Destroyed By the Very Thing You Love

22 Therefore, O Oholibah, thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I will stir up against you your lovers from whom you turned in disgust, and I will bring them against you from every side: 23 the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them, desirable young men, governors and commanders all of them, officers and men of renown, all of them riding on horses. 24 And they shall come against you from the north with chariots and wagons and a host of peoples. They shall set themselves against you on every side with buckler, shield, and helmet; and I will commit the judgment to them, and they shall judge you according to their judgments. 25 And I will direct my jealousy against you, that they may deal with you in fury. They shall cut off your nose and your ears, and your survivors shall fall by the sword. They shall seize your sons and your daughters, and your survivors shall be devoured by fire. 26 They shall also strip you of your clothes and take away your beautiful jewels. 27 Thus I will put an end to your lewdness and your whoring begun in the land of Egypt, so that you shall not lift up your eyes to them or remember Egypt anymore.

28 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will deliver you into the hands of those whom you hate, into the hands of those from whom you turned in disgust, 29 and they shall deal with you in hatred and take away all the fruit of your labor and leave you naked and bare, and the nakedness of your whoring shall be uncovered. Your lewdness and your whoring 30 have brought this upon you, because you played the whore with the nations and defiled yourself with their idols. 31 You have gone the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand. 32 Thus says the Lord God:

“You shall drink your sister’s cup
    that is deep and large;
you shall be laughed at and held in derision,
    for it contains much;
33 you will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow.
A cup of horror and desolation,
    the cup of your sister Samaria;
34 you shall drink it and drain it out,
    and gnaw its shards,
    and tear your breasts;

for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. 35 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you yourself must bear the consequences of your lewdness and whoring.” – Ezekiel 23:22-35 ESV

Both Israel and Judah had developed the habit of reaching out to foreign powers when they found themselves in need of military assistance. Rather than relying upon their omnipotent God, they sought aid from the superpowers of their day. Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon were three of the most powerful nations on earth at the time and each of them lusted after the land of Canaan, viewing it as prime real estate to add to their growing empires.

God uses sardonic imagery to describe the southern kingdom of Judah as a love-struck woman fawning over the glamour shots of the handsome Babylonian soldiers in their impressive military uniforms.

“She saw men carved on the wall, images of the Chaldeans carved in bright red,  wearing belts on their waists and flowing turbans on their heads, all of them looking like officers, the image of Babylonians whose native land is Chaldea. When she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. The Babylonians crawled into bed with her. They defiled her with their lust…” – Ezekiel 23:14-17 NLT

While God portrays Judah as a love-struck, starry-eyed woman with lust on her mind, His assessment of the southern kingdom was spot-on. There had been a time when King Ahaz of Judah had reached out to the Assyrians in hopes that they could assist him in his ongoing conflict with the northern kingdom of Israel.

King Ahaz sent messengers to King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria with this message: “I am your servant and your vassal. Come up and rescue me from the attacking armies of Aram and Israel.” Then Ahaz took the silver and gold from the Temple of the Lord and the palace treasury and sent it as a payment to the Assyrian king. – 2 Kings 16:7-8 NLT

Both Judah and Israel were guilty of viewing these foreign powers as their preferred source of salvation. But God had used the prophet, Jeremiah, to remind them that these “love affairs” rarely produced the outcome they desired.

“What have you gained by your alliances with Egypt
    and your covenants with Assyria?
What good to you are the streams of the Nile
    or the waters of the Euphrates River? – Jeremiah 2:18 NLT

Yet, they never seemed to learn from their mistakes. They would get in bed with these attractive-looking saviors, only to find out that their desires were driven by lust and not love.

“…after she was defiled by them, she became disgusted with them. When she lustfully exposed her nakedness, I was disgusted with her, just as I had been disgusted with her sister.” – Ezekiel 23:17-18 NLT

Once the thrill of the hunt was over, the attraction was quickly replaced by loathing. Regret would eventually set in, but it never seemed to diminish Judah’s lustful quest for power and protection from outside sources. So, God warns them that He is going to use their former lovers to destroy them.

“I am about to stir up against you the lovers with whom you were disgusted; I will bring them against you from every side: the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod, Shoa, and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them, desirable young men, all of them governors and officials, officers and nobles, all of them riding on horses.” – Ezekiel 23:22-23 NLT

At the time Ezekiel penned these words, the Assyrians had been subsumed by the more powerful Babylonian empire. Pekod, Shoa, and Koa are references to tribes that lived in what was formerly Assyrian territory but were now part of the rapidly expanding Babylonian empire. By this time, the northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians, and God is warning the rebellious northern kingdom of Judah that they are about to feel the full weight of His wrath in the form of the Babylonians.

“They will attack you with weapons, chariots, wagons, and with a huge army; they will array themselves against you on every side with large shields, small shields, and helmets. I will assign them the task of judgment; they will punish you according to their laws.” – Ezekiel 23:24 NLT

And God makes it clear that all of this will be His doing.

I will direct my jealous anger against you, and they will deal with you in rage. – Ezekiel 23:25 NLT

The Babylonians will become His instrument of judgment. The very nation that Judah turned to for hope and help would become their destroyer. Their former lover would turn on them and become their executioner. And the destruction would be devastating. God describes Judah as being defaced and deformed, having its former symbols of beauty and vitality violently marred.

They will strip your clothes off you and take away your beautiful jewelry. – Ezekiel 23:26 NLT

And the book of 2 Kings describes exactly what happened when that fateful day finally arrived.

As the Lord had said beforehand, Nebuchadnezzar carried away all the treasures from the Lord’s Temple and the royal palace. He stripped away all the gold objects that King Solomon of Israel had placed in the Temple. King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land. – 2 Kings 24:13-14 NLT

In this chapter, God has repeatedly referred to Judah by the name Oholibah, which means “my tent is in her.” The coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians was going to leave God’s “tent” or temple completely destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar’s forces would tear it down stone by stone, leveling this once-magnificent edifice to rubble and leaving its former beauty unrecognizable.

On August 14 of that year, which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard and an official of the Babylonian king, arrived in Jerusalem. He burned down the Temple of the Lord, the royal palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the important buildings in the city. Then he supervised the entire Babylonian army as they tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. Then Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, took as exiles the rest of the people who remained in the city, the defectors who had declared their allegiance to the king of Babylon, and the rest of the population. But the captain of the guard allowed some of the poorest people to stay behind to care for the vineyards and fields. – 2 Kings 25:8-12 NLT

The people of Judah thought the temple was their get-out-of-jail-free card. They truly believed it gave them carte blanche and allowed them to do as they pleased. The prophet Jeremiah accused them of boldly proclaiming, “The LORD’s Temple is here! The LORD’s Temple is here!” (Jeremiah 7:4 NLT). It was their ultimate security blanket. Yet, God had repeatedly warned them that the temple would not and could not save them.

“Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, ‘We are safe!’—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the LORD, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 7:8-11 NLT

And the day would come when God’s warnings came to fruition. He would bring about the destruction of the house that bore His name, and He would destroy the very people who had repeatedly defamed His name before the nations.

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.

When the Godly Become Godless

1 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “And you, son of man, will you judge, will you judge the bloody city? Then declare to her all her abominations. You shall say, Thus says the Lord God: A city that sheds blood in her midst, so that her time may come, and that makes idols to defile herself! You have become guilty by the blood that you have shed, and defiled by the idols that you have made, and you have brought your days near, the appointed time of your years has come. Therefore I have made you a reproach to the nations, and a mockery to all the countries. Those who are near and those who are far from you will mock you; your name is defiled; you are full of tumult.

“Behold, the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood. Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you. You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths. There are men in you who slander to shed blood, and people in you who eat on the mountains; they commit lewdness in your midst. 10 In you men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women who are unclean in their menstrual impurity. 11 One commits abomination with his neighbor’s wife; another lewdly defiles his daughter-in-law; another in you violates his sister, his father’s daughter. 12 In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take interest and profit and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; but me you have forgotten, declares the Lord God.

