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.

And Justice For All

In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, raise a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him:

“You consider yourself a lion of the nations,
    but you are like a dragon in the seas;
you burst forth in your rivers,
    trouble the waters with your feet,
    and foul their rivers.
Thus says the Lord God:
    I will throw my net over you
    with a host of many peoples,
    and they will haul you up in my dragnet.
And I will cast you on the ground;
    on the open field I will fling you,
and will cause all the birds of the heavens to settle on you,
    and I will gorge the beasts of the whole earth with you.
I will strew your flesh upon the mountains
    and fill the valleys with your carcass.
I will drench the land even to the mountains
    with your flowing blood,
    and the ravines will be full of you.
When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens
    and make their stars dark;
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
    and the moon shall not give its light.
All the bright lights of heaven
    will I make dark over you,
    and put darkness on your land,
declares the Lord God.

“I will trouble the hearts of many peoples, when I bring your destruction among the nations, into the countries that you have not known. 10 I will make many peoples appalled at you, and the hair of their kings shall bristle with horror because of you, when I brandish my sword before them. They shall tremble every moment, every one for his own life, on the day of your downfall.

11 “For thus says the Lord God: The sword of the king of Babylon shall come upon you. 12 I will cause your multitude to fall by the swords of mighty ones, all of them most ruthless of nations.

“They shall bring to ruin the pride of Egypt,
    and all its multitude shall perish.
13 I will destroy all its beasts
    from beside many waters;
and no foot of man shall trouble them anymore,
    nor shall the hoofs of beasts trouble them.
14 Then I will make their waters clear,
    and cause their rivers to run like oil,
declares the Lord God.
15 When I make the land of Egypt desolate,
    and when the land is desolate of all that fills it,
when I strike down all who dwell in it,
    then they will know that I am the Lord.

16 This is a lamentation that shall be chanted; the daughters of the nations shall chant it; over Egypt, and over all her multitude, shall they chant it, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 32:1-16 ESV

A little less than a year later, God gave Ezekiel another round of mournful lyrics to commemorate the “death” of Egypt. They are delivered as a memorial for Pharaoh, but are intended to recount the sad plight of the entire nation. As their regal representative, Pharaoh stood as their official proxy or substitute. He was the face of the nation and was held accountable by God for the sins of his people. God tells Ezekiel to sing this funeral dirge with Pharaoh in mind.

“Son of man, mourn for Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and give him this message…” – Ezekiel 32:2 NLT

God accuses Pharaoh of imagining himself as “a strong young lion among the nations” (Ezekiel 32:2 NLT). This imagery of the Egyptian leader as a fierce predator was memorialized in the form of the sphinx, a figure that combined the body of a lion and the head of the Pharaoh. Hophra, who was likely the Pharaoh on Egypt’s throne at this time, had his very own sphinx statue and fancied himself to be the king of the jungle. But God diminishes Hophra’s visions of grandeur by comparing him to a crocodile thrashing about in the muddy waters of the Nile.

“You think of yourself as a strong young lion among the nations,
    but you are really just a sea monster,
heaving around in your own rivers,
    stirring up mud with your feet. – Ezekiel 32:2 NLT

Egypt wasn’t the global superpower she envisioned herself to be. She was nothing more than a regional player with global aspirations that were about to come to an abrupt stop. The Babylonians were going to deal Hophra and his troops a decisive blow that would prove to be the nation’s death knell.

God makes it painfully clear that His plans for Egypt involve their complete destruction.

“The sword of the king of Babylon
    will come against you.
I will destroy your hordes with the swords of mighty warriors—
    the terror of the nations.” – Ezekiel 32:11-12 NLT

When the dust had settled, Hophra, his people, and all the other nations on earth would know that Egypt’s downfall had been the work of Yahweh, the God of Israel. Their unexpected demise was going to come as a shock to all the surrounding nations. No one expected Egypt to suffer such a devastating defeat, even at the hands of the Babylonians. As a nation, they had been around for millennium. They had proven to have staying power and the resources to maintain their status as a perennial force in the region. So, when they fell, the other kings and nations would view their demise as a bad omen.

