The Slaughter of the Wicked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Worse Than You Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

We Can Do This the Hard Way

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense altars shall be broken, and I will cast down your slain before your idols. And I will lay the dead bodies of the people of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. Wherever you dwell, the cities shall be waste and the high places ruined, so that your altars will be waste and ruined, your idols broken and destroyed, your incense altars cut down, and your works wiped out. And the slain shall fall in your midst, and you shall know that I am the Lord.

“Yet I will leave some of you alive. When you have among the nations some who escape the sword, and when you are scattered through the countries, then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations. 10 And they shall know that I am the Lord. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them.”

11 Thus says the Lord God: “Clap your hands and stamp your foot and say, Alas, because of all the evil abominations of the house of Israel, for they shall fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. 12 He who is far off shall die of pestilence, and he who is near shall fall by the sword, and he who is left and is preserved shall die of famine. Thus I will spend my fury upon them. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when their slain lie among their idols around their altars, on every high hill, on all the mountaintops, under every green tree, and under every leafy oak, wherever they offered pleasing aroma to all their idols. 14 And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land desolate and waste, in all their dwelling places, from the wilderness to Riblah. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 6:1-14 ESV

Four separate times in 14 verses, God insists that when He is done, the rebellious people of Israel “will know that I am the Lord.” God is a relational being and He had chosen the nation of Israel to enjoy a unique relationship with Him. He had set them apart as His own prized possession with the intent of revealing to them His glory and goodness. Even all the way back in Egypt, long before Moses had delivered them from their captivity, God had promised to reveal Himself to them in powerful and highly tangible ways.

I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.” – Exodus 6:6-8 ESV

Their miraculous deliverance was intended to demonstrate the power, majesty, and sovereignty of God. He was greater than the Egyptians and their plethora of false gods. He was the covenant-keeping God who could be trusted to keep every promise He had made to Abraham, whose descendants would eventually escape captivity in Egypt and find themselves safely ensconced in the promised land of Canaan.

All along their journey from captivity to Canaan, God revealed Himself to His people. After miraculously delivering them across the Red Sea on dry ground and defeating the forces of Egypt, He had led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He had sustained them with manna from heaven and water from a rock. And during their four-decade-long journey through the wilderness of Sinai, He had even kept their clothes from wearing out. He had given them His law to reveal His holy expectations of them and regulate their behavior. And knowing that they would fail to keep His law perfectly, He provided them with the sacrificial system to atone for the sins they would commit so that they might be able to restore their broken relationship with Him.

God had repeatedly proven His greatness, and they should have known that He alone was the one true God. He had no equals. In His deliverance of the Israelites, He had exposed the gods of the Egyptians as frauds and nothing more than the figments of the imaginations of men. And when they began their conquest of the land of Canaan, God was with them, providing them with victories over much larger armies. The Canaanites and their gods proved to be powerless before Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And even before their conquest of the land had begun, God had warned them about adopting the religious practices of the Canaanites. They were not to emulate their pagan ways or worship their gods.

“When the Lord your God goes ahead of you and destroys the nations and you drive them out and live in their land, do not fall into the trap of following their customs and worshiping their gods. Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations worship their gods? I want to follow their example.’ You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods, for they perform for their gods every detestable act that the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods.” – Deuteronomy 12:29-31 NLT

But the people of Israel would fail to keep God’s commands. Over the centuries, they developed an unhealthy love affair with the false gods of the Canaanites. The kings of Israel had a track record of adopting the false gods of their enemies and adulterating their worship of Yahweh with unacceptable practices that He found deplorable.

And all along the way, God had warned His people about the dangers of their rebellious ways. He was a jealous God who would not tolerate their unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity. By this time, they should have known that He alone was God. But they were still prone to seek the help and favor of any pagan god who might be able to give them a leg up on their enemies. They had become equal-opportunity idolators, willing to cozy up to any god who might provide them with an advantage or satisfy their insatiable lust for power, possessions, and pleasure. For them, Yahweh was not enough. They wanted more. And they were willing to prostitute themselves before the false gods of the Canaanites in order to satisfy what the apostle John described as “a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT).

Their blatant unfaithfulness had resulted in the Babylonian invasion of Judah. God informed the prophet, Jeremiah, that King Nebuchadnezzar had been handpicked by God to serve as His agent of judgment against His rebellious people.

“I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.” – Jeremiah 25:9 ESV

And by the time Ezekiel penned his book, King Nebuchadnezzar had already defeated Judah and taken thousands of its citizens captive. But God was not done. The people of Judah remained unrepentant and unwilling to give up their love affair with false gods. That is why God gave Ezekiel a message for the people living back in Judah. He was to declare God’s pending judgment against the “mountains of Israel” (Ezekiel 6:3). This reference most certainly included the most prominent and important mountain range in all of Israel: Mount Moriah. This mountain range included Mount Zion on which Jerusalem sat and within whose walls the temple of God was located.

But God made it clear that His holy mountain was surrounded by altars and shrines to false gods. The land of Judah was literally filled with sacred worship sights dedicated to the gods of the Canaanites, and God was not pleased.

“I am about to bring war upon you, and I will smash your pagan shrines. All your altars will be demolished, and your places of worship will be destroyed. I will kill your people in front of your idols. I will lay your corpses in front of your idols and scatter your bones around your altars. Wherever you live there will be desolation, and I will destroy your pagan shrines. Your altars will be demolished, your idols will be smashed, your places of worship will be torn down, and all the religious objects you have made will be destroyed. The place will be littered with corpses, and you will know that I alone am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 6:3-7 NLT

It’s as if God is saying, “We can do this the hard way or we can do this the easy way.” God is a relational God. He chose the people of Israel to have a relationship with Him and to get to know Him – intimately and personally. He chose to dwell among them. He gave them His law to follow. He led them, directed them, protected them, and even spoke to them. He revealed Himself to them through miracles and divine intervention. He won battles for them. He rescued and rewarded them. All so that they might know Him. But the people of Israel decided to reject this personal God for a litany of impersonal, impotent, man-made gods.

