my system, and yet I see the destruction it has brought. I need your help!” And God helps them. He gives them a new heart.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Daily Quiet Time, Ezekiel, Ezekiel and Monergism, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.