“I will disturb many hearts when I bring news of your downfall to distant nations you have never seen. Yes, I will shock many lands, and their kings will be terrified at your fate. They will shudder in fear for their lives as I brandish my sword before them on the day of your fall. – Ezekiel 32:9-10 NLT

These less powerful nations would quickly conclude that they had no hope against the Babylonian juggernaut, and they would be right. If Egypt couldn’t hold its own against Nebuchadnezzar’s forces, no one could.

And what’s interesting to note is that the events foreshadowed these chapters do not always follow a chronological timeline. This chapter opens with the words, “In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month” (Ezekiel 32:1 ESV). But in chapter 33, Ezekiel records another message he received from God two months earlier.

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.” – Ezekiel 33:12 ESV

In other words, by the time Ezekiel received this oracle concerning Egypt’s defeat, the walls of the city of Jerusalem had already fallen and the Babylonians had destroyed the temple. So, as Ezekiel shared the words of this funeral dirge mourning Egypt’s pending demise, his exiled Jewish audience would have already received the devastating news of Jerusalem’s destruction. Word of Egypt’s fate would have functioned as an emotional salve, helping to alleviate some of the pain they felt concerning their city and their friends and family members back in Judah.

And God wanted them to know that the pride-filled Egyptians would not escape His wrath. They too would meet an untimely end at the hands of the Babylonians. There was no guilty party who would escape God’s judgment. Philistines, Ammonites, Moabites, Phoenicians, Assyrians, and Egyptians would all suffer the same fate. And the common denominator would be Nebuchadnezzar.

“The sword of the king of Babylon
    will come against you. – Ezekiel 32:11 NLT

But that sword, while wielded by the Babylon king, would belong to God Almighty. Nebuchadnezzar would be acting on God’s behalf, carrying out His sovereign will and fulfilling His providential plan for the nations.

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

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

The Bloody City and the Boiling Pot

1 In the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, write down the name of this day, this very day. The king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day. And utter a parable to the rebellious house and say to them, Thus says the Lord God:

“Set on the pot, set it on;
    pour in water also;
put in it the pieces of meat,
    all the good pieces, the thigh and the shoulder;
    fill it with choice bones.
Take the choicest one of the flock;
    pile the logs under it;
boil it well;
    seethe also its bones in it.

“Therefore thus says the Lord God: Woe to the bloody city, to the pot whose corrosion is in it, and whose corrosion has not gone out of it! Take out of it piece after piece, without making any choice. For the blood she has shed is in her midst; she put it on the bare rock; she did not pour it out on the ground to cover it with dust. To rouse my wrath, to take vengeance, I have set on the bare rock the blood she has shed, that it may not be covered. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Woe to the bloody city! I also will make the pile great. 10 Heap on the logs, kindle the fire, boil the meat well, mix in the spices, and let the bones be burned up. 11 Then set it empty upon the coals, that it may become hot, and its copper may burn, that its uncleanness may be melted in it, its corrosion consumed. 12 She has wearied herself with toil; its abundant corrosion does not go out of it. Into the fire with its corrosion! 13 On account of your unclean lewdness, because I would have cleansed you and you were not cleansed from your uncleanness, you shall not be cleansed anymore till I have satisfied my fury upon you. 14 I am the Lord. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it. I will not go back; I will not spare; I will not relent; according to your ways and your deeds you will be judged, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 24:1-14 ESV

The long-awaited and much-talked-about day of Judah’s judgment has finally arrived. In the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, God informs Ezekiel that “the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day” (Ezekiel 24:2 NLT). The prophet was to take special note of this day because it marked the beginning of the end for the capital city of the southern kingdom of Judah. From his distant vantage point in Babylon, Ezekiel could only imagine the scene taking place back home. But his heart must have sunk when he heard the news that the judgment he had talked about for so long had just become a reality. 

The book of 2 Kings describes what happened that day.

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

And the prophet, Jeremiah, reports that the siege would be long and end in Jerusalem’s demise as the Babylonians broke through the walls and poured out their pent-up rage on the city and its inhabitants.

Two and a half years later, on July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, a section of the city wall was broken down. – Jeremiah 39:2 NLT

God gave Ezekiel a message for his fellow exiles, whom He addressed as “the rebellious house” (Ezekiel 24:3 ESV). They may have been safely ensconced in Babylon, more than 1600 miles from Jerusalem, but they were not to consider themselves guiltless or free from responsibility. The very fact that they were living as captives in Babylon provided ample proof that they had been complicit in Judah’s rebellion and that God held them personally culpable.

