It’s Worse Than You Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And They Shall Know…

14 “They have blown the trumpet and made everything ready, but none goes to battle, for my wrath is upon all their multitude. 15 The sword is without; pestilence and famine are within. He who is in the field dies by the sword, and him who is in the city famine and pestilence devour. 16 And if any survivors escape, they will be on the mountains, like doves of the valleys, all of them moaning, each one over his iniquity. 17 All hands are feeble, and all knees turn to water. 18 They put on sackcloth, and horror covers them. Shame is on all faces, and baldness on all their heads. 19 They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing. Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. They cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity. 20 His beautiful ornament they used for pride, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it. Therefore I make it an unclean thing to them. 21 And I will give it into the hands of foreigners for prey, and to the wicked of the earth for spoil, and they shall profane it. 22 I will turn my face from them, and they shall profane my treasured place. Robbers shall enter and profane it.

23 “Forge a chain! For the land is full of bloody crimes and the city is full of violence. 24 I will bring the worst of the nations to take possession of their houses. I will put an end to the pride of the strong, and their holy places shall be profaned. 25 When anguish comes, they will seek peace, but there shall be none. 26 Disaster comes upon disaster; rumor follows rumor. They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders. 27 The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the Lord.”  Ezekiel 7:14-27 ESV

The people living in Judah still believed they had a chance against the Babylonian juggernaut that had been terrorizing that region of the world for decades. Despite their previous failure to hold off Nebuchadnezzar’s forces, they somehow believed that they still had a chance to forestall their subjugation to the rapidly spreading Babylonian empire. Those living in Jerusalem were convinced that the presence of God’s temple and their status as God’s chosen people would provide them with all the protection they would need against the pagan Babylonians. But they had overlooked one factor concerning their survival as a nation: Obedience to God.

For generations, they had displayed an open disregard for God and His law. They treated Him with contempt, declaring themselves to be faithful while displaying an open disregard for His righteous requirements. That’s what led God to have the prophet Isaiah declare their guilt and predict their pending downfall.

And so the Lord says,
    “These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
    is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites
    with amazing wonders.
The wisdom of the wise will pass away,
    and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear.” – Isaiah 29:13-14 NLT

Yet, God had repeatedly called His rebellious people to repentance. He had given them ample opportunities to reject their evil ways and return to Him in humility and submission.

“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

But their track record was one of stubborn resistance and hard-hearted rejection of the message the prophets declared. Instead of admitting their guilt and confessing their sin before God, they continued to defy His law, believing that either He was oblivious to their actions or powerless to do anything about it. But God had warned them about the danger of this kind of arrogant attitude.

What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord,
    who do their evil deeds in the dark!
“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!”
How foolish can you be?
    He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
    “He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
    “The potter who made me is stupid”? – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT

God knew His people would attempt to oppose the Babylonians. They would make all the proper preparations; mustering their army, opening up the armory, and bolstering their defenses. But it would all prove futile and ill-fated because their battle would be against God Almighty. They would never get an opportunity to go toe-to-toe with the Babylonians because the entire conflict would take the form of a lengthy siege.

“…none goes to battle, for my wrath is upon all their multitude. The sword is without; pestilence and famine are within.”  Ezekiel 7:14-15 NLT

The enemy would remain outside the gates of the city, but death and destruction would come upon all those inside its walls. If anyone attempted to escape, they would find themselves facing the impermeable gauntlet of the Babylonian forces that surrounded the city, and they would die by the sword. But those inside the city walls will suffer a much slower and more painful death. Not only will famine and disease take their toll, but the population of Jerusalem will also suffer from a demoralizing loss of hope.

Their hands will hang limp,
    their knees will be weak as water.
They will dress themselves in burlap;
    horror and shame will cover them.
They will shave their heads
    in sorrow and remorse. – Ezekiel 7:17-18 NLT

The once-opulent city of Jerusalem would become a place of disease, squaller, and death. With no food to purchase, money would become virtually useless. Famine would become the great equalizer, leveling the playing field by eliminating the advantage of the wealthy.

“They will throw their money in the streets,
    tossing it out like worthless trash.
Their silver and gold won’t save them
    on that day of the Lord’s anger.
It will neither satisfy nor feed them,
    for their greed can only trip them up. – Ezekiel 7:19 NLT

For the average citizen of Judah, wealth was considered a sign of God’s blessing. To be rich was to be righteous, or so they thought. They thought spiritual maturity could be measured by material prosperity. But God was going to show them just how wrong they were.

“They were proud of their beautiful jewelry
    and used it to make detestable idols and vile images.
Therefore, I will make all their wealth
    disgusting to them.
I will give it as plunder to foreigners,
    to the most wicked of nations,
    and they will defile it. – Ezekiel 7:20-21 NLT

In a real sense, their possessions had become their obsession. They had made gods out of their goods. And they had used their jewelry and precious metals to craft idols representing their false gods. Yet, all the while, they continued to go through the motions of worshiping Yahweh in His magnificent temple. But God was going to put an end to that as well.

“I will turn my face from them, and they shall profane my treasured place. Robbers shall enter and profane it.” – Ezekiel 7:22 ESV

They had made an idol of the temple. Rather than viewing it as merely a representation and reminder of God’s glory and greatness, they had turned it into a talisman that provided them with immunity from harm. And God had warned them what would happen to their beloved city and its temple if they failed to keep His commands. All the way back at the dedication of the newly constructed temple, God had clearly predicted what would happen if they chose apostasy over faithfulness.

“But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the decrees and commands I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot the people from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make it an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’

“And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why he has brought all these disasters on them.’” – 2 Chronicles 7:19-22 NLT

Now, the disasters were about to become painfully real. Time had run out. Their opportunities to repent had come to an end. The rebellious people of Judah and the prideful citizens of Jerusalem were going to get exactly what they deserved.

“Prepare chains for my people,
    for the land is bloodied by terrible crimes.
    Jerusalem is filled with violence. – Ezekiel 7:23 NLT

And there was nothing they could do to deter or escape the judgment of God.

“The king and the prince will stand helpless,
    weeping in despair,
and the people’s hands
    will tremble with fear.
I will bring on them
    the evil they have done to others,
and they will receive the punishment
    they so richly deserve.
Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 7:27 NLT

This last line was intended to pack a punch. From the day He called Abraham out of Ur, God had made a habit of revealing Himself to His chosen people. Those whom He called were given an opportunity to know Him as who He really is. They were given glimpses of His power, mercy, grace, and love. They got to witness His greatness through acts of deliverance and countless demonstrations of His providential care. He fed them, led them, and constantly provided for them, asking only that they return His gracious acts of kindness with love and obedience. He wanted them to know that He was the Lord their God. He was the sole source of all their needs and desires.

But over the centuries, His people had failed to grasp the significance of their sovereign God and their unique relationship with Him. They had taken Him for granted and had relegated Him to the status of just another God among many. But now, with the fall of their beloved city and the destruction of their revered temple, they were going to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that He alone was Lord. But that awareness would come too little, too late.

