By Dr. Mark Scott
A chiasm (or chiasmus) is a literary device named after the Greek letter “chi,” which looks like an “X.” A chiasm is a crosswise arrangement writing style of words or concepts that repeats things in reverse order to achieve memory and emphasis. The main idea occurs at the point at which the lines cross. In reading our Bibles we must be careful not to impose a chiasm when it is not intended by the biblical writer. But sometimes it would seem that a chiasm is there by design. Today’s lesson text might be an example of such.
Prophesying to the exiles of Israel who had been deported to Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel said the day would come when God would bring the exiles home. When God redeemed them out of their exile he would give them a Spirit-filled heart, the sign of a new covenant. The structure of the text goes like this: Name (22, 23); Land (24); Newness (25-27); Land (28-30); Name (31, 32). The point of the chiasm is “newness of heart.”
Ezekiel 36:22, 23, 31, 32
God always acts for the sake of his own name and glory. He acts in justice and love for others, but this is in service of his own honor and character. The text ends as it begins. We call it bracketing or technically, “inclusio.” The word “name” does not occur in verses 31and 32, but the concept is there and represented by the phrase, “I am not doing this for your sake.”
Ezekiel declared that the Sovereign Lord (Adonai Yahweh) said, “It is not for your sake . . . that I am going to do these things.” God will act for and from the uniqueness of his own name (personhood or character). This will allow God to “clear his name” among the nations. People in the ancient world took their view of gods from how the people who worshiped those gods acted. Since Israel had been conquered and deported, the conclusion was that their God must not be very powerful.
But it was the people of Judah who profaned (polluted, defiled, wounded, or violated the honor of) God’s name. The word “profaned” appears three times in our text. That is what God’s people did with God’s name. But God would act in holiness (separateness, otherliness, uniqueness), which also appears three times in the text. This would cause the nations to gain an accurate view of God, and it would cause God’s people to experience a real wake-up call. They would remember their evil ways, loathe their sins, and be ashamed and disgraced.
Ezekiel 36:24, 28-30
The land of Israel had always been part of God’s promise to his people. But the land (earth or ground) was compromised due to the people’s sins (see Romans 8:18-22). Another way God would clear his name among the nations would be to restore the land to his people and bring the exiles back home. God always seems to be bringing his people out of exile.
God made several promises to his people. First, he would make good on his promise to Israel’s ancestors (Ezekiel 36:28). Second, Israel would be saved from any uncleanness (29a). Third, the land would experience a bumper crop of productivity. God would call forth the grain, and fruit trees and crops would increase. In other words, famine would disappear (something mentioned twice). The purpose of such productivity would be to remove their disgrace among the nations.
This section is the heart (and main point) of the passage. God did not come to make Israel better. He redeemed them to make them new. This newness would be the sign of a new way of relating to him (i.e. covenant). God would cleanse them. The word means “to purify.” Ezekiel used temple imagery to capture this idea. God would sprinkle clean water on them. This is what the priests would do to themselves in preparation for serving in the temple (Numbers 8:5-7). The same imagery is used of Christians (Hebrews 10:22).
This cleansing opened up the way for a new heart—not made of stone but tender and made of flesh. God’s actual Spirit would come to inhabit them so that the people would be enabled to follow (i.e. cause them to walk) God’s decrees and laws (judgments). It would be some time before people could experience this (John 7:37-39), but a new way was coming (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-12). It was the way of a new heart (2 Corinthians 3:3).
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2013, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.