The Final Purging

21 In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been struck down.” 22 Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me the evening before the fugitive came; and he had opened my mouth by the time the man came to me in the morning, so my mouth was opened, and I was no longer mute.

23 The word of the Lord came to me: 24 “Son of man, the inhabitants of these waste places in the land of Israel keep saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he got possession of the land; but we are many; the land is surely given us to possess.’ 25 Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord God: You eat flesh with the blood and lift up your eyes to your idols and shed blood; shall you then possess the land? 26 You rely on the sword, you commit abominations, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife; shall you then possess the land? 27 Say this to them, Thus says the Lord God: As I live, surely those who are in the waste places shall fall by the sword, and whoever is in the open field I will give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in strongholds and in caves shall die by pestilence. 28 And I will make the land a desolation and a waste, and her proud might shall come to an end, and the mountains of Israel shall be so desolate that none will pass through. 29 Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolation and a waste because of all their abominations that they have committed.

30 “As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ 31 And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. 32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. 33 When this comes—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” Ezekiel 33:21-33 ESV

Exactly three years earlier, “in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month” (Ezekiel 24:1 ESV), the prophet Ezekiel had received a message from Yahweh concerning the coming destruction of Jerusalem. He was told to “write down today’s date, because on this very day the king of Babylon is beginning his attack against Jerusalem” (Ezekiel 24:2 NLT). And God informed His prophet that the Babylonian siege would last three years, then end with the city’s fall.

“Son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold—their joy and glory, their heart’s desire, their dearest treasure—I will also take away their sons and daughters. And on that day a survivor from Jerusalem will come to you in Babylon and tell you what has happened. And when he arrives, your voice will suddenly return so you can talk to him, and you will be a symbol for these people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 24:25-27 NLT

Up until that point, Ezekiel had been struck mute by God and was completely unable to speak to the people. He was restricted to conveying his messages through dramatic demonstrations as dictated by God. But Ezekiel was informed that his muteness would come to an end on the day he received news of Jerusalem’s destruction. And chapter 33 of Ezekiel records that fateful day.

The night before the messenger arrived from Jerusalem with news of the city’s devastating end, God had opened Ezekiel’s mouth so that he could speak. The prophet’s renewed capacity for speech would be put to use immediately as God provided him with a message for “the scattered remnants of Israel living among the ruined cities” (Ezekiel 33:24 NLT). It seems that for seven-and-a-half years, Ezekiel had only been able to speak when God allowed him to do so.

“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. But when I give you a message, I will loosen your tongue and let you speak. Then you will say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!” – Ezekiel 3:26-27 NLT

But with Jerusalem’s demise, this on-again-off-again condition was removed and Ezekiel had full freedom to speak on behalf of God with no restrictions. His first message was to all those Israelites who were living as exiles in foreign lands or who had taken up residence in the wastelands of Canaan. Within these two groups, there were those who believed they had every right to return to the land and make it their own. Their assumption was based on their identity as children of Abraham, and the logic behind it was simple.

“Abraham was only one man, yet he gained possession of the entire land. We are many; surely the land has been given to us as a possession.” – Ezekiel 33:24 NLT

In a sense, they were right. The land had been promised to them by God, but that promise came with conditions. God expected them to live in obedience to His commands. Their status as descendants of Abraham was not enough. Prior to them entering the land of Canaan for the first time, Moses had clearly communicated God’s expectations.

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. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NLT

Obedience was the key to blessing. And those blessings would help to set them apart as God’s chosen people.

“If you obey the commands of the Lord your God and walk in his ways, the Lord will establish you as his holy people as he swore he would do. Then all the nations of the world will see that you are a people claimed by the Lord, and they will stand in awe of you. – Deuteronomy 28:9-10 NLT

But now, centuries later, the Israelites were the laughingstock of the world. Hundreds of years earlier, the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians and now the southern kingdom of Judah was a vassal state of the Babylonians. Its cities lay in ruins and its people had been relegated to a life of poverty and dispossession. Yet, they still believed they had every right to return to the land and enjoy all its benefits.

But God had other plans for them because He knew they remained unrepentant and unworthy to occupy His holy land. Their sinful actions had left the land of promise defiled and in need of divine purging, and God was merciless in exposing their culpability.

You eat meat with blood in it, you worship idols, and you murder the innocent. Do you really think the land should be yours? Murderers! Idolaters! Adulterers! Should the land belong to you?” – Ezekiel 33:25-26 NLT

They were law-breakers and covenant violators and God knew that even the fall of Jerusalem would not cause them to acknowledge their sins and repent. Over the centuries, they had developed a track record of stubborn resistance to God’s calls for repentance, and now they were going to experience the full extent of His wrath, just as He had outlined it to Moses centuries earlier.

“…if you do not listen to me or obey all these commands, and if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, I will punish you.” – Leviticus 26:14-16 NLT

God had given Moses a detailed description of His judgments, clearly indicating the escalating nature of their intensity if the people refused to respond.