13 “Behold, I strike my hand at the dishonest gain that you have made, and at the blood that has been in your midst. 14 Can your courage endure, or can your hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with you? I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it. 15 I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you through the countries, and I will consume your uncleanness out of you. 16 And you shall be profaned by your own doing in the sight of the nations, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 22:1-16 ESV

The people of Judah were lawbreakers – plain and simple. They were guilty of violating the commands of God as outlined in the Mosaic Law, and they couldn’t pass the buck and blame their ancestors for their predicament. No, this was a present-day problem that persisted in Judah and all the way to the Kebar River in Babylon. Wherever the people of God could be found, spiritual unfaithfulness and moral laxity were in close proximity. The exiles eeking out a living as refugees in Babylon couldn’t claim exemption from God’s wrath because they were just as guilty of apostasy and idolatry as their friends and family members back home. In the short time they had been in Babylon, they had acclimated to their new surroundings and even adopted the gods of their captors. They no longer bothered to keep the Sabbath day holy. Their observance of God’s commands had become optional rather than mandatory.

But God’s greatest condemnation was reserved for the citizens of “the bloody city” (Ezekiel 22:2 ESV). This was His less-than-flattering description of Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah, and the location of the majestic temple that Solomon had built in His honor.

God’s description of Jerusalem as a bloody city was not just hyperbole. He wasn’t exaggerating or attempting to use over-the-top rhetoric to paint the city in as negative a light as He possibly could. In six verses, God lays out the evidence for His accusation of blood-guilt against Jerusalem’s inhabitants. In verses two and three, He refers to Jerusalem as a “city of murderers,” and each of these “murderers” was guilty of committing an actual crime.

“…you are guilty because of the blood you have shed.” – Ezekiel 22:4 NLT

Every leader in Israel who lives within your walls is bent on murder. – Ezekiel 22:6 NLT

People accuse others falsely and send them to their death. – Ezekiel 22:9 NLT

There are hired murderers, loan racketeers, and extortioners everywhere.” – Ezekiel 22:12 NLT

But now I clap my hands in indignation over your dishonest gain and bloodshed. – Ezekiel 22:13 NLT

The Mosaic Law had been intended to regulate human behavior, dictating how God’s people were to interact and engage with Him and with one another. The law had a vertical and horizontal aspect to it. It outlined how the Israelites were to conduct their lives and display their set-apart status as His chosen people. There were laws that determined how they were to treat God, and there were laws that determined their relationships with one another. And adherence to the law was to produce a community that was regulated and motivated by love.

There was an occasion when Jesus was approached by some Jewish religious leaders, and they asked Him to name “the most important commandment in the law of Moses,” (Matthew 22:36 NLT), to which Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 NLT). Jesus described this as “the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:38 NLT), but then quickly added the following addendum to His answer:

A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:39 NLT

Love God. Love others. The entire corpus of the Mosaic Law rested on those two timeless truths. Obedience to God’s law should reflect a love for Him and demonstrate a love for others. It was never intended to be a list of rules and regulations to adhere to out of some sense of duty or in hopes of a reward for a job well done.

God had graciously given His laws to the descendants of Abraham. They were unique to the people of Israel and were designed to set them apart from the rest of the world‘s population. By living in loving obedience to God’s commands, the Israelites would showcase God’s love, mercy, power, and grace to the nations. But rather than love and listen to God, they had chosen to adopt the ways of the world. They wanted to blend in, not stand out.

We want to be like the nations all around us, who serve idols of wood and stone.” – Ezekiel 20:32 NLT

They chose idolatry over fidelity and faithfulness. And in choosing to love false gods, they rejected the one true God. They fell out of love with God and abandoned His law and, in doing so, lost the capacity to love one another. The apostle Paul describes the sequence of events that leads to this kind of drastic behavioral change.

…they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself… – Romans 1:21-25 NLT

This pattern is on full display in Ezekiel 22, as God describes the downward trajectory of Judah’s apostasy. Their idolatry or love affair with false gods had resulted in abject hatred for one another. Selfishness ruled the day. The entire community was marked by injustice and abuse. By choosing to reject God and embrace idols, the people of Israel had jettisoned their set-apart status and took on the characteristics of the fallen world around them.

They no longer honored their fathers and mothers as God had commanded them to do. They extorted the foreigners living among them, profiting off of them by demanding payment for protection. Rather than treat orphans and widows with dignity and respect as God had commanded, they wronged and oppressed them. They were guilty of perjury and liable, falsely accusing one another just to line their own pockets. And they were even willing to see the innocent put to death if it meant they could somehow benefit from their demise. Adultery was rampant. Sexual sin was widely practiced and accepted. Rape and incest had become so commonplace that there was no longer any shame associated with these heinous acts. Hired murderers, loan racketeers, and extortioners were everywhere. And God sums up the sorry state of affairs by declaring, “They never even think of me and my commands, says the Sovereign Lord” ( Ezekiel 22:12 NLT).

In a sense, God was out of sight and out of mind. They lived as if He didn’t even exist, or if He did, He was too powerless or indifferent to do anything about their behavior. They truly thought they could continue to live in violation of His law and get away with it. But they were in for a rude awakening. God was about to bring their sinful free-for-all to an abrupt and ignominious end.

“But now I clap my hands in indignation over your dishonest gain and bloodshed. How strong and courageous will you be in my day of reckoning? I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said. I will scatter you among the nations and purge you of your wickedness.” – Ezekiel 22:13-15 NLT

The people of God had become godless. They had abandoned their set-apart status in order to blend in with the rest of the world. But their idols would not save them. Their substitute gods would prove to be impotent and incapable of delivering them from the wrath of Yahweh. Their sinful behavior had polluted the land of promise, so God was going to purge the land of their presence, sending them into exile just like Ezekiel and his fellow refugees. But when all was said and done, they would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Yahweh alone is God.

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.

For the Sake of His Name

In the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God, Is it to inquire of me that you come? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you. Will you judge them, son of man, will you judge them? Let them know the abominations of their fathers, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: On the day when I chose Israel, I swore to the offspring of the house of Jacob, making myself known to them in the land of Egypt; I swore to them, saying, I am the Lord your God. On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. And I said to them, ‘Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.’ But they rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.

“Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. 10 So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. 11 I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. 12 Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. 13 But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned.

“Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. 14 But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. 15 Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land that I had given them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands, 16 because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols. 17 Nevertheless, my eye spared them, and I did not destroy them or make a full end of them in the wilderness.

18 “And I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor keep their rules, nor defile yourselves with their idols. 19 I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules, 20 and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.’ 21 But the children rebelled against me. They did not walk in my statutes and were not careful to obey my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths.

“Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the wilderness. 22 But I withheld my hand and acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. 23 Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols. 25 Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, 26 and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 20:1-26 NLT

Sometime around 591 BC, Ezekiel received a delegation of Jewish officials who sought to receive a word from the Lord. Rumors had been circulating among the exiles that the Egyptians had secured a victory in Sudan and were flexing their muscles in Palestine. They had also heard that Zedekiah, the king of Judah, was seeking an alliance with the Egyptians in hopes of overthrowing the occupation of the Babylonians. So, the dignitaries who knocked on Ezekiel’s door were most likely looking for divine confirmation that their hopes for a successful alliance with Egypt would be confirmed. But God had a different message for them.

First, He confronted them for their audacity to seek His face when they had been defaming His name for so many years. They had no interest in getting to know God but simply wanted to know what He knew. They were attempting to use God as a fortune teller, hoping to extract from Him the information they wanted to hear. But what God had to tell them would not be music to their ears.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: How dare you come to ask me for a message? As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I will tell you nothing! – Ezekiel 20:3 NLT

Yet, God went on to tell them more than they wanted to know. He revisited their long track record of idolatry and apostasy, reminding them how little had changed over the centuries. From the moment He chose them as His special possession, they had made a habit of worshiping other gods. In fact, when God had come to the descendants of Jacob who had been living in captivity in Egypt for more than 400 years, He found them worshiping the false gods of Egypt. But, He promised to deliver them and take them to the land of Canaan, but with one condition.

