John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer,
2014; Southern Bapti...
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06.15.14.god.just.ez.18.commentary

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Commentary on Ezekiel 18.

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Transcript of "06.15.14.god.just.ez.18.commentary"

  1. 1. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 1 June 15, 2014. Session 3—God Is Just. Commentary. Ezekiel 18:21-24, 30-32 The Point: God is always just. The Bible Meets Life: When we are wronged by others, our typical response is to call for justice. However, when we are the ones who have committed the wrong, we cry for mercy. We demand fairness, but we define fairness based on what we want. God is fair, in the sense that His justice holds everyone equally accountable for their actions. God is completely just, but He is also merciful, showing mercy to those who choose to turn to Him. The Passage: Ezekiel 18:21-24, 30-32 The Setting: The prophet Ezekiel ministered during some of the darkest days of Israel’s history: the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians and the subsequent exile of the people. Chapter 18 addresses the responsibility of all the people to respond to the message of the Lord. God is just and does not allow the righteousness or unrighteousness of one person to dictate another person’s relationship with Him. All are responsible for their own sin. Individual Accountability. (Ezekiel 18:1-32) : God’s people were quoting a proverb that suggested they were suffering unjustly for the sins of earlier generations. The Israelites were quoting a proverb that suggested they were suffering unjustly for the sins of earlier generations. Ezekiel 18:1 and 3: “The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “the parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?” The Lord corrected their faulty thinking. He always preserves the righteous and opposes the wicked, regardless of the moral status of their fathers. 3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die. He always preserves the righteous and opposes the wicked, regardless of the moral status of their fathers.
  2. 2. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 2 To illustrate His point the Lord described a hypothetical righteous man who repudiates idolatry, adultery, and injustice. Such a man can be assured of divine protection. However, if this man has an idolatrous, adulterous, unjust son, this evil child will be destroyed despite his father’s righteousness. Again, if this wicked man has a son who is righteous, that son will not be held accountable for his father’s evil deeds. Instead, like his grandfather, his life will be preserved by the Lord. Each man is judged on the basis of his own deeds, not those of his father. The lesson for Israel was obvious. If they were experiencing divine judgment, it had to mean that they, like their fathers, were evil. Rather than complaining that God is unjust, they had to repent and turn from their wicked ways, for God desired that they live, not die. Biblical Interpretation. This brings us to a major question of how we should interpret the Old Testament in light of the New. For our purposes here, are those Old Testament concepts of right and wrong controlling on those who live this side of the Cross? This depends upon your view of how God deals with people during the historical Biblical period, IE, from Creation to the “End of the age” – Time, as we know it. Unless you have done personal deep theological study, your historical view will probably be influenced by what you have been taught. All Protestant denominations and their theology were, of course highly influenced by the Reformation and its theology. As you will remember, the Reformation did not start out to create a new way of interpreting the Bible, but rather to “clean up” the unbiblical practices of the existing Catholic Church. Martin Luther’s phrase was sola scriptura, “only the Bible.” In other words, let the Bible speak for itself to you and do not be concerned with what all those who went before you said. This though, led to new methods or models of Biblical interpretation.  1 The Covenantal model: This model is often referred to as the “Reformed Model.” Of it, one could say, “we differentiate between the various contracts that God has made with his people; specifically their provisions, their parties and their purposes." This model, first to take form during the Reformation, viewed the Bible as a statement of several Covenants that God made with Man. Covenant theologians see the fulfillment of the promises to Israel in the person and the work of the Messiah who established the church in organic continuity with Israel, and “fulfilled” all the demands of the law. The English “Particular Baptists,” of which Spurgeon was numbered, held these views. 1 This portion is compiled by the Editor.
  3. 3. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 3 Covenant theology is often referred to as “Supercessionism or “Replacement Theology by its detractors, due to the perception that it teaches that God has abandoned the promises made to the Jews and has replaced the Jews with Christians as his chosen people in the earth. Under this view, the demands of the Old Testament would not bind the New Testament Christian. Rather, the “New Commandment” that Jesus gave, “love,” covers all the Christian’s duties. Calvinism is a feature of this model of interpretation. It is most prevalent in Presbyterian and other conservative Reformed churches that hold to the model established in the Reformation period. Presbyterian and other Reformed seminaries, including Moody Institute (“generally” according to its precepts,) would stress this view. Its current teachers include John MacArthur and (perhaps) John Piper.  The Dispensational model or The Chronometrical Principle lies in contradistinction to the Covenantal model. It developed later. Of it, one could say, “during different periods of time, God has chosen to deal in a particular way with man in respect to sin and man's responsibility." This model was developed by Darby in the mid-1800s and popularized by then by the congregation of the Brethren and later by J.I Scofield in his extremely popular and widely read late 19th Century-early 20th Century study Bible. This is one upon which I was raised. The successor to Scofield was probably Charles Ryrie, as Dallas graduate as are J. Vernon McGee, Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah and Andy Stanley. The Dispensationalist sees Israel and Christians as two separate and distinct groups, each governed by their own Covenant. Estimates of the number of followers of Dispensationalist beliefs vary between 5 and 40 million in the United States. Dispensationalism was very popular among Baptists in the early to mid 20th Century. Furthermore, some have argued that Dispensationalism has had a major influence on the foreign policy of the United States. This influence has included continued support for the state of Israel. Dallas Theological Seminary teaches these views.  The New-Covenantal model: This model blends both of the two views supra. Under New Covenant Theology, the Old Testament Laws have been fulfilled and abrogated or cancelled with Christ's death, and replaced with the Law of Christ of the New Covenant, although many of the Old Covenant laws are reinstituted under the New Covenant.
  4. 4. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 4 New Covenant Theology is a more recently expressed Christian theological view of redemptive history that claims that all Old Covenant laws have been cancelled in favor of the Law of Christ or New Covenant law of the New Testament. Its roots go back to the First London Baptist Confession of Faith (1646 edition.) The view grows from teachings of the “General Baptists” in England and the Netherlands. The views can be summarized as the ethical expectation found in the New Testament. New Covenant Theology does not reject all religious law; they only reject Old Covenant law. New Covenant Theology is in contrast with other views on Biblical law in that most other views do not hold that the Ten Commandments and Divine laws of the Old Covenant have been cancelled. New Covenant theologians see the Law of Christ or New Testament Law as actually including many of the Divine Laws, thus, even though all Old Covenant laws have been cancelled, many have been renewed under the Law of Christ. This is a conclusion similar to older Christian theological systems on this issue, in that some Old Covenant laws are seen as still valid or renewed, but this conclusion is reached in a different way. Detractors have criticized New Covenant Theology for proposing that the Ten Commandments have been cancelled. On the issue of the law, Dispensationalism is most similar to New Covenant Theology but their core belief is that the age of the Old Covenant is in the past, not that it has simply been cancelled. Rather, New Covenant Theology rejects the idea that the Bible can be divided into dispensations or ages. Many late 20th and 21st Century Southern Baptist Churches would be described as New Covenantal, though Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary, the “flagship seminary” of Southern Baptists, is a strong Calvinist and thus would hold basic Covenantal beliefs. Ezekiel 18:21-23 21 “Now if the wicked person turns from all the sins he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is just and right, he will certainly live; he will not die. 22 None of the transgressions he has committed will be held against him. He will live because of the righteousness he has practiced. 23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. “Instead, don’t I take pleasure when he turns from his ways and lives?