God’s message to the exiles came in the form of a parable. This would not be another one of Ezekiel’s dramatic demonstrations, where he was forced to act out the details in full view of his audience. This time, all the prophet had to do was repeat the highly descriptive words of God’s simple and easy-to-understand story of Jerusalem’s fall. God uses the familiar and non-threatening activity of making stew to portray the slow and steady “cooking” of Jerusalem’s inhabitants. For two-and-a-half years, God would use King Nebuchadnezzar as His personal chef to “stir the pot” of Jerusalem.

God describes water being poured into a large bronze cauldron, into which were added choice pieces of meat and bits of bone. A fire was kindled under the pot, bringing the water and its ingredients to a rolling boil. As the fire raged, the contents of the pot slowly congealed into a stew-like consistency as the meat, bone, blood, and marrow comingled. Like all parables, this simple story portrays what, at first glance, appears to be a rather non-threatening scene. For Ezekiel’s audience, the imagery could almost be appealing, as they imagine the pleasing aroma of the slowly simmering stew. But God was using this commonplace domestic scene to convey a powerful truth and illicit a repellant response from His rebellious people.

God provides no explanation for His parable, leaving His audience to wrestle with the exact meaning of its message. But it seems clear that the bronze cauldron represents Jerusalem. The fire symbolizes God’s judgment, kindled in the form of the Babylonian army. They encamped outside the walls of the city for two-and-a-half years, battering its walls and inflicting constant pressure on the inhabitants within. And God’s choice of imagery is interesting when one considers what was actually happening inside the city during those difficult days.

…the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. – 2 Kings 25:3 NLT

There were few pots of boiling stew in Jerusalem in those days. The food supplies had run out long ago due to the impenetrable Babylonian blockade.

Yet, in the parable, God describes choice pieces of meat and bones being added to the pot. What do these symbolize? The meat most likely represents the inhabitants of the city. God’s “chosen” people were being thrown into the crucible of His judgment, and even the wealthiest and most powerful citizens were not spared His wrath. No one escaped. They were all thrown into the same pot and forced to suffer the same fate.

But what about the bones? What do they represent? From looking at the rest of God’s message, it would appear that these bones symbolize the lives of those who had died as a result of Judah’s rampant injustice and idolatry. Jerusalem had earned its moniker as “the bloody city.” Back in chapter 22, Ezekiel recorded God’s indictment against the city’s murderous reputation.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O city, who spills blood within herself (which brings on her doom), and who makes herself idols (which results in impurity), you are guilty because of the blood you shed and defiled by the idols you made. You have hastened the day of your doom; the end of your years has come.” – Ezekiel 22:3-4 NLT

They had actually murdered their own children, offering them up as blood sacrifices to their pagan gods. The list of their sins was long and unflattering.

“Slanderous men shed blood within you. Those who live within you eat pagan sacrifices on the mountains; they commit obscene acts among you. They have sexual relations with their father’s wife within you; they violate women during their menstrual period within you. One commits an abominable act with his neighbor’s wife; another obscenely defiles his daughter-in-law; another violates his sister—his father’s daughter—within you. They take bribes within you to shed blood.” – Ezekiel 22:9-12 NLT

The bones of innocent dead were mixed with the “choice meat” of Jerusalem’s citizens, creating a macabre stew where the blood of the victims comingled with that of their attackers. God was illustrating the permanent and irreparable state of Judah’s blood guilt.

The next phase of God’s parable contains a stark image of the contents of the pot being removed. By this time, the items inside would be indistinguishable from one another.  It has all blended together into what God describes as “corrosion.” Not exactly an appealing image.  The Hebrew word is ḥel’â, which can be translated as “scum,” “rust,” or “disease.” The contents are inedible and must be removed from the pot. So, God commands, “Take out of it piece after piece, without making any choice” (Ezekiel 24:6 ESV). Everything in the pot has been stained by blood and is poured out for all to see. Judah’s sins had been open and transparent. They hid nothing and unashamedly flaunted their rebellion in the face of God and for all the world to see. Now, God was going to display His judgment of them in a very visible and humiliating manner.

