The Unexpected Ways of God

The Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the east gate of the house of the Lord, which faces east. And behold, at the entrance of the gateway there were twenty-five men. And I saw among them Jaazaniah the son of Azzur, and Pelatiah the son of Benaiah, princes of the people. And he said to me, “Son of man, these are the men who devise iniquity and who give wicked counsel in this city; who say, ‘The time is not near to build houses. This city is the cauldron, and we are the meat.’ Therefore prophesy against them; prophesy, O son of man.”

And the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and he said to me, “Say, Thus says the Lord: So you think, O house of Israel. For I know the things that come into your mind. You have multiplied your slain in this city and have filled its streets with the slain. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Your slain whom you have laid in the midst of it, they are the meat, and this city is the cauldron, but you shall be brought out of the midst of it. You have feared the sword, and I will bring the sword upon you, declares the Lord God. And I will bring you out of the midst of it, and give you into the hands of foreigners, and execute judgments upon you. 10 You shall fall by the sword. I will judge you at the border of Israel, and you shall know that I am the Lord. 11 This city shall not be your cauldron, nor shall you be the meat in the midst of it. I will judge you at the border of Israel, 12 and you shall know that I am the Lord. For you have not walked in my statutes, nor obeyed my rules, but have acted according to the rules of the nations that are around you.”

13 And it came to pass, while I was prophesying, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died. Then I fell down on my face and cried out with a loud voice and said, “Ah, Lord God! Will you make a full end of the remnant of Israel?” Ezekiel 11:1-13 ESV

Ezekiel’s vision of Jerusalem continues as he is transported to the eastern gate of the temple courtyard. This gate overlooks the Kidron Valley with the Mount of Olives lying on the opposite side. There at the gate, Ezekiel saw the glory of manifestation of the Lord’s glory hovering over the entrance.

…as I watched, the cherubim flew with their wheels to the east gate of the Lord’s Temple. And the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them. – Ezekiel 10:19 NLT

And there at the gate, Ezekiel saw 25 of the city’s most powerful and prominent men. In their role as civic leaders, these men were conducting business at the gate and communicating their plans to the citizens of the city. With the Babylonian forces nearby and threatening the city with an imminent attack, these dignitaries were attempting to assuage the worries of their constituents. Yet, God accuses them of devising iniquity and giving wicked counsel. Their advice is faulty and their intentions are evil. They are deceiving the people with ungodly counsel that contradicts the words of the prophets. They are telling the people, “The time is not near to build houses. This city is the cauldron, and we are the meat” (Ezekiel 11:3 ESV).

The exact meaning of their words is somewhat difficult to discern. It seems clear that they recognize the dangerous nature of their situation. It would have been impossible to ignore the presence of the Babylonian army outside the gates of the city. But their statement seems to indicate a lack of concern. They admit that the current circumstances are less-than-ideal and that this is not the time to be planning for the future. But they seem to believe that all will be well. They refer to Jerusalem as a sturdy and fire-resistant iron cauldron and the citizens of the city are the meat. The flames will come and the heat will be intense, but the people will be safe inside the city’s walls.

In a sense, they were advising the citizens of the city to bide their time. In their estimation, the Babylonians posed no real threat and would eventually go away. But God had already warned the people of Judah that Nebuchadnezzar and his army were going to destroy the city along with everything and everyone in it.

Jeremiah replied, “Go back to King Zedekiah and tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will make your weapons useless against the king of Babylon and the Babylonians who are outside your walls attacking you. In fact, I will bring your enemies right into the heart of this city. I myself will fight against you with a strong hand and a powerful arm, for I am very angry. You have made me furious! I will send a terrible plague upon this city, and both people and animals will die. And after all that, says the Lord, I will hand over King Zedekiah, his staff, and everyone else in the city who survives the disease, war, and famine. I will hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and to their other enemies. He will slaughter them and show them no mercy, pity, or compassion.’

“Tell all the people, ‘This is what the Lord says: Take your choice of life or death! Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who go out and surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life! For I have decided to bring disaster and not good upon this city, says the Lord. It will be handed over to the king of Babylon, and he will reduce it to ashes.’” – Jeremiah 21:3-10 NLT

Yet, these men were directly contradicting the word of God. So, God gives Ezekiel a stinging indictment to level against these overconfident and arrogant men. He turns their pleasant-sounding metaphor on its ear.

“This city is an iron pot all right, but the pieces of meat are the victims of your injustice. As for you, I will soon drag you from this pot.” – Ezekiel 11:7 NLT

God places all the blame on them. They are guilty of gross misconduct and dereliction of duty. As leaders, they had proven to be abusive and self-serving, lining their pockets by fleecing the flock of God. The “meat” within the cauldron of Jerusalem represented the bodies of the innocent victims of their injustice and unrighteous rule.

“You have murdered many in this city and filled its streets with the dead.” – Ezekiel 11:6 NLT

These men had actually used the presence of the Babylonians to their own selfish advantage. They had taken advantage of peoples’ fears and concerns. They had used the threat of a siege to charge the people exorbitant prices for food and supplies. They had actually grown wealthy by manipulating their power as official government employees. And all along, they had failed to heed God’s repeated calls to repentance. And God, having grown weary of their act, gave Ezekiel a not-so-subtle hint as to their fate.

“I will bring on you the sword of war you so greatly fear, says the Sovereign Lord. I will drive you out of Jerusalem and hand you over to foreigners, who will carry out my judgments against you. You will be slaughtered all the way to the borders of Israel. I will execute judgment on you, and you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 11:8-10 NLT

Their hopes of riding out the siege safe and secure within the walls of Jerusalem were going to prove to be a pipe dream.

“No, this city will not be an iron pot for you, and you will not be like meat safe inside it. I will judge you even to the borders of Israel, and you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 11:11-12 NLT

For the second time, God reminds these rebellious and unrepentant leaders that when all is said and done, they will know that He is the Lord. One way or the other, they will wake up and recognize the power and holiness of Yahweh. For the time being, they had chosen to disobey His decrees and regulations. They had decided to live according to their own set of moral standards or to adopt and adapt to the ways of the pagan world around them. God had become an afterthought. His laws and decrees had become little more than suggestions rather than commands. But they were about to discover the painful truth that God’s covenant commandments were obligatory and not optional. He demanded and expected obedience on the part of His people.

And, as if to prove that He was serious, God struck one of the men dead – right on the spot. As Ezekiel was delivering the Lord’s message, “Pelatiah son of Benaiah suddenly died” (Ezekiel 11:13 NLT). And this tragic and unexpected death hit Ezekiel like a brick. Once again, he found himself questioning God’s intentions.

“O Sovereign Lord, are you going to kill everyone in Israel?” – Ezekiel 11:13 NLT

It’s interesting to note that Pelatiah’s name means “Jehovah delivers” and his father’s name, Benaiah means “Jehovah has built.” This particular individual with this very specific name dropped dead right before Ezekiel’s eyes and this left the prophet perplexed and confused. Would there be no survivors? Was God going to destroy every last citizen of the city? As an exile living in Babylon, Ezekiel had hoped that there were still a few faithful followers of Yahweh left in Judah. The thought that the entire nation had turned its back on God left Ezekiel in a state of shock and dismay. What hope did he and his fellow exiles have if God was going to destroy the city of David and annihilate its entire population? Any thought of ever returning to their homeland would be lost forever.

But despite Pelatiah’s death and God’s stern message of pending judgment, there was still reason for Ezekiel to maintain his hope. God would remain faithful to His covenant commitments. He would preserve a remnant. His plan of redemption remained in place and the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would come to fruition.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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