  5. 5. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 5 Ezekiel prophesied in Babylon where God’s people were exiled because of their sins. Ezekiel 18 opens with a proverb concerning the land of Israel; “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (18:2). Here, the cause (fathers eating sour grapes, a metaphor for sinning) leads to the effect (children’s teeth set on edge, a metaphor for judgment). The proverb insinuated God punished one generation of Hebrews for the sins of previous generations. Minimally, the proverb implied injustice on God’s part. He prompted Ezekiel to discredit this false notion. Ezekiel did so by declaring God is always just. In session 1, we discovered that the mighty King (God) loves justice. We defined justice as the equitable treatment of all people. In this session, we examine how God administers justice to His people. In 18:21-23, we focus on how God deals with those who fail to conform to His standards because of personal sin. God is just in His response to the unrighteous who repent. This truth enables us to understand God better. Ezekiel focused on the case of a sinner, a wicked person. The term wicked would apply to each and every human being, since the Scriptures teach all have sinned. How would a just God deal with the wicked? The obvious answer is found in two prior verses in this chapter (18:4b,20a), “The person who sins is the one who will die.” The phrase the one who will die is emphatic in Hebrew. The result of sin is certain death. Yet, in 18:21, we find a different scenario being presented, not one of certain death, but rather one of potential life. Ezekiel wrote, “Now if the wicked person turns from all the sins he has committed.” This statement forms the conditional part of a great theological declaration; because of His love, God provides an escape from spiritual death. The verb rendered turns often conveys the idea repent. In view is a full “about-face” morally, spiritually, physically, and socially with regard to one’s actions. In order for the wicked to satisfy this condition, he must turn away from self-serving ways characterizing his way of living, and turn toward the God-given, others-serving way prescribed in the Law of Moses. When the wicked keeps God’s statutes, doing what is just and right, he is conforming to God’s prescription for life. In fact, statutes renders a Hebrew term meaning something prescribed. With just and right, Ezekiel paired two important terms. To be just, a person had to treat neighbors equitably, showing neither preference toward social superiors nor disrespect toward social inferiors—not showing partiality or prejudice, irrespective of any external distinctions such as race, education, or gender. Even more, the just person lives to ensure the rights of others. Unlike the wicked who lives for self-gratification, the just lives to serve others, to reflect the character of God who Himself is just. To be right, a person deliberately had to mold his life to God’s prescribed manner of living as set forth in His Word.
  6. 6. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 6 Ultimately, we can adapt only with the aid of God’s empowering Spirit; in the final analysis, we all fall short. Ezekiel however was stressing the possibility of life in spite of one’s having been wicked. When the wicked turns, “he will certainly live; he will not die.” The literal Hebrew places a strong emphasis on living, “living he shall live.” When set side-by-side with he will not die, the emphasis is magnified. Ezekiel then stated the full implications of life for the wicked should they repent. He declared, “None of the transgressions he has committed will be held against him.” The term transgressions referred to any deliberate misdeeds and rebellions against God’s prescribed norms. Will be held against is literally will be remembered. The idea is that God deliberately chooses not to remember human rebellions once people turn from their sins. Instead of the certain death prescribed for all sinners, the wicked person who turns from sin will live because of the righteousness he has practiced. A superficial reading might lead to the errant view that one is saved by doing good works. However, Ezekiel did not intend to suggest such an idea. The key is to understand correctly the term righteousness. In this context, righteousness does not refer simply to good deeds a person might do. Rather righteousness refers to specific deeds prescribed by God in His Law as normative for His people. The term carries the idea of willfully conforming to God’s norms or standards. The important aspect to note is righteousness is on God’s terms, not ours. The qualifying phrase he has practiced is important. Righteousness which remains in the “intentions” phase profits no one; only when God’s follower actually has practiced His works do others benefit. The promise attending to adapting one’s life to God’s norms is that such righteousness will enable the person to live. Thus the statement, he will live because of the righteousness he has practiced stands as a promise to everyone who would turn from sin and adapt to God’s ways. The Lord strengthened His stance on life being available even to those who had sinned. He employed two rhetorical questions (18:23). The first question asked if God took pleasure in the death of the wicked. The expected answer was no. God is just precisely because He requires death for those who rebel against Him. Yet, He holds out the potential of life even to the wicked, if they repent.
  7. 7. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 7 Before Ezekiel shared the second rhetorical question, he inserted a statement; “This is the declaration of the Lord GOD.” This assertion elevated the conversation above human opinion to the point of revealing God’s character. For Ezekiel, what God said always took precedence. The second rhetorical question demanded an affirmative answer. When God asked, “Instead, don’t I take pleasure when he turns from his ways and lives?” He expected His people to say yes. The key concept in this positive question is the phrase turns from his ways. Once again, the Hebrew word for turns means to repent. In addition, the word ways refers to actions which stand in opposition to God’s ways. As we study the proposition “God is just,” we learn human sin deserves death. Yet, God’s love holds out the potential for life. This possibility for life follows repentance, an act necessary to satisfy God’s holiness. Ezekiel 18:24 24 But when a righteous person turns from his righteousness and practices iniquity, committing the same detestable acts that the wicked do, will he live? None of the righteous acts he did will be remembered. He will die because of the treachery he has engaged in and the sin he has committed. In the previous passage, Ezekiel dealt with the promise of life for any wicked person who repented from his evil ways. What happens when the opposite scenario occurs? What does it mean when a righteous person begins to do unjust and abominable things like the wicked person does? I believe the life God gives through faith in Jesus is a gift that lasts for time and eternity. Did Ezekiel argue against this doctrine of “once saved, always saved” by intimating a righteous person could lose his salvation by practicing iniquity? The answer is no. The problem lies in comparing apples to oranges. In the Old Testament, the covenant community deemed a person righteous based on his conformity to God’s written laws. No one could know the person’s heart, motives, or sincerity. In the New Testament, salvation is explicitly stated to be “by grace through faith,” and “not from works” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In the Old Testament, covenant members who did not conform to God’s laws or statutes threatened the security and identity of the community itself. We find a similar phenomenon in Acts 5:1-11. However, the key difference is for Old Testament members of the community of faith, there was little and vague anticipation of life after death. They thought in terms of maintaining God’s blessings, the greatest of which was life itself, but life lived in this world. The New Testament concept of eternal life would have been largely foreign to Ezekiel’s readers.