“Each of you, get rid of the vile images you are so obsessed with. Do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt, for I am the Lord your God.” – Ezekiel 20:7 NLT

Even after hearing God’s promise of deliverance and His description of the fruitful land they would receive as their inheritance, they continued to worship the gods of Egypt.

“They did not get rid of the vile images they were obsessed with, or forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I threatened to pour out my fury on them to satisfy my anger while they were still in Egypt. – Ezekiel 20:8 NLT

Yet, God kept His word and freed them from their captivity. But He did so in order to protect the honor of His name. He had committed Himself to love and protect the descendants of Abraham. He was their God and they were His chosen people. If He abandoned them, the honor of His name would be diminished among the nations.

God’s name represents who He is. It encompasses His character and nature. His name isn’t just a label or designation to help differentiate Him from something or someone else. It is His essence. And as the chosen children of God, the people of Israel were to help set apart His name by living lives that were distinctly different from the nations around them.

In this chapter, God reminds the people of their repeated rejection of Him over the centuries. Over and over again, He says, “But they rebelled…” God had made a solemn oath to deliver them from captivity and give them the Promised Land. In return, He had asked them to get rid of their idols and worship Him alone. But they couldn’t do it. They repeatedly rebelled and refused to obey His law – all throughout their years in the wilderness and even after they arrived in the Promised Land. So God was forced to punish them for their rebellion. He would have been absolutely just in wiping them out completely, but instead, He showed them grace and mercy – all to protect the integrity of His name.

He was going to do what He said He would do. He was going to keep the terms of His covenant. He had promised them the land and He was going to give it to them – in spite of their unfaithfulness and rebellion. God’s name and His character were at stake. If He failed to bring the people of Israel into the promised land, the nations would have questioned His integrity. They would have doubted His power. They would have never seen His holiness or set-apartness – those characteristics about Him that made Him distinct from all other gods.

Over the years, the people of God had brought shame on His name. They had been set apart by God as distinct and holy. They were His possession and were to live like it. That is why He gave them the Law. That is why He provided the sacrificial system.

“I gave them my decrees and regulations so they could find life by keeping them. And I gave them my Sabbath days of rest as a sign between them and me. It was to remind them that I am the Lord, who had set them apart to be holy.” – Ezekiel 20:11-12 NLT

Unlike all the other nations, the Israelites were commanded to worship God alone. But they had failed to do so, and as a result, they had defiled His name. And while God would have been completely justified in destroying them, He was committed to keeping His promises because the honor of His name was at stake.

Yet, even after experiencing the grace of His miraculous deliverance from captivity, they continued to worship the false gods of Egypt.

“They wouldn’t obey my regulations even though obedience would have given them life. They also violated my Sabbath days. So I threatened to pour out my fury on them, and I made plans to utterly consume them in the wilderness. – Ezekiel 20:13 NLT

Several times along the way from Egypt to Canaan, the people of Israel tested God’s patience and pushed His mercy to the limits. But when they arrived at the banks of the Jordan River and refused to enter the land, God determined to curse them so they might wander in the wilderness until that first generation died off. Then He would allow their descendants to enter the land and enjoy His presence and provision. But even that second generation of Israelites proved to be far from faithful.

“But their children, too, rebelled against me. They refused to keep my decrees and follow my regulations, even though obedience would have given them life. And they also violated my Sabbath days.” – Ezekiel 20:21 NLT

The pattern continued. Each generation repeated the same deadly mistake, forsaking the one true God for the false gods of Egypt and Canaan. They refused to obey His commands and worship Him alone. For 40 long years, God endured the stubborn resistance of His covenant-breaking people. And while He refused to destroy them, He did predict their future downfall. He would bring them to the land and bless them abundantly, but He would also punish them for their unwillingness to honor Him as God.

“Nevertheless, I withdrew my judgment against them to protect the honor of my name before the nations that had seen my power in bringing them out of Egypt. But I took a solemn oath against them in the wilderness. I swore I would scatter them among all the nations because they did not obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 20:22-24 NLT

As the covenant-keeping God, if He failed to keep His promises, He would prove Himself either untrustworthy or incapable of doing what He had promised. So when the people failed to honor God’s name, He intervened so that he might protect the integrity of His name. He punished justly, spared them graciously, and continually extended mercy – refusing the wipe them out completely, all to protect the honor of His name.

But if the Jewish officials thought God was going to overlook their track record of sin and give them a favorable message concerning their deliverance, they were going to be disappointed. God warned Ezekiel that the day of judgment was about to come. The gracious and merciful God of Israel had seen and endured enough.

“I gave them over to worthless decrees and regulations that would not lead to life. I let them pollute themselves with the very gifts I had given them, and I allowed them to give their firstborn children as offerings to their gods—so I might devastate them and remind them that I alone am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 20:25-26 NLT

Zedekiah’s overtures to Egypt would amount to nothing. Any hopes of securing an alliance against the Babylonians would fail. If the Israelites would not honor the integrity of God’s name, He would do so Himself.

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.

Turning Sorrow Into Gladness

1 And you, take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel, and say:

What was your mother? A lioness!
    Among lions she crouched;
in the midst of young lions
    she reared her cubs.
And she brought up one of her cubs;
    he became a young lion,
and he learned to catch prey;
    he devoured men.
The nations heard about him;
    he was caught in their pit,
and they brought him with hooks
    to the land of Egypt.
When she saw that she waited in vain,
    that her hope was lost,
she took another of her cubs
    and made him a young lion.
He prowled among the lions;
    he became a young lion,
and he learned to catch prey;
    he devoured men,
and seized their widows.
    He laid waste their cities,
and the land was appalled and all who were in it
    at the sound of his roaring.
Then the nations set against him
    from provinces on every side;
they spread their net over him;
    he was taken in their pit.
With hooks they put him in a cage
    and brought him to the king of Babylon;
    they brought him into custody,
that his voice should no more be heard
    on the mountains of Israel.

10 Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard
    planted by the water,
fruitful and full of branches
    by reason of abundant water.
11 Its strong stems became
    rulers’ scepters;
it towered aloft
    among the thick boughs;
it was seen in its height
    with the mass of its branches.
12 But the vine was plucked up in fury,
    cast down to the ground;
the east wind dried up its fruit;
    they were stripped off and withered.
As for its strong stem,
    fire consumed it.
13 Now it is planted in the wilderness,
    in a dry and thirsty land.
14 And fire has gone out from the stem of its shoots,
    has consumed its fruit,
so that there remains in it no strong stem,
    no scepter for ruling.

This is a lamentation and has become a lamentation. – Ezekiel 19:1-14 NLT

The people of Judah still held out hope that things would change. Even as they lived in forced exile in the land of Babylon, they kept dreaming that someone from the line of David would step up and deliver them from their oppression and restore the glory of Judah. In spite of all the warnings and prophecies of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and others, they kept believing that things were going to turn around any minute. But God wanted them to know that their destruction was unavoidable and their restoration impossible – without His help.

So, He provided Ezekiel with the lyrics to a funeral dirge – a song of lament describing the final days of the once great nation of Judah. Ezekiel was to sing this sorrowful tune to mourn the final days of Judah. From God’s perspective, Judah was already as good as dead. There was little to no life left in them. There was no king waiting in the wings, ready to step up and deliver the nation from the hands of the Babylonians. Her kings had all been killed or taken captive. Zedekiah would prove to be the final monarch to sit on the throne of David and rule over the once-formidable nation. Their glory days were behind them because they had refused to honor God by honoring His right to rule over them as the sovereign King of the universe.

Israel had once been a powerful force in the region. Like a fierce lioness, she had prowled the land of Palestine surrounded by other powerful lions. She was “a lioness among lions” (Ezekiel 19:2 NLT).  She prospered in the midst of a hostile environment and even bore cubs, one of whom became a strong young lion who “learned to hunt and devour prey, and he became a man-eater” (Ezekiel 19:3 NLT). But that “lion” was captured and taken captive to the land of Egypt.

