21 And the word of the Lord came to me: 22 “Son of man, what is this proverb that you have about the land of Israel, saying, ‘The days grow long, and every vision comes to nothing’? 23 Tell them therefore, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will put an end to this proverb, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel.’ But say to them, The days are near, and the fulfillment of every vision. 24 For there shall be no more any false vision or flattering divination within the house of Israel. 25 For I am the Lord; I will speak the word that I will speak, and it will be performed. It will no longer be delayed, but in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it, declares the Lord God.”
26 And the word of the Lord came to me: 27 “Son of man, behold, they of the house of Israel say, ‘The vision that he sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off.’ 28 Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord God: None of my words will be delayed any longer, but the word that I speak will be performed, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 12:21-28 ESV
Ezekiel was just one more prophet among many who were each tasked with warning the people of Israel about God’s pending judgment. There had been a number of prophets whom God had sent to the northern kingdom of Judah before it fell to the Assyrians. And there were prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah whom God had sent to warn the southern kingdom of Judah that they faced a similar fate if they did abandon their idolatrous ways and return to Him in repentance.
For hundreds of years, God had been calling His rebellious people to repent or face certain judgment. The Jews living as exiles in Babylon knew from firsthand experience just how real God’s judgment could be. They had been deported after Nebuchadnezzar had made his first incursion into Judah and ransacked the city of Jerusalem. It was Ezekiel’s responsibility to carry God’s message to these displaced Jews and warn them that their compatriots back home were about to experience more of the same.
But God points out that, back in Judah, there were two prevalent attitudes concerning His judgment. First, there were those who believed that the prophets of God were all talk, not action. In other words, they talked a good game but nothing they prophesied ever came to fruition. Their dire warnings never amounted to much. This perspective had even become a popular proverb.
“Time passes, and prophecies come to nothing.” – Ezekiel 12:21 NLT
For centuries, God had been warning about the fall of Jerusalem, but the city still stood. Nothing had changed. So, people began to view the prophets as overreactive naysayers whose pessimistic pronouncements never materialized. It was like the story of the boy who cried wolf.
As the story goes, a young shepherd boy found himself bored with his job, so to add a little excitement to his day, he ran into town crying, “Wolf! Wolf! The Wolf is chasing the sheep!” The townspeople ran to his aid, only to find the flock grazing peacefully. Irritated with the boy’s antics, they warned him, “Don’t cry ‘wolf’, shepherd boy when there’s no wolf!”
As they made their way back to town, grumbling as they went, they once again heard the excited cries of the boy. “Wolf! Wolf! The wolf is chasing the sheep!” To his delight, the shepherd boy watched as the villagers ran back up the hill to confront the wolf that threatened their flocks. But, as before, there was no wolf.
Then one day, the unexpected happened. A real wolf showed up. But when the villagers heard the boy’s excited cries for help, they assumed it was just another trick, so they remained in the village. The next morning they found the shepherd boy weeping in the fields where his flocks once grazed. When they asked him what happened, he said, “There really was a wolf here! The flock has scattered! I cried out, “Wolf!” Why didn’t you come?”
The people of Judah, like the villagers in the story, had begun to believe that the prophets’ cries of danger were not to be believed. They had been listening to these doomsayers for generations and nothing they predicted ever came true. So, they began to write off everything these men said.
From their perspective, not much had changed in Jerusalem. Even the arrival of the Babylonians had done little to change their way of life. Sure, there had been some adjustments to make after the first siege and the initial deportation of some of their friends and neighbors. But, for the most part, life went on as before. And those who remained behind in Jerusalem became increasingly complacent and callous to the message of the prophets. They wrongly assumed that God was not going to act. Nothing was going to happen. In their estimation, the prophets were all bark and no bite. Or were they?
God had a different perspective and commanded Ezekiel to replace their proverb with a new one.
“I will put an end to this proverb, and you will soon stop quoting it. Now give them this new proverb to replace the old one: ‘The time has come for every prophecy to be fulfilled!’” – Ezekiel 12:23 NLT
Time was running out. The lack of measurable activity on God’s part was not to be mistaken for inaction or indifference. Time may have passed but God’s wrath had not abated. He had not forgotten their past sins and was not oblivious to their current moral condition. He had simply been waiting for the perfect moment to unleash His divinely timed plan for Jerusalem’s destruction.
How easy it is to discount the warnings of God because they don’t ever seem to come true. These Old Testament stories become little more than moral fairy tales that portray God as short-tempered and lacking in love. He comes across as overly judgmental and harsh and we discount this image of God as incompatible with the one portrayed in the New Testament. We prefer the God of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. But we fail to recognize that God is unchanging. He still hates sin. He still warns His people about the dangers of unfaithfulness and idolatry. He constantly reminds us that there are consequences for our sins. But when we sin and nothing happens, we wrongly assume that we can get away with our indiscretions and infidelity. As a result, we stop listening to His calls to confess our sins.
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 NLT
But there was a second problem in Judah. While some were claiming that the warnings of the prophets would never come true, there were others who admitted that the warnings were true but would not take place in their lifetimes. They claimed, “He’s talking about the distant future. His visions won’t come true for a long, long time” (Ezekiel 12:27 NLT). While the words of the prophets were true and the judgments of God were inevitable, they had nothing to worry about because they would fall upon a future generation. For the time being, they were safe and sound.
But God wanted them to know that their assumption was deadly wrong. The long delay was over and it was their generation that would have to live through the final destruction of Jerusalem.
“No more delay! I will now do everything I have threatened. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!’” – Ezekiel 12:28 NLT
They could go on denying the veracity of the prophecies and live as if God’s judgment was never coming. They could even convince themselves the prophecies were true but did not pose an immediate threat. But they would soon discover just how wrong they were. And this tendency to doubt, deny, or delay God’s warnings of judgment is still a problem. Even after the incarnation, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the apostle Peter warned of the danger of denying or ignoring the reality of His ultimate return. In his second letter, he provided the first-century believers with a sobering reminder.
I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles. – 2 Peter 3:2 NLT
The Old Testament Scriptures are filled with prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming, but they also predict His return at the end of the age. But more than 2,000 years have passed since Peter penned his letter, and we still await the second coming of Christ. In his day, there were those who had already begun to doubt whether Christ was ever coming back.
I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” – 2 Peter 3:3-4 NLT
Delay had caused doubt. Christ’s apparent failure to return had led the first-century Christians to have second thoughts. But Peter reminded them that God, who made the universe in eternity past, stands outside of time. To Him, “a day is like a thousand years…and a thousand years is like a day” (2 Peter 3:8 NLT). God does not grow impatient. What appears to be a delay to us is actually the perfectly timed plan of God.
Peter didn’t want his readers to mistake God’s delay as inaction or indifference. It was actually evidence of His patience and love.
The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. – 2 Peter 3:9 NLT
But that doesn’t mean we should abuse God’s loving patience by living as if we have all the time in the world. Peter assures his readers that God’s judgment will come.
But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. – 2 Peter 3:10 NLT
And that judgment will come with the return of the Lord. When He comes the second time, it will not be as Savior but as judge of all the earth. And, “on that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames” (2 Peter 3:12 NLT). And Peter reminds his readers to live with that thought in mind.
Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. – 2 Peter 3:11-12 NLT
The inevitable judgment of God should cause His people to live soberly and circumspectly. We should pursue godly and holy lives that reflect our status as His children and our citizenship in His Kingdom. We should avoid the perspective that plagued the people of Judah. Rather than live in keeping with God’s will and in fear of His judgment, they lived in a state of denial or simply viewed God’s judgment as so distant that it posed no threat to their way of life.
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.