  8. 8. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 8 Does this mean saved people today can get by with sin? No. Even believers will be recompensed according to their actions (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). Does this mean Christians lose their salvation when they sin? No. Even believers are subjected to weaknesses of the flesh. Believers will fall short of God’s glory, but sin will never characterize the lives of true believers. Thus, the unsaved are judged because of sin and unbelief; the saved are judged based on faith in Christ. Since this is an eternal gift, the only issue to be settled for saved people is their stewardship of the life and gifts God has given them. As believers, we must give an account of the lives we live and we will be rewarded accordingly. Thus the key to understanding Ezekiel 18:24 is to view the verse as the opposite side of the coin of repentance. When the wicked man turns/repents, he will live; but on the other hand, when the righteous man turns (same Hebrew word) away from righteousness, he will die. The concept is simple, straightforward Hebrew theology: in order to live a long life on this earth, one needed to conform to God’s norms; death was the just reward for all who turned from righteousness to live in sin and iniquity. No rainy day fund existed whereby past works of righteousness could cover current acts of evil. Ezekiel employed several terms to depict the sinful life: iniquity, detestable acts, treachery, and sin. From the standpoint of the covenant community, any person practicing such behaviors was destined to die. Sin was viewed as a shortcut to death. In turn, death was viewed as God’s just sentence on the wicked. God is just in how He responds to the seemingly righteous person who rebels. Every person chooses either the way of life or the way of death; nothing could be more just. Ezekiel 18:30-32 30 “Therefore, house of Israel, I will judge each one of you according to his ways.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. “Repent and turn from all your transgressions, so they will not be a stumbling block that causes your punishment. 31 Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, house of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. “So repent and live! Though the sinner never deserves a reprieve, God none-the-less offers restoration. We are to respond to God’s justice with repentance and a heart of loving devotion. The Lord concluded His rebuttal to their proverb, “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (18:2), with several assertions. First, each person will be judged according to his ways.
  9. 9. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 9 Ezekiel covered every scenario possible in 18:5-20 to reinforce the point God is just and only the one who sins will die. In 18:5-9, God guaranteed the righteous man would live precisely because he faithfully followed God’s statutes (18:9a). In 18:10-13, God promised death to the wicked son of the righteous man because of his detestable acts (18:13b). Finally, in 18:14-17, God assured the righteous son of the wicked man would live, not dying “for his father’s iniquity” (18:17b). Ezekiel summarized his point in 18:20: “The person who sins is the one who will die.” God’s second assertion was that repentance could prevent a rebellious person from being punished. Transgressions renders a Hebrew word reflecting deliberate violation of a known boundary or willful violation of a known authority. As such, transgressions are the exact opposite of righteousness, willfully adapting one’s life to God’s ways. Those who rebelled and refused to repent allowed their transgressions to become a stumbling block causing their own punishment. Stumbling block referred to an obstacle or hindrance of any kind. Punishment reinforces the idea that the retribution people received was the harvest of the sinful seeds they sowed. Through repentance, transgressions are removed and are no longer obstacles. God’s third assertion was that a new heart and a new spirit were available for all who repented. The important aspect of this verse is the double imperatives used. The first imperative commanded sinners to throw off all their transgressions. The second imperative was for them to get themselves a new heart and a new spirit. By this double command, God was issuing an invitation to life and a warning of death. Obedience resulted in life; disobedience resulted in death. Those obeying God, deciding to throw off their transgressions, would get a new heart and a new spirit (see Ezekiel 36:26 for similar language). Ezekiel had spoken earlier of God giving His people “one heart” and putting a “new spirit” within them (11:19). However, those disobeying God would stumble over those transgressions for the rest of their lives. Worse yet, non-repentant sinners could not get a new heart and a new spirit necessary to live a God-pleasing life. This prospect caused God anguish: “Why should you die, house of Israel.” Though death is the guaranteed outcome of a misspent life, God does not desire such for anyone. His justice demands satisfaction for sin, in the form of either death to the unrepentant or life to the repentant. God’s final assertion concerned His own displeasure with a sinner’s death. God stated, “For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death.” The phrase in Hebrew is literally “in the death of the one dying.” The distinction is important because it portrays life without God as “dying.”
  10. 10. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 10 Thus, unrepentant sinners not only face death in the ultimate sense, they are dying every day, a sort of living death. This final assertion was underscored by Ezekiel’s statement, “This is the declaration of the Lord GOD” (see also 18:3,9,23,30). As noted in the comments on 18:23, this assertion elevated the conversation beyond human opinion to the point of revealing God’s character. God’s displeasure in the rebel’s death found positive expression in the final invitation. This time God commanded his people to repent, a parallel to the prior command to throw off their transgressions. To avoid a living death, rebels had to repent from their sins and turn back to God. He also commanded them to live, a parallel to the prior command to get a new heart and a new spirit. Though repent and live are both commands, they express a single directive. The use of the double imperative placed a divine urgency on Ezekiel’s readers. The only opportunity rebels had to repent was the present one. God guaranteed none of them a prospect of repentance later. LIVE IT OUT How will you respond to God’s justice? Choose grace, not guilt. Write on a piece of paper something in your life for which you have asked for God’s forgiveness but still fight against guilt. Then write Jeremiah 31:34 on the same paper. Say this verse aloud to yourself, and make it goal to memorize it this week. Confess this truth to the Lord every day. Then throw away the paper at the end of the week, and live in the freedom from guilt found in Christ. Pray for an enemy. Pray every day by name for a person you know who you think is “getting off the hook.” Give that person over to God and His justice while you ask God to develop compassion and empathy in you. Close the gap. Do what people see on the outside match up with what God sees on the inside? Work with a fellow believer to hold each other accountable in areas of integrity where you each struggle. Talk and pray with each other at least twice per month. Be sensitive to how God is working in your lives. You may be experiencing unfair circumstances in your life, but rest in the fact that God is always just and He always delivers. Whether in this life or the next, God’s justice will prevail.
