The Most Holy Place

44 On the outside of the inner gateway there were two chambers in the inner court, one at the side of the north gate facing south, the other at the side of the south gate facing north. 45 And he said to me, “This chamber that faces south is for the priests who have charge of the temple, 46 and the chamber that faces north is for the priests who have charge of the altar. These are the sons of Zadok, who alone among the sons of Levi may come near to the Lord to minister to him.” 47 And he measured the court, a hundred cubits long and a hundred cubits broad, a square. And the altar was in front of the temple.

48 Then he brought me to the vestibule of the temple and measured the jambs of the vestibule, five cubits on either side. And the breadth of the gate was fourteen cubits, and the sidewalls of the gate were three cubits on either side. 49 The length of the vestibule was twenty cubits, and the breadth twelve cubits, and people would go up to it by ten steps. And there were pillars beside the jambs, one on either side.

1 Then he brought me to the nave and measured the jambs. On each side six cubits was the breadth of the jambs. And the breadth of the entrance was ten cubits, and the sidewalls of the entrance were five cubits on either side. And he measured the length of the nave, forty cubits, and its breadth, twenty cubits. Then he went into the inner room and measured the jambs of the entrance, two cubits; and the entrance, six cubits; and the sidewalls on either side of the entrance, seven cubits. And he measured the length of the room, twenty cubits, and its breadth, twenty cubits, across the nave. And he said to me, “This is the Most Holy Place.” Ezekiel 40:44-41:4 ESV

Ezekiel’s vision of the Millennial Temple included a view of two chambers located just outside the northern and southern inner gates. In Hebrew, these rooms are described as liškâ šîr, which might best be translated as “the chambers of the singing men.”

These would have been members of the tribe of Levi who served as priests in the temple but also functioned as musicians as part of their service to God. The book of 2 Chronicles mentions these men.

And the Levites who were musicians—Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and all their sons and brothers—were dressed in fine linen robes and stood at the east side of the altar playing cymbals, lyres, and harps. They were joined by 120 priests who were playing trumpets. The trumpeters and singers performed together in unison to praise and give thanks to the Lord. – 2 Chronicles 5:12-13 NLT

These men were responsible for providing musical praise to God as part of peoples’ worship.

Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, they raised their voices and praised the Lord with these words:

“He is good!
    His faithful love endures forever!”  – 2 Chronicles 5:14 NLT

And the book of 1 Chronicles states that they lived in special rooms dedicated to their use in the temple.

The musicians, all prominent Levites, lived at the Temple. They were exempt from other responsibilities since they were on duty at all hours. All these men lived in Jerusalem. They were the heads of Levite families and were listed as prominent leaders in their genealogical records. – 1 Chronicles 9:33-34 NLT

The Psalms are filled with descriptions of music as a form of worship and singing as a means of praising God for all He has done.

Come, let us sing to the Lord!
    Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come to him with thanksgiving.
    Let us sing psalms of praise to him. – Psalm 95:1-2 NLT

Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
    break out in praise and sing for joy!
Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King! – Psalm 98:4-6 NLT

And, according to Ezekiel’s vision, this musical expression of praise and glory for God’s goodness and greatness will continue into the Millennial Kingdom.

The praise of God will never cease in the Millennial Kingdom as God’s people express their heartfelt gratitude for all that He has done. And these priests will be accompanied by others who be responsible for maintaining the temple itself as well as all the elements associated with the altar and the sacrificial system. Each priest will perform his duties with joy and gladness so that the temple may function seamlessly and in full compliance with God’s decrees.

And Ezekiel is told that these men will be the descendants of Zadok, who served as a priest during the reigns of David and Solomon. This ensures the prophet that God will miraculously maintain the line of Zadok so that they may serve Him in this future temple.

As the vision unfolds before Ezekiel’s eyes, he is escorted into the actual doorway of the temple itself, through a portico or inner room that opens into the temple proper. As he moves forward into the recesses of the temple, Ezekiel passes through the Holy Place and into the Holy of Holies. With each step, he moves into a progressively smaller space that is meant to focus his attention on the significance of his final destination: The most holy place.  This was the innermost room of the temple where God’s presence was said to dwell above the mercy seat. In Solomon’s temple, this room was highly restricted and off-limits to anyone but the high priest, who could only enter one day out of the entire year, on the Day of Atonement. God had told Moses to warn his brother, Aaron, the high priest, not to venture into the Holy of Holies on any other day or he would face certain death.