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 Righteous Wrath of God

The word of the Lord came to me: “And you, O son of man, thus says the Lord God to the land of Israel: An end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land. Now the end is upon you, and I will send my anger upon you; I will judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare you, nor will I have pity, but I will punish you for your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

“Thus says the Lord God: Disaster after disaster! Behold, it comes. An end has come; the end has come; it has awakened against you. Behold, it comes. Your doom has come to you, O inhabitant of the land. The time has come; the day is near, a day of tumult, and not of joyful shouting on the mountains. Now I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you, and judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. I will punish you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord, who strikes.

10 “Behold, the day! Behold, it comes! Your doom has come; the rod has blossomed; pride has budded. 11 Violence has grown up into a rod of wickedness. None of them shall remain, nor their abundance, nor their wealth; neither shall there be preeminence among them. 12 The time has come; the day has arrived. Let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn, for wrath is upon all their multitude. 13 For the seller shall not return to what he has sold, while they live. For the vision concerns all their multitude; it shall not turn back; and because of his iniquity, none can maintain his life.” Ezekiel 7:1-13 ESV

Despite all the judgments God had already brought upon them, the people of Judah remained stubbornly persistent in their spiritual infidelity. King Nebuchadnezzar and his army had left a wake of destruction throughout the land but it had done little to convince the Israelites that reconsider their pattern of unfaithfulness. As God made clear in His last message, the land of Judah was still filled with altars, pagan shrines, and places of worship for their many false gods. Nothing had changed, including the condition of their hearts. Even after having seen their besieged capital city fall to Nebuchdezzar’s forces and tens of thousands of their fellow citizens transported as captives to Babylon, they continued to live as they did before.

But God gave Ezekiel a message intended to communicate that His patience had run out. He would no longer tolerate their impudence and their blatant displays of spiritual adultery.

“Son of man, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to Israel:

“The end is here!
    Wherever you look—
east, west, north, or south—
    your land is finished.
No hope remains,
    for I will unleash my anger against you.
I will call you to account
    for all your detestable sins.
I will turn my eyes away and show no pity.
    I will repay you for all your detestable sins.
Then you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 7:2-4 NLT

Once again, God informs His rebellious people that they will come to know Him as Lord, one way or the other. For generations, they had enjoyed the benefit of His power and presence. Under King David, they had grown to be a mighty nation that was a force to be reckoned with in that part of the world. Under the reign of David’s son, Solomon, the kingdom of Israel enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity. God had even allowed Solomon to construct a magnificent temple in His honor and, at its dedication, God delivered a message to the king.

“I have heard your prayer and your petition. I have set this Temple apart to be holy—this place you have built where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.” – 1 Kings 9:3 NLT

God promised to inhabit the house Solomon had built for Him, but He demanded that Solomon remain faithful and obedient to His commands. As long as Solomon followed his father’s example, leading the people with integrity and godliness, then God promised to extend the Davidic dynasty for generations. But there was a caveat.

“But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’ – 1 Kings 9:6-8 NLT

And history records that, while Solomon started out well, his reign ended poorly. He was a wise king who made many foolish decisions that ultimately led to the fall of his kingdom. He violated many of God’s commands, but one that led to his downfall was his many marriages to foreign women. He ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines, and he adopted many of their gods as his own.

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 11:4-6 NLT

As a result, God determined to divide his kingdom, creating the northern kingdom of Israel and leaving Solomon’s successor to rule over the southern kingdom of Judah. From that point forward, the two rival kingdoms seemed to vie for the reputation of which was the most apostate. King after king came to the thrones of both nations, leading their people to forsake the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by pursuing the false gods of the Canaanites.

Eventually, in 791 BC, God sent the Assyrians to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel. And while the southern kingdom witnessed the fall of their northern neighbor, they refused to alter their behavior. They believed that they were invincible because their capital city contained the temple of God. But they had not been faithful to the One for whose name and honor the temple had been dedicated.

Jeremiah, another prophet of God and a contemporary of Ezekiel, had the responsibility of ministering to the people living in Jerusalem. And God gave him a stern warning for all those who believed that they were immune from disaster because they were protected by the temple’s presence.

“Go to the entrance of the LORD’s Temple, and give this message to the people: ‘O Judah, listen to this message from the LORD! Listen to it, all of you who worship here! This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says:

“‘Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. But don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the LORD’s Temple is here. They chant, “The LORD’s Temple is here! The LORD’s Temple is here!” But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.

“‘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 7:2-11 NLT

The temple would not save them. In fact, centuries earlier, God had warned Solomon the temple would be completely destroyed if the people of Israel failed to remain faithful to Him alone. Now, the time had come for God to fulfill His promise, so He gave Ezekiel a message to deliver to all those living in exile in Babylon.

“O people of Israel, the day of your destruction is dawning.
    The time has come; the day of trouble is near.” – Ezekiel 7:7 NLT

Those to whom Ezekiel spoke had long dreamed of returning to their homeland. As long as Jerusalem remained and the temple stood, they believed there was hope that their fortunes would be restored. But they failed to understand the gravity of their sin and God’s hatred for their persistent unfaithfulness.

They had placed all their hope in a place, having turned the temple into little more than an idol. All their dreams of future deliverance were housed within the walls of that man-made structure. It was there, in the Holy of Holies, that they believed the Shekinah glory of God dwelled. But God cannot be confined to a building. He does not reside in and cannot be restricted to a particular place. As He declared through the prophet, Isaiah: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that? Could you build me such a resting place?” (Isaish 66:1 NLT).

From their desolate and desperate vantage point as exiles in the land of Babylon, Ezekiel’s audience must have been shocked to hear the finality of the prophet’s words.

The end is here! Wherever you look—east, west, north, or south—your land is finished.” – Ezekiel 7:2 NLT

The end has come. It has finally arrived. Your final doom is waiting!” – Ezekiel 7:6 NLT

The day of judgment is here; your destruction awaits! – Ezekiel 7:10 NLT

“Yes, the time has come; the day is here!” – Ezekiel 7:12 NLT

The fall of Jerusalem was imminent. The destruction of the temple was impending. And the punishment of God’s people was inevitable and inescapable.

“For what God has said applies to everyone—
    it will not be changed!
Not one person whose life is twisted by sin
    will ever recover.” – Ezekiel 7:13 NLT

The people would pay dearly for their mistaken priorities and misplaced hope. They had turned their backs on God and now He was preparing to pour out His wrath on them. He had endured their rebellion long enough. They had been warned. He had pleaded with them to repent. But they had refused. So, now it was time to pay the piper.

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.

 

I Am Against You

7 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you are more turbulent than the nations that are all around you, and have not walked in my statutes or obeyed my rules, and have not even acted according to the rules of the nations that are all around you, therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, even I, am against you. And I will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations. And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again. 10 Therefore fathers shall eat their sons in your midst, and sons shall eat their fathers. And I will execute judgments on you, and any of you who survive I will scatter to all the winds. 11 Therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, surely, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations, therefore I will withdraw. My eye will not spare, and I will have no pity. 12 A third part of you shall die of pestilence and be consumed with famine in your midst; a third part shall fall by the sword all around you; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds and will unsheathe the sword after them.