I have placed her blood on an exposed rock so that it cannot be covered up. – Ezekiel 24:8 NLT

With the pot now empty, God orders that it be set back on the coals “until it becomes hot and its copper glows, until its uncleanness melts within it and its rot is consumed” (Ezekiel 24:11 NLT). Jerusalem, once emptied of its corrupted contents, will be purified by God. After the Babylonians destroyed the city and took its citizens captive, it would remain a virtual wasteland for years to come. God would remove the “disease” from within its walls, then allow it to remain unoccupied until He returned a remnant of the people from captivity 70 years later.

But before that time can come, God must purge and purify Jerusalem.

“You mix uncleanness with obscene conduct.
I tried to cleanse you, but you are not clean.
You will not be cleansed from your uncleanness
until I have exhausted my anger on you.” – Ezekiel 24:13 NLT

And God makes it clear that His judgment is just, right, and fully deserved. They have earned their fate. He is judging them according to their conduct. And even the exiles in Babylon will come to realize that they too have been justly judged by God. Those who heard the parable of God from the lips of Ezekiel would not live long enough to return to the land of Judah. They would live out their lives as refugees in a foreign land, worshiping their false gods, and longing for a return to the good old days. But those days would never come because they refused to repent and be cleansed from their uncleanness.

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

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

Turning Sorrow Into Gladness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Far From Done

14 And the word of the Lord came to me: 15 “Son of man, your brothers, even your brothers, your kinsmen, the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those of whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, ‘Go far from the Lord; to us this land is given for a possession.’ 16 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.’ 17 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ 18 And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 21 But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord God.”

22 Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them. 23 And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city. 24 And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in the vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to the exiles. Then the vision that I had seen went up from me. 25 And I told the exiles all the things that the Lord had shown me.  Ezekiel 11:14-25 ESV

Ezekiel was an exile living in the distant land of Babylon, alongside thousands of his fellow Israelites who had been taken there against their wills as prisoners of war. The southern kingdom of Judah and its capital city of Jerusalem had been under the control of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon for a number of years. The kings of Judah were little more than vassals to the Nebuchadnezzar and were required to do his bidding. In 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar’s forces had besieged the city of Jerusalem, forcing its 18-year-old king, Jehoiachin, to abandon his 3-month-long reign and surrender.

In the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, he took Jehoiachin prisoner. As the Lord had said beforehand, Nebuchadnezzar carried away all the treasures from the Lord’s Temple and the royal palace. He stripped away all the gold objects that King Solomon of Israel had placed in the Temple. King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land. – 2 Kings 24:12-14 NLT

It was at that time that Ezekiel found himself one of the thousands of former Judahites who made the long journey to the land of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah, as the new king of Judah and changed his name to Zedekiah. For more than a decade,  Zedekiah willingly subjugated himself and his country to the will of Nebuchadnezzar, but in the latter years of his reign, he made the fateful decision to rebel.

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

It was this still-pending event that Ezekiel was being warned about. As he and his co-exiles bided their time in Babylon, his contemporaries in Judah were living under the reign of the puppet king, Zedekiah. According to the book of 2 Kings, Zedekiah was an unrighteous ruler who followed in the footsteps of his predecessors, leading the people of Judah to continue their idolatrous ways.

Zedekiah did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as Jehoiakim had done. These things happened because of the Lord’s anger against the people of Jerusalem and Judah, until he finally banished them from his presence and sent them into exile. – 2 Kings 24:19-20 NLT

Yet, the people back in Judah were oblivious to what was about to happen. In fact, they were under the mistaken impression that they were the fortunate ones. After all, they remained in the land while many of their peers had been deported. Surely, God was on their side. In fact, God revealed to Ezekiel that his former compatriots were gloating over their fortunate state of affairs.

“Son of man, the people still left in Jerusalem are talking about you and your relatives and all the people of Israel who are in exile. They are saying, ‘Those people are far away from the Lord, so now he has given their land to us!’” – Ezekiel 11:15 NLT

When Nebuchadnezzar had ransacked the city of Jerusalem, he had taken the best and the brightest, along with the wealthiest and most influential members of the community. “Only the poorest people were left in the land” (2 Kings 24:14 NLT). And these people felt like they had won the lottery. They moved into the abandoned homes of their former neighbors, took over their businesses, confiscated their possessions, and enjoyed all the perks of their unexpected promotion. It was all too good to be true. In a sense, they viewed themselves as blessed by God.

