So I woke up pretty early this morning, accidentally. Decided to read some in Ezekiel. Randomly. I haven’t really every dabbled here very long, but for some reason wanted to give it a shot. As I was reading in an old Abingdon Bible Commentary about the backdrop of the book and person of Ezekiel, I learned that chapter 18 really nailed down the responsibility of the individual. Being a Westerner, this of course intrigued me—so I turned there and read, and found this verse (18.31) that I really liked slash find really interesting.
הַשְׁלִיכוּ מֵעֲלֵיכֶם אֶת־כָּל־פִּשְׁעֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר פְּשַׁעְתֶּם בָּם וַעֲשׂוּ [qal impv 2ms] לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה וְלָמָּה תָמֻתוּ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל
Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (ESV)
What struck me was the fact that Israel is told to craft for themselves a new heart (or better, mind) and a new spirit. Without a doubt, you'll be able to recall other passages where this token phrase is used...
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you (Ezek 36.26; see also 11.19 where the same thing is said) (ESV)
Now, with that said, I hope you can see the difference in these verses. Let me make it simple for you:
[18.31] ... you make for yourself a new heart and a new spirit
[36.26] ... I will give you a new heart and a new spirit
Interesting, eh? So in one case, we have God telling Israel that they have to make, seemingly on their own and for themselves, a new mind and spirit; whereas, in another case, Israel is explicitly told that God will do this for them. Why and how are obvious questions, but I want to say a couple things without trying to put the text in a box.
In chapter 18, where the obligation lies on the self to create a new mind (i.e. thought life) and spirit, the emphasis of the entire chapter is on the responsibility of the self for his or her own actions. For example, you can't assume blessings and ease in life if your dad was a righteous man and you're a wicked son—you're gonna get what you deserve. Likewise, if you're a righteous person, but you turn and become wicked, you're gonna pay (i.e. die); even though a wicked person and can turn and live. In light of this, it makes sense to me that God would utter this token phrase in a sense in which it would err a bit more on the side of human responsibility. After all, he doesn't want to do all the work for us (cf. Phil 2.12–13): he wants sons and daughters, not programmed automatons.
So, with that said, I think God knows he can lay this burden of responsibility on Israel because He knows that they are aware that He'll never leave them hangin'. The amount of times He's talked about "new hearts" and "new spirits" is always with Him being the giver, with Him being the perfector. So, for Him to throw in a certain amount of personal responsibility in a context that suits this, is certainly allowable—and shouldn't, or wouldn't I suppose, damage or alter Israel's idea of who's doing what with this whole regeneration process.
Like my first Hebrew teacher always used to say,
In every command from God lies the ability to carry it out.