  11. 11. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 11 DIGGING DEEPER: THE SETTING: Ezekiel was among a group a thousands, including King Jehoiachin, taken from Judah into exile in Babylon in 597 BC. His prophetic call came some five years later. Therefore, his prophecy may have been composed in Babylon. Initially his message cautioned his fellow exiles against false hope that Jerusalem would be spared and they might return home. He denounced Judah’s sin against God and warned of judgment. He encouraged them that though they were in exile, they had not been abandoned by God. God would restore them, reunite the kingdom, and destroy their enemies, but in His own time. Therefore, Ezekiel’s message ultimately was one of hope and encouragement. In chapter 18 Ezekiel sought to clarify a gross misunderstanding about God’s exercise of judgment. The people complained that God was unfair in His administration of justice. They had become convinced that the judgment they were facing was because of the sins of their ancestors. They cited an ancient proverb that said “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (1:2). Ezekiel offered a corrective, God does not punish the innocent for the sins of others. So not only were the people misrepresenting God, they also were failing to accept that the punishment that had come down on them was not a result of their forefathers’ sins; it was because of their own. They claimed innocence; God declared them guilty. The verses at the heart of this session focus attention on individual accountability for sin. Only as each person acknowledged his sin and chose the way of the Lord could the nation be changed. This continues to be a vital message for our day given the struggles that are taking place in broken families, fractured churches, and a fragmented society. God’s judgment is executed according to the choice of the individual, whether to live in wickedness or righteousness. Through the prophet, the Lord urged each person to confess and repent of his sin, choose righteousness, and thereby receive the life God gives. That is what give God great pleasure. In this session, we will be reminded that God is always just and filled with mercy toward those who turn to Him. Just: Morally right and fair. Appropriate or deserved. (Of an opinion or appraisal) well founded. Justice: Just behavior or treatment. The quality of being just. Tithe administration of the law or authority in maintaining this. A judge or magistrate.
  12. 12. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 12 2 Justice is usually pictured as a lady wearing a blindfold and carrying scales in one hand and a sword in the other. The origin may be Themis, a Greek mythological goddess. In depictions of her, she carries the scales of justice in one hand and a sword in the other, her eyes covered. She became an oracle at Delphi, and became known as a goddess of divine justice. As they frequently did, the Romans co-opted this goddess and named her Justitia. She always wore a blindfold. She had been depicted with sword and scales, but was not always so. Representations of the Lady of Justice in the Western tradition occur in many places and at many times. She sometimes wears a blindfold, more so in Europe, but more often, she appears without one. She usually carries a sword and scales. Usually draped in flowing robes, mature but not old, no longer commonly known as Themis, she symbolizes the fair and equal administration of the law, without corruption, avarice, prejudice, or favor. They components, blindfold, scales and sword are fairly obvious. Bring someone to justice - to arrest and try someone in court for a crime. To do oneself justice perform as well as one is able. To do someone/thing justice treat or represent with due fairness. Fair: Treating people equally. Just or appropriate in the circumstances. In a fair manner. Fair and square - 1. With absolute accuracy. 2. Honestly and straightforwardly. EZEKIEL (E zee' kih ehl): Personal name meaning, “God will strengthen.” A sixth-century B.C. prophet during the Babylonian Exile, son of Buzi (1:3), and priest as well as prophet. He was taken captive to Babylon in 597 B.C. by King Nebuchadnezzar along with King Jehoiachin and 10,000 others, including political and military leaders and skilled craftsmen (2 Kings 24:14-16). He lived in his own house at Tel-Abib near the river Chebar, an irrigation canal that channeled the waters of the Euphrates River into the surrounding arid region. Ezekiel’s call came in 593 B.C., the “thirtieth year” (1:1), probably Ezekiel’s age (though it has been interpreted as 30 years since the discovery of the law book in 622, 30 years since Jehoiachin’s imprisonment, or a system of Babylonian chronology). Scholars have long debated whether Ezekiel was in Babylon or Jerusalem during his ministry. The book bearing his name points unmistakably to a Babylonian locale (1:1- 3; 3:15; 8:1-3; 33:21). 2 Editor’s note.
  13. 13. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 13 However, it has been argued that since most of the messages were addressed to the people of Jerusalem (16:2; 21:2; 22:2), it would have been meaningless to deliver them to the exiles. Also, some believe his intimate knowledge of events in Jerusalem (for example, his description of worship practices in the Temple, 8:1-18; Pelatiah’s death, 11:13) would require that he was in Jerusalem. To resolve the difficulties, some have suggested that he was in Babylon part of the time and in Jerusalem at other times. All objections to the Babylonian locale can be answered satisfactorily, however. Prophets frequently delivered messages for audiences not present (for example, the messages against foreign nations as in chapters 25-32). Furthermore, the genuine visionary experience (through which Ezekiel claimed to receive his knowledge) cannot be dismissed arbitrarily. Of course, visitors from Jerusalem could have kept him informed about events at home and carried his messages back when they returned. Therefore, there is no need to reject Babylon as the location of Ezekiel’s entire ministry. Ezekiel was married, but little else is known about his family life. His wife died suddenly during the siege of Jerusalem (24:18). Ezekiel continued to preach until at least 571 B.C. (29:17). His ministry can be divided into two phases: (1) 593-587, characterized by warnings of coming judgment on Judah and Jerusalem, and (2) 587-571, a period characterized by messages of encouragement and hope for the future. It is not known when Ezekiel died or the manner of his death. An ancient Jewish tradition says he was put to death by his own people because of his preaching. A tomb in Kifl, south of ancient Babylon, is claimed to be that of Ezekiel. His influence on later Judaism cannot be overemphasized. Some have insisted that he was “the father of Judaism” rather than Ezra. Much has been written about Ezekiel’s personality. He has been labeled neurotic, paranoid, psychotic, or schizophrenic because of his unusual behavior (for example, lying on one side for 390 days and on the other for 40 days, 4:4-6; shaving off his hair, 5:1-4; and his many visions). A better explanation for his strange behavior is that anyone who conscientiously obeys God will be considered “strange” by some people. Nothing God asked Ezekiel to do seemed too difficult. Only once was he reluctant to obey a command that would have made him ceremonially unclean (4:14). His objection reflected his priestly training. Historical Background: Ezekiel lived in a time of international crisis and conflict. Assyria had become the undisputed world power in the Ancient Near East during the reign of Tiglath- pileser III (745-727 B.C.). Her smaller neighbors, including Israel and Judah, survived by paying her tribute. However, in 724 Israel tried to throw off Assyria’s yoke. After a three- year siege of Samaria by the Assyrians, Israel capitulated and ceased to exist as a nation. Many of her inhabitants were deported, and other subjugated peoples were moved into the area (2 Kings 17:20-24).
