The Old Testament prophets are not my favorite Bible books to read. In some ways, reading the prophets is like overhearing a conversation that’s not necessarily about you personally. I get lost in place names, imagery, and metaphors because they are so far removed from me. [I seriously always ask myself, “Wait, where is Tyre and Sidon again?”] Besides, prophets are about doom and gloom. Their messages are hard to read: being led away with hooks in your noses, being so hungry you eat your children. No, thank you!
However, in years of fighting my way through these books and studying deeper, I’ve come to appreciate their movement: judgment gives way to restoration; despair turns to hope; scarcity becomes abundance. Through it all, the Lord is at work in surprising, sometimes shocking, ways.
As I was reading Ezekiel this week, I read three verses that demonstrate the bottom line of what the Lord was saying through his prophets.
“Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions,” says the Sovereign Lord. “Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die,” says the Sovereign Lord. “Turn back and live!”
Overhearing this conversation, I learn that though judgment is inevitable, death is not God’s plan for his people.
The fact that prophets even existed demonstrates that the Lord didn’t want people to perish. If he wanted them to die, there would be no reason for a warning, no second [third, fourth, etc.] chance given. God stayed his hand in Nineveh when they responded to Jonah’s reluctant prophecy. As he sent prophets to others, he wanted them to repent as well. When the prophets were ignored, he sent his Son, just to make sure we had every chance to hear his words: “I don’t want you to die!”
The doom and gloom part of a message about judgment tends to overshadow the more important aspect: that there’s hope. We don’t have to stay where we are. We don’t have to let our sins destroy us. There is another way: a new heart and spirit. God not only wants something better for us, he makes it possible through his Son.
As I overheard the Lord’s words to Israel in this passage, I hear his message for me. “Why should you die in your sin? I don’t want you to die! Why should you give up hope? I have given you a new heart and spirit. I don’t want you to wither away where you are. I want you to live! Have the courage to change what you can and trust that, in me, you are not alone in this.”
Today is a new day and another chance to live as the Lord calls us & empowers us to live.