Instead of recognizing and appreciating the power and presence of Yahweh, they turned their attention and affections elsewhere. So, God decided to reveal Himself differently. They were going to get to know Him the hard way. They would experience the power of God moving in their midst, but it would bring destruction, not blessing. He was going to smash their pagan shrines, demolish their altars, and destroy the places of worship where they pursued other gods.

When all the dust had settled, they were going to know that God had been in their midst. They were going to know that He had spoken and He always does what he says He will do. They were going to know that God was powerful and deadly serious about His people living lives that were set apart and distinctive from those of the other nations.

“You people have behaved worse than your neighbors and have refused to obey my decrees and regulations. You have not even lived up to the standards of the nations around you.” – Ezekiel 5:7 NLT

One way or the other, the people of God were going to get to know their God. But they were choosing the hard way. They were making it difficult on themselves. God had wanted to reveal Himself through blessing and abundance. He had wanted to have an intimate relationship with them that was characterized by care and compassion. In His grace and mercy, He had chosen them from among all the nations, not because they deserved it, but because He wanted to reveal Himself in a special way to a very specific people. He had intended to use them to showcase His love. They were to be His living illustration to the world.

But they refused to accept His love and obey His commands. He pursued them, but they rejected Him. So now they were going to get to know God the hard way.

But this chapter provides a powerful lesson for every child of God. Why do we make it so hard on ourselves? Why do we force God to reveal Himself through discipline and prove Himself to us by rebuking us? God has given us His Son. He has chosen us for a personal, intimate relationship with Him. He wants us to know Him closely and deeply. But far too often, we choose the hard way over the easy way.

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

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

A Glimpse of God

1 In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there. – Ezekiel 1:1-3 ESV

The book of Ezekiel was written by the man for whom it is named. He was a Jewish priest who found himself exiled to the land of Babylon along with many of his fellow countrymen. And with their capture and deportment to Babylon, they joined the ranks of the other exiled Israelites who had arrived years earlier.

But how did Ezekiel end up in this predicament? What events transpired that resulted in this 30-year-old priest from the southern kingdom of Judah becoming just another captive in the land of Babylon?

It’s a long story that extends back to 605 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon ascended to the throne of his father. One of the first things Nebuchadnezzar did was defeat the Egyptians and Assyrians at the battle of Carchemish that same year. Having defeated these two superpowers, Nebuchadnezzar assumed control of their vassal states, including the southern kingdom of Judah. He began a siege of the city of Jerusalem in 605 BC that ended in its surrender and the capture of thousands of its leading citizens, who were promptly deported to Babylon. This would have included a young man named Daniel, who would become a prophet and a contemporary of Ezekiel.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. – Daniel 1:1-6 ESV

Daniel ended up being a prophet in the land of Babylon, but it would not be long before Ezekiel joined him there. That initial deportation would not be the last because the people of Israel would remain unrepentant and unwilling to give up their idolatrous ways. As a result of their stubborn refusal to repent, God would send Nebuchadnezzar again, this time with orders to destroy the capital city of Jerusalem. In 598 BC, the Babylonians would lay siege to the city once again, eventually breaking through the walls the destroying everything in sight, including the temple of God.

This devastating event had been foretold by the prophets of God. They had repeatedly warned God’s people that, unless they repented and returned to Him, they would suffer defeat at the hands of a foreign power.

“Behold, I am bringing against you
    a nation from afar, O house of Israel,
declares the Lord.
It is an enduring nation;
    it is an ancient nation,
a nation whose language you do not know,
    nor can you understand what they say.
Their quiver is like an open tomb;
    they are all mighty warriors.
They shall eat up your harvest and your food;
    they shall eat up your sons and your daughters;
they shall eat up your flocks and your herds;
    they shall eat up your vines and your fig trees;
your fortified cities in which you trust
    they shall beat down with the sword.”  – Jeremiah 5:15-17 ESV

Over the years, God had patiently and persistently called His people to repentance but they had refused to heed the warnings of the prophets. Despite all that God had done for them, they had proven to be unfaithful and disloyal to Him, repeatedly worshiping false gods and regularly violating His commands. It was because of their spiritual infidelity and moral impurity that God determined to bring judgment upon them in the form of the Babylonians.

“Therefore a lion from the forest shall strike them down;
    a wolf from the desert shall devastate them.
A leopard is watching their cities;
    everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces,
because their transgressions are many,
    their apostasies are great.

“How can I pardon you?
    Your children have forsaken me
    and have sworn by those who are no gods.
When I fed them to the full,
    they committed adultery
    and trooped to the houses of whores.
They were well-fed, lusty stallions,
    each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.
Shall I not punish them for these things?
declares the Lord;
    and shall I not avenge myself
    on a nation such as this? – Jeremiah 5:6-9 SV

Jeremiah was a prophet whose ministry took place in the capital city of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. He began his prophetic ministry sometime around 627 BC, about four years before Ezekiel was born. It is likely that Ezekiel was familiar with Jeremiah’s ministry and had heard his messages concerning God’s pending judgment. Ezekiel would have been a young man when the Babylonians invaded Judah and destroyed the capital city of Jerusalem. He would have witnessed the second wave of deportations, as the brightest and the best of Judah were taken captive to Babylon.