The Lord said to Moses, “Warn your brother, Aaron, not to enter the Most Holy Place behind the inner curtain whenever he chooses; if he does, he will die. For the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—is there, and I myself am present in the cloud above the atonement cover.” – Leviticus 16:2 NLT

Aaron was given a series of ceremonial tasks to perform so that he might offer a sacrifice on behalf of the people. It all began with his personal purification and included cleansing of the Holy of Holies, the altar, priests, the congregation, and the tabernacle itself. It all concluded with the release of the scapegoat.

“He will lay both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel. In this way, he will transfer the people’s sins to the head of the goat. Then a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness. As the goat goes into the wilderness, it will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land.” – Leviticus 16:21-22 NLT

What makes this so important is that, in the future Millennial Kingdom, there will be no need for the scapegoat because of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice. He bore the sins of mankind with His death on the cross and provided a permanent means of forgiveness for all those who place their faith in Him. Yet, God told Moses and the people of Israel that His commands concerning the Day of Atonement would be permanent.

“This is a permanent law for you. In future generations, the purification ceremony will be performed by the priest who has been anointed and ordained to serve as high priest in place of his ancestor Aaron. He will put on the holy linen garments and purify the Most Holy Place, the Tabernacle, the altar, the priests, and the entire congregation. This is a permanent law for you, to purify the people of Israel from their sins, making them right with the Lord once each year.” – Leviticus 16:31-34 NLT

But what makes the future temple so unique is that it will exist as part of the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus Christ, who will reign as King over Jerusalem, the land of Israel, and the rest of the world. Because of His sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension, and ultimate return as the King of kings and Lord of lords, there will be no need for future purification of the temple. The scapegoat will be unnecessary. Cleansing from sin will no longer be needed.

The Most Holy Place will be permanently holy. The people of God will be eternally righteous, cleansed, and forgiven. Because God and His Son will take up permanent residence with His people.

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

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

I Will Put My Temple Among Them

1 In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me to the city. In visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south. When he brought me there, behold, there was a man whose appearance was like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand. And he was standing in the gateway. And the man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel.”

And behold, there was a wall all around the outside of the temple area, and the length of the measuring reed in the man’s hand was six long cubits, each being a cubit and a handbreadth in length. So he measured the thickness of the wall, one reed; and the height, one reed. Then he went into the gateway facing east, going up its steps, and measured the threshold of the gate, one reed deep. And the side rooms, one reed long and one reed broad; and the space between the side rooms, five cubits; and the threshold of the gate by the vestibule of the gate at the inner end, one reed. Then he measured the vestibule of the gateway, on the inside, one reed. Then he measured the vestibule of the gateway, eight cubits; and its jambs, two cubits; and the vestibule of the gate was at the inner end. 10 And there were three side rooms on either side of the east gate. The three were of the same size, and the jambs on either side were of the same size. 11 Then he measured the width of the opening of the gateway, ten cubits; and the length of the gateway, thirteen cubits. 12 There was a barrier before the side rooms, one cubit on either side. And the side rooms were six cubits on either side. 13 Then he measured the gate from the ceiling of the one side room to the ceiling of the other, a breadth of twenty-five cubits; the openings faced each other. 14 He measured also the vestibule, sixty cubits. And around the vestibule of the gateway was the court. 15 From the front of the gate at the entrance to the front of the inner vestibule of the gate was fifty cubits. 16 And the gateway had windows all around, narrowing inwards toward the side rooms and toward their jambs, and likewise the vestibule had windows all around inside, and on the jambs were palm trees. Ezekiel 40:1-16 ESV

Over the next nine chapters, Ezekiel is going to describe a vision given to him by God. The length of this vision rivals the one that the apostle John experienced and recorded in the book of Revelation. Ezekiel’s vision came not long after God’s declaration of His future plans to restore Israel to the land of Canaan and renew His covenant relationship with them. Part of that plan was to rebuild the temple and reintroduce the sacrificial system.

“…I will put my Temple among them forever. I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And when my Temple is among them forever, the nations will know that I am the Lord, who makes Israel holy.”– Ezekiel 37:26-28 NLT

Ezekiel was given a vision of that future temple in all its glory and majesty, and it would be nothing like the temple that the Babylonians had destroyed. According to Ezekiel’s dating, he was given this vision 12 years after having received news of the fall of Jerusalem and the original temple’s destruction.

