I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
The prophet Ezekiel lived and served while in exile in Babylon, surrounded by the temptations brought forth by a pagan foreign culture. Instead of just wisdom sayings or instructions, the book of Ezekiel showed clearly the needs of the people then – they needed visions and promises of the future – and hence it is a book full of images, metaphors and signs of God’s glory that are perhaps more than just a little hard to understand. I personally feel the book of Ezekiel is one of the hardest reads in the Bible – it is not just hard to understand, it is also hard to take – yet when digested, this is a book full of symbolisms of God’s glory and prophecies of God’s Kingdom. In this study we will be taking a look at a verse for the new year – the promise of removal of old heart and the gift of a new heart.
When studying Ezekiel 36:26, the immediate context should be read as well, for they are usually interpreted together – I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. [Eze 36:25-27]
Reading this context will be very helpful to understanding this verse in its entirety. Also, it ought to be noted that a similar verse to this appeared in the book of Ezekiel before – I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh [Ezekiel 11:19]. Quite similar, no? That was a prophecy given before the final collapse of Jerusalem, while Ezekiel 36:26 was the same prophecy reiterated even after the final collapse of Jerusalem. The significance is clear.
I – The pronoun ‘I’ is used very liberally in the book of Ezekiel, as the prophet repeats the words of the Lord. This is the Lord God Almight, creator of the heavens and the earth, the one who gives, the one who takes. Even when it comes to things like hearts and spirits.
new heart, new spirit – let us now take a closer look at what these are – certainly not meant to be taken literally – though I’m sure many people have been given new hearts by means of transplant due to medical reasons, but perhaps new heart and new spirit mean the same thing here: a new life, a new attitude, a new mind. In Psalms 51 both these terms are used to express the same thing as well – Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me [Psalm 51:10]. Or perhaps a better and less abstract way of putting it would be, the new desire to know God – I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart [Jer 24:7].
heart of stone vs heart of flesh – and here we look into the different kinds of hearts. A heart of stone – the old heart – versus the heart of flesh – which is the new one to be given. The analogy of a heart transplant will perhaps work very well in this case. When will somebody need a heart transplant, i.e., a new heart? When his or her current heart is weak, diseased, sick. Why do we need a new heart? Because we’re weak, diseased, sick – spiritually – right now. It is a heart and a spirit that has been corrupted by impurities that needs to be cleansed [v25]. This is a heart that’s hardened by sin – it was so in the days of the prophet Ezekiel, as they faced the destruction of Jerusalem, but it is still the case today, as we exile ourselves from the kingdom of God and take to the seductions of the pagan cultures around us. A heart of stone that reacts not to God, feels nothing for the Kingdom of God, and beats not along with the will of God.
The term ‘flesh‘ is often used to mean worldliness and sinfulness in the context of the Bible, but the heart of flesh is perhaps more literal than that. Contrasted against a heart of stone, a heart of flesh beats, feels, and reacts. It senses the sin and the temptations around, it is sensitive and tender to the will of the Lord. With a heart of flesh comes the fear of God and the understanding of the glory of God, so that we will be able to follow God’s decrees and be careful to keep his laws [v27].
In this new year ahead, for all those who have run out of steam towards the end of the previous year, this verse would serve as a good promise to bear in mind for. Be rid of the old heart that is sick and hardened into stone, no longer reactive to God’s words or sensitive to his will. Instead, be given a new heart that beats, and regain that desire – which you probably once had – to know God better.
Happy New Year &