And if, in spite of all this, you still disobey me, I will punish you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:18 NLT

“If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey me, I will inflict disaster on you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:21 NLT

“And if you fail to learn the lesson and continue your hostility toward me, then I myself will be hostile toward you. I will personally strike you with calamity seven times over for your sins.” – Leviticus 26:23-24 NLT

“If in spite of all this you still refuse to listen and still remain hostile toward me, then I will give full vent to my hostility. I myself will punish you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:27-28 NLT

Every if-then statement was fulfilled because the people of Israel refused to listen. No judgment awakened their sense of shame or caused them to repent of their sins. They stubbornly clung to their ways and watched as wave after wave of God’s judgments came against them. And now, God declares that He is going to bring the last phase of His judgment, just as He had predicted through the pen of Moses.

“And for those of you who survive, I will demoralize you in the land of your enemies. You will live in such fear that the sound of a leaf driven by the wind will send you fleeing. You will run as though fleeing from a sword, and you will fall even when no one pursues you. Though no one is chasing you, you will stumble over each other as though fleeing from a sword. You will have no power to stand up against your enemies. You will die among the foreign nations and be devoured in the land of your enemies. Those of you who survive will waste away in your enemies’ lands because of their sins and the sins of their ancestors.” – Leviticus 26:36-39 NLT

That day had come. God declares to Ezekiel, “I will completely destroy the land and demolish her pride. Her arrogant power will come to an end” (Ezekiel 33:28 NLT). The time for purging and cleansing had arrived.

And as for the exiles among whom Ezekiel ministered, God had a word for them as well. Their plaintive pleas for the prophet to give them a message from God were a sham. They had no intentions of keeping the commands of God, whether written on a scroll as part of the Mosaic Law or spoken from the lips of His prophet.

“…my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money. – Ezekiel 33:31 NLT

God informs Ezekiel that his audience only feigns interest. They listen politely and intently to what he has to say but have no intentions of changing their behavior. Yet God assures His prophet, “when all these terrible things happen to them—as they certainly will—then they will know a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 33:33 NLT). God hints at a day when the people will finally wake up and realize what they have done. The full weight of God’s judgment will have its full effect, awakening His rebellious people to their need for God’s healing and forgiveness. While this chapter ends on a negative note, it gives a glimpse of the good news to come. God’s judgment had a purpose and His plan was not yet complete.

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

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

When the Godly Become Godless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Uselessness of Fruitlessness

1 And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, how does the wood of the vine surpass any wood, the vine branch that is among the trees of the forest? Is wood taken from it to make anything? Do people take a peg from it to hang any vessel on it? Behold, it is given to the fire for fuel. When the fire has consumed both ends of it, and the middle of it is charred, is it useful for anything? Behold, when it was whole, it was used for nothing. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it ever be used for anything! Therefore thus says the Lord God: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will set my face against them. Though they escape from the fire, the fire shall yet consume them, and you will know that I am the Lord, when I set my face against them. And I will make the land desolate, because they have acted faithlessly, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 15:1-8 ESV

Where was the fruit? God had planted Israel as His choicest vine and had placed them in a position of prominence among all the nations of the world. He had blessed them and designated them His own prized possession. The Almighty had great plans for them that included their prosperity and fruitfulness so that they and the nations around them might know that Yahweh is Lord. But Israel proved to be fruitless and unfaithful.

“But I was the one who planted you, choosing a vine of the purest stock — the very best. How did you grow into this corrupt wild vine.” –Jeremiah 2:21 NLT

“The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The people of Judah are his pleasant garden. He expected a crop of justice, but instead he found oppression. He expected to find righteousness, but instead he heard cries of violence.” – Isaiah 5:7 NLT

Israel had a singular purpose: To produce the fruit of righteousness. The nation of Israel was to be the conduit through which God would work, displaying His glory through adherence to His holy and righteous law. As they lived in keeping with His commands, they would enjoy the benefit of His blessings through His abiding presence, power, and provision. Their unique relationship with Yahweh would serve as visual evidence of His existence and demonstrate to the rest of the world that He alone is God. There is no other.

But Israel’s track record was far from stellar. Its history as a nation was filled with countless episodes that featured blatant disregard for God’s law and repeated examples of spiritual adultery. The nation’s kings had led the people into idolatry. The priests had abused their God-appointed positions, promoting their own prosperity over the spiritual needs of the people. And despite God’s calls to repentance and His warnings of pending judgment, His chosen people had continued to do as they pleased.

And even as Ezekiel declared God’s intentions to destroy the city of Jerusalem and its glorious temple, the exiles in Babylon refused to believe any of it would happen. They lived in a state of denial, clinging to the belief that God would never allow the Babylonians to destroy the house that bore His name. He would never permit the destruction of His chosen people.