Jerusalem fell in 597 BC, but the final deportation did not take place until the next year. It was at that time that Ezekiel became another victim of the Babylonian empire’s aggressive expansion efforts.  He soon found himself living in a refugee camp along with the other exiles from Judah on the banks of the Kebar River in Babylon.

But in that remote and far-from-idyllic setting, God came to meet with Ezekiel. While He had brought destruction on the people of Judah for their sin and rebellion, He had not abandoned them. He would not leave them completely isolated and alone. God would call on Ezekiel to be His spokesperson to the exiles in Babylon. There on the banks of the Kebar River, God appeared to Ezekiel. This young prophet received a remarkable vision of God in the midst of the doom and gloom of Babylonian captivity. When things seemed to be at their worst, God showed up. He displayed His glory to Ezekiel and gave him a message for the people of Judah. And that vision, while somewhat fantastical and difficult to understand, illustrated God’s power and majestic presence. It accentuated His holiness and stressed His otherness.

The vision that Ezekiel saw left no doubt about just how great and powerful God was. He got a glimpse of God in the midst of his darkest moments. And when Ezekiel saw Him, he fell down and worshiped.

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

Even in our darkest days, God is there. Regardless of what is going on around us, He never ceases to be God. He does not change. His status does not diminish. His power does not decrease or wain. He remains holy, powerful, distinct, and worthy of our worship. God wants to reveal Himself to us. He wants us to see Him for who He is. He wants us to get our focus off of our circumstances and back on Him. He is our help and hope. He is constantly reminding us of His presence and power.

There on the banks of the Kebar River, living with the dejected and devastated exiles from Judah, Ezekiel needed a vision of God. He needed a reminder that His God was great and was still on His throne, reigning in power. He had not forgotten Ezekiel or the people of Judah. Could you use a vision of God today? Look for Him in His Word. You’ll find Him.

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.

 

Taking Sin Seriously

1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”

And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.

10 And the Lord said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. 12 Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, 13 and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’”

14 The name of the slain man of Israel, who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, chief of a father’s house belonging to the Simeonites. 15 And the name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was the tribal head of a father’s house in Midian.

16 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, 18 for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the chief of Midian, their sister, who was killed on the day of the plague on account of Peor.” Numbers 25:1-18 ESV

There is no way to escape the fact that this is a graphic and disturbing text. And its close proximity to the oracles of blessing pronounced by God through Balaam makes it all the more difficult to reconcile. In what appears to be a relatively short period of time, King Balak’s hopes of placing Israel under a curse seem to take place without the help of Balaam or any other seer or sage. And the amazing thing is, the Israelites bring it on themselves.

Moses describes the situation in less-than-flattering terms: “ the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1 ESV). It seems that the residents of Moab had done what their king had not been able to do. They had managed to find a chink in the armor of God’s chosen people, and it involved the two evils of immorality and idolatry. While Balaam had been unsuccessful in pronouncing a curse on the people of God, the citizens of Moab had come up with an ingenious plan for destroying the Israelites from within.

While the Israelites were encamped in the plains of Moab, waiting for the next phase of their conquest of Canaan, the men became distracted by and attracted to the women of Moab. And before long, “the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women” (Numbers 25:1 NLT).

Concessions were made, compromises were considered, and in no time the set-apart status of the Israelites was eventually jeopardized. What began as illicit sexual encounters between the men of Israel and the women of Moab turned into spiritual adultery and apostasy.

These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. – Numbers 25:2 NLT

Uncontrolled sexual desires led to compromised convictions. Suddenly, the Israelites’ physical allure for the Moabite women created a spiritual attraction for their rogues’ gallery of deities. Forbidden fruit created an insatiable appetite for false gods.

What makes this whole affair so egregious is that it comes fresh on the heels of God’s promise to bless the people of Israel.

No curse can touch Jacob;
    no magic has any power against Israel.
For now it will be said of Jacob,
    ‘What wonders God has done for Israel!’” – Numbers 23:23 NLT

Balaam had not been allowed to curse them. His “magic” had proven unsuccessful. But the women of Moab had managed to cast a spell on the unsuspecting men of Israel. They simply used their feminine wiles to bewitch the hapless Israelites and cause them to turn their backs on Jehovah. And because men were responsible for the spiritual oversight of their households, it wasn’t long before the apostasy spread throughout the camp.

Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:3 NLT

The fallout from this act of unfaithfulness was immediate and widespread. But God quickly intervened, ordering Moses to take immediate action.

“Seize all the ringleaders and execute them before the Lord in broad daylight, so his fierce anger will turn away from the people of Israel.” – Numbers 25:4 NLT

There would be no compromise on God’s part. He would not tolerate sin in the camp of Israel, especially that involving immorality and idolatry. The guilty were to be made examples of, delivering a sobering warning to the rest of the nation of Israel. And Moses was quick to follow God’s instructions, calling on the judges of the tribes of Israel to carry out the executions of all those who had taken part in this act of rebellion against God.

And this is where the story earns its NC-17 rating. What happens next is both shocking and unimaginable. As a result of this corporate act of sin and God’s prescribed solution, the people had been called to gather before the tabernacle. Moses describes the tone as sorrowful, likely because of sorrow for the deaths of some of their sons, fathers, and husbands. Yet as the people wept over their sin and the loss of their loved ones, one of the guilty men did something that is difficult to believe. He brazenly took a Moabite woman into his tent, in full view of Moses and the rest of the assembly. He exhibits no shame and, completely controlled by his sexual desires, he displays no self-control.

He does the unthinkable. Either he was flaunting his personal preferences in the face of Moses and God, or he was so consumed by his physical appetites that he could no longer control himself. The apostle Paul describes such people in condemning terms: “Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth” (Philippians 3:19 NLT).