13 “Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself. And they shall know that I am the Lord—that I have spoken in my jealousy—when I spend my fury upon them. 14 Moreover, I will make you a desolation and an object of reproach among the nations all around you and in the sight of all who pass by. 15 You shall be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and a horror, to the nations all around you, when I execute judgments on you in anger and fury, and with furious rebukes—I am the Lord; I have spoken— 16 when I send against you the deadly arrows of famine, arrows for destruction, which I will send to destroy you, and when I bring more and more famine upon you and break your supply of bread. 17 I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will rob you of your children. Pestilence and blood shall pass through you, and I will bring the sword upon you. I am the Lord; I have spoken.” – Ezekiel 5:7-17 ESV

It seems that, at the end of the 430 days, Ezekiel was given a message to deliver to the people living in Babylon. His period of God-ordained silence was over and he was allowed to deliver a stinging explanation for his dramatic performance. If anyone had somehow missed the message contained in his more than 14-month-long parable in a play, his little sermon at the end would clear up any lingering confusion.

They had done the unacceptable and unimaginable. They had made an enemy out of God Almighty.

“I myself, the Sovereign Lord, am now your enemy. I will punish you publicly while all the nations watch.” – Ezekiel 5:8 NLT

The people of Israel had enjoyed a one-of-a-kind relationship with the God of the universe. He had chosen them as His own special possession, after having formed them out of nothing and transforming them into a great and powerful nation. There had been a time when the people of Israel were nonexistent. Centuries earlier, God had called an obscure Chaldean named Abram and commanded him to leave his native land and travel to a place called Canaan. This former pagan and his barren wife received a divine commission to abandon all they had ever known, including their false gods and families, and travel to a place that God promised to give them as an inheritance to their children.

“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3 NLT

And Abram obeyed the command of the Lord, traveling all the way to Canaan, where God blessed him abundantly. But Abram would eventually die, having never seen the majority of God’s promises fulfilled. Yet, from him would come a grandson named Jacob, who would one day move his small family to Egypt in order to escape a famine in the land of Canaan. And God had provided Abram with a forewarning of these events.

“You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land…” – Genesis 15:13-16 NLT

Jacob and his family would remain in Egypt for more than four centuries and, during that time, their numbers would expand greatly. God eventually changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and the small clan of 70 who originally entered the land of Egypt would grow to number in the millions, causing the Egyptians to see them as a potential threat to their way of life. So, Pharaoh came up with a plan to persecute and enslave the Israelites.

“Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.”

So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. – Exodus 1:9-11 NLT

But this was all part of God’s plan for the seed of Abraham. He had ordained every facet of the story, including their eventual deliverance by the hand of Moses. And long after Moses helped lead them out of their captivity in Egypt, he would write the following words to remind them of their unique relationship with God.

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

Now, centuries later, after having inherited the land of Canaan, just as God had promised to Abraham, the people of Israel had proven to be far from grateful and less than faithful. They had taken for granted their privileged status as God’s prized possession.

“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:4-6 NLT

They had failed to appreciate their one-of-a-kind calling and repeatedly refused to keep the terms of the covenant God had made with them. God had promised to bless them if they would only live in obedience to His commands.

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. – Deuteronomy 28:1 NLT

But their failure to keep God’s commands would come with serious consequences.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you…” – Deuteronomy 28:15 NLT

And for centuries, the people of Israel had wavered back and forth between obedience and rebellion. They had repeatedly proven themselves incapable of remaining faithful to God, as they regularly worshiped the false gods of the Canaanites. And God warned them time and time again that their unfaithfulness would require Him to punish them. And the people to whom Ezekiel was ministering in Babylon were there because God had sent Nebuchadnezzar and his forces to besiege the city of Jerusalem. They had been taken captive and exiled because they had violated the terms of the covenant.

Now, Ezekiel warns them that more devastation was in store for Jerusalem because the infidelity of its citizens remained unchanged. Despite the fall of the city to Nebuchadnezzar’s forces and the capture and deportment of thousands of its citizens, the remaining population continued to live in stubborn disobedience to God.

“Because of your detestable idols, I will punish you like I have never punished anyone before or ever will again. Parents will eat their own children, and children will eat their parents. I will punish you and scatter to the winds the few who survive.” – Ezekiel 5:9 NLT

The second siege of Jerusalem was going to be far worse than the first. This time, the conditions within the city walls would deteriorate to such a degree that the people would be forced to eat their own children in order to survive. And God makes it clear that these horrendous conditions will be the direct result of their unfaithfulness and infidelity.

“So I will turn you into a ruin, a mockery in the eyes of the surrounding nations and to all who pass by. You will become an object of mockery and taunting and horror. You will be a warning to all the nations around you. They will see what happens when the Lord punishes a nation in anger and rebukes it, says the Lord.” – Ezekiel 5:14-15 NLT

The chosen people of God would find their holy city destroyed, the temple of their God demolished, and their status as a mighty nation diminished beyond recognition. It is not as if God had not warned them. All the way back during their days in the wilderness as they made their way to the promised land, Moses had given them a warning from God.

“Just as the Lord has found great pleasure in causing you to prosper and multiply, the Lord will find pleasure in destroying you. You will be torn from the land you are about to enter and occupy. For the Lord will scatter you among all the nations from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship foreign gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods made of wood and stone! There among those nations you will find no peace or place to rest. And the Lord will cause your heart to tremble, your eyesight to fail, and your soul to despair. Your life will constantly hang in the balance. You will live night and day in fear, unsure if you will survive. In the morning you will say, ‘If only it were night!’ And in the evening you will say, ‘If only it were morning!’ For you will be terrified by the awful horrors you see around you.” – Deuteronomy 28:63-67 NLT

Now, centuries later, God’s warning was become reality. The news would soon arrive of Jerusalem’s fall and the destruction of the temple. And a new wave of captives would arrive in Babylon bringing with them terrible tales of the horrific conditions during the siege. They would confirm all the details of God’s predictions. And all those who had witnessed Ezekiel’s strange but mesmerizing street performance would know that he truly was a prophet of God. And they would know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that their less-than-ideal conditions in Babylon were because they had chosen to make an enemy of God. They had willingly spurned the love of their Holy Father, responding to His affections with disdain, disobedience, and disloyalty.

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.

 

Holiness Is Non-Optional

1 “And you, O son of man, take a sharp sword. Use it as a barber’s razor and pass it over your head and your beard. Then take balances for weighing and divide the hair. A third part you shall burn in the fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are completed. And a third part you shall take and strike with the sword all around the city. And a third part you shall scatter to the wind, and I will unsheathe the sword after them. And you shall take from these a small number and bind them in the skirts of your robe. And of these again you shall take some and cast them into the midst of the fire and burn them in the fire. From there a fire will come out into all the house of Israel.

5 “Thus says the Lord God: This is Jerusalem. I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. And she has rebelled against my rules by doing wickedness more than the nations, and against my statutes more than the countries all around her; for they have rejected my rules and have not walked in my statutes.– Ezekiel 5:1-6 ESV

Can Ezekiel’s assignment get any stranger? He has already been commanded to spend the next 430 days lying in the street next to a miniature model of the city of Jerusalem. Each of those days, he has to act out the siege of Jerusalem while subsisting on a diet of nothing but bread and water. As the months go by, his body will begin to waste away from lack of food, and he will endure the ridicule and rejection of the very people for whom his message was intended.