  14. 14. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 14 With the death of the last of Assyria’s able rulers, Ashurbanipal, in 627, the once great empire began to disintegrate. Babylonia under Nabopolassar took advantage of Assyria’s weakness and asserted her independence in 626. In 612, Nineveh surrendered to the Babylonians, marking the demise of the once great Assyrian power, although pockets of resistance held out for several years. In 605, a showdown between Egypt and Babylonia at Carchemish established Babylonia as the dominant world power. Judah was able to maintain her independence by transferring her allegiance to Babylonia. During the last century of her existence, Judah was governed by a succession of wicked kings, with one exception. Josiah (640-609 B.C.) was deeply committed to God and instituted sweeping religious reforms during his reign (2 Kings 23:1- 25). His son Jehoahaz was deposed by the Egyptians after a three-month’ rule and was succeeded by another son, Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.), who rebelled against his Babylonian overlords. Nebuchadnezzar led an army to quell the insurrection. During the crisis that followed, Jehoiakim died or perhaps was killed by those in his own court. His son Jehoiachin (598-597 B.C.) was taken as prisoner to Babylon after a three-month’ rule, along with Ezekiel and others. The last of Judah’s kings, Zedekiah (597-587 B.C.), did not heed the warnings of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. He also rebelled, and Nebuchadnezzar led an army that besieged Jerusalem for eighteen months before the city fell. ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING: Ezekiel Priest & Prophet By Robert Dunston, professor and chair of the religion and philosophy department, Cumberland College, Williamsburg, Kentucky. THE END OF THE SEVENTH CENTURY and the beginning of the sixth century BC brought trying times to Judah, one of Judah’s most godly kings, died in battle in 609 BC defending his nation against Egyptian forces. Josiah’s death, Babylonia’s conquest of Jerusalem, the exile of some of the brightest and best citizens in 605 BC, a further conquest and exile in 597 BC, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 587 BC brought the kingdom of Judah to an end and raised challenging questions regarding faith. Why had God not miraculously defended Jerusalem as in Hezekiah’s time (2 Kings 19:14-37)? Were the Babylonian gods more powerful than Yahweh? Had Judah sinned so greatly that God had given up on His people?
  15. 15. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 15 Judah’s theological crisis called for prophets who could interpret Judah’s situation, point out the people’s sin, lead them back to God, and provide hope for Judah’s restoration. God sent two such prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to accomplish the task. Jeremiah spoke from the torn land of Judah while Ezekiel spoke from the Babylonian exile. Ezekiel, the man and his message, form the focus of this article. Ezekiel’s Personal Life Ezekiel’s name means “God strengthens,” a particularly appropriate name for a prophet who sought to strengthen his people’s faith and hope in difficult times. Ezekiel came from priestly descent (Ezekiel 1:3) and certainly must have trained to be a priest while still in Jerusalem. His concern about maintaining ritual cleanliness (4:9-14), his knowledge of the law’s requirements (22:1-31), and his detailed description of the new temple and rituals in the restored Jerusalem (40:1—46:24) clearly indicate his priestly lineage and training. Ezekiel came to Babylon as part of the second group of exiles in 597 BC and settled with other Judeans in Tel-abib beside the Chebar irrigation canal. Ezekiel’s wife died unexpectedly while in Babylonian exile (24:15-18). The biblical text does not mention any children being born to Ezekiel and his wife. Time of Ezekiel’s Ministry Ezekiel dated his call to be a prophet to the 5th year of King Jehoiachin’s exile in Babylon, which would have been 592 BC (1:2). The additional mention of the 13th year as the year of Ezekiel’s call (v. 1) has produced two interpretations. Some Bible students suggest the 13th year refers to Ezekiel’s age, stating priests typically began serving in the temple when they turned 30. In the ritually unclean land of Babylon, Ezekiel could not serve as priest when he turned 30, so God called him to minister instead as a prophet. Two points argue against this interpretation. First, the Bible’s mention of counting Levites 30 years old and older (Numbers 4:1-3; 1 Chronicles 23:3) does not imply priests began service at the age of 30. Second, prophets typically dated their call experiences by significant events rather than the year of their birth (for example, Isaiah 6:1; Amos 1:1). Other Bible students believe the 30th year indicates 30 years have passed since the discovery of the book of law in the temple during Josiah’s reform. Since Josiah’s reform began in 622 BC, 30 years later would have roughly coincided with the 5th year of King Jehoiachin’s exile (592 BC). As a faithful priest, Ezekiel realized the importance of obedience to God as called for by the law and exemplified by Josiah’s personal commitment. An event as significant as discovering the book of law would have provided an excellent reference point as Ezekiel realized God wanted to use him to call His people back to Him.
  16. 16. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 16 Ezekiel’s prophetic work lasted until at least 571 BC (Ezekiel 29:17), giving Ezekiel a ministry of over 20 years. He may have continued in his prophetic role beyond 571 BC, but none of his oracles specifically date after that time. The Bible provides no information regarding Ezekiel’s death. Ezekiel’s Babylonian Context The physical location for Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry, Babylon, differed from that of most other Old Testament prophets. Bringing Judean exiles to Babylon benefitted the Babylonians in at least two ways: first, removing Judah’s leadership lessened the threat of rebellion; and second, farming the neglected and difficult lands south of Babylon provided additional food for the growing Babylonian population. Although the Babylonian government allowed the Judean exiles some freedom to govern their communities through elders, they still expected the exiles to pay heavy taxes and perform any forced labor the Babylonians desired. Judean exiles freely practiced their faith, and priests continued to teach the law and to emphasize how to practice the law in a ritually unclean land. Although some religious traditions remained, the absence of a temple brought drastic changes in worship and practice. At its best, the Babylonian exile proved endurable. At its worst, life in exile grew painful and oppressive. Some of the Judean exiles interpreted their situation as proof God had completely abandoned them. Others believed the exile soon would end and God would bring them home. Neither group felt any consciousness of sin or any need to return to God in faith. Ezekiel’s Prophetic Presentation The difficult circumstances Ezekiel faced explain the powerful manner in which he received and delivered God’s message. Among Old Testament prophets, only Daniel received visions like Ezekiel. Visions bear some similarity to dreams, but Ezekiel experienced his visions while awake (8:1) and recognized the beginning and ending of the vision (11:24-25). Ezekiel understood his visions as including both personal instruction and God’s message for His people. Having received God’s vision, Ezekiel faithfully communicated God’s message to his fellow exiles (v. 25). Through visions, God communicated some of His most powerful messages to Ezekiel. Ezekiel’s initial vision (1:1—3:15) emphasized God’s glory and presence and formed the basis for Ezekiel’s entire ministry. His second vision (8:1—11:24) dramatically described the breadth and depth of Judah’s sin. His third vision (37:1-14) provided a powerful reason for Judah to hope for restoration. In Ezekiel’s final vision (40:1—48:35) God described a miraculously restored, future Israel.