But God wanted them to know that their assumptions were wrong. Since they had failed to fulfill their purpose as a nation, they had forfeited their usefulness to God. They had been given a chance to display His glory but had failed to do so. Now, God was going to display His glory through them in a completely different way.

In this brief chapter, God exposes the uselessness of His chosen people. Using the analogy of a grapevine, God declares them to be good for nothing.

“Son of man, how does a grapevine compare to a tree? Is a vine’s wood as useful as the wood of a tree? Can its wood be used for making things, like pegs to hang up pots and pans? No, it can only be used for fuel, and even as fuel, it burns too quickly. Vines are useless both before and after being put into the fire!” – Ezekiel 15:2-5 NLT

God makes it clear to Ezekiel that the wood of a vine is worthless for anything but the production of grapes. A fruitless vine is of no value. As wood, it is too weak and crooked to be of any use. Even as fuel, it burns too quickly to be of any benefit. And God’s point is painfully clear. If His people were not going to do what He had chosen them to do, they were of no use to Him. Because Israel had failed to bear fruit, it had forfeited its right to exist as a nation. There was no need for Israel to be a great nation if it was not going to remain dedicated to God alone and committed to its job of bearing the fruit of righteousness.

But the people of Israel desired greatness. Even the exiled living in Babylon longed for the day when Israel found itself restored to power. Any hopes they had of returning home were dependent upon God protecting and promoting the success of Jerusalem. But spiritual fruitfulness was not high on their list of priorities. Repentance was not on their radar screen. They saw no need for change on their part. Instead, they believed that God was somehow obligated to prosper them regardless of how they treated Him.

But in God’s eyes, Israel had become expendable. They were no longer doing what they had been created to do. From the day God had called Abram out of Ur, He had communicated a clear plan for His chosen people.

The Lord had said to Abram, “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

Ultimately, the blessing God promised would be fulfilled through Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Savior of Israel. But even before the coming of Christ, Israel was expected to be a beacon of light in the midst of the darkness of sin that permeated the world. They were to reveal the existence of the one true God as they lived in faithful obedience and dependence upon Him. He was to be their God and they were to be His people.

God was their vine keeper. He had planted them, nourished them, cared for and protected them. But when all was said and done, something was missing: Fruit.

“What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not already done? When I expected sweet grapes, why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?” – Isaiah 5:4 NLT

For centuries, God had been looking for fruit – the byproduct of a relationship with Him. But He had repeatedly found His vine to be fruitless and, therefore, worthless. That led God to inform Ezekiel that vines make lousy trees.

“The people of Jerusalem are like grapevines growing among the trees of the forest. Since they are useless, I have thrown them on the fire to be burned.” – Ezekiel 15:6 NLT

Having rejected their God-ordained role to bear the fruit of righteousness, the people of Israel were destined for the fire of destruction. Those living in Jerusalem would soon suffer the deprivations of yet another Babylonian siege, then experience the devastation of their homes and livelihoods as the enemy destroys their city. Their fruitfulness will leave them destined to the flames of God’s righteous wrath.

Yet, God will not completely annihilate His chosen people. He will keep a remnant alive. The faithful will be spared and one day return to the land of Judah to rebuild the city and restore the temple. And He will once again call them to live faithful and fruitful lives.

And God expects the same thing from His chosen people today. He longs for us to produce fruit so that we might demonstrate to a fallen world the power of His presence. As His children, His power resides in us in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And the apostle Paul reminds us that the Spirit exists to make us fruitful.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control… – Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

Paul reminded the Ephesian believers that this fruit was to be visible and tangible. It was to produce a lifestyle that stood in stark contrast to the rest of the world.

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:8-9 NLT

Producing fruit is the purpose for which we exist. We have been chosen by God for that purpose and that purpose alone. Christians who fail to bear fruit in their lives are like grapevines that no longer produce grapes. They are no longer fulfilling their God-ordained purpose. But while believers don’t need to fear God’s judgment or worry about suffering the flames of His fury, they should loathe the idea of missing their calling.

May we come to realize that we are here for one reason alone – to allow God to produce His fruit through our lives so that we might be a blessing to those among whom we live. Jesus expressed both the key to and importance of our fruitfulness.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:4-8 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.

Idols of the Heart

1 Then certain of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the Lord will answer him myself. And I will set my face against that man; I will make him a sign and a byword and cut him off from the midst of my people, and you shall know that I am the Lord. And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. 10 And they shall bear their punishment—the punishment of the prophet and the punishment of the inquirer shall be alike— 11 that the house of Israel may no more go astray from me, nor defile themselves anymore with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people and I may be their God, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 14:1-11 ESV

After exposing the lies of the false prophets and pronouncing judgment upon them, God turns His attention to the religious and civic leaders of Israel. A group of these men showed up at Ezekiel’s house with the likely intention of confronting him about his pessimistic messages and the negative impact they were having on the exiles. It seems apparent from the text that they had come to ask Ezekiel to tone down his rhetoric and to have the prophet intercede with God on their behalf. They sensed that He had a direct line to the Almighty and could do something to assuage His anger. But before they could utter a word, God spoke up and dressed them down. He knew why they were there and was not going to give them an opportunity to express their grievances or put in a request for Ezekiel’s intercession. Instead, God warned the prophet to see these men for who they really were: Idolatrous hypocrites who had no intention of giving up their false gods and returning to Him.