But God was not done. He added another bizarre twist to this parable-in-a-play, commanding Ezekiel to remove his hair and beard using a sword. God’s choice of a sharp sword as Ezekiel’s shaving instrument was intentional and designed to illustrate the military nature of the siege. The residents of Jerusalem would be armed for battle because their city was under attack by the Babylonians. But the long duration of the siege and the resulting famine inside the city walls would leave its inhabitants hungry and demoralized. And the imagery of Ezekiel’s shaved head and beard was intended to reflect the severe state of mourning that will take place within the walls of Jerusalem.

The Mosaic Law prohibited God’s people from practicing the mourning rituals of the pagan nations around them.

“Since you are the people of the Lord your God, never cut yourselves or shave the hair above your foreheads in mourning for the dead. You have been set apart as holy to the Lord your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 14:1-2 NLT

The Torah interpreted these verses to be a prohibition on tonsuring, the pulling out or cutting of hair to express sorrow. This was a common practice among the pagan nations living in the land of Canaan. But God commanded His chosen people to abstain from such practices.

Yet, God commanded His prophet, Ezekiel, to shave his head and beard in order to demonstrate the severity of the siege and the humiliation the people would suffer for their rebellion against him. What made this command even more difficult for Ezekiel to obey was that it violated God’s laws concerning the priesthood of Israel.

“The priests must not shave their heads or trim their beards or cut their bodies. They must be set apart as holy to their God and must never bring shame on the name of God. They must be holy, for they are the ones who present the special gifts to the Lord, gifts of food for their God. – Leviticus 21:5-6 NLT

The people who witnessed this shocking display of self-degradation by Ezekiel would have understood its significance. By shaving his head and beard, this young priest would have willingly violated God’s law, rendering himself defiled and unholy. But what they might not have understood was that his action was a demonstration of their own spiritual state before God. They were defiled and unholy as well. Because of their stubborn refusal to repent, they were no longer considered holy or set apart as God’s chosen people.

And God had another bizarre element to add to Ezekiel’s performance. He was to take the hair and weigh it on a scale, dividing it into three equal parts.

“Place a third of it at the center of your map of Jerusalem. After acting out the siege, burn it there. Scatter another third across your map and chop it with a sword. Scatter the last third to the wind, for I will scatter my people with the sword.” – Ezekiel 5:2 NLT

It is important to remember that every phase of God’s instructions to Ezekiel was to be acted out in public. He was required to carry out God’s commands so that his fellow exiles could witness it with their own eyes. This message was for them.

So, God commanded that upon completion of his 430-day demonstration, Ezekiel was to burn one-third of the hair in the center of the model he had built. This was intended to represent all those who would be slaughtered within the city when the Babylonians broke through the walls.

Then God commanded Ezekiel to take another third of the hair and use his sword to chop it up outside the walls of his miniature model of Jerusalem. This action was intended to represent the wholesale massacre of all those who attempted to flee the city. And Ezekiel was commanded to take the final third of the hair and scatter it to the wind, illustrating all those who would end up “blown” by God’s will to the four corners of the earth. Some would escape and relocate to foreign lands, while a large number of the people would end up as captives in Babylon just like Ezekiel and his fellow exiles.

The book of 2 Chronicles records the devastating details surrounding the eventual siege and destruction of Jerusalem.

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

Everything that God commanded Ezekiel to act out would eventually become a painful reality for those still living within the walls of Jerusalem. God was using His young prophet to provide an eerily accurate portrayal of the fall of Jerusalem. He wanted the Jews living as exiles in Babylon to understand that His anger was not yet assuaged. There were some among them in Babylon who were suggesting that their days of suffering were almost over and they would soon be returning home. Others had become comfortable in their new surroundings in Babylon and had long ago given up hope or interest in returning to their homeland.

Even back in Jerusalem, there were those who were propagating the idea that the Babylonian siege would be shortlived and unsuccessful. The civil and religious leaders were trying to convince the people that God was going to rescue them from their predicament. But God had given His prophet, Jeremiah, a dramatically different message to deliver to the people.

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.” – Jeremiah 6:13-14 NLT

Rather than confess their sins and return to the Lord in humility, these people were declaring themselves to be innocent and worthy of God’s rescue. Even Jeremiah would attempt to inform God about the deceptive rhetoric of the other self-appointed prophets of Judah.

Then I said, “O Sovereign Lord, their prophets are telling them, ‘All is well—no war or famine will come. The Lord will surely send you peace.’” – Ezekiel 14:13 NLT

He was fighting a one-man battle against disinformation and false news. But Jeremiah wasn’t telling God anything He didn’t already know. In fact, God assured Jeremiah that these false prophets would pay dearly for their lies.

Then the Lord said, “These prophets are telling lies in my name. I did not send them or tell them to speak. I did not give them any messages. They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I will punish these lying prophets, for they have spoken in my name even though I never sent them. They say that no war or famine will come, but they themselves will die by war and famine!” – Ezekiel 14:14-15 NLT

Meanwhile, back in Babylon, Ezekiel was putting on a show for the exiles, attempting to drive home the severity of God’s anger with His people. Their very presence in Babylon was proof that God was serious about sin and was more than willing to punish it severely. And He was far from done. Their fellow Jews back in Jerusalem were continuing to live in disobedience to God’s will and refusing to answer His call to repentance, and their actions had not escaped the eyes of the Almighty.

“…she has rebelled against my regulations and decrees and has been even more wicked than the surrounding nations. She has refused to obey the regulations and decrees I gave her to follow.” – Ezekiel 5:6 NLT

Ezekiel’s lengthy dramatic performance was meant to remind the unrepentant Jews in Babylon that God expects obedience from His chosen people, no matter where they live. And their failure to live holy lives and reflect the glory of God would eventually have devastating consequences.

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.

Trust and Obey

“And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer, and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them. During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it. 10 And your food that you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from day to day you shall eat it. 11 And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin; from day to day you shall drink. 12 And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.” 13 And the Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations where I will drive them.” 14 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I have never defiled myself. From my youth up till now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has tainted meat come into my mouth.” 15 Then he said to me, “See, I assign to you cow’s dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread.” 16 Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, behold, I will break the supply of bread in Jerusalem. They shall eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay. 17 I will do this that they may lack bread and water, and look at one another in dismay, and rot away because of their punishment. – Ezekiel 4:9-17 ESV

During the first 390 days of Ezekiel’s one-man theater production, he was limited to a diet of water and bread made from a strange blend of wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and emmer. This unappealing and nutritionally insufficient food regimen was intended to illustrate the conditions the people would suffer in the actual siege of Jerusalem. It would be long in duration and result in the inhabitants of the city living off a subsistence diet made from whatever grains they could find. God restricted Ezekiel’s food intake to a meager eight ounces of bread and just over a liter of water per day. Subsisting for more than a year on this nutritionally deficient diet would have left Ezekiel emaciated and weak. And because he was commanded to act out this parabolic lesson in full display of the people, they would have witnessed the startling and discomfiting transformation in Ezekiel’s physical state.

All of this was intended to provide a vivid illustration of the horrific conditions within the walls of the city of Jerusalem when the Babylonians conducted their final siege of the city. And Moses had warned of this day centuries before.

