A Reversal of Fortunes

“And you, son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel, and say, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God: Because the enemy said of you, ‘Aha!’ and, ‘The ancient heights have become our possession,’ therefore prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord God: Precisely because they made you desolate and crushed you from all sides, so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations, and you became the talk and evil gossip of the people, therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God: Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, the ravines and the valleys, the desolate wastes and the deserted cities, which have become a prey and derision to the rest of the nations all around, therefore thus says the Lord God: Surely I have spoken in my hot jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Edom, who gave my land to themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and utter contempt, that they might make its pasturelands a prey. Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I have spoken in my jealous wrath, because you have suffered the reproach of the nations. Therefore thus says the Lord God: I swear that the nations that are all around you shall themselves suffer reproach.

“But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they will soon come home. For behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown. 10 And I will multiply people on you, the whole house of Israel, all of it. The cities shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt. 11 And I will multiply on you man and beast, and they shall multiply and be fruitful. And I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you will know that I am the Lord. 12 I will let people walk on you, even my people Israel. And they shall possess you, and you shall be their inheritance, and you shall no longer bereave them of children. 13 Thus says the Lord God: Because they say to you, ‘You devour people, and you bereave your nation of children,’ 14 therefore you shall no longer devour people and no longer bereave your nation of children, declares the Lord God.15 And I will not let you hear anymore the reproach of the nations, and you shall no longer bear the disgrace of the peoples and no longer cause your nation to stumble, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 36:1-15 ESV

Twenty fine chapters separate this message from the one Ezekiel received back in chapter six, and a quick perusal reveals their similarities and extreme differences. Back in chapter six, God gave His prophet a message to deliver against the mountains of Israel.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says to the mountains and hills and to the ravines and valleys: I am about to bring war upon you, and I will smash your pagan shrines. All your altars will be demolished, and your places of worship will be destroyed. I will kill your people in front of your idols. – Ezekiel 6:3-4 NLT

God goes on to warn of further judgments upon the land, describing shocking scenes of devastation and death. His chosen people will die from war, famine, and disease, as He pours out His fury upon them. And the land will suffer greatly because of the “idols and altars on every hill and mountain and under every green tree and every great shade tree—the places where they offered sacrifices to their idols” (Ezekiel 6:13 NLT).

The sins of the nation had defiled the land that God had set apart as their inheritance. Through repeated acts of immorality and their unrelenting practice of idolatry, they had desecrated the very place that was to have been their forever home. At one point, God had described Israel as “a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands” (Exodus 20:15 ESV), but it had been polluted by the very presence of His ungrateful and unfaithful children. So, God warned of His plan to “clean house” and purge the land of its primary problem: The people who lived there. And long before the Israelites had ever entered the land of Canaan, God had warned them about picking up the habits of the nations that lived in the land before them. Because of the wickedness of the Canaanites, God said,“ the entire land has become defiled” and “I am punishing the people who live there. I will cause the land to vomit them out” (Leviticus 18:25 NLT). But He went on to warn the Israelites not to make the same mistake. 

“All these detestable activities are practiced by the people of the land where I am taking you, and this is how the land has become defiled. So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out, as it will vomit out the people who live there now. – Leviticus 18:27-28 NLT

As Ezekiel received the words recorded in chapter 36, the damage had been done. He was living among a contingent of Israelites who had already been “spewed out” of the land of promise and found themselves living as exiles in Babylon. And because of the recent fall of Jerusalem, they would soon be joined by a new wave of displaced refugees.

But chapter 36 provides a diametrically different message concerning the land of Israel. In what is almost a mirror image of the message contained in chapter six, God communicates His future plans for the land of promise. This time He has good news for Ezekiel to deliver to the “mountains of Israel” (Ezekiel 36:1 ESV).

See, I care about you, and I will pay attention to you. Your ground will be plowed and your crops planted. I will greatly increase the population of Israel, and the ruined cities will be rebuilt and filled with people. I will increase not only the people, but also your animals. O mountains of Israel, I will bring people to live on you once again. I will make you even more prosperous than you were before. – Ezekiel 36:9-11 NLT

The very people whom God had vomited from the land would be restored and the land would be renewed. But before that could happen, God was going to have to clean house again. This time, He would remove all those nations who had taken up residence in Israel’s forced absence. All the squatters and land-grabbers would be evicted to make way for the return of God’s chosen people.

Therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign Lord. He speaks to the hills and mountains, ravines and valleys, and to ruined wastes and long-deserted cities that have been destroyed and mocked by the surrounding nations. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My jealous anger burns against these nations, especially Edom, because they have shown utter contempt for me by gleefully taking my land for themselves as plunder. – Ezekiel 36:4-5 NLT

When the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians, it didn’t take long for their neighbors to take advantage of their weakened state and enrich themselves by plundering their property and possessions. And the same thing would take place after the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians. Nearby nations like Edom would use the opportunity to expand their borders at Judah’s expense. Having escaped annihilation at the hands of the Babylonian army, these smaller neighboring states would see Judah’s demise as a windfall and mock its fall.

Israel is a land that devours its own people and robs them of their children!” – Ezekiel 36:13 NLT

But God promises to turn their words against them. They can laugh and ridicule all they want, but the day is coming when God will turn the tables once again. He provides a stern rebuke to Judah’s arrogant enemies and warns them that their days in the land are numbered.

“…this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I have taken a solemn oath that those nations will soon have their own shame to endure. – Ezekiel 36:7 NLT

God was going to wipe the smirk off their faces and eliminate their very presence from the land. This time, they would be spewed out and left homeless. Because God had given the land to His people as their inheritance. The land of milk and honey would be restored to its former glory and filled with the sights and sounds of God’s children enjoying the bounty of His blessings.

I will make you even more prosperous than you were before. – Ezekiel 36:11 NLT

The hills, mountains, ravines, and valleys throughout Israel will once again be places of joy and celebration. The fields will be plowed and deliver an abundance of crops. The pastures will produce more than enough food to feed the flocks of God’s people. The ruined wastes and long-deserted cities will be rebuilt and repopulated as God orchestrates the return of His children.

The prophet, Zechariah, echoes these words of future hope and divine restoration.

“Once more I will cause the remnant in Judah and Israel to inherit these blessings. Among the other nations, Judah and Israel became symbols of a cursed nation. But no longer! Now I will rescue you and make you both a symbol and a source of blessing. So don’t be afraid.” – Zechariah 8:12-13 NLT

And God provided Zechariah with further insight into that future day when He will restore the fortunes of His people and reestablish them as the inheritors of His land.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the Lord to bless us. Let’s worship the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.’ Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing. – Zechariah 8:20-22 NLT

Everything will come full circle because God has ordained it. He is faithful to keep His word and determined to finish what He began.

Then you will know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 36:11 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.

You Will Know

17 In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, wail over the multitude of Egypt, and send them down, her and the daughters of majestic nations, to the world below, to those who have gone down to the pit:

19 ‘Whom do you surpass in beauty?
    Go down and be laid to rest with the uncircumcised.’

