Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 – A bit of background would be useful. After King Solomon died, Israel split into two kingdoms, the kingdom of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and the kingdom of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). More than a century prior to Ezekiel’s time, Assyria defeated the Northern Kingdom and took its people into exile in Assyria, bringing an end to the Northern Kingdom. Later, Babylonia surpassed Assyria to become the dominant power, and King Nebuchadnezzar ruled supreme.
Jehoiachin’s father, King Jehoiakim, vacillated in his allegiance between Babylon and Egypt. In December 598 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched on Jerusalem in response to Jehoiakim’s flirtation with Egypt. Jehoiakim died, possibly by assassination, and young Jehoiachin assumed the throne at the age of 18 (2 Kings 24:8). Jehoiachin reigned for only three months before King Nebuchadnezzar took him into exile in Babylonia and installed Zedekiah on the throne of Judah as a puppet king (expected to do Nebuchadnezzar’s will). Nebuchadnezzar forced Jerusalem’s most prominent citizens into exile in Babylonia, and carried off “all the treasures of the house of Yahweh” (2 Kings 24:13).
Zedekiah ruled Judah (under Nebuchadnezzar’s thumb) for 11 years. However, he refused to heed the counsel of the prophet Jeremiah, and “did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh his God; he didn’t humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of Yahweh. He also rebelled against king Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God: but he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart against turning to Yahweh, the God of Israel” (2 Chronicles 36:12-13).
In 587 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar responded to Zedekiah’s rebellion by again laying siege to Jerusalem. This time he destroyed the city and killed many of its inhabitants. He took most of the rest of the people to Babylon—leaving behind only the poorest (2 Kings 25). Then a rebellion by some of Judah’s remaining population against Gedaliah, Babylonia’s proxy ruler (2 Kings 25:22-26 Jeremiah 41), inspired a final deportation to Babylon. The prophets made it clear that this was Yahweh’s judgment on Judah for her sins.
The events of this chapter take place between the first and second deportations (597-587 B.C.). Ezekiel’s prophecies speak to the unfaithfulness of Zedekiah and the consequences of his ruinous reign. He also brings a word of hope to the exiles, who will one day be restored to the Promised Land.
God wants all to repent and live. In Sunday’s first reading, God appeals to Israel to repent and live. Turn from evil to good and you shall live. With that we can agree, but the rub comes in making the turn. What will create a desire to change? Where does one get the power to break away from sin to walk in righteousness?
The answer is in “a new heart and a new spirit.” But how does one get a new heart? This takes us to Jesus who said, “You must be born new.” Thus, one does not straighten out his life and then come to Christ. He comes as he is; conceived and born in sin, yet receives a new spirit as well as a full pardon from sin. Only then may he follow a path toward a new way of life.
O God, You are the Strength of all who put their trust in You. Mercifully accept our prayer, and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without Your help, grant us the help of Your grace that, keeping Your commandments, we may please You in both will and deed.
 Lutheran Service Book © 2006 Concordia Publishing House, St, Louis