As Moses and the rest of the people looked on in shock, this moral reprobate flaunted his disdain for the holiness of God and rejected his own personal guilt. He shows no regret, remorse, or repentance. But his unprecedented display of disrespect for God got the attention of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the high priest. This young man was the grandson of Aaron the former high priest and he took his role as servant of God seriously. Unwilling to stand back and watch this affront to God’s holiness take place, he took matters into his own hands – literally. 

he jumped up and left the assembly. He took a spear and rushed after the man into his tent. Phinehas thrust the spear all the way through the man’s body and into the woman’s stomach. – Numbers 25:7-8 NLT

The actions of this man were more than an uncontrolled sexual encounter with a pagan woman. They were engaged in an act of worship associated with Baal, the false god of the Moabites. Sexual promiscuity was a regular feature in the rites and rituals associated with this pagan deity. But Phinehas refused to turn a blind eye to their immorality and idolatry, executing the guilty couple on the spot. And Moses indicates that the quick action of Phinehas brought an end to a plague that had already ravaged the lives of 24,000 Israelites.

And due to his actions, Phinehas received a covenant promise from God.

“Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest has turned my anger away from the Israelites by being as zealous among them as I was. So I stopped destroying all Israel as I had intended to do in my zealous anger. Now tell him that I am making my special covenant of peace with him. In this covenant, I give him and his descendants a permanent right to the priesthood, for in his zeal for me, his God, he purified the people of Israel, making them right with me.” – Numbers 25:11-13 NLT

Phinehas was rewarded for his efforts. This young man had executed the righteous judgment of God but, in so doing, had spared the nation from further deaths. God’s anger was satisfied and the sins of the nation were atoned for. But God was not done carrying out His judgment. Because the woman found in the tent was of Midianite extraction, God ordered that the Midianites be completely destroyed for the role they played in Israel’s rebellion against Him.

“Attack the Midianites and destroy them, because they assaulted you with deceit and tricked you into worshiping Baal of Peor, and because of Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, who was killed at the time of the plague because of what happened at Peor.” – Numbers 25:17-18 NLT

In a sense, Cozbi had accomplished what Balaam had failed to do. She and the other Midianite and Moabite women had successfully cursed a portion of the Israelite camp by luring them into immorality and idolatry. And while this resulted in the deaths of 24,000 Israelites, it did nothing to thwart God’s plans to bless them and provide them with the inheritance He had promised to them. It would be the Moabites and Midianites who suffered the greatest losses due to this fateful event. But God would prove faithful to His covenant promises to Israel.

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.

Don’t Take Your Eye Off the Prize

1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?

All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.

10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 ESV

From Solomon’s unique vantage point as king, he has been able to see and experience a great deal of what life has to offer. Some of his observations are more objective in nature, providing the perspective of an impartial outsider, viewing the lives of the people in his kingdom. He has been able to witness first-hand the oppression of the poor. As a judge over his people, he has had to preside over countless cases involving injustice and abuse. He has listened to the cries of the destitute and needy, as they have begged for someone to help them in their time of need.

But some of Solomon’s most powerful insights come from his willingness to look at his own life and share his more subjective and personal observations. In this chapter, he continues to speak from his own personal experience, revealing his frustrations over what he sees and fears.

First of all, he starts with what he describes as a form of evil or wickedness that he has observed “under the sun” or in this life. He writes from a human perspective, presenting his earth-bound opinion concerning a prevalent problem among mankind. There are those whom God has obviously blessed with great wealth, but He has also denied them the power or capacity to enjoy all that they have been given.

God gives some people great wealth and honor and everything they could ever want, but then he doesn’t give them the chance to enjoy these things. – Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT

These people have all that their hearts desire, except contentment and joy. And to make matters even worse, when they die, “someone else, even a stranger, ends up enjoying their wealth!” (Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT). And Solomon deems it all as “meaningless—a sickening tragedy(Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT). But is he right?

First of all, Solomon’s viewpoint reflects the prevailing attitude of his day. It was commonly believed that anyone who enjoyed great wealth had obviously been blessed by God. And if they had been blessed by God, their lives must have been pleasing to God. This is why it made no sense that God would withhold the one thing these people wanted and needed: The ability to enjoy what He had given them.

Solomon was right when he concluded that all good things come from God. In fact, he would have based his view on the Scriptures themselves.

Truth springs up from the earth,
    and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
    Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. – Psalm 85:11-12 ESV

Even the New Testament author, James, echoes this view.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

But where Solomon missed the point was in his assumption that wealth and material goods were to be the sole source of his enjoyment. In other words, he wrongly assumed that it was the blessings of God that brought joy, contentment, satisfaction, and significance. He misunderstood the true nature of their purpose and the significance of their source. The gifts had become the priority rather than the Giver. God was to have been the primary focus of Solomon’s life but not as the giver of good things. In fact, God should have been the only Solomon or anyone else needed in their life. God should have been enough. The apostle Paul expressed this viewpoint when he said:

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

It didn’t really matter to Paul whether he had a little or a lot. All that really mattered was his relationship with Christ. Yet Solomon and his contemporaries placed their emphasis on the tangible and temporal. For them, the proof of God’s love was in the presence of material goods and the ability to enjoy them. Solomon’s misguided and misplaced emphasis on material goods and earthly pleasures left him with a sense of emptiness and frustration. He was experiencing the very painful lesson that nothing satisfies man’s inner longings and desires like God Himself.

For Solomon, the measurement of a successful life was based on both quantity and quality. He pessimistically observed that if a man ended up fathering hundreds of children (and he had), and lived a long life (which he did), but his soul was not satisfied with life’s good things (and his wasn’t), then his life was a waste.

