12 And the word of the Lord came to me: 13 “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, 14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God.
15 “If I cause wild beasts to pass through the land, and they ravage it, and it be made desolate, so that no one may pass through because of the beasts, 16 even if these three men were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither sons nor daughters. They alone would be delivered, but the land would be desolate.
17 “Or if I bring a sword upon that land and say, Let a sword pass through the land, and I cut off from it man and beast, 18 though these three men were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they alone would be delivered.
19 “Or if I send a pestilence into that land and pour out my wrath upon it with blood, to cut off from it man and beast, 20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.
21 “For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast! 22 But behold, some survivors will be left in it, sons and daughters who will be brought out; behold, when they come out to you, and you see their ways and their deeds, you will be consoled for the disaster that I have brought upon Jerusalem, for all that I have brought upon it. 23 They will console you, when you see their ways and their deeds, and you shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 14:12-23 ESV
Even prophets of God have their moments of doubt and discouragement, and Ezekiel was no exception. Although he was a divinely-ordained spokesman for the Almighty, there must have been times when Ezekiel grew concerned about the message he was commanded to deliver. Standing before his peers each day and communicating God’s blistering message of condemnation and judgment could not have been easy. It’s likely that the shocked members of his audience registered their dissatisfaction with his raging rhetoric and raised questions of their own, causing Ezekiel to have second thoughts about God’s proposed plan for Jerusalem’s destruction.
Somewhere along the way, the young prophet must have considered the story of God informing Abraham of His intention to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. There’s little doubt that Abraham knew about the less-than-flattering reputation of this pair of pagan communities. The tales of their immoral exploits had become legendry, and Abraham’s nephew, Lot, who had taken up residence in Sodom, had likely confirmed the truth behind the stories. So, when God informed Abraham that He was going to judge these cities “because their sin is so flagrant” (Genesis 18:20 NLT), Abraham grew concerned about the fate of Lot and his family, and he raised a concern about God’s plan.
“Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” – Genesis 18:23-25 NLT
It seems only logical that Ezekiel would have harbored similar apprehensions concerning God’s plans for the righteous remnant in his own day. He would have known about individuals back in Jerusalem whom he considered to be faithful followers of Yahweh. Were they to suffer the same fate as the wicked? Were they doomed to the same destruction as those who refused to honor God?
Whether Ezekiel had expressed his concerns verbally or they remained as unspoken thoughts in his mind, the all-knowing God of the universe knew what His prophet was thinking. So, He addressed the 800-pound gorilla in the room by proposing a not-so-hypothetical situation.
“Son of man, suppose the people of a country were to sin against me, and I lifted my fist to crush them, cutting off their food supply and sending a famine to destroy both people and animals. Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were there, their righteousness would save no one but themselves, says the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 14:13-14 NLT
God was describing the fate that awaited Jerusalem and Ezekiel knew it. But God informs His prophet that the presence of a handful of righteous individuals would not be enough to spare the city from judgment – even if they were well-established icons of religious virtue and moral respectability. And to drive home His point, God lists the names of three such men: Noah, Daniel, and Job.
As a priest, Ezekiel would have been familiar with all three men. He was well-versed in the Genesis account of Noah and the great flood that destroyed all living things on the earth.
The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:6 NLT
In the midst of the growing wickedness, there was one man in whom God found favor: Noah. He was a solitary ray of light in the pervading darkness of sin.
Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God. – Genesis 6:9 NLT
Yet, Noah’s righteous standing did not forestall the destruction God had ordained. The flood came and the wicked were destroyed. But Noah and his family were preserved in the safe confines of the ark. While all humanity perished, Noah and his seven family members were spared.
What about Daniel? He was a fellow exile who had also been taken captive in the first deportation but had ended up living in the Babylonian capital. The book of Daniel provides the story of his life and affirms that he was a godly young man who had grown up in Jerusalem. But his righteousness had not prevented the fall of the city or kept him from being sent as a captive to Babylon. And while God knew that Daniel continued to walk in keeping with His commands, even while living as an exile in Babylon, the righteous behavior of this one man would not deliver Jerusalem.
Then there’s Job, an Old Testament character whose righteous reputation would have been very familiar to Ezekiel. His story, recorded in the book that bears his name, portrays him as a righteous man who enjoyed great favor with God.
He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. – Job 1:1 NLT
God even confirmed Job’s sterling reputation.
“He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.” – Job 1:8 NLT
And yet, the book of Job tells the story of how this righteous man was forced to endure great suffering and undergo a devastating series of painful losses, including the deaths of all his children, devastating economic failure, and debilitating physical ailments. Yet, through it all, Job remained faithful to God. He was able to say, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT). This man’s righteousness did not immunize him from suffering. It did not prevent the deaths of his children.
God wants Ezekiel to understand that the presence of a righteous remnant would not be enough to save the city of Jerusalem.
“…even if those three men were there, they wouldn’t be able to save their own sons or daughters.” – Ezekiel 14:16 NLT
War, famine, wild animals, and disease were coming. There were the inevitable and unavoidable consequences of Judah’s sin. But God acknowledges that He will preserve any who are righteous. If there are any in Jerusalem who model their lives after Noah, Daniel, and Job, they can expect to enjoy the same fate as these three men.
“They alone would be saved, but the land would be made desolate.” – Ezekiel 14:16 NLT
“They alone would be saved.” – Ezekiel 14:18 NLT
“They alone would be saved by their righteousness.” – Ezekiel 14:20 NLT
But the rest will experience the full extent of God’s wrath.
“How terrible it will be when all four of these dreadful punishments fall upon Jerusalem—war, famine, wild animals, and disease—destroying all her people and animals.” – Ezekiel 14:21 NLT
Yet, God will mercifully spare some, and they will end up as exiles in Babylon just like Ezekiel and Daniel. And when Ezekiel sees them for the first time, he will fully understand the nature of God’s ways.
“Yet there will be survivors, and they will come here to join you as exiles in Babylon. You will see with your own eyes how wicked they are, and then you will feel better about what I have done to Jerusalem. When you meet them and see their behavior, you will understand that these things are not being done to Israel without cause.” – Ezekiel 14:22-23 NLT
Even after experiencing the fall of Jerusalem, witnessing the destruction of the temple, and enduring their forced march to Babylon, these wicked and rebellious people will have learned nothing. Their unrighteous behavior will be on full display and provide ample justification for God’s actions. Ezekiel will know with unquestionable certainty that the Sovereign Lord has administered justice and displayed His glory and holiness in the lives of His rebellious people. The Judge of all the earth has done what is good and right.
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.