  17. 17. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 17 For part of Ezekiel’s early ministry, God commanded him to be silent (3:26-27; 24:27), but Ezekiel found a powerful method to communicate God’s truth. He, like other prophets (for example, Isaiah in Isaiah 20:1-6; Jeremiah in Jeremiah 18:1-13), effectively employed symbolic actions, acting out God’s plan and message on a miniature scale. Ezekiel dramatically portrayed Babylonia’s siege of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s terrible fall (Ezekiel 4:1—5:17) and acted out Zedekiah’s escape and capture by the Babylonian army (12:1-16). The death of Ezekiel’s wife in Babylon at the same time as the fall and destruction of Jerusalem provided the occasion for his most emotionally painful symbolic action. God asked Ezekiel to cast aside custom and grief and not to mourn for his wife. As God would not allow Ezekiel to mourn his loss, so the Babylonians would not allow the Judean exiles to observe a time of mourning for their destroyed capital, nation, and people (24:15-27). Ezekiel’s strange visions and bizarre symbolic actions have led some Bible students to understand Ezekiel as an ecstatic prophet. From the beginning of Israelite prophecy, ecstatic prophecy played an important, influential role (1 Samuel 10:1-13). Ecstatic prophets received God’s message while in an intensely concentrated, trance-like state. Their focus on God opened them to perceiving and receiving God’s message and empowered them to speak for Him. While some Bible students prefer not to classify Ezekiel as an ecstatic prophet, Ezekiel certainly displayed an acute sensitivity and openness to God, and his symbolic actions reflect divine empowerment. The Two Phases of Ezekiel’s Ministry Ezekiel’s preaching before Jerusalem fell contrasts markedly with his preaching after the city’s fall and destruction (compare chaps. 1—24 with 25—48). Ezekiel’s unusual symbolic actions dramatically pointed to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, the horrible loss of life, and the escape and capture of King Zedekiah (4:1—5:17; 12:1-16). His first two visions clearly portrayed the vast gulf between the holy God and the rebellious people (1:1—3:15; 8:1—11:24) and the culmination of God’s glory departing from Jerusalem’s temple. Ezekiel’s condemnation of Judah’s many sins (22:1-31) and idolatrous practices within the temple (8:1-18) combined with his three powerful illustrations to portray Israel’s and Judah’s entire history as a history of sin and rebellion (16:1- 63; 20:1-49; 23:1-49). Ezekiel’s words formed a scathing indictment of God’s people. The prophet’s style reflected the more drastic approach required for his circumstances and audience as he attempted to call his complacent fellow exiles back to God.6 God provided Ezekiel with dramatic, powerful messages, and Ezekiel obediently spoke and enacted God’s messages with incredible commitment. Following Jerusalem’s fall and destruction, Ezekiel embraced a different prophetic style. His people had experienced the fullness of God’s punishment, and now with a kinder voice
  18. 18. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 18 Ezekiel pointed toward a new future for the people and a renewed relationship with God. Like Isaiah and Jeremiah, he prophesied against foreign nations (25:1—32:32) and declared God would judge their sin as well. Then emphasizing Israel’s and Judah’s eventual restoration, Ezekiel used less dramatic symbolic actions (37:15-23) and powerful but more comforting and hopeful illustrations (34:1-31) and vision reports (37:1-14; 40:1—48:35). Ezekiel possessed the training, gifts, and commitment God needed at a crucial time in Judah’s history. Through Ezekiel God helped His people understand the loss of their nation, capital, and temple; called them back to a renewed, deeper relationship with Him; and provided hope for a future marked by God’s presence. The HEART in Old Testament Theology By R. Raymond Lloyd, retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Starkville, Mississippi. THE BIBLICALADMONITION to “love . . . and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart” (Deuteronomy 10:12; 11:13) is the language of mankind of all the ages. The expression of Moses then, or those who preceded him, or the pulpit today; the expression of spiritual relationships, or romantic ones – all incorporate in some fashion intellect, emotion, and will as stemming from the heart. We, however, know the heart as a muscle, pulsing an average 100,000 times and pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood daily. In the average lifetime the heart beats more than 2.5 billion times.3 Not so the ancient Hebrews. They, like the other peoples of the ancient Near East, while being aware of the existence and general function of the heart, appear to have known nothing of the circulation of blood. The Old Testament only rarely used the word “heart” to describe the physical organ. And each such anatomical reference is, to say the least, quite vague.4 While the physiological significance of the heart was generally unknown, they did recognize its central importance to the life of the individual. In essence, it took the place of the brain as the locus of all psychical activity. This reflects the normal conception of man, both among the Hebrews and the other ancients, whose physical functions have close association with physical organs.5 Of all the physical organs the heart is by far the most important, and most frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. It is the “central and unifying organ of personal life.” R. C. Dentan suns it up thusly: . . . it (the heart) was the inner most spring of individual life, the ultimate source of all its physical, intellectual, emotional, and volitional energies, and consequently the part of man through which he normally achieved contact with the divine.
  19. 19. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 19 The word “heart” occurs 853 times in the Old Testament, both as leb and lebab. The two words appear to be totally synonymous with leb generally being used in the earlier literature and lebab in the latter. These numerous texts reflect the main facets of the psychical center of life. Only a limited number of such texts can be cited here. A. The Intellectual Center The center of intellectual life was located in the heart. Here one is said to perceive, as Ezekiel was commissioned by the Lord to “receive [my words] in thine heart? (Ezekiel 3:10); to think as “David said in his heart” (1 Samuel 27:1); to understand as the Preacher expressed it: “I applied mine heart to know wisdom” (Eccl. 8:16); to meditate, as the psalmist encouraged his people to “commune with your own heart upon your bed” (Psalms 4:4); to remember, as Wisdom’s exhortation to let “mercy and truth” be written on “the tablet of thy heart” (Proverbs 3:3). In the climax to Jeremiah’s great “Temple Sermon,” he condemned child sacrifice and used the phrase “neither came it into my ‘leb’” (Jeremiah 7:31). It is translated in most every version as “mind,” for this is precisely its meaning. Typical English idioms as “what’s on one’s mind” or “to bear in mind” are expressed in the Hebrew as “all that is in thine heart” (1 Samuel 14:7) and “layeth it to heart” (Isaiah 57:1). Furthermore, wisdom from the Lord was given to the heart (Proverbs 2:10), as when “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding . . . and largeness of heart” (1 Kings 4:29). B. The Emotional Center As the seat of one’s emotional life virtually every human emotion is attributed to the heart. Fundamental emotions such as joy and pleasure, grief and despair have their roots in the leb. The heart is made “glad” (Proverbs 27:11); Hannah’s “heart rejoiceth in the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:1); Israel was “glad of heart” to the Lord for His goodness at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:66); their “heart shall rejoice” in the return from exile (Zechariah. 10:7); the Philistine’s “hearts were merry” as they celebrated the victory over Samson (Judges 16:25). On the other hand, God was “grieved . . . at his heart” (Genesis 6:6): Israel poured out its “heart like water before the face of the Lord” over the destruction of Jerusalem (Lam. 2:19); in sickness the psalmist groaned in the “disquiteness of his heart” (Psalms 38:8); Nehemiah is described as having a “sorrow of heart” because of the destruction of Jerusalem (Neb. 2:2). Numerous are the examples demonstrating fear as an emotion of the heart. Many of those in exile are described as being “of a fearful heart” (Isaiah 35:4). Moses called on the tribes of Gad and Reuben not to “discourage . . . the heart of the children of Israel” as they had been at the report of the spies at Kadesh-barnea (Numbers 32:7-9). The “hearts of the people melted” as they fled before the men of Ai (Josh. 7:5). The heart trembles when a person is afraid (Job. 37:1). “Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear,” said the psalmist (Psalms 27:3). On the other hand, the heart is depicted as being firm and strong.