“Son of man, these leaders have set up idols in their hearts. They have embraced things that will make them fall into sin. Why should I listen to their requests? – Ezekiel 14:3 NLT

With this statement, God exposes the true source of Israel’s problem. It wasn’t that they had erected shrines, altars, and high places all over Judah and even in the remote environs of Babylon, it was that they had made a home for these false gods in their hearts. They had developed a deep and abiding affection for “logs, blocks, and shapeless things.” That is what the Hebrew word גִּלּוּל (gillûl) means. The chosen people of God had fallen in love with shapeless and lifeless blocks of wood. And that was true of those men sitting in Ezekiel’s home preparing to request his intercession with the one true God. Their own hearts had become the shrines at which they bowed down and worshiped their false and formless gods.

The prophet Isaiah used biting satire to expose the ridiculous nature of idolatry.

How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit? – Isaiah 44:9-10 NLT

The Hebrew word גִּלּוּל (gillûl) could actually be translated as “dungy thing” and was anything but a compliment. Idols were worthless because they were powerless. They were little more than blocks of wood, bits of stone, and chunks of metal formed by human hands to represent non-existent deities. And Isaiah describes with thinly veiled scorn the transition of a block of wood to a worship-worthy idol.

Then the wood-carver measures a block of wood
    and draws a pattern on it.
He works with chisel and plane
    and carves it into a human figure.
He gives it human beauty
    and puts it in a little shrine.
He cuts down cedars;
    he selects the cypress and the oak;
he plants the pine in the forest
    to be nourished by the rain.
Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
    With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it
    and makes himself a god to worship!
He makes an idol
    and bows down in front of it!
He burns part of the tree to roast his meat
    and to keep himself warm.
    He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left
    and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it,
    worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
    “You are my god!” – Isaiah 44:13-17 NLT

What seems readily apparent is that the men sitting in Ezekiel’s home had most likely called upon their false gods to rescue them from the wrath of God Almighty. These “idols of the heart” had probably gotten an earful from their fearful admirers but, as the psalmist points out, “They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear…” (Psalm 115:5-6 NLT). Their gods had failed to answer them so they were hoping Ezekiel might have better luck with Yahweh.

But the truly sad thing is they couldn’t see the futility and foolishness of their situation; a point that Isaiah expresses quite well.

Such stupidity and ignorance!
    Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see.
    Their minds are shut, and they cannot think.
The person who made the idol never stops to reflect,
    “Why, it’s just a block of wood!
I burned half of it for heat
    and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat.
How can the rest of it be a god?
    Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?”
The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes.
    He trusts something that can’t help him at all.
Yet he cannot bring himself to ask,
    “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?” – Isaiah 44:18-20 NLT

God was personally offended by their actions. They had the audacity to replace the One who had created them with gods they had made with their own hands. And to make matters worse, when their false gods failed to deliver, they had shown up at the prophet’s house expecting Yahweh to do them a favor.

“The people of Israel have set up idols in their hearts and fallen into sin, and then they go to a prophet asking for a message.” – Ezekiel 14:4 NLT

But the message they received was not what they were hoping to hear. God gave them an ultimatum: They would have to repent. If they wanted to hear from Him, they would have to abandon their idols and return to Him in humble obeisance and faithful obedience to His commands.

“Repent and turn away from your idols, and stop all your detestable sins.” – Ezekiel 14:6 NLT

And if they refused to do, the consequences would be sorrowful and severe.

“I will turn against such people and make a terrible example of them, eliminating them from among my people.” – Ezekiel 14:8 NLT

This was not the message Ezekiel’s guests had hoped to hear. God’s non-negotiable call to repentance was repellant to them. They couldn’t fathom the idea of giving up their idols of the heart. God was asking too much. They viewed His requirement of unwavering, faithful devotion to Him alone as too restrictive and repressive. And God knew that when they heard His conditions, they would make a beeline to one of the false prophets in hopes of getting a more favorable response. But God warned that the lies of the false prophets would do nothing to thwart His sovereign will.