A man might have a hundred children and live to be very old. But if he finds no satisfaction in life and doesn’t even get a decent burial, it would have been better for him to be born dead. – Ecclesiastes 6:3 NLT

That is a grim assessment. But notice what he is saying. He is measuring the significance of life using a quantitative matrix. He operated on the commonly held maxim: The more, the merrier. It was long life and lots of kids that brought joy. But having hundreds of children, none of whose names you know will ever bring satisfaction. And living a long life, but without a relationship with the Giver of life will never satisfy. Acquiring much wealth and accomplishing great deeds cannot make anyone truly happy or content if they fail to seek the One from whom all good things come.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

For Solomon, nothing was more futile or frustrating than the thought of living a long life devoid of contentment. He states that a man “might live a thousand years twice over but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else—well, what’s the use?” (Ecclesiastes 6:6 NLT).

And, sadly, this aptly describes Solomon’s own life. When he wrote this verse, he was at the end of life looking back, and while he could claim to have fathered hundreds of children and lived many years, he could say as Paul did, “I have learned to be content.” He had discovered the painful lesson that more was not merrier.

In his mind, it was all about satisfaction. Even the poor, who spend their days trying to scratch out a living and provide food for their next meal, end up discovering that they’re hungry again. The wise, the wealthy, the foolish, and the poor are all faced with the same grievous problem: Enough is never enough. Satisfaction and contentment are elusive. And the only advice Solomon can come up with is “Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have” (Ecclesiastes 6:9 NLT).

But again, his emphasis is misplaced. He is not recommending that we find our satisfaction in God, but that we simply resign ourselves to enjoying what little we have been given by God. He has missed the point. And in doing so, he misses out on the real meaning and purpose of life. It is not about gaining and getting. It is not about acquiring and accumulating. It is about learning to seek satisfaction, significance, joy, and contentment from a relationship with the God of the universe.

But Solomon had a warped perspective about God. He euphemistically refers to God as “one stronger than he” (Ecclesiastes 6:10 ESV). He doesn’t see God as his Father but as an enforcer. Rather than approaching God as the gracious giver of good things, Solomon views Him as a capricious tyrant who withholds the ability to enjoy what has been given. And while he rightly understands that God knows all and sees all, Solomon seems to resent the fact that God keeps man’s future fate a mystery. To Solomon, this leaves man stuck in the here-and-now, trying to make the most out of what he has before his life comes to an abrupt end.

What Solomon describes in this chapter is the sad state of all men and women who refuse to see God as the central source of all that is good in their lives. God does bless. God does give good things. God is the author of life and the source of all that we can see. But God is not to be viewed as some disembodied purveyor of presents, like a cosmic Genie in a bottle. He is the gift. He is the good. He is the satisfaction and significance that man so desperately seeks. The apostle Paul summarized it well when he spoke to the people of Athens, describing the nature of the “unknown god” to whom they offered sacrifices, but with whom they had no relationship.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. – Acts 17:24-28 NLT

God created man to have a relationship with Him. His purpose was for the nations to seek after Him. But sin changed all that. Because of the fall, the blessings of God became substitutes for Him. We made idols out of the good gifts He had given us. The apostle Paul describes the subtle shift that took place among humanity as they took their eyes off the Giver and began to seek satisfaction and significance from the good things He had given.

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself… – Romans 1:25 NLT

Solomon’s relentless quest to find meaning in life had taken him away from the very One who had given him life. He had made false gods out of the good and perfect gifts that had come down from the Father of lights…and he found himself unfulfilled and discontented with life and anxious about death.

In the few days of our meaningless lives, who knows how our days can best be spent? Our lives are like a shadow. Who can tell what will happen on this earth after we are gone? – Ecclesiastes 6:12 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.

Compromise and the Loss of Conviction

10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!

13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” – Malachi 2:10-17 ESV

As verses 1-9 revealed, Israel had a leadership problem. Its priests were not living up to their role as the nation’s God-appointed shepherds. They were defiling the sacrificial system by offering unacceptable animals and, therefore, robbing the people of the atonement for sin they so desperately needed. On top of that, they had neglected their God-given responsibility to accurately teach the Mosaic Law to the people. They had twisted God’s words and taken liberties with God’s law, causing the people to stumble because of their deceptive instruction.

Through their immoral and unethical behavior, these unreliable leaders had caused irreparable damage to the nation. And now, Malachi turns his attention to the remnant of Israel who had returned to the land of promise but who were not living up to the covenant commitments God had established for them. In these verses, Malachi becomes the spokesperson, addressing his fellow citizens as brothers and sisters.

Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why do we betray each other, violating the covenant of our ancestors? – Malachi 2:10 NLT

Malachi was the prophet or messenger of God but, evidently, he was also a member of the tribe of Judah and part of the local community there in Jerusalem. He had a right to address his fellow citizens and remind them of their covenant commitment to God and one another. What he had witnessed taking place in the capital city was shocking and unacceptable to him. The people of Israel were not only turning away from God, but they were turning on one another. And he sums up their actions in one verse.

Judah has been unfaithful, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. The men of Judah have defiled the Lord’s beloved sanctuary by marrying women who worship idols. – Malachi 2:11 NLT

They were guilty of idolatry and adultery, and both sins were examples of unfaithfulness. Centuries earlier, when the people of Israel were preparing to enter the land of Canaan for the first time, God had warned them about intermarrying with the nations that occupied the land.