20 They shall fall amid those who are slain by the sword. Egypt is delivered to the sword; drag her away, and all her multitudes. 21 The mighty chiefs shall speak of them, with their helpers, out of the midst of Sheol: ‘They have come down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.’

22 “Assyria is there, and all her company, its graves all around it, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, 23 whose graves are set in the uttermost parts of the pit; and her company is all around her grave, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who spread terror in the land of the living.

24 “Elam is there, and all her multitude around her grave; all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who went down uncircumcised into the world below, who spread their terror in the land of the living; and they bear their shame with those who go down to the pit. 25 They have made her a bed among the slain with all her multitude, her graves all around it, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword; for terror of them was spread in the land of the living, and they bear their shame with those who go down to the pit; they are placed among the slain.

26 “Meshech-Tubal is there, and all her multitude, her graves all around it, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword; for they spread their terror in the land of the living. 27 And they do not lie with the mighty, the fallen from among the uncircumcised, who went down to Sheol with their weapons of war, whose swords were laid under their heads, and whose iniquities are upon their bones; for the terror of the mighty men was in the land of the living. 28 But as for you, you shall be broken and lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword.

29 “Edom is there, her kings and all her princes, who for all their might are laid with those who are killed by the sword; they lie with the uncircumcised, with those who go down to the pit.

30 “The princes of the north are there, all of them, and all the Sidonians, who have gone down in shame with the slain, for all the terror that they caused by their might; they lie uncircumcised with those who are slain by the sword, and bear their shame with those who go down to the pit.

31 “When Pharaoh sees them, he will be comforted for all his multitude, Pharaoh and all his army, slain by the sword, declares the Lord God. 32 For I spread terror in the land of the living; and he shall be laid to rest among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword, Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 32:17-32 ESV

Fourteen days later, Ezekiel received the second part of God’s oracle concerning Egypt’s demise. In it, he is told to “weep for the hordes of Egypt and for the other mighty nations” (Ezekiel 32:18 NLT). The scene depicted by God is that of a funeral and Ezekiel is instructed to “bury” Egypt in a grave, sending the deceased nation “to the world below” (Ezekiel 32:18 ESV); to the afterlife. The entire nation of Egypt is portrayed as a corpse ready for burial and Ezekiel is given the responsibility of interring the body and conducting the funeral.

But despite Egypt’s vast wealth and reputation for extravagance as illustrated by its many architectural wonders, the funeral described is that of a pauper. Rather than a royal entombment attended by visiting dignitaries and marked by solemnity and almost worshipful sorrow by the adoring public, this burial is of a relative unknown. God even gives Ezekiel the words of the eulogy he is to speak at the graveside.

“O Egypt, are you lovelier than the other nations?
    No! So go down to the pit and lie there among the outcasts.” – Ezekiel 32:19 NLT

The nation of Egypt would experience the same fate as the “uncircumcised” heathen. When the Babylonians swept through the land, they would be indiscriminate in their destruction. Nebuchadnezzar’s forces would be merciless and show no pity to anyone, leaving the bodies of the wealthy and well-educated lying in the streets alongside the poor and disenfranchised. God even describes their welcome in Sheol with biting sarcasm.

“Down in the grave mighty leaders will mockingly welcome Egypt and its allies, saying, ‘They have come down; they lie among the outcasts, hordes slaughtered by the sword.’” – Ezekiel 32:21 NLT

Egypt will join the other nations that have fallen before them. People from Assyria, Elam, Meshech-Tubal, Edom, the princes of the north, and the Sidonians have all entered the grave and will be ready to greet its newest occupant with open arms. At one time, all these nations “struck terror in the hearts of people everywhere, but now they have been slaughtered by the sword” (Ezekiel 32:23 NLT). They had been major players and had enjoyed their moment in the spotlight, but now there were relegated to an eternal existence of obscurity and irrelevance in the grave. And Egypt would suffer the same fate.

This message, given by God to Ezekiel, was intended to be shared with the Jewish exiles living in Babylon. It was meant to persuade these displaced people from putting any hope in Egypt as a potential source of salvation for Judah. When the Babylonians had first appeared on the scene, threatening the peace of the region, the people of Judah looked for help from their more powerful allies. The Egyptians were a logical choice because they had a track record of success. As one of the oldest nations in the region, they had a long history of military dominance and hegemony. So, it was only natural for Judah to place its hope in their neighbor to the south. Even the exiles were tempted to see the Egyptians as the key to the survival of their homeland and the means of their eventual return from captivity.

But God wanted them to know that Pharaoh would not be their savior. While his people believed him to be a god, he was just another man and his nation would prove to be just another victim of Babylon’s seemingly unstoppable global expansion.

“You too, Egypt, will lie crushed and broken among the outcasts, all slaughtered by the sword. – Ezekiel 32:28 NLT

From chapter 25 to chapter 32, the phrase “know I am the LORD” occurs 19 times. The oracles contained within these chapters serve as a powerful indictment against the nations of the world but are really a divine dismissal of the gods of this world. The nation of Judah, like its northern neighbor, Israel, was guilty of spiritual adultery. For centuries, they had made a habit of worshiping the false gods of the nations that occupied the land of Canaan. They had become equal-opportunity idolaters who saw nothing wrong with adopting the gods of their pagan neighbors and treating them with the same awe and reverence they had once reserved for Yahweh.

During their 400-year exile in Egypt, the people of Israel worshiped the gods of the Egyptians. In the process of delivering them from their captivity, God exhibited His superiority over these false gods through the ten plagues He sent against the people of Egypt. Each plague was a direct attack on one of their many gods. And when God had finished His divine smackdown of Egypt’s deities, He led them out of bondage and to the land He had promised them. But even after arriving in the land of Canaan, the people of Israel continued their love affair with false gods. In direct violation of God’s commands, they embraced the gods of the Canaanites and the neighboring nations. And despite God’s repeated calls to repent and return to Him, they stubbornly refused.

Prior to the people of Israel entering the land of Canaan, Moses stood before them and issued a covenant commitment.

“I am making this covenant both with you who stand here today in the presence of the Lord our God, and also with the future generations who are not standing here today.

“You remember how we lived in the land of Egypt and how we traveled through the lands of enemy nations as we left. You have seen their detestable practices and their idols made of wood, stone, silver, and gold. I am making this covenant with you so that no one among you—no man, woman, clan, or tribe—will turn away from the Lord our God to worship these gods of other nations, and so that no root among you bears bitter and poisonous fruit.” – Deuteronomy 29:15-18 NLT

But his words had little or no lasting impact. It didn’t take them long to break their covenant with Moses and violate the laws given to them by God. Their entire history is replete with examples of their unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity. Now, as Ezekiel ministered to the people of God living as exiles in Babylon, they were reaping the consequences of their disobedience. They were experiencing exactly what Joshua had warned their ancestors would happen in they turned to the false gods of Canaan.