“The siege and terrible distress of the enemy’s attack will be so severe that you will eat the flesh of your own sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you. The most tenderhearted man among you will have no compassion for his own brother, his beloved wife, and his surviving children. He will refuse to share with them the flesh he is devouring—the flesh of one of his own children—because he has nothing else to eat during the siege and terrible distress that your enemy will inflict on all your towns. The most tender and delicate woman among you—so delicate she would not so much as touch the ground with her foot—will be selfish toward the husband she loves and toward her own son or daughter. She will hide from them the afterbirth and the new baby she has borne, so that she herself can secretly eat them. She will have nothing else to eat during the siege and terrible distress that your enemy will inflict on all your towns.” – Deuteronomy 28:53-57 NLT

But for Ezekiel, the most startling part of God’s command was the requirement to bake his bread over a fire made with dried human dung. Of all the strange things God had asked him to do, this was the part that got Ezekiel’s attention. He was appalled at the thought of doing such a thing because he knew it would render him ceremonially impure. God had intended this unsavory action to remind the exiles of the spiritually impure state of their current conditions.

“This is how Israel will eat defiled bread in the Gentile lands to which I will banish them!” – Ezekiel 4:13 NLT

Without the sacrificial system, the people of God living in Babylon had no way of receiving atonement and cleansing for their sins. As a result, they remained in a perpetual state of spiritual impurity and separation from God. Their very presence in a foreign land living among pagans left them defiled and unworthy of coming into God’s presence.

But while Ezekiel was willing to do everything God had commanded him to do, this part was too much for him, so he appealed to God.

“O Sovereign Lord, must I be defiled by using human dung? For I have never been defiled before. From the time I was a child until now I have never eaten any animal that died of sickness or was killed by other animals. I have never eaten any meat forbidden by the law.” – Ezekiel 4:14 NLT

Even while in exile, Ezekiel had labored to remain faithful to the Mosaic Law. The thought of defiling himself in such a way was unacceptable to him. So, God graciously allowed him to use cow dung instead. Amazingly, this was the only part of God’s plan at which Ezekiel balked. He was willing to do everything God had commanded him to do – without question – even though it all appeared strange and senseless, and would probably result in his own humiliation in the eyes of the people.

The remarkable thing about this story is not the mysterious symbolism of the brick, the number of days involved, or the content of Ezekiel’s diet. It is the faithful obedience of Ezekiel in the face of a very strange request from God. None of this made sense. Ezekiel was being asked to do something patently absurd that would result in him making a fool of himself. And he knew that nothing he did or said was going to make an impact on the people. God had already told him that they would not listen or repent.

But Ezekiel obeyed anyway. He did what God asked him to do. And this will be the pattern portrayed throughout the pages of this book. Over and over again, Ezekiel will respond obediently to the commands of God. He will do what he is told to do, regardless of its difficulty or credibility. He will consistently and persistently obey – time and time again.

But what about us? How do we respond to the Word of God in our lives? Do we obey or do we rationalize, argue, debate, or simply disobey? Does it all have to make sense before we do what God is asking us to do? If it requires us to humble ourselves or get out of our comfort zone, do we balk and bail?

God is looking for men and women who will faithfully obey and do what He is calling them to do – no questions asked. It may not make sense, but it will make a difference because God is behind it all. He has a plan. He knows what is best. There is always a method to His seeming madness. We just need to trust and obey.

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 Performance of a Lifetime

1 “And you, son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and engrave on it a city, even Jerusalem. And put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it. Set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around. And you, take an iron griddle, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel.

“Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment. For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah. Forty days I assign you, a day for each year. And you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with your arm bared, and you shall prophesy against the city. And behold, I will place cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other, till you have completed the days of your siege. – Ezekiel 4:1-8 ESV

Ezekiel was a priest who had been commissioned by God to be His prophet, but then God made him a prisoner in his own home. And with the opening verses of chapter four, Ezekiel receives yet one more role – that of a performance artist. Not only would he be required to speak on God’s behalf, delivering His messages of judgment to the people, but he was going to have to act out those messages in a series of strange one-man plays.

Evidently, Ezekiel was given a reprieve from his God-ordained house arrest, long enough to carry out the first of God’s bizarre parables in 3-D. These performances were intended to visually demonstrate God’s pending judgment upon the nation of Judah. Without speaking a word, Ezekiel was to stage a one-act, outdoor theater production complete with props and a plot line.

“…son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and engrave on it a city, even Jerusalem. And put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it. Set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around. And you, take an iron griddle, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel. – Ezekiel 4:1-3 NLT

One can only imagine the look on Ezekiel’s face when he received this command from the Almighty. There is no way of knowing whether Ezekiel was an introvert or an extrovert, but it is safe to say that neither temperament would have made this command easy to obey. After all, God was asking His prophet to make a fool of himself – in public. Ezekiel was going to have to put on a performance as “a sign for the house of Israel.” He couldn’t do it in the privacy of his own home but would be forced to take his show on the road, acting it out in the streets for all to see.

The thought must have run through Ezekiel’s head that this little parable in a play was going to get less-than-stellar reviews. He must have considered the stinging ridicule he would have to endure as he carried out God’s command. But the text contains no record of Ezekiel’s thoughts. We are provided with no insights into his state of mind as he received the divine script for his first performance. Like a mime, Ezekiel was to act out this drama without any words. God provided him with a detailed list of the props he was to use along with the state directions he was to follow.

God commanded him to take a common clay brick and draw on it the image of the city of Jerusalem. He was to place the brick outside his house, in full view of the people, then build siege walls, ramps, and an enemy camp around it. Like a little boy playing with toy soldiers, Ezekiel was to construct a model of the siege of Jerusalem. But that’s not all. It gets worse. God commanded Ezekiel to erect an iron plate, then to lie down on his left side for a period of 390 days with the iron plate between himself and the “city” of Jerusalem. When the 390 days were up, he was to turn over and lie on his right side for another 40 days.

There has been much debate over the years as to what all this was intended to mean. It seems obvious that God was commanding Ezekiel to act out the siege and eventual fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. But why would God have Ezekiel act out an event that had already occurred? After all, the people of Judah to whom Ezekiel was prophesying were in Babylon because of the fall of Jerusalem. They have lived through these events. But there is some speculation that Ezekiel was acting out two different sieges of Jerusalem. The first took place in 597 BC and is recorded in 2 Kings 24:10-17. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar’s troops entered Jerusalem and “carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the Lord had foretold” (2 Kings 24:13 ESV). The Babylonians took 10,000 people captive and it is likely that Ezekiel was among them.

But 11 years later, the Babylonians would return and lay siege to the city again. This time, they bring about its complete destruction.

Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. – 2 Kings 25:8-10 ESV

It seems likely that Ezekiel was acting out the second siege of Jerusalem which had not yet taken place. While his audience would have experienced the terrors associated with the first siege of 597 BC, God was letting them know that there was more judgment to come.

There were those among the exiles who were declaring that their stay in Babylon was coming to an end and God was going to return them to Judah. The rumors had been circulating that their predicament was temporary in nature. God was going to spare them and allow them to return home. But they were not living in obedience to God’s law and had never repented of the sins that had led to their captivity in the first place.

Hundreds of years earlier, God had warned the people of Israel what would happen if they failed to remain faithful to Him. Through His prophet, Moses, God had conveyed the curses that would come upon them if they refused to keep His commands.