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 NLT

But the people of Israel had failed to honor God’s ban on intermarriage. Almost as soon as they entered the land, they began to give their sons and daughters in marriage to the pagan nations that occupied Canaan. They had hoped that these marriage alliances would lead to peace with their enemies but instead, their actions led to a mingling of their religions and a growing compromise of their allegiance to Yahweh. And now, centuries later, the people were back in the land and still attempting to win over their enemies by intermarrying with them. But these marriages of convenience resulted in spiritual compromise and led to further unfaithfulness on the part of the people of Israel.

Evidently, Israelite men were committing adultery by abandoning their Hebrew wives and marrying foreign women. In doing so, they were willingly breaking the marriage vows they had made before God, and Malachi calls them out for it.

…you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. – Malachi 2:14 NLT

Through it all, their wives had remained faithful and unwilling to give up on their marriage. But these faithless men had been driven by their desires, not the will of God. And then they wondered why God was not accepting their offerings or answering their prayers. They had broken their marriage vows and violated God’s commands but still expected His blessings.

You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” – Malachi 2:13-14 NLT

They were guilty of double unfaithfulness. Not only had they left their wives for foreign women and taken on the false religions of their new spouses, but they were attempting to worship Yahweh and idols at the same time. They dared to enter His temple and present offerings as if they were faithful followers who loved and adored Him alone.

This was a serious problem during the days of Malachi. Ezra, one of his contemporaries and a leader of the nation of Israel after their return to Canaan, had been informed just how blatant and widespread this problem was.

“Many of the people of Israel, and even some of the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the other peoples living in the land. They have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.” – Ezra 9:1-2 NLT

Don’t miss that last line. It would appear that even the priests of Israel were guilty of this crime against God. They were leading the way in adultery and even idolatry. And yet, Ezra had recognized the extent of the problem and the need for the people to repent.

“Now we are being punished because of our wickedness and our great guilt. But we have actually been punished far less than we deserve, for you, our God, have allowed some of us to survive as a remnant. But even so, we are again breaking your commands and intermarrying with people who do these detestable things. Won’t your anger be enough to destroy us, so that even this little remnant no longer survives? O Lord, God of Israel, you are just. We come before you in our guilt as nothing but an escaped remnant, though in such a condition none of us can stand in your presence.” – Ezra 9:13-15 NLT

But evidently, the people had not joined Ezra in his call for repentance. This led Malachi to point out the ongoing problem of adultery and idolatry that still plagued the land of Judah. Everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. They were living according to their own passions and pleasures and refusing to obey the commands of God. That led Malachi to remind them of their covenant commitment and God’s non-negotiable requirements regarding marriage and divorce.

Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. – Malachi 2:15-16 NLT

The actions of the people of Israel stand in stark contrast to the faithfulness of God as displayed in His unwavering commitment to their wellbeing. Despite all they had done to betray and abuse His love, He had remained committed to His covenant promises. Yes, He had punished them for their sins against Him, but He had also shown them undeserved mercy and grace by returning them to the land of promise so that they could restore their relationship with Him and display their renewed commitment to Him. But this was how they had repaid Him for His love.

In verse 17, Malachi gets to the heart of the matter. Not only were the people displaying unfaithfulness to one another and to God, but they were justifying their actions as good.

You have wearied him by saying that all who do evil are good in the Lord’s sight, and he is pleased with them. – Malachi 2:17 NLT

God was angered by their blatant displays of unfaithfulness but also by their self-righteous justification of their behavior. They were actually trying to claim that their behavior was in keeping with God’s will. Through some inexplicable leap of logic, they had convinced themselves that God was pleased with their actions. Because they had not experienced any direct consequences for their sins, they assumed that God must have approved of their behavior. But Malachi assured them that God was “wearied” by their in-your-face display of disobedience and disrespect.

Their moral compromises had led to a loss of conviction. They were no longer able to discern right from wrong. And since God seemed to have remained silent about their behavior, they regarded his silence as approval. In doing so, they questioned the very nature of God’s justice. To a certain degree, the people had begun to question the very presence of God. While they had successfully returned to the land and completed the building of the walls, the construction of the temple, and the repopulating of the city of Jerusalem, they were having a difficult time seeing the hand of God. From their perspective, there had been no supernatural display of His glory. Their return to the land had required a lot of hard work and they had little to show for all their efforts. They still had no king, no army, and found themselves surrounded by nations much larger and more powerful than themselves. So, they had taken matters into their own hands by intermarrying with their enemies and accomodating themselves to their worship of their false gods. And, since God had not struck them down, they assumed their decisions had His blessings. But they were about to discover just how wrong their assumptions really were.

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

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

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

When We Pitch Our Tent Toward Sodom

23 The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.

30 Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. 31 And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 33 So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.

34 The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 35 So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. 37 The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day. Genesis 19:23-38 ESV

Lot departed from Sodom and made his way to the small village of Zoar, with his wife and two daughters accompanying him. And Moses provides a rather sterile and sketchy description of the life-altering experience this small family had to endure. Their world had been rocked by the arrival of the two strangers. Lot and his family had been enjoying their comfortable life in Sodom until the night the two visitors showed up unexpectedly. Lot had been a well-respected city leader. His wife had probably been busy planning their two daughters’ pending weddings. Both girls had been betrothed and fully expected to celebrate and consummate their marriages. But all that had changed.

Now, they were running for their lives. And Lot’s two daughters must have been devastated by the news that their future husbands had chosen to remain behind in Sodom. It seems likely that both young women would have wrestled with thoughts of returning to Sodom but they had an allegiance to obey their father. They may have harbored doubts about the veracity of the message of doom delivered by the two visitors. And the thought of abandoning their home and their futures must have left them confused and conflicted.