  20. 20. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 20 The psalmist called on Israel to “let your heart take courage” (Psalms 27:14, NASB; 31:24); David “found in his heart to pray” for the building of the house of David (2 Samuel 7:27), another way of expressing that he “took courage.” The lack of such was shown by Joseph’s brothers as “their heart failed them” when they discovered the money had been restored (Genesis 42:28). Seated in the heart also are the “transitive emotions,” as Professor Fabry called them, of love and hate.8 Its romantic expression is found in the relationship of Samson and Delilah (Judges 16:15,17,18). David’s “heart was toward Absalom,” his son (2 Samuel 14:1). The mode of speech used by lovers, “speak to the heart,” was used by the Lord expressing His unconditional love in seeking to restore the bond between Israel and Himself (Hos. 2:14). References to hatred in the heart are more limited. However, as David danced before the ark, Saul’s daughter “despised him in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16), and the Holiness Code admonished one not to “hate your brother in your heart” (Leviticus 19:17, NIV). These are but a few examples of the fact that virtually every human emotion expressed in the Old Testament emanated from the heart. C. The Volitional Center The third major psychical activity of the heart is will. The line separating the intellectual and volitional functions of the heart is sometimes unclear. However, there are distinctions, because the heart functions as the locus of the “driving force” behind the will of a human being. As a result it has moral, ethical, and religious connotations. It becomes the governing factor of one’s behavior. Here choices are made based on one’s own intuition and conscience or the influence of other persons or of God Himself. Both virtues and vices spring from the heart. Here lay the motivation for evil deeds: the wicked have “mischief in their hearts” (Psalms 28:3); false prophets have “deceit of their heart” (Jeremiah 14:14); the Lord hates a “heart that deviseth wicked imaginations” (Proverbs 6:18). Following the command to “love the Lord . . . with all thy heart” come the warning to “take heed . . . that your heart be not deceived” (Deuteronomy 11:13,16). It may be swelled with pride: Uzziah’s “heart was lifted up to his destruction” (2 Chronicles 26:16). It may also be “hardened” as was Pharaoh’s (Exodus 7:3; 8:15) or “stubborn” as when Israel walked in “the stubbornness of their evil heart” (Jeremiah 7:24, NASB). On occasions it was called “uncircumcised” (Jeremiah 9:26, NASB). It may even be duplicitous: the ungodly have a “double heart” (Psalms 12:2). Jeremiah pictured sin as being “graven upon the tablet of their heart” (Jeremiah 17:1).
  21. 21. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 21 Virtues, likewise, originate in the heart. “Upright in heart” is a favorite expression of the psalmist (7:10; 32:11). Solomon instructed Israel on the occasion of the dedication of the temple to “let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God” (1 Kings 8:61). One who walks uprightly “speaks truth in his heart” (Psalms 15:2, NASB). When one conforms to God’s standard of behavior as expressed in the law and thus keeps the covenant, he is said to have “integrity of heart” (1 Kings 9:4). The heart is the locus of divine contact. The Lord “knowest the hearts of all the children of men” (1 Kings 8:39). He knows the “secrets of the heart” (Psalms 44:21). The Creator “who fashions the hearts of them” all knows their deeds (Psalms 33:15, NASB). His primary concern, as described in His instructions to Samuel when seeking one to anoint as king from among the sons of Jesse, was not the “outward appearance,” because “the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Human beings are continuously under God’s scrutiny (1 Chronicles 29:17; Psalms 17:3; Proverbs 17:3). Because the heart tends toward evil and is crooked and perverted, prone to deceit and filled with pride, it is imperative for it to undergo a radical change. Thus comes the ringing call throughout the Old Testament for the heart to be shattered of self and controlled by God, for the desired “sacrifices of God are . . . a broken and a contrite heart” (Psalms 51:17). The urgent need is for one to become clean and petition God as did the penitent psalmist: “create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalms 51:10). Moses directed Israel to “circumcise . . . your heart and be no more stiff-necked” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Jeremiah called on Jerusalem to “wash thine heart from wickedness” (Jeremiah 4:14). He called for a return to the Lord with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7) and strongly censured those who “hath not returned unto me with [their] whole heart” (Jeremiah 3:10). God’s ideal standard of behavior may be best expressed by the psalmist when he asked, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in this holy place?” and then proceeded to provide the answer: “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” (Psalms 24:3-4). These two phrases describe God’s requirement of both inward and outward purity, a purity of thought and deed. When one responded with unwavering allegiance to God, he was said to have a faithful heart (Neh. 9:8) or a steadfast heart (Psalms 112:7). Obviously a response to God was expected and the most all-inclusive desired expression of that was communicated through the directive: “love and serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul.”9 This is the heart of Old Testament covenant theology. This was to be Israel’s response to the God who had delivered them from Egyptian bondage. The eloquent words of the Shema are found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel” The Lord our God is one Lord; And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
  22. 22. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 22 The faithful were to recite them twice daily. This command to love God is linked directly with keeping the law. The concluding exhortation of the Deuteronomic Law Code commanded that Israel shall perform all the statues and ordinances “with all thy heart . . .” (Deuteronomy 26:16). This requirement “to love . . . the Lord thy God with all thy heart . . .” appears several times in the Old Testament and in each instance relates to a covenantal commitment. It was to be Israel’s response to the God who established and set the terms of the covenant at Sinai. It demands a loyalty that is unqualified and unconditional. In keeping with the Hebrew concept of totality, the heart is virtually synonymous with the whole person (Proverbs 3:1). But for Israel, keeping the law with all of one’s heart was an impossibility. Human effort alone was insufficient. Hope for improvement of the heart could be found only in God’s grace. Because Israel had persistently broken the old covenant, Jeremiah introduced the idea of a new covenant whose law was not to be written on tablets of stone, but in the human heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34). While the new covenant had similarities to the old, it was different in that the new covenant promised the creation of a new man. God was going to the focal point of His contact with man and making known His will and purpose directly to the intellectual, emotional, and volitional center of a person’s life. Jeremiah did not say how this would become reality, but he may well have been speaking not only at Christ’s work, but also the Holy Spirit’s work in enlightening, convicting, and enabling a person in his response to God. While God gives a new heart to those who put their faith in Him, His expectations remain the same. We are still to “love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart,” with our total being, with our full capacity. Repentance in the Old Testament By Robert O. Coleman, retired professor of biblical backgrounds and archeology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. TWO HEBREW WORDS are sometimes translated “repent.” These are shuv and nacham, the former translated only three times in the King James Version (1 Kings 8:47; Ezekiel 14:6; 18:30) and the latter forty-one times. The word “repentance” is found only once in the King James Version of the Old Testament (Hos. 13:14—from nacham ). The information given above is misleading. The word shuv is by far the more frequently used term, and over 350 of the almost 600 uses are translated “return again.” By contrast nacham has the basic meaning of “to be penitent” or “to be sorry” and most often is used in reference to God. When the Scriptures say that God “repented,” it usually denotes a reorientation or a change of mind toward a person or a people because of a change in the attitude of that person or people toward God.