“They will attack your cities until all the fortified walls in your land—the walls you trusted to protect you—are knocked down. They will attack all the towns in the land the Lord your God has given you.

“The siege and terrible distress of the enemy’s attack will be so severe that you will eat the flesh of your own sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you.” – Deuteronomy 28:52-53 NLT

Now, centuries later, God was having Ezekiel act out the ramifications of their continued rebellion. Even though they had personally endured the first siege and ended up as captives in the land of Babylon, they had never repented of their sins. Some commentators believe the iron plate was represent the barrier between God and His chosen people. Because of their ongoing stubbornness and continuing unfaithfulness, the remaining inhabitants of Jerusalem would find their prayers unanswered and God’s help unavailable. He would not rescue them from their coming trial.

And the exiles watching Ezekiel’s performance would discover that any hopes they had of returning to Jerusalem were nothing but wishful thinking. God gave Ezekiel firm instructions that were to communicate a clear message.

“…set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with your arm bared, and you shall prophesy against the city.” – Ezekiel 4:7 ESV

Ezekiel was to play that part of God in this divine drama. His bare arm was a symbol of God’s all-powerful and inescapable judgment. The Almighty would be behind the second siege of Jerusalem and would bring about its utter destruction.

There has been much debate regarding the meaning behind the length of days that Ezekiel was required to lie on his side. God makes it clear that the days represent years.

“I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel.” – Ezekiel 4:5 ESV

And if you add the 40 days to the 390, you get 430 total days or years. But what do they represent? It is interesting to note that this was the same number of years the Israelites were captives in the land of Egypt before God delivered them through Moses. Perhaps there was a not-so-subtle message concerning God’s future deliverance of His rebellious people when He eventually allowed a remnant of them to return to the land of Judah under Nehemiah.

But while we cannot ascertain the exact meaning behind the 430 years, God wanted Ezekiel to spend more than a year of his life acting out this drama. And to help him do so, God divinely restrained him with ropes.

“I will place cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other, till you have completed the days of your siege.” – Ezekiel 4:8 ESV

God knew this was going to be a difficult assignment and, along the way, Ezekiel would face plenty of temptations to quit. God had already told him his audience would prove disinterested and unwilling to hear what he had to say. So, day after day, month after month, Ezekiel would act out his drama to an unresponsive and unappreciative audience. But he was to complete the task assigned to him, and God made sure that he did so.

Yet, as distasteful as this assignment was, God was going to make it even more difficult, all in order to dramatize the devastation awaiting His rebellious and unrepentant people.

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.

Speak When Spoken To

16 And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. 20 Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. 21 But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”

22 And the hand of the Lord was upon me there. And he said to me, “Arise, go out into the valley, and there I will speak with you.” 23 So I arose and went out into the valley, and behold, the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory that I had seen by the Chebar canal, and I fell on my face. 24 But the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and he spoke with me and said to me, “Go, shut yourself within your house. 25 And you, O son of man, behold, cords will be placed upon you, and you shall be bound with them, so that you cannot go out among the people. 26 And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. 27 But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house. – Ezekiel 3:16-27 ESV

Ezekiel had been handpicked by God to serve as His spokesman or prophet to the people of Israel living in the land of Babylon. And after receiving the details of his commission from the Almighty, Ezekiel spent a solid week in a virtual state of shock as he considered the gravity of his divine assignment.

And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days. – Ezekiel 3:15 ESV

But God disrupted Ezekiel’s listless period of stupefaction with another important message concerning his new role.

“Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. – Ezekiel 3:17 NLT

God declared Ezekiel to be His צָפָה (ṣāp̄â) or watchman. In Hebrew, the word refers to a lookout or spy. It was often used to describe the role of a guard or sentry who patrolled the walls of a city at night, looking for any threats to the community’s safety. If he saw enemy movements outside the wall, he was to sound the alarm, warning the inhabitants to take appropriate action.

And that was the point behind God’s message to Ezekiel. He was to wait, watch, and warn. Whenever God spoke, Ezekiel was to pass on His message to the people of Israel. The inference is that the message Ezekiel must share will be one of God’s pending judgment upon the rebellious people of Israel. Even though they were already living in captivity because of their sins, they were not free to continue their disobedient and disrespectful treatment of God. He was watching and He still expected them to repent from their sins and return to Him in faithful obedience to His will.

And God warned Ezekiel that his role as watchman would require obedience on his part. If he failed to do his job well, he would pay dearly for it.

“If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths. If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me.” – Ezekiel 3:18-19 NLT

As God’s prophet, Ezekiel was the sole source of divine communication for the people of Israel. They had no way of hearing from God except through the mouth of God’s spokesman. So, if Ezekiel failed to deliver God’s warning of judgment and the people remained unrepentant, he would be held accountable for their deaths. They would die in their sins because God’s prophet had failed to warn them.

But if Ezekiel faithfully fulfilled his commission and passed on God’s warning to the people, he would be declared innocent of their deaths should they fail to repent. In other words, Ezekiel was only required to communicate the message, not convert the hearers. His only responsibility was to deliver the message accurately and leave the results up to God.

Ezekiel had two primary audiences: The wicked and the righteous. He was to warn the former to turn from their wicked ways so that they might escape the coming judgment of God. But he was also to warn the righteous to remain faithful to God and refrain from pursuing a life of wickedness. In both cases, Ezekiel’s responsibility was to clearly communicate the words given to him by God. Nothing more, nothing less.

It seems that God wanted His newly appointed prophet to understand the gravity of the situation. Ezekiel had spent the last seven days contemplating his new role and had likely come up with a list of objections and questions. So, God wanted Ezekiel to know that his commission was non-optional and came with a high price tag.

Immediately after delivering this call to faithfulness, God sent Ezekiel into the valley of the River Kebar, where He allowed the prophet to witness His glory once again.

“Get up and go out into the valley, and I will speak to you there.” So I got up and went, and there I saw the glory of the Lord, just as I had seen in my first vision by the Kebar River. And I fell face down on the ground. – Ezekiel 3:22-23 NLT

What happens next is fascinating, considering what God just said to Ezekiel. He had commanded His servant to faithfully deliver His words regardless of the response of the people. Yet, the first thing God commanded Ezekiel to do was to return to his own home.

“Go to your house and shut yourself in. There, son of man, you will be tied with ropes so you cannot go out among the people. And I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels. – Ezekiel 3:24-26 NLT

God put Ezekiel in solitary confinement. Not only that, He had the prophet constrained with ropes. It is unclear who did the restraining, but it would appear that this was a supernatural event that involved angelic beings and not men. However God did it, Ezekiel found himself bound within the walls of his home and unable to venture out. The prophet was a prisoner. And to make matters worse, God made Ezekiel mute.

At first glance, none of this makes much sense. Why would God restrict the actions of His newly appointed prophet and remove his capacity to speak? How was Ezekiel to warn the people? What good was a prophet who couldn’t talk? How was he to call the people to repentance if he was under house arrest?

But God was actually protecting Ezekiel – from himself.  God knew Ezekiel well and understood that this young man would be quick to take up an offense for His glory. Once Ezekiel began his mission among the people, he would see the stubbornness and rebellion of the people firsthand and become angry at their refusal to heed his words.