Moses provides only a small glimpse into the tumultuous emotional state of Lot and his family. As he briefly describes the devastating destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he mentions Lot’s wife turning back to look at the shocking scene. Moses provides no explanation for her actions. But one can only guess that her curiosity was piqued by the sounds that accompanied the massive display of firepower that rained down from heaven. The destruction of these two cities was an unprecedented event of cosmic proportions.

…the Lord rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. He utterly destroyed them, along with the other cities and villages of the plain, wiping out all the people and every bit of vegetation. – Genesis 19:24-25 NLT

One might describe her interest as nothing more than a simple case of “rubbernecking.” There are some commentators who read more into her actions and label her backward glance as an expression of longing and regret. Moses simply states that, as Lot made his way to Zoar, his wife “looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26 ESV). The Hebrew word that is translated “looked back” is נָבַט (nāḇaṭ) and it can mean “to look intently; to gaze.” The thought is that, in looking back, Lot’s wife displayed sorrow for the destruction of her former home. She still harbored strong emotional ties to Sodom.

But it seems more likely that this poor woman, shocked by all that had just happened over the last 24 hours, was distracted by the earth-shattering sounds of God’s divine judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. But regardless of her motivation, her actions violated the warning of the two angels. They had clearly warned Lot: “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away” (Genesis 19:17 ESV). 

Once again, Moses provides little in the way of explanation. He mentions nothing about Lot’s reaction to his wife’s sudden and gruesome death. One minute she had been right behind him, alive and well. The next, she was a lifeless pillar of salt. Had Lot turned back? If he did, why was he not struck down by God? Had he continued to run, not realizing his wife’s fate until he arrived in Zoar? Moses provides no answers to these questions. In fact, he changes the subject altogether. In a rather frustrating and seemingly ill-placed aside, Moses refocuses the narrative on Abraham.

Abraham had been the one who negotiated with the Lord, hoping to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. But as he stood on the hillside overlooking the valley, he saw the smoke rising up from the burning ruins of the two cities. He must have been shocked at the sight because God had clearly promised to spare the cities if He could find ten righteous individuals living in them. Abraham’s thoughts must have gone to Lot and his family. Were they still alive or had God destroyed there? Moses does not reveal whether God shared with Abraham the fate of his nephew. He simply states that “God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived” (Genesis 19:29 ESV). Abraham had believed that the cities would need to be spared in order to keep Lot alive. But God had something else in mind. He was going to visit judgment upon the wicked while providing a way of escape for the righteous. There had not been ten righteous people living in Sodom. According to the apostle Peter, there had been only one.

God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment. He is especially hard on those who follow their own twisted sexual desire, and who despise authority. – 2 Peter 2:7-10 NLT

God rescued Lot but refused to turn a blind eye to the wickedness of Sodom and its sister city, Gomorrah. And delivering Lot, God was demonstrating His faithfulness to fulfill the wish of Abraham. God delivered and destroyed. He demonstrated grace and justice at the same time. He spared the righteous and punished the wicked.

But the story doesn’t end there. When Moses turns the narrative back to Lot and his fate, he has him leaving the village of Zoar and moving into the hills. There is no mention of Lot’s wife. He is now a widower, trying to raise two adult children on his own. For some unexplained reason, Lot felt unsafe living in Zoar. Perhaps the inhabitants saw this stranger’s arrival in their village as some kind of omen. After all, he had been the only one to escape the devastation that had happened in the valley. And these people lived near enough to Sodom and Gomorrah to know all about what had happened. But regardless of his reasons, Lot relocated his dwindling family to a cave. And there the action takes another dark twist.

These two young women now found themselves as damaged goods. They had been betrothed but now their fates were uncertain. In that culture, betrothal was tantamount to marriage. It was based on a binding contract between the two families. A betrothed couple was considered to be married. The only thing missing was the final consummation of the marriage that would take place on their wedding night. So, Lot’s daughters probably considered themselves to be damaged goods. That likely played a part in their fateful decision.

There are no men left anywhere in this entire area, so we can’t get married like everyone else. And our father will soon be too old to have children. Come, let’s get him drunk with wine, and then we will have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.” – Genesis 19:31-32 NLT

Everything about this decision is wrong. It reveals their fatalistic and flawed outlook on life. According to them, their best years were behind them. There was nothing good that could come out of this latest chain of events. Their husbands were dead. Their home had been destroyed. They had lost all their friends in the destruction of Sodom. And their mother had been turned into a pillar of salt by their father’s God. So, faced with the prospect of an uncertain future, they decided to take matters into their own hands. They followed through with their perverse plan. And over the course of two consecutive evenings, each of the girls committed incest with their drunken father.

Moses did not relate this rather X-rated story to titillate and arouse his audience. He was providing them with a history of the Moabites and Ammonites. The unholy union between Lot and his daughters would produce two people groups that would become the perennial and persistent enemies of Israel. It is interesting to consider that God had spared Lot because of the pleadings of Abraham. But His rescue of Lot resulted in the creation of these two nations who would become perpetual thorns in the side of Abraham’s descendants. The Moabites and Ammonites were idolatrous and immoral. In fact, the book of Numbers reveals the sordid story of how the Moabite women lured the men of Israel into immorality and idolatry.

While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

For the people of Israel, this recounting of Lot’s rescue was meant to remind them that the actions of the righteous have implications. God considered Lot to be a righteous man, but he made some very unrighteous decisions. He had no business living in Sodom. He should have never agreed to betroth his daughters to two Sodomite men. Lot had been driven by “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ESV). Even when he had become “sick of the shameful immorality” (2 Peter 2:7 NLT) in Sodom, he had remained. He didn’t flee immorality. He cozied up to it. He compromised his convictions and ended up paying severe and long-lasting consequences. Yet, Moses ends the story of Lot with the last verse of chapter 19. One man’s decision to settle among the cities of the valley and move his tent as far as Sodom (Genesis 13:12) had produced a lasting legacy of immorality and idolatry that would haunt the descendants of Abraham for generations to come.