In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been struck down.”– Ezekiel 33:21 ESV

Now, more than a decade later, he records, “In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me to the city” (Ezekiel 40:1 ESV).

But rather than finding the temple in a state of disrepair and decay, he sees “a structure like a city to the south” (Ezekiel 40:2 ESV). Before his eyes lay a massive complex of buildings and walls that appears more like a city than a temple. In his vision, Ezekiel receives a guided tour of the temple complex by a divine guide. And this is not the first time Ezekiel has met this individual. Back in chapter 8, he records a previous encounter with what appears to be the same “man whose appearance was like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand” (Ezekiel 40:3 ESV).

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… – Ezekiel 8:2-3 ESV

But in Ezekiel’s prior vision, what he saw taking place in the temple was disturbing and disconcerting.

“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.” – Ezekiel 8:6 ESV

In that vision, Ezekiel was given a glimpse into the temple in Jerusalem where the priests and leaders of Judah were committing idolatry and apostasy. They had denigrated the name of God by worshiping false gods in the very temple that had been dedicated to Him alone.

But that vision had taken plan two decades earlier and now the temple was a pile of rubble. Nebuchadnezzar’s forces had completely destroyed the once-glorious house built by King Solomon for the glory of God. Yet, God provided Ezekiel with a telescopic view into the distant future so that He could see a rebuilt and more magnificent temple that far exceeded Solomon’s temple in glory and grandeur. And the whole purpose for this second visit to the temple in Jerusalem was so that Ezekiel might tell his fellow exiles what he saw.

Son of man, watch and listen. Pay close attention to everything I show you. You have been brought here so I can show you many things. Then you will return to the people of Israel and tell them everything you have seen.”– Ezekiel 40:4 NLT

In interpreting the meaning behind this vision, it is important to consider the audience to whom it was given. Ezekiel is specifically told to give this message to “the people of Israel.” Some have concluded that this vision is purely spiritual in nature and is not to be taken literally. They posit that everything Ezekiel saw was predicting the coming of the church after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Therefore, the images are figurative and not literal. But this view does not explain the great details found in the vision regarding the temple’s size and structure. It is impossible to spiritualize all that Ezekiel sees.

Another view is that this vision was fulfilled when the Israelites returned to the promised land under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. But the temple they rebuilt had no resemblance to what is described in Ezekiel’s vision. And the later expansions to the temple under King Herod would still lack any similarities to what Ezekiel saw in his vision.

The most logical explanation is that Ezekiel was given a view of a literal, eschatological temple that will exist during the millennial reign of Christ. God had already promised Ezekiel that the day was coming when He would put His temple among them forever. Therefore, it cannot be a temporary structure built with human hands. It must be of a supernatural design and built to last throughout eternity.

“Why did Ezekiel take so much space to describe the millennial temple? Here are two reasons: (1) The sanctuary was the visible symbol of God’s presence among His people. The prelude to Israel’s judgment began when God’s glory departed from Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem (Ezek. 8-11). The climax to her restoration as a nation will come when God’s glory reenters the new temple in Jerusalem (43:1-5). (2) The new temple will become the visible reminder of Israel’s relationship to God through His New Covenant. Since God gave detailed instructions for building the tabernacle to accompany His inauguration of the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Ez. 25-40), it is not unusual that He would also supply detailed plans for His new center of worship to accompany the implementation of the New Covenant. This temple will be the focal point for the visible manifestation of Israel’s new relationship with her God.” – Charles H. Dyer, Ezekiel

What Ezekiel receives is a literal blueprint for the millennial temple complex. When Noah received God’s blueprint instructions for the ark, God expected him to build it. But that is not the case here. Ezekiel was not expected to use these detailed measurements to construct this future temple. That would be the work of God. But God wanted Ezekiel to be able to describe in minute detail what he saw in the vision. It would have been next to impossible for Ezekiel to put into words what he saw. And it would have been difficult for his audience to grasp the glory of this eschatological temple without the measurements to provide some idea of its scope and size. And God left nothing out.

From the height of the surrounding wall to the threshold of each gate, God provided Ezekiel with precise measurements for each part of the temple complex. Guard rooms, alcoves, courtyards,  and gateways were all included in the guided tour. And the amount of emphasis on gates and guard rooms suggests that the future temple will have restricted access. God will prevent anyone who is unclean or unworthy from entering His holy temple. It will once again be a place of righteousness where God’s presence dwells and God’s people can gather to offer their sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.