For Ezekiel’s own protection, God secluded him away until the moment he was needed. Ezekiel was restricted from ministering or speaking until God had given him something to say. God had made it perfectly clear, the only time Ezekiel was to speak was when he could say, “Thus says the Lord God…” (Ezekiel 3:11 ESV).

God was not interested in Ezekiel’s opinion. He did not need His prophet to give his two cents worth. The only time he was to speak was when he was declaring the message given to him by God. That is why God said, “you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels” (Ezekiel 3:26 NLT). God knew that Ezekiel would become increasingly frustrated with the sinful dispositions of his fellow exiles. Their failure to listen to God’s warning would prompt him to lash out in anger and say things he would ultimately regret.

The longer Ezekiel did his job, the angrier he would become about the sins of the people. He would come to share God’s hatred for their rebellion and failure to repent. So, at the outset of his ministry, Ezekiel found himself bound and gagged by God, so that he might learn to speak only when spoken to.

If God had not prevented him from speaking, Ezekiel would probably have had plenty to say to and about his less-than-righteous neighbors. He would have been more than happy to give the people a piece of his mind, read them the riot act, and chew them out for their sinful lifestyles and rebellion against God. After all, he was God’s spokesman. But God was not going to allow Ezekiel to say anything at all until He had given him something to say. Ezekiel was going to have to shut up until God spoke up. Any words that came out of his mouth were going to have to be God’s and not his own.

What if we approached our relationships with others the same way? What if we decided to keep our mouths shut until we knew we had heard from God? Too often, we decide that we have something that others need to hear, yet the content of our message didn’t come from God. We boldly and confidently attribute it to Him, when all the while, we are the source. We give God credit for a message that we came up with. But God wants us to speak at His command, not on His behalf. As His messengers, we don’t get to make up the message, we simply get to communicate it. But too often, we end up sharing our opinion instead of declaring God’s Word. We give it our slant. We put our words in God’s mouth.

God knew Ezekiel was going to be prone to the same problem, so He did him a favor and made him mute – until it was time for him to speak. For some of us, that might be the best thing that ever happened to us. But in the meantime, let’s see if we can’t learn to speak less and listen more. So that when we do speak, we are confident that what we say is from God and not us.

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

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

 

A Bitter-Sweet Assignment

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.

“But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. 10 And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. – Ezekiel 2:1-3:3 ESV

Ezekiel had been given a vision of God’s glory, and it left him face down on the ground in reverential fear and wonder. As this exiled young priest stood by the banks of the Kebar River in Babylon, the God of the universe made an unexpected and highly spectacular appearance.

Above this surface was something that looked like a throne made of blue lapis lazuli. And on this throne high above was a figure whose appearance resembled a man. From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me. – Ezekiel 1:26-28 NLT

It is safe to assume that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Ezekiel. He had never seen anything like this before, and to have the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob appear to him in the remote recesses of the land of Babylon must have been a shock to his system. He was just a lowly priest who had been taken captive just like all the other residents of Jerusalem when the city had fallen to King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces.  Jehoiachin was the king of Judah at the time and, according to 2 Kings 12:9, “He did evil in the sight of the Lord as his ancestors had done.” Like most of his predecessors, Jehoiachin chose to use his royal power to promote idolatry that fostered unfaithfulness to God, and he suffered greatly for his refusal to honor the Almighty.

At that time the generals of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched to Jerusalem and besieged the city. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to the city while his generals were besieging it. King Jehoiachin of Judah, along with his mother, his servants, his officials, and his eunuchs surrendered to the king of Babylon. The king of Babylon, in the eighth year of his reign, took Jehoiachin prisoner. Nebuchadnezzar took from there all the riches in the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace. He removed all the gold items that King Solomon of Israel had made for the Lord’s temple, just as the Lord had warned. He deported all the residents of Jerusalem, including all the officials and all the soldiers (10,000 people in all). This included all the craftsmen and those who worked with metal. No one was left except for the poorest among the people of the land. – 2 Kings 12:10-14 NLT

Living amongst the exiled people of God, Ezekiel had firsthand experience with the apathy and complacency that had taken hold of them. A long way from home and no longer able to avail themselves of the temple and the sacrificial system, they had begun to lose interest in the things of God. Their circumstances had left them feeling abandoned by God and distraught over the far-from-ideal conditions of their captivity. With the passage of time, God had become out of sight, out of mind. They simply assumed He had turned His back on them and so, in time, they gave up hope and determined to make the most of their situation in Babylon.

But God had other plans that included appointing Ezekiel as the one who would deliver His message to the exiles. He had not forgotten about them. They had not been abandoned. Their exile had been intended to get their attention and to bring them to a point of repentance. Now, Ezekiel was going to be commissioned to serve as God’s spokesperson, delivering His call to repentance.

Having gotten Ezekiel’s full attention through the grand display of His glory, God delivered the details of his new assignment.

“I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day. They are a stubborn and hard-hearted people. But I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’” – Ezekiel 2:3-4 NLT

God makes it painfully clear that Ezekiel’s new task would not be easy. He would have to deliver a message from God to a people who had a track record of stubbornness and insubordination. And God warns Ezekiel that his audience may not receive his message with open arms.

“And whether they listen or refuse to listen—for remember, they are rebels—at least they will know they have had a prophet among them.” – Ezekiel 2:5 NLT

There was no guarantee that Ezekiel would experience success. Despite the fact that he would be speaking the words of God, he had no way of knowing how the people would respond. In fact, God made it sound like his mission was doomed to certain failure.

What would you do if God called you to a task that He knew you were going to fail at? What if He even told you your efforts would be fruitless and non-productive? Most of us would bail. We would give up long before we got going. Because we’re wired with one thing in mind – success – and failure is not an acceptable alternative. But when Ezekiel got his marching orders from God, he was also given the not-so-great news that his ministry would be unsuccessful because his audience was going to be unresponsive.  God even told Ezekiel to expect threats and animosity. This was going to be one difficult job assignment.

In a sense, God was foreshadowing failure, but demanding obedience. Ezekiel’s success would not be measured by the number of callous, carnal Israelites he converted, but on his willingness to carry out God’s assignment faithfully, even in the face of rejection, ridicule, and poor results.

Even the message God gave Ezekiel to share was anything but good news. In his vision, Ezekiel was given a scroll that was covered with writing front and back, from edge to edge. It’s content?

“Funeral songs, words of sorrows, and pronouncements of doom.” – Ezekiel 2:9b NLT

It was a veritable compendium of bad news. So, not only would Ezekiel have a non-responsive audience, he was given an unappealing message. But God fully understood the foreboding nature of Ezekiel’s assignment, and he knew that Ezekiel was already wrestling with whether to follow through with His command. The young priest was afraid of how he and his message might be received by the people, but God encouraged him to have faith.

“Do not fear them or their words. Don’t be afraid even though their threats surround you like nettles and briars and stinging scorpions. Do not be dismayed by their dark scowls, even though they are rebels.” – Ezekiel 2:6 NLT

God was telling Ezekiel not to be frightened by the things they would threaten to do to him, the harsh words they might say about him, or the negative reaction they would inevitably have to him.