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

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

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

No More Than They Deserved

But I am the Lord your God
    from the land of Egypt;
you know no God but me,
    and besides me there is no savior.
It was I who knew you in the wilderness,
    in the land of drought;
but when they had grazed, they became full,
    they were filled, and their heart was lifted up;
    therefore they forgot me.
So I am to them like a lion;
    like a leopard I will lurk beside the way.
I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs;
    I will tear open their breast,
and there I will devour them like a lion,
    as a wild beast would rip them open.

He destroys you, O Israel,
    for you are against me, against your helper.
10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities?
    Where are all your rulers—
those of whom you said,
    “Give me a king and princes”?
11 I gave you a king in my anger,
    and I took him away in my wrath. – Hosea 13:4-11 ESV

Israel’s idolatry was a particularly harsh slap in the face to God because He had proven Himself to be a faithful, powerful, gracious, and generous God. In His long association with them, He had done nothing to earn their distrust and disfavor. In fact, they would not have existed as a nation had not God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and sent him to the land of Canaan. Then if God had not caused a famine in the land of Canaan, Abram’s grandson, Jacob, would not have taken his family to Egypt to seek food and shelter. And God had miraculously prepared the way for their arrival. Years earlier, Jacob’s son, Joseph, had been sold into slavery by his own brothers. Jealous of their father’s affections for their younger brother, they had chosen to get rid of him. Joseph ended up a household slave in the land of Egypt. But God protected and prospered Joseph, eventually ordaining his rise to the second-highest position in the land, serving directly under the Pharaoh. So, when Jacob and his small family of 70 arrived in Egypt, Joseph was there to provide them with land, food, and protection. His brothers, fearful that Joseph would use his power to seek revenge on them, were surprised to hear him say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT).

And God would prosper Jacob’s family during their stay in Egypt. They would grow in number, from the original band of 70 to more than 1 million. And while the Egyptians eventually enslaved and abused the Israelites, in an attempt to control their growing population, God provided them with rescue. He sent Moses to deliver them from their captivity and lead them to the land of Canaan – the land He had promised to Abraham as his inheritance.

This entire scenario was proof of God’s love and care for His chosen people. They could look back on their nation’s history and see ample evidence that God had been with them and for them. He had fed them during the 40-plus years they had wandered in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to Canaan. He had fed them with manna and quail. He had provided them with water from a rock. During that entire time, their sandals and clothes never wore out. And when they finally entered the land God had promised to them, they found it to be just as God had advertised: A land flowing with milk and honey.

Even as they had stood on the border of the land, preparing to enter it for the first time, Moses declared just how abundant and rich they would find it to be.

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” – Deuteronomy 8:7-10 NLT

But Moses had also warned the people not to allow God’s blessings to lull them into a sense of complacency and spiritual compromise.

“For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.” – Deuteronomy 8:12-18 NLT

But Hosea reveals that the people of Israel had failed to heed the words of Moses. They entered the land and then promptly began to forget the One who had given it to them. God summarized their ungrateful response to His gracious generosity.

“But when you had eaten and were satisfied,
    you became proud and forgot me.” – Hosea 13:6 NLT

And they were about to discover the truth behind Moses’ words of warning.

“But I assure you of this: If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed. Just as the Lord has destroyed other nations in your path, you also will be destroyed if you refuse to obey the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 8:19-20 NLT

Now, centuries later, God affirms the words of Moses by assuring His rebellious people that the gift-giver was about to become the life-taker. God, the gracious deliverer from captivity was going to become the apex predator who would discipline and destroy His own people. He would turn on them and, rather than providing for all their needs, He would deprive them of life and liberty.

“So now I will attack you like a lion,
    like a leopard that lurks along the road.
Like a bear whose cubs have been taken away,
    I will tear out your heart.
I will devour you like a hungry lioness
    and mangle you like a wild animal.” – Hosea 13:7-8 NLT

They seemed to miss the significance and seriousness of this drastic alteration in their relationship with God. It is almost as if they failed to believe that God’s words, as recorded by Hosea, would actually come to fruition. They refused to accept the finality of it all. Surely God would be forgiving and faithful just like always. After all, they were His chosen people and He had promised to care for and protect them. But they had conveniently forgotten all of God’s warnings about judgment and curses should they prove disobedient and unfaithful. They had lived under His grace for so long that they had come to take it for granted. They believed it would always be available to them, regardless of how they lived their lives. But they were about to discover just how wrong they were.

“You are about to be destroyed, O Israel—
    yes, by me, your only helper.” – Hosea 13:9 NLT

God was no longer willing to stand back and watch as His people mocked and maligned His character by their actions. He could not and would not allow them to continually drag His name through the mud through their incessant immorality and idolatry. And they were about to find that there was nothing they could do to stop the wrath of God Almighty. Their wealth and power would not save them. The kings they had demanded to rule over them would prove helpless against the forces of divine judgment coming against them. Their status as God’s chosen people would not innoculate them from the death sentence that loomed over them. Their days were numbered because they had failed to number their days. And Moses, their deliverer from captivity in Egypt, had written a psalm that prophetically previewed their eventual judgment but also called on God to show them mercy and forgiveness.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil. – Psalm 90:9-15 ESV

But it was too late. Israel had failed to number their days, so now their days were numbered. God would prove no more means of rescue. He would no longer show patient endurance as His people forsook His name and abused the many blessings He had bestowed on them. The time for judgment had finally arrived.

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

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

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