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 Reversal of Fortunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do the Right Thing

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.

“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.

10 “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ 11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?

12 “And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. 13 Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. 14 Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, 15 if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 16 None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.

17 “Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just. 18 When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. 19 And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by this. 20 Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.” Ezekiel 33:1-20 ESV

In this chapter, Ezekiel records the message he received from God concerning his ministry and mission. It seems to announce a shift in the focus of Ezekiel’s message. The earlier portions of his book contain repeated warnings of God’s pending judgment. They foreshadow the coming destruction of Judah and the fall of Jerusalem. But in chapters 32-33, Ezekiel received and delivered the news that those prophetic events had become reality. The Babylonian siege of Jerusalem had ended and the city had been destroyed.

At this point, it seems that any calls to repentance would be unnecessary. The people of Judah had failed to turn from their sins and return to the Lord, so the judgment of God had come just as He had promised. But this chapter provides the people of Judah with a much-needed reminder that God was not done with them. His judgment, while just and well-deserved, was not the final chapter in His relationship with them.

The chapter opens with a personal message from God to Ezekiel that explains his role as “a watchman for the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:7 ESV), and it is not the first time the prophet has heard these words. All the way back in chapter 3, Ezekiel recorded the original commission he received from God.

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

It is as if God is recommissioning Ezekiel. With the fall of Jerusalem, it would have been easy for Ezekiel to assume that his work was done. He had warned of Judah’s coming destruction and now it had taken place. Jerusalem had been leveled and its people taken into captivity or scattered to the four winds. There was no longer any incentive left that might provide the people with sufficient motivation to repent. But God was not done and He wanted Ezekiel to know that his mission had not ended with the fall of Jerusalem. There was more to do.

God begins by reminding Ezekiel of the watchman’s role. He describes the scene of a city facing a possible attack from enemy forces sent by His hand. With the threat of divine judgment looming, the citizens of that city would appoint an individual to serve as an early warning system. His job would be to patrol the walls and announce any signs of enemy encroachment.

In ancient days, most of the larger cities were surrounded by massive defensive walls. On those walls were posted sentries or watchmen, whose responsibility it was to watch for potential threats. Day and night, as long as they were on duty, they had to keep an eye out for possible enemy attacks. When they saw trouble on the horizon, they were to sound an alarm to let the people inside the walls know that danger was imminent and that appropriate action was needed. If the watchman did his job and the people failed to listen, he was absolved of any responsibility for their deaths. But if he saw the threat and refused to warn the people, their deaths would be on his head.

Everything in this message is a repeat of the one Ezekiel received in chapter 3. God is reiterating His call for Ezekiel to serve as the watchman for the people of Israel. While he wasn’t standing high on the wall of a city, Ezekiel was prominently placed in the middle of the exiles living in Babylon. He had a unique vantage point that allowed him to see the future and warn the people of God what was going to happen next. As has already been proven true, his warnings were not idle threats, but God-given predictions of coming disaster, and his job came with obvious dangers. The most prominent one was that if he failed to sound the alarm and warn the people, he would be held responsible for the fate of their souls. But God makes it clear that if Ezekiel continues to do his job and the people fail to listen, then he will be absolved of any responsibility. He would have done his job.

But God wants Ezekiel to know that his ministry is far from done. Though the judgment of God had come and the nation of Judah had fallen to the Babylonians, there was more for Ezekiel to do. That is why God recommissions His prophet by stating, “Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:7 NLT).

This time, God gives Ezekiel a message to deliver to the people that is much more personal than corporate. It focuses on the actions of the individual.

“If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. But if you warn them to repent and they don’t repent, they will die in their sins, but you will have saved yourself.” – Ezekiel 33:8-9 NLT

With the fall of Jerusalem, the Jews living in exile alongside Ezekiel found themselves in a state of depression and despair. They had lost hope of ever returning to their homeland and wondered what was going to happen to them. There was a palpable sense of guilt pervading the exiles as they questioned their own culpability in Judah’s fall. Were they responsible? Was God going to bring judgment on them? They had become conscious of their sins and were fearful of the possible repercussions, and God knew exactly what they were thinking.

“Son of man, give the people of Israel this message: You are saying, ‘Our sins are heavy upon us; we are wasting away! How can we survive?’ – Ezekiel 33:10 NLT

The hope of returning to Judah one day was all that had kept them going. Now that hope was gone. With their homeland in shambles, they were stuck in Babylon and facing an uncertain future. But God wanted them to know that it was not too late, and He gave Ezekiel a new message to deliver to His despondent people.