  23. 23. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 23 Examples of God repenting are found in His dealing with Saul (1 Samuel 15:11,35) and with the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:10; see also Genesis 6:6-7; Exodus 32:12,14). Many of God’s promises were conditional on the response of the people, and when people repent or their evil, God likewise “repents” or turns from punishment and gives the penitent the blessings of His promises (Jeremiah 18:5-10). The word shur points to a turning about on one’s way, to a turning away from injustice toward justice, from inhumanity to humanity, from idols to God. It suggests “the negation of a preceding direction of thought and action and the affirmation of the opposite direction. . . . The rejection of the negative with the whole of one’s being . . . .”1 In true repentance one’s thought of sin will change from approval to disapproval, and his thought about God will change from indifference or hostility to reverence and submission. There will be an actual forsaking of sin and an actual turning to God. Repentance involves several qualities. First, there will be remorse, regret, humiliation, and grieving because of sins committed against God or another human being, although the emphasis is primarily on one’s sins against God since one’s relationship to God determines his relationship to others. Therefore repentance must produce a moral change or it has nothing to do with true repentance. Humiliation is advocated in Leviticus 26:41, while contrition is shown both in that passage and in Ezra 9:3. There must be a sincere grieving for sin because of its dishonor to God, as well as its defilement of the soul (Jeremiah 31:18-21). Eichrodt says “it was common knowledge in Israel at all periods that one could not merely hope and pray for pardon, but must humble oneself before God, acknowledge one’s unrighteousness, and have an earnest will to turn away from sin”2 (1 Kings 21:27-29; 2 Samuel 12). Solomon vows and resolutions sometimes are substituted for repentance. In times of adversity promises are made to God but often quickly forgotten when brighter days dawn. There is a word of caution, however. It is possible to become so preoccupied with one’s sin—regretting it, renouncing it—that one’s attention is thereby directed away from God. Repentance is not the mere presence of tears. When afflicted, many cry, “Lord, have mercy on me!” Lockyer says, “Ahab rent his clothes, but not his heart (1 Kings 21:27). His eye was watery, but his heart was like flint!”3 Scripture there, however, does record that God took notice of his demonstration of remorse. Joel 2:12-13 cautions that the rending of the heart is required rather than the rending of the garments to demonstrate a return to the Lord in heart.
  24. 24. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 24 An atoning sacrifice was acceptable only when represented by a changed heart, as shown in Hosea 6:6 and Amos 5:21-24. A barren ritual of repentance was insufficient. There were even days of national repentance such as mentioned in Nehemiah 9, and Isaiah 63:7—64:12. These observations had to come from the heart or they were meaningless and even repulsive to God (Isaiah 1:11-15). Second, confession of one’s sin is an integral part of repentance if forgiveness is to be received. It is the natural accompaniment to any prayer for forgiveness (Leviticus 5:5; 16:21; Numbers 5:7). Eichroct says “atoning sacrifice is accompanied by confession of sin and by prayer, elements which, even if not explicitly mentioned every time, nevertheless correspond to the general conviction of the necessity of contrition and repentance on the part of Man.” Third, there must be the entreaty for forgiveness. The prophets, when they depicted the contrite conversion of their people and their prayers to be readmitted to fellowship with God, put in their mouths first and foremost a plea for forgiveness, making this an indispensable precondition of salvation. Post-Exilic prophecy leaves no doubt that on man’s side an inner turning to the personal God are the indispensable prerequisites of the forgiveness of sin (Zechariah. 1:3-6; Isaiah 59:20; Mal. 2:6; 3:7; Jonah 3:8,10). Repentance is not a one-time or an occasional experience. Mullins says that “repentance becomes a permanent attitude of the soul toward sin. . . . It is a permanent moral process going on every day.”5 Every renunciation of sin, every putting off of the old man is in essence the repetition of the first act of repentance. Hence, it is an attitude of the soul to be cultivated. The definite and positive renunciation of sin in every form should become the fixed habit of the individual. Moral transformation is proven by the fact that a person from the very core and center of his being repudiates sin and abhors that which is evil. Such an action is evidence that he has become partaker of the divine nature. This is why repentance always is made a condition of forgiveness in Scripture, whether that forgiveness be human or divine. In God’s sight a person only becomes forgivable, that is, one only exhibits a moral attitude which can be forgiven, when God’s point of view regarding sin is adopted. That point of view is expressed in and through repentance. Repentance is not necessarily an innovation of the Old Testament prophets, although most of the Old Testament calls to repentance come from the prophets. Israel is called repeatedly to return to the worship of the One True God and to forsake the idolatrous worship in which they were indulging. Hosea 14:1 calls Israel to return to God as Gomer returned to Hosea after years of unfaithfulness. Exhortations in Jeremiah call God’s faithless children back to their master (3:14). Idolatry was a special symbol of sin and the cause of a need to turn back to the Lord (Ezekiel 14:6).
  25. 25. John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, and William Barclay, Daily Bible Studies Series, except where noted. Most textual citations are omitted. Page 25 In Amos 4:6-11 the phrase, “yet have ye not returned unto me,” is found five times. The Lord had called them to repentance repeatedly by various means, but the people had not responded with repentance. These verses bring out the fact that the Lord used the prophets, natural disasters such as pestilence and the failure of harvests, warfare, and even personal grief to lead people to repentance. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 there is a promise of a healing of the land if the people return to the Lord. God employs a great variety of means to lead people to repentance. God uses any and all channels and means through which His truth may reach people to lead them to turn away from their sins. Repentance is both a turning from and a turning to—a continuous realignment of one’s entire way of thinking about sin and God. The result is a knowledge of the forgiveness of sin and a constant awareness of a walk with God.

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