“…as surely as the Lord your God has given you the good things he promised, he will also bring disaster on you if you disobey him. He will completely destroy you from this good land he has given you.  If you break the covenant of the Lord your God by worshiping and serving other gods, his anger will burn against you, and you will quickly vanish from the good land he has given you.” – Joshua 23:15-16 NLT

And all those nations from whom they had adopted their false gods would fall before the righteous wrath of Yahweh. Each would eventually pay the price for its idolatry and refusal to acknowledge the one true God. But their destruction would be a sobering warning to the people of Judah, reminding them of the words of God: “Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

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.

Pride Goes Before the Fall

1 In the eleventh year, in the third month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude:

“Whom are you like in your greatness?
    Behold, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches and forest shade,
    and of towering height,
    its top among the clouds.
The waters nourished it;
    the deep made it grow tall,
making its rivers flow
    around the place of its planting,
sending forth its streams
    to all the trees of the field.
So it towered high
    above all the trees of the field;
its boughs grew large
    and its branches long
    from abundant water in its shoots.
All the birds of the heavens
    made their nests in its boughs;
under its branches all the beasts of the field
    gave birth to their young,
and under its shadow
    lived all great nations.
It was beautiful in its greatness,
    in the length of its branches;
for its roots went down
    to abundant waters.
The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
    nor the fir trees equal its boughs;
neither were the plane trees
    like its branches;
no tree in the garden of God
    was its equal in beauty.
I made it beautiful
    in the mass of its branches,
and all the trees of Eden envied it,
    that were in the garden of God.

10 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because it towered high and set its top among the clouds, and its heart was proud of its height, 11 I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations. He shall surely deal with it as its wickedness deserves. I have cast it out. 12 Foreigners, the most ruthless of nations, have cut it down and left it. On the mountains and in all the valleys its branches have fallen, and its boughs have been broken in all the ravines of the land, and all the peoples of the earth have gone away from its shadow and left it. 13 On its fallen trunk dwell all the birds of the heavens, and on its branches are all the beasts of the field. 14 All this is in order that no trees by the waters may grow to towering height or set their tops among the clouds, and that no trees that drink water may reach up to them in height. For they are all given over to death, to the world below, among the children of man, with those who go down to the pit.

15 “Thus says the Lord God: On the day the cedar went down to Sheol I caused mourning; I closed the deep over it, and restrained its rivers, and many waters were stopped. I clothed Lebanon in gloom for it, and all the trees of the field fainted because of it. 16 I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit. And all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, were comforted in the world below. 17 They also went down to Sheol with it, to those who are slain by the sword; yes, those who were its arm, who lived under its shadow among the nations.

18 “Whom are you thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? You shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the world below. You shall lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword.

“This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 31:1-18 ESV

The Egyptians had a pride problem. They had enjoyed a long tenure as a world superpower and had grown accustomed to throwing their weight around. But their days of glory were about to come to an ignominious end. While they still considered themselves to be a major player on the global stage, God held a different opinion. He invites them to consider the Assyrians, whom He compares to “a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches and forest shade, and of towering height” (Ezekiel 31:3 ESV). This well-watered “tree” thrived and grew to unimaginable heights, towering  “high above all the trees of the field” (Ezekiel 31:5 ESV).

This horticultural metaphor portrays the Assyrian empire as a towering tree that overshadows every other tree in the forest. The upstart Assyrians had asserted their influence in a major way, having expanded their domain throughout that region of the world. At one point, they had no rival and faced no threat to their hegemony. Like the Egyptians, they reveled in their military superiority and took pride in their seeming invincibility. And God took full credit for their meteoric rise to power and prominence.

“Because I made this tree so beautiful,
    and gave it such magnificent foliage,
it was the envy of all the other trees of Eden,
    the garden of God.” – Ezekiel 31:9 NLT

They could not claim responsibility for the dominating nature of their expansion. It had all been God’s doing. He had sovereignty ordained their global expansion, even ordering their invasion of Egypt and the destruction of Thebes 45 years earlier in 633 B.C. The prophet, Nahum, describes the fall of Thebes in graphic detail.

Are you any better than the city of Thebes,
    situated on the Nile River, surrounded by water?
She was protected by the river on all sides,
    walled in by water.
Ethiopia and the land of Egypt
    gave unlimited assistance.
The nations of Put and Libya
    were among her allies.
Yet Thebes fell,
    and her people were led away as captives.
Her babies were dashed to death
    against the stones of the streets.
Soldiers threw dice to get Egyptian officers as servants.
    All their leaders were bound in chains. – Nahum 3:8-10 NLT

What right did the Egyptians have to boast of their great power when they had fallen to the Assyrians? And what hope did the Egyptians have of escaping the Babylonians, the very nation that had destroyed and supplanted the Assyrians? Nebuchadnezzar’s forces had thoroughly trounced the mighty Assyrian army at Haran in 609 B.C., effectively bringing an end to the Assyrian empire.

God hates pride in all its forms. And His hatred of pride is expressed throughout the Scriptures.

Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.  – Proverbs 11: 2 NLT

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:6 NIV

All throughout the Old Testament, God speaks of Israel’s arrogance and pride. He blasts them for their extreme self-importance and attitude of insufferable self-worth. God hates pride in His people, but He won’t tolerate it among the nations either. Pride is what caused Satan’s fall. Just before God cast him out of heaven, Satan’s attitude reflected his unparalleled pride and arrogance.

“For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.'” – Isaiah 14:13-14 NLT

He wanted to be like God. It was the same temptation he used on Adam and Eve in the garden.

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 NASB

Self-reliance and independence lay at the root of pride. We begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. We begin to believe our own press and think that we are something special. Our seeming successes only act to feed our insatiable thirst for recognition, reward, and self-advancement. We even begin to take credit for what God has done and all those things He has made it possible for us to do. You see this reflected in the words of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, as he stood gazing over his royal capital from his palace balcony.

“Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” – Daniel 4:30 NLT

At that very moment, God took away Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom as well as his sanity. And it wasn’t until he looked up and acknowledged the rule and reign of God, that his sanity returned.

In today’s reading, we see God’s anger expressed toward Egypt for her pride and arrogance. Even nations can exhibit an over-inflated sense of self-worth. And Egypt suffered from the same case of bloated ego as the Assyrians. Assyria had once been beautiful, strong, self-reliant, and the envy of the nations. But they had fallen. And so would Egypt. Both failed to recognize that their beauty and greatness were God’s doing, not their own. God had given them their lofty position, and He could remove them from it. God had already used the Babylonians to defeat the Assyrians, and now he would use the very same nation to knock the props out from under Egypt.

Humility is a rare commodity these days. Even among believers. We tend to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. We take credit for things that are the result of God’s handiwork and not our own. We compare and contrast ourselves with others, looking for those with whom we stack up positively. We want to come out on the winning side, so we look for those with more flaws and weaknesses than we possess. We celebrate their failures and revel in our own successes. But Paul warns us, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Romans 12:3 NLT).