This is a clear reference to King Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah, the last righteous king of Judah. As king, Josiah did not share his father’s love for God. Instead, he led the nation back into its former pattern of idolatry and immorality, which led God to forcibly remove him from the throne.

Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. His mother was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah from Libnah. He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestors had done.

Pharaoh Neco put Jehoahaz in prison at Riblah in the land of Hamath to prevent him from ruling in Jerusalem. – 2 Kings 23:31-33 NLT

There were plenty of people in Judah and even some of the exiles in Babylon who held out hope that God would restore Jehoahaz to the throne. But the prophet Jeremiah put that rumor to rest.

For this is what the Lord says about Jehoahaz, who succeeded his father, King Josiah, and was taken away as a captive: “He will never return. He will die in a distant land and will never again see his own country.” – Jeremiah 22:11-12 NLT

Judah, the lioness, bore other cubs to replace the one she lost. Jehoahaz was replaced by his brother Eliakim, who reigned for 11 years in Judah, thanks to the aid of the Egyptian monarch who had deposed his brother.

Pharaoh Neco then installed Eliakim, another of Josiah’s sons, to reign in place of his father, and he changed Eliakim’s name to Jehoiakim. Jehoahaz was taken to Egypt as a prisoner, where he died. – 2 Kings 23:24 NLT

Jehoiakim’s reign was also marked by idolatry and fraught with problems.

During Jehoiakim’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded the land of Judah. Jehoiakim surrendered and paid him tribute for three years but then rebelled. Then the Lord sent bands of Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite, and Ammonite raiders against Judah to destroy it, just as the Lord had promised through his prophets. – 2 Kings 24:1-2 NLT

This “cub” eventually died and was replaced by his son, Jehoiachin. Ezekiel’s dirge picks up the story with Jehoiachin’s ascension to the throne.

“When the lioness saw
    that her hopes for him were gone,
she took another of her cubs
    and taught him to be a strong young lion. – Ezekiel 19:5 NLT

Like his brothers before him, Jehoiachin proved to be a royal disaster, and he suffered the same fate as his brother, Jehoahaz.

With hooks, they dragged him into a cage
    and brought him before the king of Babylon.
They held him in captivity,
    so his voice could never again be heard
    on the mountains of Israel. – Ezekiel 19:9 NLT

But instead of exile in Egypt, Jehoiachin was banished to the land of Babylon, where he would die an ignoble death.

Nebuchadnezzar led King Jehoiachin away as a captive to Babylon, along with the queen mother, his wives and officials, and all Jerusalem’s elite. He also exiled 7,000 of the best troops and 1,000 craftsmen and artisans, all of whom were strong and fit for war. Then the king of Babylon installed Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, as the next king, and he changed Mattaniah’s name to Zedekiah. – 2 Kings 24:15-17 NLT

As Ezekiel sang the lyrics to his divinely inspired dirge, Zedekiah sat on the throne of David in Jerusalem., but he was little more than a vassal to King Nebuchadnezzar. Yet, there were still those who hoped this powerless and godless monarch would somehow rescue them from their Babylonian oppressors.

But this is where God begins to mix His metaphors and begins to refer to Judah as a fruitful vine.

“Your mother was like a vine
    planted by the water’s edge.
It had lush, green foliage
    because of the abundant water.
Its branches became strong—
    strong enough to be a ruler’s scepter.
It grew very tall,
    towering above all others.
It stood out because of its height
    and its many lush branches.” – Ezekiel 19:10-11 NLT

Despite the nation’s track record of infidelity, God had allowed it to prosper and grow. But that was about to change. With unmistakable clarity, God predicts the coming fall of Judah.

“…the vine was uprooted in fury
    and thrown down to the ground.
The desert wind dried up its fruit
    and tore off its strong branches,
so that it withered
    and was destroyed by fire.” – Ezekiel 19:12 NLT

The funeral song was a bit premature but not inaccurate. God knew the fate of Jerusalem and was letting Ezekiel in on the secret. And the book of 2 Kings describes exactly what happened when God finally destroyed the vine and its branches.

So on January 15, during the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led his entire army against Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and built siege ramps against its walls. Jerusalem was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah’s reign. – 2 Kings 25:1-2 NLT

They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:6-7 NLT

The forces of Nebuchadnezzar showed no mercy. They completely ransacked the city, plundering everything of value and destroying all that they could not take with them to Babylon.

Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard and an official of the Babylonian king, arrived in Jerusalem. He burned down the Temple of the Lord, the royal palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the important buildings in the city. Then he supervised the entire Babylonian army as they tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. – 2 Kings 25:8-10 NLT

With the eventual destruction of Jerusalem, the fall of Judah would be complete. Ezekiel and his fellow exiles would be joined by tens of thousands of other displaced Judahites.

“…the vine is transplanted to the wilderness,
    where the ground is hard and dry.
A fire has burst out from its branches
    and devoured its fruit.
Its remaining limbs are not
    strong enough to be a ruler’s scepter.” – Ezekiel 19:13-14 NLT

With the deportation of Zedekiah, there would be no king to sit on the throne of David. The fortunes of the once-great kingdom of Israel would reach an all-time low. And that would be ample reason for the people of Judah to mourn the loss of their former glory and status as God’s chosen people.

But when all else looks bleak and hopeless, there is always God. Even after their fall from grace, God would be there and completely aware of their weak and helpless condition. He knew that there was no one king left in the line of David to deliver them. But God would do what men could not do. He would eventually restore them to the land from which He had banished them. He would return a remnant to Judah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Ezra and Nehemiah would help lead a small group of captives to the land where they would labor to restore the nation. And God would be the one to make it all possible.

In spite of all their sin and rebellion, God would one day show them mercy and grace, returning them to the land and restoring them as a nation. And while there would be no king to rule when they returned, God had plans for a King in waiting – His very own Son – who sits at His right hand in heaven and will one day return to the earth to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem where He will reign in righteousness.

This song has a happy ending because God is faithful. All the sadness will be turned to joy. The darkness will be replaced by light. The hopelessness will be replaced with hope. The song of sadness will be replaced with shouts of joy.

Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. – Psalm 95:1-3 NLT

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.

A Perplexing Parable with a Happy Ending

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, propound a riddle, and speak a parable to the house of Israel; say, Thus says the Lord God: A great eagle with great wings and long pinions, rich in plumage of many colors, came to Lebanon and took the top of the cedar. He broke off the topmost of its young twigs and carried it to a land of trade and set it in a city of merchants. Then he took of the seed of the land and planted it in fertile soil. He placed it beside abundant waters. He set it like a willow twig, and it sprouted and became a low spreading vine, and its branches turned toward him, and its roots remained where it stood. So it became a vine and produced branches and put out boughs.

“And there was another great eagle with great wings and much plumage, and behold, this vine bent its roots toward him and shot forth its branches toward him from the bed where it was planted, that he might water it. It had been planted on good soil by abundant waters, that it might produce branches and bear fruit and become a noble vine.

“Say, Thus says the Lord God: Will it thrive? Will he not pull up its roots and cut off its fruit, so that it withers, so that all its fresh sprouting leaves wither? It will not take a strong arm or many people to pull it from its roots. 10 Behold, it is planted; will it thrive? Will it not utterly wither when the east wind strikes it—wither away on the bed where it sprouted?” Ezekiel 17:1-10 ESV

God has commanded Ezekiel to do some rather strange things, such as perform a one-man play dramatizing the siege and fall of Jerusalem. At one point, the prophet was told to pack all his belongings and then dig a hole in the wall of his home and crawl through it, all in order to illustrate how the citizens of Jerusalem would attempt to flee from the marauding Babylonians.

Now, God demands that His prophet “propound a riddle and speak a parable” to the Jews living in exile in Babylon. This two-punch combination of an enigmatic saying and a pithy maxim was intended to provide further illustration of and justification for Judah’s coming fall. God knew there were still those among the Jews in Jerusalem and those living as exiles in Babylon that didn’t think they deserved God’s judgment. They felt as if God was being unjust by holding them responsible for the sins of their forefathers. Yet, the Almighty took issue with their claims of innocence and He provided Ezekiel with a riddle and a parable to provide the proof.