False prophets and those who seek their guidance will all be punished for their sins. In this way, the people of Israel will learn not to stray from me, polluting themselves with sin. – Ezekiel 14:10-11 NLT

Fake gods and false prophets would prove helpless and hopeless in the face of God’s judgment. Idols of the heart would disappoint. The popular prophets would be punished for promoting lies. But when the dust settled, everyone would know that Yahweh alone was God. That was always God’s purpose and plan. His blessings had always been intended to demonstrate His existence as the one true God. But His curses were meant to accomplish the same thing. When He poured out His wrath on the rebellious and unrepentant, it would serve as a wake-up call to the rest of the nation. His punishment of the wicked would serve as a powerful incentive for His chosen people, prompting them to return to Him in humility and brokenness. And when they did, God would restore them, just as He had promised.

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

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

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

A False Bill of Sales

17 “And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own hearts. Prophesy against them 18 and say, Thus says the Lord God: Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature, in the hunt for souls! Will you hunt down souls belonging to my people and keep your own souls alive? 19 You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to lies.

20 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against your magic bands with which you hunt the souls like birds, and I will tear them from your arms, and I will let the souls whom you hunt go free, the souls like birds. 21 Your veils also I will tear off and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand as prey, and you shall know that I am the Lord. 22 Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life, 23 therefore you shall no more see false visions nor practice divination. I will deliver my people out of your hand. And you shall know that I am the Lord.”  Ezekiel 13:17-23 ESV

Contrary to popular opinion the prophet fraternity was not a male-only club. While men were the primary members of this elite group of divinely commissioned messengers, the Old Testament does indicate that women also served as prophets. In Exodus 15:20, Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, is listed as a prophetess. According to Judges 4:4, Deborah was a prophetess who also served as a judge over Israel. In 2 Kings 22:14, Hilkiah the priest, and a number of royal officials in King Josiah’s court, consulted the prophetess Huldah, who gave them a message from the Lord. Finally, Nehemiah 6:14 provides the name of Noadiah the prophetess. Each of these women was recognized as an official spokesperson for God and treated with the same respect and honor as their male counterparts, but it would appear that the number of female prophets was relatively small.

Yet, while they may have represented a tiny segment of the overall population, this didn’t stop them from populating the ranks of the false prophets who were leading the people of Judah astray. For those living in Judah during Ezekiel’s day, the presence of a female prophet would not have been unexpected. But God found these women to be unacceptable and intolerable because what they were doing was deceptive and deadly. So, He gave Ezekiel a message aimed directly at them.

“…son of man, speak out against the women who prophesy from their own imaginations…” – Ezekiel 13:17 NLT

God makes it clear that they were not acting on His behalf. Their words were their own and had not come from the Lord. And He exposes their so-called prophecies as a form of witchcraft or sorcery.

What sorrow awaits you women who are ensnaring the souls of my people, young and old alike. You tie magic charms on their wrists and furnish them with magic veils.” – Ezekiel 13:18 NLT

God accuses these women of hunting the souls of His people. It’s unclear just exactly what this phrase means or what role the “magic” wristbands and veils played in their actions, but it would seem to involve some sort of occult practices. Whether they were using these magical items to bring others under their control or in an attempt to cast spells is uncertain.

But what is clear is that these women were offering their services in exchange for payment. They were making a profit from prophesying.

“You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to lies.” – Ezekiel 13:19 ESV

It may be that these women were promoting their magical trinkets as talismans that could ward off evil or protect their wearer from harm. Perhaps they were marketing their products as a way to escape the coming judgment of God. In doing so, they were offering people the false hope of salvation. Rather than repent of their sins, their customers could simply rely on the prophylactic effects of their magic wristband or veil.

Whatever it was that they were doing was leading the people of Judah astray. Instead of listening to the warnings of Ezekiel, the true prophet of God, the people were buying into the lies of these women. They were selling hope in the form of magic. They were assuring their customers that they were safe from harm and free from worry. But in doing so, they were condemning these people to certain death and destruction. No piece of cloth was going to stay God’s hand, and no magic spell was going to protect anyone from His wrath.

So, God declares that He will expose their true identity as charlatans. He will rip the wristbands and veils off the arms and heads of His people, setting them free from their captivity to these false forms of hope.

“I will tear them from your arms, setting my people free like birds set free from a cage. I will tear off the magic veils and save my people from your grasp. They will no longer be your victims. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 13:20-21 NLT

The actions of these women had changed nothing about God’s plans for Judah and Jerusalem. The Babylonians were still going to destroy the city and take captive thousands of its inhabitants. The temple would be destroyed. Many would die of starvation during the siege. Others would fall by the sword when the Babylonians entered the city.

These self-proclaimed prophetesses were guilty of false advertising. They were telling their customers that they were safe and secure. And they were assuring all those who refused to buy their products that they were condemned to certain death. But God assures Ezekiel that these women had no power and their products offered no lasting benefits. The only thing these women had managed to accomplish was to lead the people astray. Their efforts had produced discouragement and disillusionment among the godly because they refused to buy their products. And those who purchased their magic clothing lived under a false delusion of invincibility, inducing them to continue their sinful lifestyles unabated and unafraid.