Egypt’s pride was going to be its downfall. Its arrogance would bring about its demise. Because God hates pride. But He loves to extend His grace to the humble. When we refuse to lift up ourselves and, instead, give Him the credit, we receive His grace. He exalts us at the proper time and in the proper way. Peter put it this way:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. – 1 Peter 5:6 NIV

It is far better to humble ourselves than to be humbled by God. It is far healthier to let God exalt us when and how He sees fit than to attempt to preemptively promote ourselves. Because God hates pride.

And God makes sure to clarify for Ezekiel that Egypt’s fate will be just like that of Assyria. There was no reason for the Jews living in Judah or in exile in Babylon to place any hope in receiving salvation from the Egyptians because their days were numbered and their fate was sealed.

“O Egypt, to which of the trees of Eden will you compare your strength and glory? You, too, will be brought down to the depths with all these other nations. You will lie there among the outcasts who have died by the sword. This will be the fate of Pharaoh and all his hordes. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 31:18 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.

The Folly of Misplaced Trust

1 In the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him and against all Egypt; speak, and say, Thus says the Lord God:

“Behold, I am against you,
    Pharaoh king of Egypt,
the great dragon that lies
    in the midst of his streams,
that says, ‘My Nile is my own;
    I made it for myself.’
I will put hooks in your jaws,
    and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales;
and I will draw you up out of the midst of your streams,
    with all the fish of your streams
    that stick to your scales.
And I will cast you out into the wilderness,
    you and all the fish of your streams;
you shall fall on the open field,
    and not be brought together or gathered.
To the beasts of the earth and to the birds of the heavens
    I give you as food.

Then all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the Lord.

“Because you have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel, when they grasped you with the hand, you broke and tore all their shoulders; and when they leaned on you, you broke and made all their loins to shake. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will bring a sword upon you, and will cut off from you man and beast, and the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste. Then they will know that I am the Lord.

“Because you said, ‘The Nile is mine, and I made it,’ 10 therefore, behold, I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt an utter waste and desolation, from Migdol to Syene, as far as the border of Cush. 11 No foot of man shall pass through it, and no foot of beast shall pass through it; it shall be uninhabited forty years. 12 And I will make the land of Egypt a desolation in the midst of desolated countries, and her cities shall be a desolation forty years among cities that are laid waste. I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and disperse them through the countries.

13 “For thus says the Lord God: At the end of forty years I will gather the Egyptians from the peoples among whom they were scattered, 14 and I will restore the fortunes of Egypt and bring them back to the land of Pathros, the land of their origin, and there they shall be a lowly kingdom. 15 It shall be the most lowly of the kingdoms, and never again exalt itself above the nations. And I will make them so small that they will never again rule over the nations. 16 And it shall never again be the reliance of the house of Israel, recalling their iniquity, when they turn to them for aid. Then they will know that I am the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 29:1-16 ESV

God’s prophecy concerning Tyre had come to Ezekiel “In the eleventh year, on the first day of the month” (Ezekiel 26:1 ESV). Roughly a year earlier, God had given Ezekiel a message concerning Egypt. The prophet records, “In the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me” (Ezekiel 29:1 ESV). For some undisclosed reason, Ezekiel received this oracle from God a year earlier than the one concerning Tyre but, in recording them, he reversed their order.

God had begun His indictment of the surrounding nations with Ammon, then moved to Moab, Edom, and Philistia. Next on His agenda was the Phoenician city of Tyre. Each of these nations and city-states was located in the vicinity of Judah. Now He moves south, turning His attention to a much larger and more formidable actor on the global stage; the nation of Egypt. In this divine oracle, God directs His attention to Pharaoh, as the royal representative of the nation. Like the “prince” of Tyre, Pharaoh struggles with a bit of a pride problem. As the head of a prosperous and powerful nation, this mere mortal had let his own self-importance get the best of him. He had begun to believe that he was responsible for his own success and even claimed to possess the supernatural powers of a god.

“I am your enemy, O Pharaoh, king of Egypt—
    you great monster, lurking in the streams of the Nile.
For you have said, ‘The Nile River is mine;
    I made it for myself.’ – Ezekiel 29:3 NLT

His attitude was similar to that of Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon, who also made the mistake of miscalculating his own self-importance.

As he looked out across the city, he said, “Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” – Daniel 4:30 NLT

Both of these men were under the self-inflicted delusion that their power and authority rivaled that of a god. They viewed themselves as superhuman and were worshiped by their people as deities in human form. God refers to Pharaoh as “the great dragon” (Ezekiel 29:3 ESV). The Hebrew word is tannîn (תַּנִּין) and it means “dragon, serpent, sea monster.” In ancient Near Eastern mythology, this sea monster represented the chaos that ruled the earth before creation. The Egyptians had attributed the destruction of this “chaos monster” to one of the earlier Pharaohs, which had resulted in the creation of the life-giving Nile.

But Yahweh, the true Creator-God, exposes Pharaoh as a fraud, accusing him of being the source of chaos, not its destroyer. He is the “great dragon that lies in the midst of his streams” (Ezekiel 29:3 ESV). Pharaoh was not a god to be worshiped but a dangerous foe to be feared and avoided at all costs; a deadly predator lurking just beneath the surface of the Nile.

At the time Ezekiel was writing his book, Egypt was considered a superpower in the region. The Egyptians had enjoyed great success in expanding their empire and had set their sights on Palestine as a natural next step in their desire for global dominion. When the Assyrians invaded the region, the Egyptians tried to play the spoiler, doing everything they could to thwart the Assyrian takeover of Palestine. When the Assyrians set their sights on the northern kingdom of Israel, King Hoshea turned to Egypt for help.

King Shalmaneser of Assyria attacked King Hoshea, so Hoshea was forced to pay heavy tribute to Assyria. But Hoshea stopped paying the annual tribute and conspired against the king of Assyria by asking King So of Egypt to help him shake free of Assyria’s power. – 2 Kings 17:3-4 NLT

But Hoshea’s reliance upon the Egyptians proved unsuccessful.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. – 2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT

Later, when the Assyrians moved against the southern kingdom of Judah, King Shalmaneser warned them against making alliances with the Egyptians.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – 2 Kings 18:19-21 NLT

And the prophet, Isaiah, reveals that King Shalmaneser’s suspicions were justified. King Hezekiah was intending to turn to Egypt for assistance. But God was not pleased with those plans.

“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
    You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
    thus piling up your sins.
For without consulting me,
    you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
    You have tried to hide in his shade.
But by trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated,
    and by depending on him, you will be disgraced.
For though his power extends to Zoan
    and his officials have arrived in Hanes,
all who trust in him will be ashamed.
    He will not help you.
    Instead, he will disgrace you.” – Isaiah 30:1-5 NLT

God even uses the same imagery as King Shalmaneser when describing Egypt as an unreliable staff made of reeds. 