But God saw things differently, and He provided Ezekiel with a message of comfort and encouragement for his fellow exiles.

“Therefore, tell the exiles, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Although I have scattered you in the countries of the world, I will be a sanctuary to you during your time in exile. – Ezekiel 11:16 NLT

God assured Ezekiel that He was in their midst, and He would be with them all throughout their captivity in Babylon. He would be their sanctuary. Yes, they were experiencing all the negative ramifications of an exiled existence in a foreign land. They were little more than refugees who enjoyed few rights or privileges and were viewed as second-class citizens by their Babylonian masters. They would never own land or operate their own businesses. Their former lifestyles of affluence and luxury were nothing more than a distant memory. But God had not abandoned them. And He had great plans for them.

They all longed to return home, but they had begun to lose hope that it would ever happen. But God gave Ezekiel some unexpected and much-needed news.

“I, the Sovereign Lord, will gather you back from the nations where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel once again.” – Ezekiel 11:17 NLT

And God assured Ezekiel that this returning remnant would play a vital role in restoring the spiritual health of the nation.

“When the people return to their homeland, they will remove every trace of their vile images and detestable idols.” – Ezekiel 11:18 NLT

These returning exiles will purge Judah of all the idols, altars, and high places erected by Zedekiah and his predecessors. It will be a time of cleansing and revival. In fact, God even promises to renew the hearts of His rebellious people.

“I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.” – Ezekiel 11:19-20 NLT

God will miraculously restore the hearts of His people, providing them with a renewed capacity to serve and obey Him faithfully. And God will reiterate this promise later on in the book of Ezekiel.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

This promise must have brought a smile to Ezekiel’s face. It was almost too good to be true. The thought that God might restore His exiled people to their land was like music to Ezekiel’s ears. But did God keep His promise? Did He fulfill His commitment to return His exiled people to their land?

The answer is yes. In time, God did restore a remnant of His people to their rightful place in Judah. After 70 years of captivity in Babylon, a group of exiles would return under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. They would make the long journey home and begin the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, reconstructing its walls, and restoring the destroyed temple of God.

But even after their return to the land, the people of God would never recapture their former days of glory and greatness. Israel would remain a second-rate nation without a king or a standing army. And while much of what God prophesied concerning their restoration would take place, the majority of the people would remain distant and disinterested in developing a vibrant relationship with Him. And this would last all the way until the coming of Jesus, their Messiah.

When Jesus appeared on the scene in Jerusalem, He found a people who were simply going through the religious motions. They talked a good game but their behavior revealed the true condition of their hearts. Jesus even quoted the prophet, Isaiah, when declaring their less-than-ideal spiritual state.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

So, there is a part of God’s promises that remains as yet unfulfilled. Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). They refused to recognize Him as their Messiah, Lord, and Savior. Instead, they demanded His crucifixion. And their actions revealed the true condition of their hearts. But the apostle Paul reminds us that the day will come when God fulfills the missing element of His covenant promise to Israel.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:25-27 NLT

For Ezekiel and his peers, they could rest in the promise that they would one day return to the land of Judah. But centuries will have to pass before God brings about the final phase of His plan for the people of Israel. The day is coming when His Son will return to earth a second time and, when He does, God will keep His promise to restore His people to their former position of prominence and glory.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When I cleanse you from your sins, I will repopulate your cities, and the ruins will be rebuilt. The fields that used to lie empty and desolate in plain view of everyone will again be farmed. And when I bring you back, people will say, ‘This former wasteland is now like the Garden of Eden! The abandoned and ruined cities now have strong walls and are filled with people!’ Then the surrounding nations that survive will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruins and replanted the wasteland. For I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I say.” – Ezekiel 36:33-36 NLT

But Ezekiel’s vision ends with the glory of God departing the city of Jerusalem. God vacates the premises. But He is not done yet. And when Ezekiel found himself back in the land of Babylon, he shared all he had seen and heard with his fellow Jews. There was reason for hope because God had a plan and it included them.

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.