“You have discouraged the righteous with your lies, but I didn’t want them to be sad. And you have encouraged the wicked by promising them life, even though they continue in their sins.” – Ezekiel 13:22 NLT

Whatever these women were doing had left God extremely displeased. He had seen enough and was going to deal with their behavior once and for all.

“Because of all this, you will no longer talk of seeing visions that you never saw, nor will you make predictions. For I will rescue my people from your grasp. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 13:23 NLT

When God states that they will no longer talk of seeing visions they never saw, He is predicting their deaths. He would no longer tolerate their aberrant behavior. The problem inherent with all false prophets is the fact that their prophecies are untrue and, therefore, unreliable. They talk a good game and promote a product with a long list of attractive benefits, but they can’t ever produce what they promise. Their ad copy doesn’t ever add up. Their sales pitch never quite delivers. Because they don’t speak on behalf of God. Like all the other false prophets, they are selling lies. They offer peace instead of warning about God’s punishment. They promise deliverance from His discipline. They encourage a false sense of hope when God is demanding true repentance and a spirit of humility among His people.

It didn’t matter whether the false prophets were male or female. They all faced the same stinging indictment from God because they were all guilty of the same thing.

“They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the Lord.” – Ezekiel 13:5 NLT

They had failed to do the job of a prophet. Rather than call the people to repentance, they had encouraged further rebellion. Instead of standing on the walls and warning the people of coming judgment, they had promoted the status quo. Judgment was coming and they did everything in their power to refute it and convince the people to ignore it. But in the end, they would know that Yahweh was Lord.

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

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

The Fallacy of False Hope

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lord. They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word. Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?”

Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord God. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord God. 10 Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, 11 say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall! There will be a deluge of rain, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and a stormy wind break out. 12 And when the wall falls, will it not be said to you, ‘Where is the coating with which you smeared it?’ 13 Therefore thus says the Lord God: I will make a stormy wind break out in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and great hailstones in wrath to make a full end. 14 And I will break down the wall that you have smeared with whitewash, and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you shall perish in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord. 15 Thus will I spend my wrath upon the wall and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash, and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it, 16 the prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her, when there was no peace, declares the Lord God. Ezekiel 13:1-16 ESV

The citizens of Judah wrongly assumed that nothing bad was going to happen to their great city of Jerusalem. After all, as far as they could tell, none of God’s prophecies had come to fruition, so they had nothing to worry about. He had warned of destruction but the walls still stood and the temple was fully intact. And, even if God’s judgments were to come, the common opinion was that they would happen any time soon. Any destruction that God might bring upon Judah and its capital city was reserved for some future generation. As far as they could tell, there were safe and sound.

But where did the people get their over-confident and somewhat complacent view of God’s judgment? How did they come up with these faulty conclusions concerning the prophecies that God had pronounced? Well, God provides the answers to those questions by calling out the men who were responsible for the nation’s continued disobedience.

“Son of man, prophesy against the false prophets of Israel who are inventing their own prophecies. – Ezekiel 13:2 NLT

God accused these self-proclaimed prophets of “following their own imaginations” (Ezekiel 13:3 NLT) but claimed to be speaking on behalf of God. Yet, God had neither commissioned them nor given them any message to deliver. They were freelancers, operating in the name of God but without His permission or blessing. And the messages they were sharing were doing far more damage than good.

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

Judah was in trouble. They were about to experience the righteous wrath of God because of the centuries-worth of rebellion and apostasy that characterized them as a nation. They had a track record of disobedience and had displayed a stubborn resistance to the calls of God’s prophets that they repent and return to Him in humility and brokenness.

And one of the key factors behind their long history of disobedience was the presence of false prophets, and this was not a new problem. For as long as God had been appointing men to speak on His behalf, there had been another group of individuals who claimed membership in that elite group. But they were charlatans and pretenders. God had neither sent them nor spoken to them. And yet…

“They say, ‘This message is from the Lord,’ even though the Lord never sent them. And yet they expect him to fulfill their prophecies! Can your visions be anything but false if you claim, ‘This message is from the Lord,’ when I have not even spoken to you?” – Ezekiel 13:6-7 NLT

What made these men so popular with the people was that their messages were more palatable and acceptable than the ones given by God’s true prophets. While men like Ezekiel were declaring the pending judgment of God, these individuals were promoting a contrary narrative that provided the people with false hope. In a sense, they were telling the people what they wanted to hear. “Everything’s going to be okay,” they claimed. “You’ve got nothing to worry about,” they confidently boasted. And, the citizens of Judah must have found these claims to be like music to their ears when compared with Ezekiel’s messages of doom and gloom.

The apostle Paul warned his young protégé, Timothy, that people will always have a partiality for those who tell them what they want to hear.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

While Ezekiel was busy telling the people the truth of God – there were plenty of false prophets happy to provide the people with reassuring words and comforting, yet contradictory messages of hope. These men blatantly repudiated Ezekiel’s prophecies, declaring them to be nothing but lies but God had a different opinion.