All the people of Egypt will know that I am the Lord,
    for to Israel you were just a staff made of reeds.
When Israel leaned on you,
    you splintered and broke
    and stabbed her in the armpit.
When she put her weight on you,
    you collapsed, and her legs gave way. – Ezekiel 29:6-7 NLT

What Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Shalmaneser all failed to understand was that their 15 minutes of fame had been the work of God. The rise to power had been His doing and not their own. But each of these men and the nations they represented had wrongly assumed that they were the masters of their fates and the arbiters of their own futures. Yet, God warns Pharaoh, “Because you said, ‘The Nile River is mine; I made it,’ I am now the enemy of both you and your river. I will make the land of Egypt a totally desolate wasteland, from Migdol to Aswan, as far south as the border of Ethiopia” (Ezekiel 29:9-10 NLT).

God was going to do to Egypt what He had done to His own people. He would judge their pride and arrogance by orchestrating their defeat at the hands of a more powerful nation. Their cities would be destroyed and their people taken captive to foreign lands. But after 40 years had passed, God would return them to their land.

“But this is what the Sovereign Lord also says: At the end of the forty years I will bring the Egyptians home again from the nations to which they have been scattered. I will restore the prosperity of Egypt and bring its people back to the land of Pathros in southern Egypt from which they came. But Egypt will remain an unimportant, minor kingdom. It will be the lowliest of all the nations, never again great enough to rise above its neighbors.– Ezekiel 29:13-15 NLT

The history of this region of the world reveals the sovereign will of God as each of these mighty nations vied for hegemony. Egypt fell to the Babylonians in 568-567 B.C., and many of its citizens were dispersed throughout the Babylonian Empire. But the Babylonians were later subsumed by the more powerful Persian Empire, and after 40 years in exile, the Egyptians were allowed to return to their land.

For the Jewish exiles listening to this oracle spoken by Ezekiel, these prophetic pronouncements would have sounded far-fetched and difficult to believe. The thought of Egypt, a perennial powerhouse in the region, falling to the upstart Babylonians was unthinkable. But God was reminding them of His unprecedented power and sovereign control over all nations. He had never intended Egypt to be their savior. The people of Judah were have placed their hope and faith in Him, regardless of what was happening to them or around them. And God makes it clear that Egypt’s fall was meant to provide a powerful lesson for the people of Judah.

“Then Israel will no longer be tempted to trust in Egypt for help. Egypt’s shattered condition will remind Israel of how sinful she was to trust Egypt in earlier days. Then Israel will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 29:16 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.

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.

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.

Worse Than Sodom or Samaria

35 “Therefore, O prostitute, hear the word of the Lord: 36 Thus says the Lord God, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whorings with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, 37 therefore, behold, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated. I will gather them against you from every side and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness. 38 And I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy. 39 And I will give you into their hands, and they shall throw down your vaulted chamber and break down your lofty places. They shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful jewels and leave you naked and bare. 40 They shall bring up a crowd against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. 41 And they shall burn your houses and execute judgments upon you in the sight of many women. I will make you stop playing the whore, and you shall also give payment no more. 42 So will I satisfy my wrath on you, and my jealousy shall depart from you. I will be calm and will no more be angry. 43 Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things, therefore, behold, I have returned your deeds upon your head, declares the Lord God. Have you not committed lewdness in addition to all your abominations?

44 “Behold, everyone who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you: ‘Like mother, like daughter.’ 45 You are the daughter of your mother, who loathed her husband and her children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. 46 And your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. 47 Not only did you walk in their ways and do according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. 48 As I live, declares the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. 51 Samaria has not committed half your sins. You have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed. 52 Bear your disgrace, you also, for you have intervened on behalf of your sisters. Because of your sins in which you acted more abominably than they, they are more in the right than you. So be ashamed, you also, and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous. Ezekiel 16:35-52 ESV

In this chapter, God directs His righteous indignation at the city of Jerusalem, which stood as a symbol of the rebellious and unrepentant people of Judah. It was a well-fortified city featuring the magnificent architecture of the temple and Solomon’s former palace. Its many opulent homes were the pride of the wealthy and well-to-do, who went about their daily lives with an over-confident air of privilege and pretentiousness. Its massive stone walls and well-fortified gates provided an atmosphere of peace and security to the residents safely ensconced inside its impenetrable perimeter.

Ever since its founding by King David, Jerusalem had enjoyed a reputation for being the royal city of the thriving nation of Israel. During Solomon’s reign, it expanded its borders northward with the construction of the temple and the king’s palace compound. Solomon spared no expense in creating a royal city that was the envy of Israel’s enemies. It symbolized their prosperity and prominence as a nation.

But despite Jerusalem’s impressive appearance, all was not well within its walls. Even during the reign of Solomon, the practice of idolatry had become a pervasive problem, and he was personally responsible for its spread.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; he refused to follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done. – 1 Kings 11:1-6 NLT

Influenced by his many foreign wives, Solomon erected places of worship for their false gods all over Israel. He built a shrine to the Moabite god, Chemosh, on the Mount of Olives, just east of the magnificent temple he had constructed for Yahweh. He also authorized the creation of another shrine to Molech, the god of the Ammonites. At these pagan altars, the people burned incense and offered sacrifices to their false gods and, in doing so, they angered the one true God who had chosen them to be His prized possession. As a result, God determined to punish them by dividing Solomon’s kingdom in half.

The Lord was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the Lord’s command. So now the Lord said to him, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants.” – 1 Kings 11:9-11 NLT

Upon Solomon’s death, the kingdom of Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Ten tribes would form the northern kingdom and set up their capital in the city of Samaria, while the southern kingdom of Judah would consist of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. They would maintain Jerusalem as their capital city. And this division would remain in place for centuries, with each kingdom featuring its own set of kings but sharing the common bond of spiritual unfaithfulness demonstrated by their shared passion for idolatry.

In 721 BC, the northern kingdom of Israel experienced God’s wrath in the form of the Assyrian invasion, which left their capital city of Samaria destroyed and their days as a nation brought to an abrupt and ignominious end.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17: 5-8 NLT

And God warns Ezekiel that the very same fate awaits the rebellious citizens of the southern kingdom of Judah. As they huddled in the safe confines of the walled city of Jerusalem, they believed they were immune from attack. And they assumed that the presence of the temple would guarantee God’s protection. But they were mistaken and God lets Ezekiel know just how wrong they were.

“…this is what I am going to do. I will gather together all your allies—the lovers with whom you have sinned, both those you loved and those you hated—and I will strip you naked in front of them so they can stare at you.” – Ezekiel 16:37 NLT

They had tried to form alliances with the Babylonians, in the hopes that this powerful nation would become their savior. But instead, God would use their “lover” to destroy them.

They will knock down your pagan shrines and the altars to your idols. They will strip you and take your beautiful jewels, leaving you stark naked. They will band together in a mob to stone you and cut you up with swords. They will burn your homes and punish you in front of many women. – Ezekiel 16:39-41 NLT

God lets them know that what happened to their “sister” Samaria, was going to happen to them. They would suffer the same fate. In fact, God declares that the southern kingdom was guilty of greater sins than its sisters, Samaria and Sodom.