“As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?” – Ezekiel 33:11 NLT

In the next nine verses, God delivers a simple message of repentance. He calls on His people to do the right thing. Yes, they were guilty of sin and rebellion against Him, but they could reverse that trend. It was not too late.

In this passage, God is not suggesting that behavior can guarantee one’s eternal security. He is not promoting salvation by works. He is simply explaining the natural consequences of human actions. A man who lives a righteous life and yet commits a sin against God, cannot assume that his past acts of righteousness will exempt him from judgment. And an unrighteous man who decides to turn from his wicked ways must not assume that his past deeds will prevent him from enjoying God’s forgiveness.

God knew that the exiles were accusing Him of injustice. They felt as if they had been treated unfairly and that His judgment of them had been too severe. They exclaimed, “The Lord isn’t doing what’s right” (Ezekiel 33:17 NLT). But God turned the tables on them by stating, “it is they who are not doing what’s right” (Ezekiel 33:17 NLT). He was calling them to repentance and they were refusing to obey. God was looking for a change in attitude that showed up in a change of actions. He expected the righteous to continue pursuing righteousness. If they didn’t, they would face the consequences. He expected the wicked to turn back to Him in repentance. If they did, they would receive forgiveness. If they didn’t, they could expect to be judged accordingly.

And through it all, Ezekiel was expected to maintain his role as God’s watchman and messenger. He was to watch and warn. He was to continue encouraging the people to do the right thing by calling them to pursue righteousness rather than wickedness. God makes the message plain and simple.

“…when righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and turn to evil, they will die. But if wicked people turn from their wickedness and do what is just and right, they will live.” – Ezekiel 33:18-19 NLT

And God knew that the people would continue to accuse Him of being unjust and unfair, but He reminded them, “I judge each of you according to your deeds” (Ezekiel 33:20 NLT). They each had a personal responsibility to heed the warnings of the prophet and respond accordingly. God, the just and righteous one, was simply reiterating the call He had given them from the very beginning.

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. – Leviticus 19:2 ESV

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

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

And Justice For All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been struck down.” – Ezekiel 33:12 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Mighty Have Fallen

In the eleventh year, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, because Tyre said concerning Jerusalem, ‘Aha, the gate of the peoples is broken; it has swung open to me. I shall be replenished, now that she is laid waste,’ therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. She shall be in the midst of the sea a place for the spreading of nets, for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. And she shall become plunder for the nations, and her daughters on the mainland shall be killed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord.

“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a host of many soldiers. He will kill with the sword your daughters on the mainland. He will set up a siege wall against you and throw up a mound against you, and raise a roof of shields against you. He will direct the shock of his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. 10 His horses will be so many that their dust will cover you. Your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen and wagons and chariots, when he enters your gates as men enter a city that has been breached. 11 With the hoofs of his horses he will trample all your streets. He will kill your people with the sword, and your mighty pillars will fall to the ground. 12 They will plunder your riches and loot your merchandise. They will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses. Your stones and timber and soil they will cast into the midst of the waters. 13 And I will stop the music of your songs, and the sound of your lyres shall be heard no more. 14 I will make you a bare rock. You shall be a place for the spreading of nets. You shall never be rebuilt, for I am the Lord; I have spoken, declares the Lord God– Ezekiel 26:1-14 ESV

In this prophecy, God turns His attention north, focusing on the Phoenician city of Tyre, located on the northwestern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Tyre was one of the oldest cities in the near east and was a profitable trading port, using its fleet of ships to transport goods from distant ports. The prophet, Isaiah, referred to Tyre as an “exultant city whose origin is from days of old” (Isaiah 23:7 ESV).

“Tyre became an important maritime city of the ancient Near East, being involved in great commercial and colonial enterprises throughout the Mediterranean area, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean. With the rise of Assyria to power, Tyre periodically submitted to Assyria’s lordship, paying tribute out of the abundance of her wealth (as in the cases of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal). Whenever possible, however, Tyre rebelled against the Assyrian power and withstood the Assyrian retribution in the security of its island fortress (as in the case of Sennacherib). As Assyria began to decline in strength, Tyre exerted her complete independence. Tyre was in this latter condition when these oracles were delivered.” – Ralph H. Alexander, Ezekiel

God delivers this divine oracle concerning Tyre “In the eleventh year, on the first day of the month” (Ezekiel 26:1 ESV). While there is much debate as to the exact timing of this message, it would seem that it refers to a date after the fall of Jerusalem. In the New Living Translation, verse one reads: “On February 3, during the twelfth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, this message came to me from the Lord.” 