Though God will provide the meaning behind these somewhat ambiguous illustrations, it is helpful to understand the historical context they entail. For the people of Judah to claim the moral high ground was ludicrous because they had no facts to support their claim. Judah’s track record of idolatry and apostasy was not a thing of the past but was recent as the reigns of their past few kings.

At one point, Josiah, one of their few good kings, had been replaced by his son, Jehoahaz. Only 23 years old when he ascended to the throne, Jehoahaz’s reign lasted a mere three months before he was deposed by King Neco of Egypt and replaced by his brother, Jehoiakim. This 25-year-old sovereign ruled for 11 years but as a puppet king to the Egyptians. And sadly, he proved to be a powerless and impotent king who was also godless.

He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God. – 2 Chronicles 36:5 NLT

When the Babylonians invaded the region and captured Jerusalem, Jehoiakim was taken captive and replaced by his brother, Jehoiachin. He too became a puppet king but to the Babylonians. And he also “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” (2 Chronicles 36:9 NLT). His reign lasted only three months before he too was deposed and replaced by his 21-one-year-old uncle, Zedekiah. And the book of 2 Chronicles provides a less-than-flattering assessment of his reign and the adverse impact he had on the nation.

Zedekiah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God, and he refused to humble himself when the prophet Jeremiah spoke to him directly from the Lord. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, even though he had taken an oath of loyalty in God’s name. Zedekiah was a hard and stubborn man, refusing to turn to the Lord, the God of Israel.

Likewise, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful. They followed all the pagan practices of the surrounding nations, desecrating the Temple of the Lord that had been consecrated in Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 36:12-14 NLT

All of these events had taken place just before and immediately after Ezekiel and his fellow exiles had been taken to Babylon. They had lived through Nebuchadnezzar’s capture of Jerusalem and had experienced the terror of deportation to a foreign land. And all, the while they had been in Babylon, they had received regular reports of the royal game of musical chairs going on back home.

They had no support for their claims of innocence. The last four kings to reign over Judah had been abysmal spiritual failures. They had led the nation into increasing wickedness and rebellion, and both the riddle and parable Ezekiel was required to share would support that fact.

Verses 3-6 contain the riddle, so labeled because its meaning requires explanation. God describes a large, majestic eagle swooping down from the sky and plucking the top branch off of a cedar tree. The location of this tree is described as Lebanon, a common Old Testament metonym for the land of Canaan. Lebanon was known for its giant cedar trees and is used as a substitute for the land of Israel for this reason.

The eagle transported the branch “to a city filled with merchants” and “planted it in a city of traders” (Ezekiel 17:4 NLT). Then it “took a seedling from the land and planted it in fertile soil. He placed it beside a broad river, where it could grow like a willow tree” (Ezekiel 17:5 NLT). In this riddle, God is describing the uprooting of something of value and its relocation to a new and distant location.

God seems to mix up His metaphors, describing the seedling as sprouting like a willow tree but eventually taking root and producing “a low, spreading vine” (Ezekiel 17:6 NLT). Despite being transplanted, this vine grew and prospered, having been placed in fertile soil and provided with ample water. Yet, when another eagle shows up on the scene, “the vine now sent its roots and branches toward him for water” (Ezekiel 17:7 NLT). It displays dissatisfaction with its current circumstances and seeks the aid and support of another benefactor.

So, God ends His riddle with a series of rhetorical questions and answers:

“Will this vine grow and prosper?
    No! I will pull it up, roots and all!
I will cut off its fruit
    and let its leaves wither and die.
I will pull it up easily
    without a strong arm or a large army.” – Ezekiel 17:9 NLT

But when the vine is transplanted,
    will it thrive?
No, it will wither away
    when the east wind blows against it.
It will die in the same good soil
    where it had grown so well.” – Ezekiel 17:10 NLT

Before exploring God’s explanation for this confounding puzzle, it would pay to recall the historical context of Judah’s immediate past. After just three months on the throne, Jehoahaz had been taken to Egypt as a prisoner. His brother, Jehoiakim enjoyed a much longer reign, but it still ended with him being led away in chains to Babylon. His replacement, Jehoiachin, also served a 3-month-long reign and then ended up as a prisoner in Babylon. And his uncle who succeeded him would serve as a powerless puppet king under the iron-fisted rule of Nebuchadnezzar and the mighty Babylonian empire. 

All of these facts would have been known to Ezekiel’s audience. They would have been well aware of all the soap opera-like events that had taken place back home in their absence. And they probably understood that they represented the seedling that had been transplanted by a broad river. The book of Ezekiel began with the following statement from the prophet Ezekiel:

“I was with the Judean exiles beside the Kebar River in Babylon.” – Ezekiel 1:1 NLT

While the riddle probably left them with more questions than answers, they were not so obtuse that they couldn’t understand it was all about them. After all, if God was delivering this message through His prophet, it must have application for them. And God ends His verbal conundrum with a jarring question concerning the transplanted vine: “Will it thrive?

And He answers that disconcerting question with unequivocal accuracy that must have left Ezekiel’s audience shaking in their sandals.

“Will he not pull up its roots and cut off its fruit, so that it withers, so that all its fresh sprouting leaves wither?” – Ezekiel 17:9 ESV

“Will it not utterly wither when the east wind strikes it—wither away on the bed where it sprouted?” – Ezekiel 17:10 ESV

But little do they know that this puzzling and perplexing parable has a happy ending. Despite Judah’s abysmal track record of apostasy and unfaithfulness, God has something truly incredible planned for them. He will punish them for their sins but there is also a day coming when he will restore them – all in keeping with His covenant promises.

“…all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” – Ezekiel 17:24 ESV

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.

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.

God Has Left the Building

Then I looked, and behold, on the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim there appeared above them something like a sapphire, in appearance like a throne. And he said to the man clothed in linen, “Go in among the whirling wheels underneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city.”

And he went in before my eyes. Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the house, when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord. And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks.

And when he commanded the man clothed in linen, “Take fire from between the whirling wheels, from between the cherubim,” he went in and stood beside a wheel. And a cherub stretched out his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim, and took some of it and put it into the hands of the man clothed in linen, who took it and went out. The cherubim appeared to have the form of a human hand under their wings.

And I looked, and behold, there were four wheels beside the cherubim, one beside each cherub, and the appearance of the wheels was like sparkling beryl. 10 And as for their appearance, the four had the same likeness, as if a wheel were within a wheel. 11 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went, but in whatever direction the front wheel faced, the others followed without turning as they went. 12 And their whole body, their rims, and their spokes, their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes all around—the wheels that the four of them had. 13 As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing “the whirling wheels.” 14 And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was a human face, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.

15 And the cherubim mounted up. These were the living creatures that I saw by the Chebar canal. 16 And when the cherubim went, the wheels went beside them. And when the cherubim lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the wheels did not turn from beside them. 17 When they stood still, these stood still, and when they mounted up, these mounted up with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in them.

18 Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. 19 And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.

20 These were the living creatures that I saw underneath the God of Israel by the Chebar canal; and I knew that they were cherubim. 21 Each had four faces, and each four wings, and underneath their wings the likeness of human hands. 22 And as for the likeness of their faces, they were the same faces whose appearance I had seen by the Chebar canal. Each one of them went straight forward. Ezekiel 10:1-22 ESV

As Ezekiel gazes in wonder, he sees a familiar sight; the glory of the Lord that had appeared to him on the banks of the Chebar River in Babylon. In his vision, he has been transported to the city of Jerusalem, and yet there, in the courtyard of the temple, he is given another glimpse of God’s holiness and majesty. The omnipotent, omnipresent God was not limited by time or space. He could appear to Ezekiel in the distant land of Babylon and still be present in the prophet’s homeland of Judah.