“Your older sister was Samaria, who lived with her daughters in the north. Your younger sister was Sodom, who lived with her daughters in the south. But you have not merely sinned as they did. You quickly surpassed them in corruption.” – Ezekiel 16:46-47 NLT

God explains that the ancient city of Sodom, which He had destroyed in the days of Abraham, had been guilty of “pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door” (Ezekiel 16:49 NLT). Yet the sins that brought about the complete annihilation of Sodom were nothing compared with the sins of Judah. And even the capital city of Samaria was a rank amateur in terms of sinfulness when stacked up to Jerusalem.

“Even Samaria did not commit half your sins. You have done far more detestable things than your sisters ever did. They seem righteous compared to you. Shame on you! Your sins are so terrible that you make your sisters seem righteous, even virtuous.” – Ezekiel 16:51-52 NLT

Not exactly a glowing endorsement of Judah’s spiritual state. In His estimation, nothing had changed, even since the days when Jerusalem had been occupied by pagans.

“Truly your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite.” – Ezekiel 16:45 NLT

Once occupied by idol-worshiping Canaanites, the tiny city of Jerusalem had undergone a remarkable physical transformation during the reigns of David and Solomon. They had turned this former Canaanite stronghold into an awe-inspiring symbol of Israel’s power and prominence. God had richly blessed David and Solomon, providing both men with great success. He had given David countless victories over his enemies. He had bestowed Solomon with great wealth and wisdom. But despite God’s gracious outpouring of unmerited blessings, the city remained a haven for false gods and a bastion of idolatry and unfaithfulness. But all that was about to change.

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.

Sickness of Heart

15 “But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his. 16 You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore. The like has never been, nor ever shall be. 17 You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore. 18 And you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. 19 Also my bread that I gave you—I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey—you set before them for a pleasing aroma; and so it was, declares the Lord God. 20 And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter 21 that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them? 22 And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, wallowing in your blood.

23 “And after all your wickedness (woe, woe to you! declares the Lord God), 24 you built yourself a vaulted chamber and made yourself a lofty place in every square. 25 At the head of every street you built your lofty place and made your beauty an abomination, offering yourself to any passerby and multiplying your whoring. 26 You also played the whore with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your whoring, to provoke me to anger. 27 Behold, therefore, I stretched out my hand against you and diminished your allotted portion and delivered you to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. 28 You played the whore also with the Assyrians, because you were not satisfied; yes, you played the whore with them, and still you were not satisfied. 29 You multiplied your whoring also with the trading land of Chaldea, and even with this you were not satisfied.

30 “How sick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, 31 building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a prostitute, because you scorned payment. 32 Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! 33 Men give gifts to all prostitutes, but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from every side with your whorings. 34 So you were different from other women in your whorings. No one solicited you to play the whore, and you gave payment, while no payment was given to you; therefore you were different.  Ezekiel 16:15-34 ESV

The city of Jerusalem stood as a symbol of God’s blessings upon the people of Israel. It was a magnificent walled city filled with beautiful homes, stunning palaces, and the renowned temple Solomon had built for Yahweh. When the Queen of Sheba made a royal visit to Jerusalem, she had been blown away by all that she had seen.

…when she saw the palace he had built, she was overwhelmed. She was also amazed at the food on his tables, the organization of his officials and their splendid clothing, the cup-bearers and their robes, and the burnt offerings Solomon made at the Temple of the Lord.

She exclaimed to the king, “Everything I heard in my country about your achievements and wisdom is true! I didn’t believe what was said until I arrived here and saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I had not heard the half of your great wisdom! It is far beyond what I was told. How happy your people must be! What a privilege for your officials to stand here day after day, listening to your wisdom! Praise the Lord your God, who delights in you and has placed you on the throne as king to rule for him. Because God loves Israel and desires this kingdom to last forever, he has made you king over them so you can rule with justice and righteousness.” – 2 Chronicles 9:3-8 NLT

Yet, God did not share the Queen of Sheba’s glowing assessment of the city. He found it to be a moral and spiritual cesspool filled with people who were more than happy to enjoy all the physical benefits He provided, but who refused to keep His commands. They were so unfaithful that God was forced to describe them as little more than spiritual prostitutes.

These people had committed the very crime that Moses had warned them about long before they ever entered the land of Canaan.

“The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land,  be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name.

“You must not worship any of the gods of neighboring nations, for the Lord your God, who lives among you, is a jealous God. His anger will flare up against you, and he will wipe you from the face of the earth. – Deuteronomy 6:10-15 NLT

Now, generations later, God was declaring their guilt and describing the abysmal spiritual conditions within the city of David. They had grown perversely proud of their vaunted position as God’s chosen people. They had allowed their set-apart status as God’s prized possession to go to their heads and give them the misguided impression that they could do no wrong. In their minds, they were invincible and immune to failure. Their status as descendants of Abraham and heirs of God’s covenant promises had made them overconfident and cocky.

The brazen nature of their crimes against God is difficult to comprehend. All that they enjoyed had been given to them by God and yet they turned around and used those resources to manufacture idols to which they offered sacrifices. And not only did they offer these false gods the very gifts God had given them, but they also practiced child sacrifice, offering up their own children as tributes to their pagan deities.

“Then you took your sons and daughters—the children you had borne to me—and sacrificed them to your gods. Was your prostitution not enough? Must you also slaughter my children by sacrificing them to idols? – Ezekiel 16:20-21 NLT

One of the greatest gifts God had given the people of Israel was their offspring. The psalmist declares, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3 ESV). And yet the unfaithful and ungrateful citizens of Jerusalem were guilty of having treated God’s precious gift of children with blatant disregard. They had dared to deem the offspring promised by God as a sign of His covenant commitment as expendable and disposable.

But as egregious as child sacrifice may be, God also accuses them of spiritual adultery. They had erected idols, high places, altars, and shrines to their false gods all over the city. They had become equal opportunity idolaters, willingly bowing their knees to any and all false gods that came along. And when God brought judgment upon them for their unfaithfulness, they turned to foreign powers for rescue. Rather than acknowledging their sin and returning to Him in humble contrition, they sought the aid of the superpowers of their day. In an attempt to escape God’s judgment for their unfaithfulness, they made things worse by seeking help from countries like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon.

“You have prostituted yourself with the Assyrians, too. It seems you can never find enough new lovers! And after your prostitution there, you still were not satisfied. You added to your lovers by embracing Babylonia, the land of merchants, but you still weren’t satisfied.” – Ezekiel 16:18-19 NLT

And it’s interesting to note that God used the Assyrians as His instruments of destruction when punishing the northern kingdom of Israel. And, eventually, He would use the Babylonians to destroy the rebellious southern kingdom of Judah. The allies the people of Israel turned to for help would become their enemies and the means of their destruction.

The situation in Jerusalem was far worse than Ezekiel could have imagined. God discloses that the citizens of the city suffer from a deadly heart condition.