“They were lying prophets who claimed peace would come to Jerusalem when there was no peace.” – Ezekiel 13:16 NLT

They were deceiving the people by promoting a false sense of calm and assurance when calamity was right around the corner. They were putting words in God’s mouth when they hadn’t heard from God at all. Rather than call the people to repentance, they promoted a lifestyle of continuing decadence, immorality, and idolatry.

But God’s indictment of them was severe. He was no longer going to tolerate their deceitful masquerade as His messengers. These self-proclaimed prophets of God were going to find themselves on the receiving end of God’s wrath.

“Because what you say is false and your visions are a lie, I will stand against you, says the Sovereign Lord. I will raise my fist against all the prophets who see false visions and make lying predictions, and they will be banished from the community of Israel. I will blot their names from Israel’s record books, and they will never again set foot in their own land.” – Ezekiel 13:9-10 NLT

They would pay dearly for their penchant for popularity and fame. While the people loved to listen to what they had to say, God had heard enough. Their false claims of peace and safety were highly appealing and caused the people to reject Ezekiel’s less-attractive message of pending judgment.

The people had manufactured unstable walls of security based on wishful thinking, and these pseudo-prophets had validated those false hopes with pleasant-sounding words of affirmation. They concealed the lies with white-washed words of false assurance, like pouring white paint on a poorly constructed wall, in the hopes that it would appear more stable and secure. But in the end, they would find their wall of lies destroyed and their 15 minutes of fame brought to an ignominious end.

“At last my anger against the wall and those who covered it with whitewash will be satisfied. Then I will say to you: ‘The wall and those who whitewashed it are both gone.’” – Ezekiel 13:15 NLT

God’s Word can be difficult to understand and even harder to obey. It’s not always easy to comprehend how a loving God can come across as demanding and judgmental. We struggle to deal with the stories in the Old Testament that seem to reveal a God who is quick to anger and not afraid to destroy those who don’t measure up to His high standards. Concepts like hell and judgment seem uncharacteristically unloving and therefore, unacceptable to us. So we try to come up with ways to reject or replace them.

We create our own versions of God’s message. We dumb it down, soften it up, make it more palatable, and in the end, spread a false message that is easy on the ears, but destructive to the soul.

Yes, God is love. But His love does not diminish His holiness. He cannot overlook sin or leave it unpunished. That is why He sent His Son to offer His life as payment for the sins of mankind. But if men ignore God’s call to righteousness and reject the reality of His coming judgment on all mankind, they will miss out on His offer of salvation through faith in Christ. Men who see no need for salvation because there is no judgment will see no need for a savior.

In Ezekiel’s day, there were plenty of false prophets proclaiming that “all is peaceful.” Today, there are those who prefer to claim that “God is love,” while ignoring the truth of His holiness and His hatred for sin. May we never stop speaking the truth of God so that others might receive the grace of God through the free gift of salvation provided by the Son of God.

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

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

Disobedience Always Brings Discipline

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house. As for you, son of man, prepare for yourself an exile’s baggage, and go into exile by day in their sight. You shall go like an exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house. You shall bring out your baggage by day in their sight, as baggage for exile, and you shall go out yourself at evening in their sight, as those do who must go into exile. In their sight dig through the wall, and bring your baggage out through it. In their sight you shall lift the baggage upon your shoulder and carry it out at dusk. You shall cover your face that you may not see the land, for I have made you a sign for the house of Israel.”

And I did as I was commanded. I brought out my baggage by day, as baggage for exile, and in the evening I dug through the wall with my own hands. I brought out my baggage at dusk, carrying it on my shoulder in their sight.

In the morning the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, has not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said to you, ‘What are you doing?’ 10 Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: This oracle concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel who are in it.’ 11 Say, ‘I am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them. They shall go into exile, into captivity.’ 12 And the prince who is among them shall lift his baggage upon his shoulder at dusk, and shall go out. They shall dig through the wall to bring him out through it. He shall cover his face, that he may not see the land with his eyes. 13 And I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare. And I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he shall not see it, and he shall die there. 14 And I will scatter toward every wind all who are around him, his helpers and all his troops, and I will unsheathe the sword after them. 15 And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I disperse them among the nations and scatter them among the countries. 16 But I will let a few of them escape from the sword, from famine and pestilence, that they may declare all their abominations among the nations where they go, and may know that I am the Lord.”