This dating places the oracle at the time when Nebuchadnezzar first entered Jerusalem and took control of the city and the nation of Judah.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and captured it, and he bound Jehoiakim in bronze chains and led him away to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also took some of the treasures from the Temple of the Lord, and he placed them in his palace in Babylon. – 2 Chronicles  36:6-7 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar replaced the deposed Jehoiakim with his son, Jehoiachin, but his reign would only last three months.

In the spring of the year King Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin to Babylon. Many treasures from the Temple of the Lord were also taken to Babylon at that time. And Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, as the next king in Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 36:10 NLT

The Phoenicians rejoiced over the Babylonian seizure of Jerusalem because they viewed Judah as a threat to their trading business. While they controlled the sea routes, the Judahites controlled the lucrative land routes to the east. With Jerusalem’s fall, they hoped to profit from Babylon’s presence in the region. And there had been no love lost between Phoenicia and Judah over the years. The prophet, Joel, accuses them of plundering Judean cities and selling off citizens of Judah as slaves.

“What do you have against me, Tyre and Sidon and you cities of Philistia? Are you trying to take revenge on me? If you are, then watch out! I will strike swiftly and pay you back for everything you have done. You have taken my silver and gold and all my precious treasures, and have carried them off to your pagan temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, so they could take them far from their homeland. – Joel 3:4-6 NLT

This love-hate relationship between Tyre and Jerusalem was not going to end well for either city. Jerusalem was already under the threat of complete annihilation by the Babylonians, but Tyre believed itself to be immune from destruction. They had weathered the earlier Assyrian onslaught that brought an end to the northern kingdom of Israel, so they assumed they would enjoy a similar fate with the Babylonian invasion. But God had other plans for the Phoenicians and their well-fortified city.

I will bring many nations against you, like the waves of the sea crashing against your shoreline. They will destroy the walls of Tyre and tear down its towers. I will scrape away its soil and make it a bare rock! – Ezekiel 26:3-4 NLT

God promised to completely eradicate this island fortress, bringing successive waves of enemies against them, all in retaliation for their unjust treatment of His chosen people.

“The siege of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar lasted for thirteen years (ca. 586-573 B.C.). Under King Ba’ali II, Tyre accepted Babylonian suzerainty and was ruled by ‘judges.’ However, when Babylonia declined in power, Tyre regained her independence once again. This brief freedom lasted till the second ‘wave’ of destruction brought her into submission to the Persians around 525 B.C. Tyre’s remaining history demonstrated the continuing ‘waves’ of conquerors: the resistance to Alexander the Great, eventuating in her collapse; her initial resistance to the Seleucid kingdom of Antiochus III, terminating in her becoming part of that kingdom; her submission to Rome; and her fall to the Saracens in the fourteenth century A.D., after which she never again regained any importance. God was faithful to bring the ‘many nations’ against Tyre in successive ‘waves’ of conquest.” – Ralph H. Alexander, Ezekiel

The prophet, Isaiah, pronounced another divine oracle against them, predicting their eventual fall from power and prominence.

Wail, you trading ships of Tarshish,
    for the harbor and houses of Tyre are gone!
The rumors you heard in Cyprus
    are all true.
Mourn in silence, you people of the coast
    and you merchants of Sidon.
Your traders crossed the sea,
   sailing over deep waters.
They brought you grain from Egypt
    and harvests from along the Nile.
You were the marketplace of the world.

But now you are put to shame, city of Sidon,
    for Tyre, the fortress of the sea, says,
“Now I am childless;
    I have no sons or daughters.”– Isaiah 23:1-4 NLT

God warns the prideful Phoenicians that their coastal fortress will suffer a similar fate as that of Jerusalem. It too will come under the relentless attack of King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces as they lay siege to its seemingly impenetrable walls.