But all is not well in the capital city of Jerusalem. God has given Ezekiel an up close and personal glimpse of the sorry state of affairs back home. The sins of his countrymen are worse than he could have imagined. They have erected idols in the temple. They are clandestinely worshiping false gods in hidden rooms within the temple grounds. Their spiritual adultery and unfaithfulness have reached a whole new low – even for the people of Israel.

Now Ezekiel was about to witness a scene that would be devastating for him as a prophet of God. The glory of God was going to abandon the very temple designed as His dwelling place. All the way back on the day when Solomon had dedicated the Temple upon its completion, God had given this unique structure His Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval by filling it with His glory.

When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple. – 1 Kings 8:10-11 NLT

At that moment, God had taken up residence in the temple that Solomon had built for Him. He had filled it with His glory and, now, hundreds of years later, God was about to leave the premises. And with His exit, He would be making a not-so-subtle statement concerning the extent of Israel’s apostasy. Their sin had become so great that He could no longer dwell among them.

As Ezekiel watched, the glory of God transitioned from the courtyard to the main entrance of the temple. From there it moved to the east gate of the temple grounds. God was methodically moving further away from the Holy of Holies, the innermost section of the temple where the ark of the covenant was contained. His departure was well-orchestrated and intended to dramatize His dissatisfaction with His chosen people. He was no longer able to dwell in the house built for Him because it was no longer set aside for Him alone. The people had defiled it by erecting idols to false gods within its walls.

The temple of God was no longer the temple of God. Because the people had desecrated it with their idolatrous actions, it had lost its distinctiveness and so, God prepared to remove His presence. This symbolic representation of God’s majestic glory departing the temple was meant to drive home Israel’s pending doom. The God who had chosen them as His own was preparing to leave them on their own. They would be left to face the Babylonians without the presence and power of God Almighty on their side. They would have a temple filled with idols dedicated to false gods, but the one true God would have vacated the premises.

What a sad statement. What a chilling reality. The God of the universe was removing Himself from their midst. He was no longer willing to tolerate their rebellion and open rejection of His authority over their lives. This was a sad day for Israel. But it was not the first time the glory of God had left them. Back in the days before there were kings over Israel, the prophet Samuel witnessed another dark day in the life of the people of God. They were at war with the Philistines and things were not going well. So they decided to bring the ark of God from where it was kept in the tabernacle in Shiloh.

They treated it as some kind of magic talisman that could bring them victory over their enemies. They knew that God was enthroned above the cherubim that decorated the top of the ark, so they reasoned that if they could bring the ark to the battle, God would come along with it. They believed they could force God to do their will by physically hauling the ark from one spot to another. But they never asked God for permission or sought His advice about the war with the Philistines. They simply wanted a quick fix for their pressing problem. But it didn’t turn out well.

The ark was captured by the Philistines and more than 30,000 Jews were killed. The rest ran for their lives. Not only that, Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli the priest, were killed in the battle. When Eli received news that the battle had been lost, his sons were dead, and the Ark had been captured, he dropped dead. When Phinehas’ pregnant wife got word that her husband was dead, she went into early labor and died. But she stayed alive long enough to give birth to a son and she named him Ichabod, which means “the glory has departed.” Her son’s name would be a permanent reminder of Israel’s sad state of affairs.

“The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured.” – 1 Samuel 4:22 NL

The glory had departed. God had left the building. All hope was lost. But wait. While these two stories are sad and leave us with a sense of impending doom, we can’t forget the fact that the Spirit of God indwells all those who have placed their faith in the saving work of His Son Jesus Christ.

As Christ-followers, our bodies serve as temples for the Holy Spirit. We have been indwelt with His presence. We have been set apart for His use. The very power of God resides within us, and it is a permanent condition. His glory will never depart from us. Yet, you and I can quench the Spirit. We can determine to live our lives outside of His control and refuse to listen to His voice. We can conduct our lives in such a way that we obscure the glory of God that is present in our lives. So, the apostle Paul exhorts us, “Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Romans 8:12-14 NLT).

We have the glory of God within us. But like the people of Israel, we must decide to allow our lives to be directed by God. It is not enough to have His indwelling presence. I must choose to obey His word and follow His will. I can’t treat the Holy Spirit of God as some magic talisman that I tap into when I need a quick spiritual fix or a fast solution to a problem. He is God and He is to be feared and obeyed. While He will never leave me, He can choose to leave me to myself, allowing me to walk in the flesh and suffer the consequences. He will continue speaking to me and attempt to convict and direct me. but I must choose to listen and obey. To not do so is to run the risk of missing out on the glory of God in my life. And the sad truth is, many of us as believers live as if the glory of God has departed. If we’re not careful, the story of our life could be named “Ichabod” – the glory has departed. But if we live in obedience to the Spirit’s presence and in submission to His power, we can experience the reality of “Immanuel” – God with us.

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.

The Slaughter of the Wicked

Then he cried in my ears with a loud voice, saying, “Bring near the executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand.” And behold, six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his weapon for slaughter in his hand, and with them was a man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his waist. And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar.

Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. And the Lord said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house. Then he said to them, “Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out.” So they went out and struck in the city. And while they were striking, and I was left alone, I fell upon my face, and cried, “Ah, Lord God! Will you destroy all the remnant of Israel in the outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?”

Then he said to me, “The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. The land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice. For they say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see.’ 10 As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; I will bring their deeds upon their heads.”

11 And behold, the man clothed in linen, with the writing case at his waist, brought back word, saying, “I have done as you commanded me.” Ezekiel 9:1-11 ESV

The next phase of Ezekiel’s vision would be the most disturbing of all. Standing in the temple courtyard, Ezekiel heard the voice of the Lord calling for armed guards to begin the execution of the wicked. In his vision, Ezekiel saw six men appear “from the upper gate that faces north, each carrying a deadly weapon in his hand” (Ezekiel 9:2 NLT). Accompanying them was another man dressed in a linen robe and carrying a writing case at his side. While these seven individuals appeared to be men, they were most likely angelic beings, called upon by God to carry out His judgment upon the rebellious people of Judah.

As Ezekiel watched, the Shekinah glory of God, which rested above the ark of the covenant within the Holy of Holies, lifted up and moved to the entrance of the temple. This transition of God’s glory from its place above the mercy seat is significant and illustrates God’s extreme displeasure with His chosen people. When God had given Moses the instructions for building the tabernacle in the wilderness, He had included details concerning the ark of the covenant.

“…make two cherubim from hammered gold, and place them on the two ends of the atonement cover. Mold the cherubim on each end of the atonement cover, making it all of one piece of gold. The cherubim will face each other and look down on the atonement cover. With their wings spread above it, they will protect it. Place inside the Ark the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you. Then put the atonement cover on top of the Ark. I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel. – Exodus 25:18-22 NLT

When King Hezekiah of Israel found his nation threatened by the Assyrians, he entered the temple and prayed the following prayer to the Lord.

“O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see! – Isaiah 37:16-17 NLT

Now, as Ezekiel witnessed God’s presence departing from its place above the mercy seat and moving out of the Holy of Holies, he knew this could not be a good sign. And God confirmed the prophet’s suspicions when He gave instructions to the man carrying the writing case.

“Walk through the streets of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of all who weep and sigh because of the detestable sins being committed in their city.” – Ezekiel 9:4 NLT

This divine “CPA” was to make an accounting of all those withing the city of Jerusalem whose hearts were heavy over the sinful state of affairs within Judah. They were to receive some kind of identifying mark on their foreheads that would provide them with protection from the coming destruction. Their continuing faithfulness to God while surrounded by rampant apostasy, idolatry, and immorality was to be rewarded with deliverance from God’s pending wrath.

A similar scene was revealed to the apostle John when he was given a vision of the end times. He too saw a remnant of faithful Jews who received a mark that would protect them from the coming judgment of God.

Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” – Revelation 7:2-3 NLT

Then locusts came from the smoke and descended on the earth, and they were given power to sting like scorpions. They were told not to harm the grass or plants or trees, but only the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. – Revelation 9:3-4 NLT

Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. – Revelation 14:1 NLT

Ezekiel is given no indication as to how many would receive the mark, but it would appear that the number was relatively small. One man was given the task of identifying and marking all those who remained faithful to God and burdened by the moral decay of their city. And as the scribe went about his business, he was accompanied by the six executioners, who were tasked with destroying all those who failed to receive the mark.

“Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all—old and young, girls and women and little children. But do not touch anyone with the mark. Begin right here at the Temple.” – Ezekiel 9:5-6 NLT

And the first to die were the 70 leaders whom Ezekiel had seen worshiping false gods within the hidden room inside the temple. These men had been guilty of misleading the people of Judah. They were promoting idolatry and pretending to serve as priests before their panoply of false gods. And God had strong words for all those who served in leadership positions among His chosen people.

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the Lord.

Therefore, this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: “Instead of caring for my flock and leading them to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them. But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their own sheepfold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number. Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 23:1-4 NLT

God’s judgment began with those in authority but quickly spread to any and all who had turned their backs on him. God’s judgment was indiscriminate and merciless. And God’s anger was so great that He ordered the defilement of His own house.

“Defile the Temple!” the Lord commanded. “Fill its courtyards with corpses. Go!” So they went and began killing throughout the city. – Ezekiel 9:7 NLT

This scene was intended to foreshadow events that would soon take place within the walls of Jerusalem. The vision served as a kind of cinematic trailer, giving Ezekiel a glimpse of the destruction that would take place at the hands of the Babylonians.

So the Lord brought the king of Babylon against them. The Babylonians killed Judah’s young men, even chasing after them into the Temple. They had no pity on the people, killing both young men and young women, the old and the infirm. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar. The king took home to Babylon all the articles, large and small, used in the Temple of God, and the treasures from both the Lord’s Temple and from the palace of the king and his officials. Then his army burned the Temple of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces, and completely destroyed everything of value. The few who survived were taken as exiles to Babylon, and they became servants to the king and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. – 2 Chronicles 36:17-20 NLT

Ezekiel was given a preview of coming attractions and it was rated R for graphic violence. What he saw left him stunned and visibly upset, causing him to drop to his knees in sorrow and cry out to God in despair.

“O Sovereign Lord! Will your fury against Jerusalem wipe out everyone left in Israel?” – Ezekiel 9:8 NLT

The number of the dead must have been far greater than the number of those who had received the mark on their foreheads. From Ezekiel’s perspective, it appeared as if the entire population of the city was being slaughtered right before his eyes. It was more than he could take and watching the devastation left him wondering whether God’s actions were just and warranted. Even Ezekiel could not comprehend the egregious nature of Judah’s apostasy. He must have believed that there were far more faithful within the city and that God was overreacting. But God justified His actions by exposing the full extent of the apostasy among His people.

“The sins of the people of Israel and Judah are very, very great. The entire land is full of murder; the city is filled with injustice. – Ezekiel 9:9 NLT

The people lived as if God was non-existent. Either He couldn’t see what they were doing or simply didn’t care. For centuries, they had managed to escape any judgment for their idolatrous behavior, so they had grown complacent and cocky. They saw themselves as untouchable, claiming, “The Lord doesn’t see it! The Lord has abandoned the land!” (Ezekiel 9:9 NLT). But they were wrong.

The sovereign God of the universe had been watching and waiting, and now He was preparing to punish them for their sins.

“So I will not spare them or have any pity on them. I will fully repay them for all they have done.” – Ezekiel 9:10 NLT

The chapter closes with the divine scribe reporting back to God that he had successfully accomplished his assignment. The remnant had received the mark and been spared, while all the remaining inhabitants of the city had been destroyed. God’s will had been done but Ezekiel’s vision was far from over. There was more to come.

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.

It’s Worse Than You Thought

1 In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. Then I looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a man. Below what appeared to be his waist was fire, and above his waist was something like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming metal. He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, lift up your eyes now toward the north.” So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and behold, north of the altar gate, in the entrance, was this image of jealousy. And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.”

And he brought me to the entrance of the court, and when I looked, behold, there was a hole in the wall. Then he said to me, “Son of man, dig in the wall.” So I dug in the wall, and behold, there was an entrance. And he said to me, “Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here.” 10 So I went in and saw. And there, engraved on the wall all around, was every form of creeping things and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel. 11 And before them stood seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the smoke of the cloud of incense went up. 12 Then he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say, ‘The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.’” 13 He said also to me, “You will see still greater abominations that they commit.”

14 Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord, and behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. 15 Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? You will see still greater abominations than these.”

16 And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord. And behold, at the entrance of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east. 17 Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations that they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence and provoke me still further to anger? Behold, they put the branch to their nose. 18 Therefore I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.” Ezekiel 8:1-18 ESV

At some point during Ezekiel’s lengthy, non-verbal prophetic demonstration, he received a vision from God. He was seated in his home with a contingent of elders from the Jewish exiles in Babylon. He does not give a reason for their visit but it is safe to say that this was not a cordial or friendly affair. They were likely upset with the nature of his dramatic performance and the negative impact it was having on the community. His visual illustration predicting Jerusalem’s fall would have greatly disturbed his fellow exiles, who had been hoping that God would eventually return them to their homeland. But Ezekiel had ruled out that possibility.

When God had finally given Ezekiel permission to speak, He didn’t exactly give him an easy message to deliver. Chapter seven records the dire warning Ezekiel was commanded to share with the exiles in Babylon, and what he had to say did nothing to help him win friends and influence enemies.

God told them, “Soon I will pour out my fury on you and unleash my anger against you. I will call you to account for all your detestable sins” (Ezekiel 7:8 NLT). God was fed up. He had had enough. He saw that His chosen people had become proud, wealthy, self-sufficient, and over-confident. They didn’t need Him. They had become affluent and apathetic toward God, even using their wealth to create their own gods. They no longer knew God or feared Him. And to prove to Ezekiel just how bad things were back home in Jerusalem, God gave him a special “birds-eye” tour of the holy city that sounds like something straight out of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.

While seated with the elders in his home Ezekiel received a vision from God. There is no indication that the other men in the room were aware of what was happening, but for Ezekiel, this proved to be a disturbing and eye-opening adventure.

In his vision, an angel picked up Ezekiel by his hair and transported him to Jerusalem. His first stop? The northern gate of the inner courtyard of the temple. And what did he see? An idol to a false god. He describes it as “the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy” (Ezekiel 8:3 ESV). A huge idol sitting directly in the middle of the temple courtyard. Ezekiel does not give the name of this god, but it could have been a statue of Asherah, the Canaanite goddess of fertility, whose worship encouraged sexual immorality and promoted self-gratification.

Yet, Ezekiel noted that “the glory of the God of Israel was there” (Ezekiel 8:4 ESV). Despite the unexpected sight of an idol in the temple, he recognized the presence of God’s glory and majesty, just as he had seen in his previous vision.

Ezekiel must have been shocked by what he saw, but God assured them that this magical mystery tour of Judah’s sins was just getting started.

“Son of man,” he said, “do you see what they are doing? Do you see the detestable sins the people of Israel are committing to drive me from my Temple? But come, and you will see even more detestable sins than these!” – Ezekiel 8:6 NLT

Next, the angel took him to the door of the temple courtyard. In the adjacent wall was a small hole, which the angel commanded Ezekiel to expand. Upon enlarging the hole, Ezekiel discovered a hidden door. After entering the now-exposed passage, Ezekiel discovered 70 civic leaders of Israel conducting themselves as if they were priests. But they weren’t worshiping Yahweh. The walls of the hidden room were covered with “engravings of all kinds of crawling animals and detestable creatures” (Ezekiel 8:9 NLT), and there were idols of all of the false gods of Israel. Ezekiel had stumbled upon a secret sanctuary dedicated to the practice of pagan idolatry, right in the middle of the temple of God.

And their excuse for their actions? “The Lord doesn’t see us, he has deserted our land” (Ezekiel 8:12b NLT). They blamed God, accusing Him of having abandoned them, and forcing them to worship other gods in the hope of finding a solution to their problem. But they were the problem.