“What a sick heart you have, says the Sovereign Lord, to do such things as these, acting like a shameless prostitute. You build your pagan shrines on every street corner and your altars to idols in every square. In fact, you have been worse than a prostitute, so eager for sin that you have not even demanded payment.” – Ezekiel 16:30-31 NLT

They suffered from a compulsive disorder that made them far worse than spiritual prostitutes. Rather than selling themselves for whatever benefit they could get in return, they were guilty of paying others for the privilege of committing adultery.

“Prostitutes charge for their services—but not you! You give gifts to your lovers, bribing them to come and have sex with you. So you are the opposite of other prostitutes. You pay your lovers instead of their paying you!” – Ezekiel 16:33-34 NLT

The false gods they worshiped were incapable of bestowing any favors or blessings, but the people of Judah worshiped them anyway. The nations they turned to for rescue were powerless to deliver any aid, but the citizens of Jerusalem repeatedly sought their help. And all the while, they spurned God’s calls to repent and be restored to their former condition as His chosen people. And, as Ezekiel was about to discover, God’s long-suffering patience had finally run out. They suffered from a fatal heart condition and the remedy was as deadly as the disease.

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.

Blind to All the Blessings

A merchant, in whose hands are false balances,
    he loves to oppress.
Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich;
    I have found wealth for myself;
in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.”
I am the Lord your God
    from the land of Egypt;
I will again make you dwell in tents,
    as in the days of the appointed feast.

10 I spoke to the prophets;
    it was I who multiplied visions,
    and through the prophets gave parables.
11 If there is iniquity in Gilead,
    they shall surely come to nothing:
in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls;
    their altars also are like stone heaps
    on the furrows of the field.

12 Jacob fled to the land of Aram;
    there Israel served for a wife,
    and for a wife he guarded sheep.
13 By a prophet the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt,
    and by a prophet he was guarded.
14 Ephraim has given bitter provocation;
    so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him
    and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds. – Hosea 12:7-14 ESV

Once again, Hosea seems to differentiate between the kingdom of Israel, made up of the 10 northern tribes, and the original nation of Israel that had at one time included all 12 tribes. He does so by referring to the northern kingdom by the name of its largest tribe: Ephraim. When referring to both Israel and Judah, he uses the name of Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes, whom God had renamed, Israel.

In these verses, Ephraim (the 10 northern tribes of Israel) is described as overconfident, self-righteous, and proud. They displayed all the negative characteristics of Jacob, their patriarch. The book of Genesis records the life of Jacob in great detail, leaving little to the imagination. Even before he and his twin brother, Esau, were born, God had told their mother that the relationship between her two boys would be unconventional and strained.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

Jacob would be the second-born son, but he would use trickery and deception to steal his older brother’s birthright. He would also deceive his father into rewarding him with the blessing of the firstborn. And none of this was necessary. God had already predicted that Jacob would be the stronger and more significant of the two. From Jacob would come the nation of Israel. And God later informed the people of Israel that He had displayed His love for them by choosing Jacob over Esau.

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.” – Malachi 1:2-3 ESV

The apostle Paul expounded on this idea of God’s sovereign election of Jacob over Esau.

But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she [Rebekah] received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” – Romans 9:11-13 NLT

Jacob had done nothing to deserve God’s choice of him. It had been the sovereign will of God. And because God had made this divine determination, well in advance, the nation of Israel had come into being – all according to His providential plan. Despite Jacob’s use of deception and dishonesty, God had blessed him with great wealth. After he had been forced to leave home to escape his brother’s wrath for stealing his birthright and blessing, Jacob had ended up living in Aram. While there, he married Rebekah and became a wealthy man.

Jacob became very wealthy, with large flocks of sheep and goats, female and male servants, and many camels and donkeys. – Genesis 30:43 NLT

God blessed Jacob despite his dishonesty and deceitfulness. To a certain degree, Jacob probably viewed himself as a self-made man. All that he possessed he had earned through hard work or clever manipulation. But, in reality, it had been the handiwork of God. And the northern kingdom of Israel suffered from the same problem. They too failed to understand that their affluence was attributable to God.

Israel boasts, “I am rich!
    I’ve made a fortune all by myself!
No one has caught me cheating!
    My record is spotless!” – Hosea 12:8 NLT

But God knew. He had been an eyewitness to all their sins and transgressions. He had watched them run after false gods, make alliances with pagan nations, and continually violate His commands. He had been the one who had rescued them out of their slavery in Egypt, given them the land of Canaan as their own possession, and had protected and provided for them for generations. But now, they had no need for God.

But they were about to discover that their abandonment of God would prove costly. Their rescuer and redeemer was about to become their judge.

“But I am the Lord your God,
    who rescued you from slavery in Egypt.
And I will make you live in tents again,
    as you do each year at the Festival of Shelters. – Hosea 12:9 NLT

They would soon find themselves having to vacate their palatial homes in exchange for shelters made of branches and the bows of trees. Rather than living in luxury in the land of Israel, they would become slaves living in shacks in Assyria. All because they had refused to honor God and keep their covenant commitments to Him. On either side of the Jordan River, in Gilgal and Gilead, the people had erected altars to their many false gods. There they sacrificed bulls and made offerings to their lifeless and powerless idols. They constantly flaunted their apostasy and unfaithfulness in the face of God. And while God had sent His prophets to warn them and call them to repentance, they had repeatedly refused to listen. They turned their backs on the one who had redeemed them from slavery. Now, they would find themselves returning to their former state of poverty and oppression.

Then by a prophet
    the Lord brought Jacob’s descendants out of Egypt;
and by that prophet
    they were protected.
But the people of Israel
    have bitterly provoked the Lord,
so their Lord will now sentence them to death
    in payment for their sins. – Hosea 12:13-14 NLT

These people had long forgotten their humble beginnings. Like their patriarch, Jacob, they had begun with nothing. He had fled to Aram in order to escape Esau’s plans to kill him. But while there, God had blessed him with children and great wealth. Years later, Jacob would take his family and move to Egypt to escape a famine in the land of Canaan. And while living in Egypt, Jacob would find himself blessed by God yet again. Over a period of four centuries, Jacob’s descendants would grow in number. And while many of those years would be marked by slavery and subjugation, God would fulfill the promise He had made to Jacob.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

God had kept His word. He had made of Jacob a great nation. But that nation had rebelled against Him. Now, they would lose their right to occupy the land He had given them as their inheritance. Their apostasy would result in their expulsion from the land of Canaan. And God had warned them that this would be the inevitable outcome should they choose to disobey His commands.

“So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out, as it will vomit out the people who live there now.” – Leviticus 18:28 NLT

“You must keep all my decrees and regulations by putting them into practice; otherwise the land to which I am bringing you as your new home will vomit you out.” – Leviticus 20:22 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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 Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Never Too Late to Return

12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
    and the house of Israel with deceit,
but Judah still walks with God
    and is faithful to the Holy One.

1 Ephraim feeds on the wind
    and pursues the east wind all day long;
they multiply falsehood and violence;
    they make a covenant with Assyria,
    and oil is carried to Egypt.

