“Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the LORD GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’” Ezekiel 33:11
Turn Back – God is pleading with the prodigal child (that’s you and me). “Turn, turn back.” In Hebrew, shuvu, shuvu. It’s more than an emotional appeal. It’s a heartfelt warning. What lies ahead for the prodigal is a wasted life. Friends will abandon you. Fortunes will dissipate. Famine will touch your mind and body. “Turn back,” says the Lord. “Will you continue on your path to destruction? Will you die for lack of repentance?” The sad truth is that most human beings never come to their senses. They spend their lives in the pigpen in spite of God’s open heart and welcoming arms.
Shuv is one of the most important words in the Hebrew Bible. It is used in forty-six times in Ezekiel and hundreds of times in the Bible. It is the essence of God’s plan of restoration, condensed into a single word. But that word has a very wide range of meanings, all of which come into play. It can describe physical direction (to turn around, to turn back, to return). It can give spiritual admonition (to return to the Lord, to turn away from sin). It can mean “to change loyalty” (Jeremiah 4:1). It can be used for “repent.” It can mean “withdraw,” used negatively to describe Israel pulling away from God. It can mean “to change relationship within the covenant.” Now you see why this single word is shorthand for the entire gospel message.
Did you notice that God’s plea is quite a bit different than the ones we hear today? Shuv says nothing about the sinner’s prayer, church membership, altar calls or even about the Messiah. It simply offers the chance to come back to God. Of course, the only ones who respond to shuv are those who want to change direction – and for that, they must become aware of the pigpen. As long as they are willing to eat with the pigs, there is no desire to come back to the Father. Shuv requires a commitment – turn away from your evil ways. That won’t be done until you know that your ways are evil.
Divine pleading is accompanied by divine pushing. God wants to rescue the wicked. But the wicked don’t want rescue until they see the tragic consequences of their ways. So, God engineers personal disaster. Why wouldn’t He? He wants to do what is best for you and me, and when we can’t see what is best because we are blinded by the pig food, He will press our lives into terrible corners. It is part of the divine plan. Drowning men need rescue, so God throws us into the raging surf and waits until we are gasping for air. It is the loving thing to do. Of course, many of us come along and offer temporary assistance in the midst of God’s engineered crisis. Our help delays the plan. Our kiss of friendship serves only to consign others to the pigpen, despite our noble motives. Messing with the plan has serious consequences. Before fools rush in, they better know what God is doing. Right?
Topical Index: Restoration