17 And the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, eat your bread with quaking, and drink water with trembling and with anxiety. 19 And say to the people of the land, Thus says the Lord God concerning the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the land of Israel: They shall eat their bread with anxiety, and drink water in dismay. In this way her land will be stripped of all it contains, on account of the violence of all those who dwell in it. 20 And the inhabited cities shall be laid waste, and the land shall become a desolation; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 12:1-20 ESV

While God had given Ezekiel assurances that a remnant of the people would one day return to the land of Judah, He was not overly optimistic about the spiritual condition of the prophet’s fellow exiles. The Lord described them as “a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not” (Ezekiel 12:2 ESV). Even though they had experienced God’s judgment and were living as prisoners in the land of Babylon, their less-than-ideal circumstances had failed to cause their repentance. They remained stubbornly committed to their idolatrous ways. And they maintained their misguided belief in Jerusalem’s invincibility because of the presence of the temple. They firmly believed that God would never allow His house to fall into the hands of pagan hordes. Their deportation was a fluke; nothing more than an aberration that would never happen again – or so they thought.

To expose the error behind their thinking, God gave Ezekiel yet another parable-in-a-play to enact. This time he was to dramatize the next siege of Jerusalem and the subsequent events that were to follow. God instructed Ezekiel to hastily pack a bag as if he were attempting to escape for his life. Then he was to dig a hole in the wall of his house or the surrounding garden wall and carry his belongings to the other side. And he was to do all of this in broad daylight, in full view of his fellow exiles.

Do this right in front of the people so they can see you. For perhaps they will pay attention to this, even though they are such rebels. – Ezekiel 12:3 NLT

This little demonstration was intended as a wake-up call to the Jews living in Babylon. It was God’s way of informing them about the devastating future in store for their beloved city and its inhabitants. Each day, Ezekiel would stage a small drama intended to dispel any hopes that Jerusalem would be spared. God’s instructions to Ezekiel were quite clear.

Dig a hole through the wall while they are watching and go out through it. As they watch, lift your pack to your shoulders and walk away into the night. Cover your face so you cannot see the land you are leaving. For I have made you a sign for the people of Israel.” – Ezekiel 12:5-6 NLT

Ezekiel was assigned the role of the rebellious Israelite, suffering within the walls of the besieged city of Jerusalem. His daily dramatic performances were intended to bring to life God’s words of warning. And his actions would have served as a painful reminder to his audience of their own hasty departure from Jerusalem years earlier.

But God’s stage directions to Ezekiel contained important details that probably escaped his stunned onlookers. God’s command for Ezekiel to cover his eyes as he crawled through the hole he dug provided a vital hint concerning the fall of Jerusalem. The author of 2 Kings provides a more detailed description of what actually happened when Nebuchadnezzar’s forces broke through the city’s defenses.

By July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. Then a section of the city wall was broken down. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, the soldiers waited for nightfall and escaped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden. Then they headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:3-7 NLT

Ezekiel’s little dramatic presentation was prophetic in nature. He was revealing the fate of Zedekiah, the king of Judah. After 11 years on the throne, this godless king would be forced to attempt a nocturnal escape through a hole in the wall of the city. But he would be captured and forced to watch the execution of his own sons. Then before he was dragged away to Babylon, his eyes would be gouged out. The last thing he would remember seeing was the gruesome deaths of his boys.

God knew that Ezekiel’s actions would raise questions among the exiles. So, He provided His prophet with a scripted response.

“Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: These actions contain a message for King Zedekiah in Jerusalem and for all the people of Israel.’ Explain that your actions are a sign to show what will soon happen to them, for they will be driven into exile as captives.” – Ezekiel 12:10-11 NLT

Without giving all the gruesome details, God predicts Zedekiah’s fateful end.

“Zedekiah will leave Jerusalem at night through a hole in the wall, taking only what he can carry with him. He will cover his face, and his eyes will not see the land he is leaving. Then I will throw my net over him and capture him in my snare. I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Babylonians, though he will never see it, and he will die there.” – Ezekiel 12:12-13 NLT

Ezekiel was playing the part of the defeated king trying to flee his fallen city. But rather than escape with his life, Zedekiah would be blinded, bound, and carted off as a prisoner to Babylon, where he would join Ezekiel and the rest of the exiles.

And God predicts that some within the walls of Jerusalem will manage to get away, fleeing to other countries in an attempt to preserve their lives. And the author of 2 Kings records the fulfillment of this prophecy.

Then all the people of Judah, from the least to the greatest, as well as the army commanders, fled in panic to Egypt, for they were afraid of what the Babylonians would do to them. – 2 Kings 25:26 NLT

The fall of Jerusalem was inevitable and unavoidable. God would completely destroy the city and its grand temple. Many of its inhabitants would die from disease and starvation during the lengthy siege. Many more would die by the sword when the Babylonians broke through the walls. Some would escape to other countries, while others would become captives in Babylon. And God told Ezekiel that the few who remained alive would be spared for a reason.

I will spare a few of them from death by war, famine, or disease, so they can confess all their detestable sins to their captors. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 12:16 NLT

When the fall of Jerusalem finally happened, there would be no doubt as to its cause. Its demise would be due to the sins of the people. They would pay dearly for their failure to obey God. And all those living as exiles in Babylon would learn the painful lesson that disobedience always brings God’s discipline.

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.