2 The Lord has an indictment against Judah
    and will punish Jacob according to his ways;
    he will repay him according to his deeds.
In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
    and in his manhood he strove with God.
He strove with the angel and prevailed;
    he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
    and there God spoke with us—
the Lord, the God of hosts,
    the Lord is his memorial name:
“So you, by the help of your God, return,
    hold fast to love and justice,
    and wait continually for your God.”
– Hosea 11:12-12:6 ESV

In the Hebrew Bible, verse 12 of chapter 11 is actually the first verse of chapter 12. This arrangement of the verses makes far greater sense and provides a better understanding of the point Hosea is trying to make. But Hosea seems to unnecessarily complicate matters by his use of the names Ephraim, Judah, and Jacob. It is easy to become confused when trying to decipher exactly who he is referencing by these various name designations. But because Ephraim was the largest of the 10 tribes that comprised the northern kingdom of Israel, it would appear that he is using that name as a substitute for the more common designation of Israel. The reason seems to be that, at one time, the name Israel had been used to refer to the undivided kingdom as it stood during the reigns of King David and his son, Solomon. When the kingdom was divided at the end of Solomon’s life, Israel became the name of the northern kingdom while Judah was used to refer to the southern kingdom. This was because the tribe of Judah was the larger of the two tribes which comprised the southern kingdom – with the tribe of Benjamin being the other.

In these verses, Hosea has God referring to the two kingdoms by the names of Ephraim and Judah. Then he adds the name of Jacob, who was the father of all the tribes. This seems to be his way of referring to the formerly combined kingdoms or the original 12 tribes. It’s important to remember that, at one time, God had changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:28. From Israel would come 12 sons who would become the 12 tribes of Israel. So, it appears that these verses are addressing three different groups:

Ephraim = the northern kingdom (10 tribes)

Judah = the southern kingdom (2 tribes)

Jacob = Israel (12 tribes)

With this formula in mind, these verses begin to make sense. First, God indicts the northern kingdom (Ephraim) for its falsehood and violence. The Hebrew word he uses is mirmâ, which means “deceit” and refers to fraudulent or deceptive behavior. It is the very same word used to describe Jacob’s stealing of his brother’s blessing. Isaac informed his disgruntled son, Esau, how Jacob had tricked him into awarding him the blessing of the firstborn son.

“Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” – Genesis 27:35 ESV

The 10 northern tribes had inherited their father’s deceitful ways. Yet, Judah (the two southern tribes) are described as still walking with God. This would appear to be a relative statement. In other words, when compared with the deceitfulness and unfaithfulness of the northern tribes, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin had been saints. We know they were far from perfect because God will condemn them as well, but they had a much better track record of faithfulness than their northern neighbors. At least Judah had enjoyed the leadership and guidance of a handful of godly kings along the way. Their periods of apostasy had been broken up by brief moments of relative godliness thanks to men like Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah.

But when describing the behavior of the northern tribes, God states that they “feed on the wind” (Hosea 11:12 NLT). This seems to be a reference to something Hosea wrote earlier in his book.

“They have planted the wind
    and will harvest the whirlwind. – Hosea 8:7 ESV

This imagery is intended to picture a life of futility and fruitlessness. The reference to them pursuing the east wind further enhances the total vanity and worthlessness of their behavior. In that region of the world, the east wind was a scorching, life-sapping natural phenomena that destroyed crops and made daily existence almost impossible. Their pursuit of treaties with foreign nations would produce nothing of value. They were pursuing destruction and didn’t even realize it.

In fact, they were making alliances with Assyria, the very nation God would use to punish them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. In a sense, they were dancing with the devil. They were getting in bed with the enemy, and they would pay dearly.

They were even using the fruit of the land that God had graciously given them to pay off their many suitors. His many tangible blessings, such as olive oil, were being used to broker agreements with nations like Egypt. That had never been God’s intention. God had graciously delivered His people out of their captivity in Egypt but now they were sending their olive oil back to their former captors. They were guilty of fraternizing with their former enemy and using the bounty of God as a means to buy their protection.

But even the southern kingdom was guilty of selling out their relationship with God. They too, were covenant breakers. The NET Bible translates verse 2: “The Lord also has a covenant lawsuit against Judah.” They had violated their agreement with Him, following in the footsteps of their father and patriarch, Jacob. By referring to Jacob (Israel), God is including all 12 tribes in His divine statement of condemnation. Every single one of the tribes was guilty of violating their covenant commitments with God.

Hosea uses the well-known backstory of Jacob to describe the treachery and deceit of His people.

Even in the womb,
    Jacob struggled with his brother;
when he became a man,
    he even fought with God. – Hosea 12:3 NLT

When Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, were still in their mother’s womb, God had spoken to Rebekah, and given her a vision of what was to come of her two boys.

“The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.”

And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. – Genesis 25:23-26 NLT

Eventually, these two brothers would end up at odds with one another. Jacob would deceive Esau, stealing his birthright and the blessing of the firstborn. These actions would sour their relationship, forcing Jacob to leave home in order to escape his brother’s wrath. In time, God would order Jacob to return home, but this would be prefaced by a literal wrestling match between God and His prodigal son.

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

“What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” – Genesis 32:24-28 NLT

It was at that fateful wrestling match that Jacob received his new name from God. And Hosea points out that it was on that occasion that “he wrestled with the angel and won. He wept and pleaded for a blessing from him” (Hosea 12:4 NLT). At that moment, Jacob realized that he could no longer live his life based on treachery and deceit. He needed the blessing of God. And he was willing to do battle with God until he received it. He even received an injury to his hip in the process (Genesis 32:31). Jacob was so moved by this unprecedented experience that he gave the region a name by which to memorialize what had happened to him.

Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” – Genesis 32:30 NLT

Hosea also mentions another encounter Jacob had with God years earlier. This was when Jacob was attempting to escape the wrath of his angry brother. On his way, he was given a vision and mission from God.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

Once again, moved by his surprising visitation from God, Jacob renamed the place Bethel, which means “house of God.” Jacob would return to this very spot years later, after his wrestling match with the angel of God. And when he arrived, he would give instructions to his family.

So Jacob told everyone in his household, “Get rid of all your pagan idols, purify yourselves, and put on clean clothing. We are now going to Bethel, where I will build an altar to the God who answered my prayers when I was in distress. He has been with me wherever I have gone.” – Genesis 35:2-3 NLT

Hosea uses the recollection of this historic event to call the descendants of Jacob back to “the Lord, the God of hosts” (Hosea 12:5 ESV). In a sense, he was echoing the words of Jacob, encouraging his household to get rid of their pagan idols, purity themselves, and put on clean clothing. They were to repent and return to God in humility.

So now, come back to your God.
    Act with love and justice,
    and always depend on him. – Hosea 12:6 NLT

It was not too late. The God who wrestled with Jacob was wrestling with them. But He also wanted to bless them. But before God could do so, they were going to have to make some significant changes.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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 Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson