By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: I am making a study of Ezekiel 11:19,20,- 18:31 and 36.-26 concerning the giving of a new heart and a new spirit. Is this future prophecy? When was the giving of a new heart and new spirit accomplished; was it under the old or new covenant?
Reply: The above verses are worded about the same, so we shall notice the reading of the first reference, Ezekiel 11:19,20. Jehovah is addressing Israel through the prophet Ezekiel. Concerning Israel He says: “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and will give them a heart of flesh; that they may walk in my statutes, and keep my ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”
At the time this promise was given, the Jews were captives in Babylon; they had been carried away from their own land because of idolatry. During his second invasion (c. 597 B.C.), Nebuchadnezzar carried away several thousand captives, among whom was the prophet Ezekiel. They were settled at the river Chebar, which empties into the Euphrates three hundred miles north of Babylon. It was here that Ezekiel wrote the visions that make up the body of the book of Ezekiel. It was during this period that the 137th Psalm was written.
Ezekiel 36:25 prefaces verse 26, a parallel to Ezekiel 11: 19,20; 18:32. Ezekiel told Israel, “And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.” He alludes to the sprinklings for purification of sin under the law, as in Numbers 19:9,19,20. The idea in Ezekiel 36:25 is that God would cleanse Israel of guilt. The passage does not refer to sprinkling as a mode of baptism, although some contend that it does. The verse certainly does not refer to the conditions of salvation that are found in the New Testament. In the New Testament we are plainly taught to be baptized (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38, etc.) and that means “to be dipped, submerged or immersed.” The meaning of the Greek words bapto and baptizo in the New Testament mean “to dip in or under,” “to immerse,” as garments are dipped in dye (see Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the N. T., Vol. 1, pp. 529, 30 et al). So, Ezekiel 36:25 has no reference to baptism in the New Testament whatsoever. As water of purification under the law was to cleanse unclean persons and vessels, so God would cleanse Israel of her sins if she would repent. This is the context of the new heart and new spirit which would be put in Israel, as mentioned in the verses considered in the inquiry.
It is said in Ezekiel 11:19 that God would give them one heart. Israel was scattered throughout Babylon. She would become unified as God would gather her together and bring her back to her own land. Verse 21 makes it evident that all would not put away the detestable things required to be put away in verse 18. But Ezekiel 18:31 is clear, that having a new heart and a new spirit, was conditional. Israel had to first cast away all her transgressions. They were dead spiritually until
they repented of their sins. Jehovah assured them that He had no pleasure in their spiritual death and then appealed to them, “wherefore turn yourselves and live” (v. 32).
In the Ezekiel 36:26 passage, God said that He would take away their stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh. Their stony heart was their stubborn heart, their heart of rebellion to God’s will. The heart of flesh was their new heart, a different one from the one they had. Heart transplants are nothing new to the Bible.
Any consideration of the above verses should include a reference to Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (ch. 37). He saw a valley of dry bones, but there was a noise and an earthquake and the bones came together (v. 7). Then he saw sinews upon them and flesh came up, and skin covered them; but no breath was in them (v. 8). Ezekiel prophesied “and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (v. 10). Jehovah then promised to open up their graves and bring them into the land of Israel (v. 12). Now notice v. 14, “And I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land: and ye shall know that 1, Jehovah, have spoken it and performed it, saith Jehovah.”
Figuratively, the nation of Israel was in a state of death while captive in Babylon and would be raised up to a new life. Israel was promised the land of Canaan (Gen. 15:7,18,19; 26:4; 28:13,14; etc.); Israel received the land (Josh. 21:44,45; 23:15) and now Israel, having been carried away to Babylon, is to return to the land. The bones in Ezekiel 37 represent Israel (v. 11) and the vision is that of a resurrected nation as represented by the dry bones being covered with flesh and receiving breath (v. 6). The context of these passages is Israel and her revival or renewed state. Israel was restored to her own land as Jehovah had promised. She returned from exile in Babylon (1) under Zerubbabel (536 B.C.), (2) under Ezra (458 B.C.), and (3) under Nehemiah (445 B.C.). The giving of a new heart or spirit was then accomplished. Some commentators do suggest that the opening of the graves and the coming of Israel out of them alludes to the future general resurrection (Jn. 5:28,29). If so, it would be only in a secondary sense. The immediate context is the return of Israel to her land from captivity in Babylon.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 21, pp. 646, 664
November 1, 1984