Ezekiel must have been appalled by what he saw, but God assured him that the worst was yet to come.

“Come, and I will show you even more detestable sins than these!” – Ezekiel 8:13 NLT

The angel brought Ezekiel to the north gate of the temple where he saw women weeping for the god Tammuz, the Babylonian god of spring. It was believed that he died at the beginning of every summer, only to resurrect again in the spring. The mournful nature of these women reflects the pervasive presence of idolatry within Israel. But, once again, God assured the slack-jawed Ezekiel that this was just the tip of the iceberg.

I will show you even more detestable sins than these! – Ezekiel 8:15 NLT

The angel to the inner courtyard of the Lord’s temple, where he saw 25 men standing with their backs to the sanctuary of God. They were facing east and worshiping the sun. The symbolism of the scene is difficult to miss. These unidentified men had turned their backs on God and were worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. They were guilty of the very thing Paul outlines in his letter to the Romans.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things… they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! – Romans 1:22-23, 25 ESV

They had replaced God. They had turned their backs on Him and were placing their hopes elsewhere. Rather than trust God for their future and return to Him in repentance over their sins, they were searching high and low for a solution to their predicament. Unwilling to admit their own culpability, they refused to own their sins and repent. Instead, they looked for another way to resolve their issues. They searched for another savior. They prayed for another deliverer.

God had given Ezekiel ample evidence of the wickedness of the people of Israel. It seems that the timing of this vision was tied to the presence of the elders in Ezekiel’s home. Evidently, they had come with the intent to convince Ezekiel that things were not that bad back in Jerusalem. They had probably tried to persuade him that his assessment of Israel’s sinfulness was overblown and his message of God’s pending judgment was inaccurate.

But God assured Ezekiel that things were far worse than he could have imagined, and He was determined to do something about it.

“Have you seen this, son of man?” he asked. “Is it nothing to the people of Judah that they commit these detestable sins, leading the whole nation into violence, thumbing their noses at me, and provoking my anger?” – Ezekiel 8:17 NLT

God was done warning His rebellious people. They had turned their backs on Him and now, He was going to return the favor.

But what about us? As we look around the world today and see all that is happening, what is our response? When we witness the physical and spiritual drought taking place in our country, do we turn to God in repentance, or do we pursue other solutions? Do we put our hope in politicians? Do we turn to science? Do we rely on our own wealth and distract ourselves with entertainment and affluence?

Paul went on to describe the stark outcome of a life lived in disobedience and unfaithfulness to God, and it isn’t a pretty picture. But it is the fate of all those who fail to acknowledge Him for who He is.

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:28-32 NLT

Men can deny God’s existence, but they will never escape His judgment.

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.

An Ever-Present Danger

1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV

Peter has just stressed the superiority of the Old Testament prophets and the God-ordained nature of their messages.

…no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:20-21 ESV

And Peter has confirmed that he and his fellow apostles had seen the validity of their words confirmed in the life of Jesus. In fact, Peter and his companions had received a personal lesson on Messianic prophecies from the lips of Jesus Himself. In one of His many post-resurrection appearances, Jesus surprised His followers by showing up unexpectedly in the room where they had gathered behind locked doors.

Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.” – Luke 24:44-48 NLT

Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, using books of the law, the prophets, and even the Psalms, revealing every passage that had been written about the coming Messiah and how He had fulfilled each of them.

The prophecies found in God’s Word could be trusted because they had been proven true. But even during the days of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the other prophets of old, there had been other men who claimed to be speaking on behalf of God. They had declared themselves to be divinely-appointed messengers but their words were contradictory to those of God’s chosen prophets. And the prophet Ezekiel delivered God’s stinging indictment against these charlatans.

Then this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, prophesy against the false prophets of Israel who are inventing their own prophecies. Say to them, ‘Listen to the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: What sorrow awaits the false prophets who are following their own imaginations and have seen nothing at all!’” – Ezekiel 13:1-3 NLT

God exposed them as fakes and frauds. Their messages may have been clever, creative, and even convincing, but they were not from God. In fact, God went on to declare that their messages had been detrimental rather than helpful.

“They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the Lord. Instead, they have told lies and made false predictions.” – Ezekiel 13:5-6 NLT

These men were nothing more than liars and deceivers, and their false prophecies were giving the people of Israel false hope. While God’s true prophets were warning the people of Israel of pending judgment for their unfaithfulness and calling for repentance, the false prophets were declaring, “all is peaceful” (Ezekiel 13:10 NLT). God accused them of “whitewashing” the wall of rebellion that the people had built against Him. In other words, they were guilty of trying to put a positive spin on a very negative situation. And God warned them that they would suffer severely for their lies.

“Because what you say is false and your visions are a lie, I will stand against you, says the Sovereign Lord. I will raise my fist against all the prophets who see false visions and make lying predictions, and they will be banished from the community of Israel. I will blot their names from Israel’s record books, and they will never again set foot in their own land. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 13:8-9 NLT

With all that as a backdrop, Peter’s words take on a much more forceful tone. Just as God had not tolerated the lies and deception of the false prophets, Peter was not about to put up with the fakes and frauds of his day. He knew that whenever the truth of God was proclaimed, it would be accompanied by lies. Yet those who propagated the lies would claim to be speaking the truth.

But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. – 2 Peter 2:1 NLT

It wasn’t a matter of if, but only when. Peter knew that when the truth of God was opposed or contradicted by lies, Satan was behind it all. He could still remember the words that Jesus had spoken to the religious leaders of Israel.

“…you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

The enemy hates the truth and will do everything in his power to refute it with cleverly-worded counterclaims that are meant to confuse and mislead. That’s why Peter warns that these self-proclaimed truth-tellers “will cleverly teach destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1 NLT). They will promote ideas that are inconsistent with the gospel of the Kingdom, as preached by Peter, Paul, and the rest of the apostles. But they won’t stop there. They will even “deny the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1 NLT). For Peter, this was the most egregious aspect of their deceitful plan. During Peter’s lifetime, he would hear of heretical teaching infiltrating the church that denied the deity of Jesus. These people taught that Jesus had been a man and nothing more. He simply lived an exemplary life that could be easily emulated by His followers. Others taught that Jesus had been divine and had only appeared to be a man. So, according to this teaching, His suffering and death had been simulated and not real.

All of these heresies were attempts to explain away Jesus’ claim to be the God-man, a truly unique individual who was 100 percent God and, at the same time, 100 percent human. Because men found it difficult to resolve this seeming contradiction, they began to use their imaginations to develop more feasible explanations. But in doing so, they were denying the clear teachings of the Word of God, and they were contradicting what Jesus had claimed about Himself.

In essence, they were teaching “a different Jesus,” which is exactly what the apostle Paul had warned the believers in Corinth about.

You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. – 2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT

And Paul was appalled to find out that the churches in Galatia had fallen prey to the same heretical teaching.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:6-9 NLT

The enemy had been busy. Satan had raised up a host of false teachers who were disseminating his imaginative but wholly fictitious version of the truth. And Peter expressed his concern that “Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality” (2 Peter 2:2 NLT). He knew these false teachers would find a ready and willing audience to embrace their heretical ideas. The early church was filled with immature believers who were easily susceptible to falsehood. As Peter revealed in his first letter, many of these people were suffering persecution for their faith and struggling with doubts and fears concerning the gospel. Following Christ had turned out to be far more difficult than they had expected. So, when these self-proclaimed apostles or messengers showed up with their more reasonable and acceptable version of the truth, they were all ears. 

But Peter warned that these men were motivated by greed, not the gospel. They were marketing their pseudo-gospel for what they could get out of it. These prophets of profit were users and abusers, and Peter warned thatGod would hold them accountable for their actions.

In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. – 2 Peter 2:3 NLT

But it was not just the false teachers who would suffer. Peter wanted his readers to know that buying into their lies would lead to apostasy, a sin that has always resulted in serious and even deadly consequences. This matter was not to be taken lightly, and false teachers were not to be treated politely.

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