“Son of man, do not fear them or their words. Don’t be afraid even though their threats surround you like nettles and briers and stinging scorpions. Do not be dismayed by their dark scowls, even though they are rebels. You must give them my messages whether they listen or not. But they won’t listen, for they are completely rebellious!” – Ezekiel 2:6-7 NLT

Ezekiel was going to experience resistance. His message would not be well-received and the people would hold him responsible for its content. It was only a matter of time before they sought to kill the messenger. That’s why God warned Ezekiel to refrain from emulating the rebellious nature of his audience. He was not to reject God’s assignment just because it sounded difficult and more than a bit dangerous. God was open and above board as to the difficulty of the mission. He didn’t attempt to sugarcoat the assignment or paint a rosy picture of its outcome. Instead, God gave His newly appointed prophet all he would need to succeed.

“Son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not join them in their rebellion. Open your mouth, and eat what I give you.” – Ezekiel 2:8 NLT

God held out a scroll, upon which were written lamentations, mourning, and woes. In other words, it was filled with bad news. The sheer volume of disheartening content was so great that it covered both sides of the scroll. God’s indictment against His people was great and He commanded Ezekiel to consume every last bit of it. He was to take it all in so that he might regurgitate it, word for word, to the disobedient people of God.

“Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” – Ezekiel 3:1 ESV

But much to his surprise, Ezekiel found the less-than-appealing content of the scroll to be “sweet as honey.” (Ezekiel 3:3 ESV). There is a similar scene described in the book of Revelation. In it, the apostle John is given a vision of an angel who descends from heaven with a scroll in his hand. He presents the scroll to John and commands him to eat it.

“Yes, take it and eat it,” he said. “It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach!” So I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but when I swallowed it, it turned sour in my stomach.

Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” – Revelation 10:9-11 NLT

Both John and Ezekiel would find the words of God to be both sweet and bitter. When the truth of God is consumed, it is pleasant and life-giving, but it can also result in conviction and condemnation.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. – Hebrews 4:12 NLT

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:16 NLT

For Ezekiel, consuming God’s word was sweet to the taste, but declaring it to the people would be a bitter experience. They would find it distasteful and difficult to swallow. But God was calling Ezekiel to be faithful and fearless in declaring its truth regardless of the outcome.

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.

Our Indescribable and Inexplicable God

15 Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. 16 As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. 17 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. 18 And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. 19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. 20 Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21 When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

22 Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. 23 And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each creature had two wings covering its body. 24 And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings. 25 And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.

26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:15-28 ESV

For centuries, artists have attempted to recreate the fantastic scene described in Ezekiel’s vision, and their efforts have resulted in a host of ethereal, otherworldly depictions that almost defy the range of man’s imagination. Their depictions border on the surreal and illustrate man’s incapacity to understand or explain the glory of God. But in their defense, each of them based their artwork on the words of Ezekiel. They simply illustrated what Ezekiel attempted to elucidate. But this young priest was at a great disadvantage because he was trying to describe the indescribable and explain the inexplicable. Hampered by a finite human mind and a limited vocabulary, Ezekiel did his best to recreate his vision with words. But his efforts would prove futile because he was attempting to describe “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:28 ESV).

While Ezekiel appears to be describing a series of different individuals and objects, the scene is meant to illustrate the glory of the Lord. This entire chapter should be viewed as a depiction of the majesty and magnificence of Jehovah, the Creator-God who rules and reigns over all. The all-mighty, transcendent God of the universe was providing Ezekiel with a composite picture of His essence that was intended to engender a response of awe and reverential fear. And it worked, because Ezekiel claims, “When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground” (Ezekiel 1:28 NLT).

Ezekiel got the big picture. He correctly viewed the entire scene as a divine depiction of his God. And, as a priest, Ezekiel would have known that it was impossible for any human being to see God and live to tell about it. He would have been well versed in the words that God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai. The man whom God had chosen to liberate His people from their captivity in Egypt had expressed his desire to see God’s glory. Moses had seen God’s glory displayed in the burning bush and had repeatedly spoken with Him, but he longed for something greater.

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” – Exodus 33:18 ESV

But God let Moses that his request was not only impossible, but it would also be suicidal. So, He provided Moses with a viable alternative.

…and he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” – Ezekiel 33:19-20 ESV

Like Moses, Ezekiel would see God’s glory and live to tell about it. He would see indescribable things and attempt to explain them with words that could never do them justice. The four living creatures, the wheels within wheels, the crystal expanse, and the sapphire thrown were all intended to depict God’s glory. Ezekiel was being given a rare opportunity to see the Almighty but in a way that produced awe and wonder instead of death.

It was the apostle Paul who described Yahweh as “the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords” (1 Timothy 6:15 NLT). And he went on to explain God’s transcendent, unapproachable nature.

He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! – 1 Timothy 6:16 NLT

It is impossible to know exactly what Ezekiel saw but that has not stopped artists from trying to depict it. But no painting, engraving, or illustration will ever be able to capture the glory of God.

Every aspect of Ezekiel’s vision was meant to reinforce the greatness and glory of God. The four different faces of the four living creatures reveal that God is sovereign over all creation. He rules over humanity, the wild beasts, domesticated animals, and the birds of the air – because He made them all. And the wheels within wheels were intended to depict God’s omnipresence; completely unhindered by time or space. According to Ezekiel, the wheels “went in any of their four directions without turning as they went” ( Ezekiel 1:17 ESV). The rims of the wheels were covered with eyes, illustrating the omniscience of God. He knows all because He sees all.

And He accomplishes all this while sitting on His throne above the great expanse. Ezekiel’s focus becomes fixed upon “a figure whose appearance resembled a man” (Ezekiel 1:26 NLT). But He is far from human in nature.

From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. – Ezekiel 1:27-28 NLT

This is no ordinary king seated on a man-made throne. It is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Ezekiel is being given a glimpse of God Almighty, but it is a representation and not the real thing.

“It was a deeply-held tenet of Israelite religion from Moses onwards that God could not be visibly expressed, and for that very reason idolatry was out. But given the possibility of a theophany, no form but the human form could conceivably have been used to represent the Deity. It was, however, no mere human that Ezekiel saw: His radiance was surrounded by the glory of a rainbow, and the prophet could show his awe in no other way than by falling on his face in the dust before his God.” – L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel

It is interesting to note that Ezekiel does not attempt to describe God’s face or countenance. All he writes about is the appearance of gleaming metal, fire, and brightness. According to Paul, God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16 ESV). The psalmist states that God “wraps Himself in light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2 BSB). The prophet Daniel was also given a vision of God and he described it in similar terms.

…the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. – Daniel 7:9 ESV

Both Daniel and Ezekiel were given the privilege of seeing God’s glory, and both found it nearly impossible to put it into words. They were struck by the brightness of His very presence. He emanated light so bright that it could only be described as burning fire. It was intense and virtually unapproachable. This imagery reflects the holiness and purity of God. It was the apostle John who wrote, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV).

This majestic, all-knowing, holy, omnipresent God of the universe was reminding Ezekiel that He was still on His throne and well aware of the fate of the people of Judah. He had not turned His back on them. His power had not diminished and His love for them had not faded. The all-powerful, ever-loving, always-faithful God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was about to deliver a message to His chosen people and He had chosen Ezekiel as His messenger. God had gotten Ezekiel’s attention, and now Ezekiel was ready to listen to what his glorious God had to say.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:28 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.