From the north I will bring King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon against Tyre. He is king of kings and brings his horses, chariots, charioteers, and great army. First he will destroy your mainland villages. Then he will attack you by building a siege wall, constructing a ramp, and raising a roof of shields against you. He will pound your walls with battering rams and demolish your towers with sledgehammers. The hooves of his horses will choke the city with dust, and the noise of the charioteers and chariot wheels will shake your walls as they storm through your broken gates. His horsemen will trample through every street in the city. They will butcher your people, and your strong pillars will topple. – Ezekiel 26:7-11 NLT

At this point in history, Tyre consisted of two sister cities. One was on the mainland and was connected to a second city located on an island in the Mediterranean Sea. They were connected by a narrow isthmus. The Babylonian forces would destroy the mainland city,  forcing the eventual surrender of the fortified city on the island.

God warns that Tyre will experience a devastating defeat that will leave the city destroyed and demoralized, never to rise to its former prominence again. When God states, “You shall never be rebuilt” (Ezekiel 26:14 ESV), He is not predicting that Tyre will no longer exist as a city but that it will never enjoy its former glory as an influential and powerful force in the region.

This city that had once gloated over its wealth would be plundered by the Babylonians. Its riches would be hauled away in carts, never to be seen again. Its fortified walls would be torn down, with the stones thrown into the sea. The lovely homes that lined its cobbled streets would become rubble and its former inhabitants would become lifeless corpses. Their fate is sealed because the sovereign Lord has declared it.

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.

No Right to Mourn

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. 17 Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.” 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

19 And the people said to me, “Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting thus?” 20 Then I said to them, “The word of the Lord came to me: 21 ‘Say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the yearning of your soul, and your sons and your daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword. 22 And you shall do as I have done; you shall not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men. 23 Your turbans shall be on your heads and your shoes on your feet; you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another. 24 Thus shall Ezekiel be to you a sign; according to all that he has done you shall do. When this comes, then you will know that I am the Lord God.’

25 “As for you, son of man, surely on the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes and their soul’s desire, and also their sons and daughters, 26 on that day a fugitive will come to you to report to you the news. 27 On that day your mouth will be opened to the fugitive, and you shall speak and be no longer mute. So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 24:15-27 ESV

After providing Ezekiel with the parable of the boiling pot, God informs His faithful prophet of a pending personal tragedy that will become another powerful illustration to His rebellious people. With everything else going on in his life, the last thing Ezekiel expected to hear was a divine pronouncement of his wife’s imminent death. Up to this point in the narrative, there has been no mention of Ezekiel’s family, so the sudden mention of his wife’s death is unexpected. And this tragic news must have hit Ezekiel with the emotional impact of a freight train.

But the gut-wrenching news of her death was accompanied by an equally difficult command from God. Not only is Ezekiel told that his wife, his “dearest treasure,” is going to die suddenly, but he is forbidden by God to mourn or weep for her publicly.

“Son of man, realize that I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you with a jolt, but you must not mourn or weep or shed tears.” – Ezekiel 24:16 NET

Ezekiel will not be allowed to show any outward signs of mourning. The normal rituals and rites associated with the loss of a loved one will be off-limits to him. Even when well-meaning friends heard the tragic news and brought him meals, he was not allowed to eat with them. God expected Ezekiel to act as if nothing happened, putting his turban on his head, his sandals on his feet, and going about his prophetic responsibilities as usual. And Ezekiel was given little time to prepare himself for this devastating event. Within 24 hours, his wife was dead.

So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died.  – Ezekiel 24:18 ESV

When Ezekiel’s fellow exiles saw that he showed no signs of mourning over his wife’s sudden passing, they were confused and confronted him about it.

“Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting thus?” – Ezekiel 24:19 ESV

From their past experience with Ezekiel, they knew that something was up. He did nothing without a reason and seldom spoke without having a message to convey from God. So, they suspected that there was something behind his bizarre behavior, and they were right.

Ezekiel informed them that his response to his wife’s unexpected death was meant to be an example for them to follow. When the Babylonian siege ended and the city of Jerusalem fell, God was going to bring about the destruction of the temple. For the people of Judah, the temple was the symbol of their relationship with Yahweh and a constant reminder of their status as His chosen people. God describes it as “the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the yearning of your soul” (Ezekiel 24:21 ESV). They took great pride in the temple. It was a majestic structure that dominated the city’s skyline from its vantage point on Mount Moriah. It was beautiful and built to last for generations. Yet, God was about to reduce it to a pile of rubble and, when He did, they were not to mourn over its loss. They were to follow Ezekiel’s example.

“…you will do as Ezekiel has done. You will not mourn in public or console yourselves by eating the food brought by friends. Your heads will remain covered, and your sandals will not be taken off. You will not mourn or weep, but you will waste away because of your sins. You will groan among yourselves for all the evil you have done.” – Ezekiel 24:22-23 NLT

But the temple would not be the only loss they suffered. God informs them that when Jerusalem falls, many of them will suffer the loss of family members who remained behind in Judah.

“Son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold—their joy and glory, their heart’s desire, their dearest treasure—I will also take away their sons and daughters. And on that day a survivor from Jerusalem will come to you in Babylon and tell you what has happened.” – Ezekiel 24:25-26 NLT

The exiles would not escape the devastating impact of the siege and subsequent fall of Jerusalem. Like Ezekiel, they would soon receive the unexpected and unwanted news of personal tragedy and loss, and God expected them to keep their mourning to themselves. God’s prohibition against any public displays of sorrow was meant to accentuate their guilt and prevent them from portraying their loss as somehow undeserved.

“Ezekiel had a right to mourn his undeserved personal loss but did not. The Israelites had no right to mourn for their well-deserved national loss and could not . . .” – Douglas Stuart, Ezekiel

God was going to use Ezekiel’s timely personal tragedy as a vivid illustration for the people of Judah living in captivity. Their glorious temple was about to be destroyed. It was the source of their security and pride. It held a special place in their hearts and lives, even from 1600 miles away in Babylon. As long as the temple stood, they had hope because it represented the presence of God. But God was going to allow His house to be destroyed and the exiles living in Babylon, who had been taken captive years earlier, were to mourn its loss in silence.

But what are we to do we do with the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the tragic death of Ezekiel’s innocent wife? Did God cause it? Did He deliberately take this woman’s life just to make a point? To answer these uncomfortable questions one must first consider the complete character of God as unveiled in the Scriptures. Attempting to put God on trial based on a single Old Testament story is risky business. So, it is necessary to consider the full scope of God’s divine attributes when confronted with a disturbing and somewhat confusing passage like this one.

There is no doubt that God was in control of the situation. He was sovereign over every event that happened, including the death of Ezekiel’s wife. But whether God caused her death or simply allowed it is difficult to know for sure. Based on what the rest of Scripture reveals about the character of God, it seems to make the most sense that God allowed Ezekiel’s wife to die at this particular time. Due to His omniscience and foreknowledge, God was fully aware of the timing surrounding her death. He knew in advance what was already going to happen.

Had she been sick? The passage doesn’t say. Was her condition the result of disease or plague? There is no way to know. But her death was timely. It came at just the right moment and was used by God as a power and memorable illustration to His rebellious people.

It is essential that we interpret this event based on other revelations of God’s character found in the Word. The question is not whether God could have caused her death, but whether He would kill an innocent woman just to illustrate a point. Would that be consistent with His character? In his Notes on Ezekiel, Dr. Thomas Constable writes, “The text does not say that God put her to death as an object lesson. She could have been ill for some time before she died. Another similar situation involved God allowing the death of His innocent Son to occur at precisely the time God intended as another expression of His love and judgment.”

In reading the Old Testament, we must be careful to interpret what it seems to reveal about God’s character by comparing what we read with other passages and revelations about God. Otherwise, we can easily build a case that God is callous, hard, vindictive, and heartless. But even in this very difficult book, we see that God is ultimately loving, kind, patient, and forgiving. While He punishes, He also restores. While He brings well-deserved judgment, He also brings undeserved mercy and grace. He is not one-dimensional, but multi-faceted and complex. And He is always righteous and just in all His actions.

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

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

The Bloody City and the Boiling Pot

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

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

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

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

The book of 2 Kings describes what happened that day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Painful But Vital Lesson to Learn

36 The Lord said to me: “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Declare to them their abominations. 37 For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. With their idols they have committed adultery, and they have even offered up to them for food the children whom they had borne to me. 38 Moreover, this they have done to me: they have defiled my sanctuary on the same day and profaned my Sabbaths. 39 For when they had slaughtered their children in sacrifice to their idols, on the same day they came into my sanctuary to profane it. And behold, this is what they did in my house. 40 They even sent for men to come from afar, to whom a messenger was sent; and behold, they came. For them you bathed yourself, painted your eyes, and adorned yourself with ornaments. 41 You sat on a stately couch, with a table spread before it on which you had placed my incense and my oil. 42 The sound of a carefree multitude was with her; and with men of the common sort, drunkards were brought from the wilderness; and they put bracelets on the hands of the women, and beautiful crowns on their heads.

43 “Then I said of her who was worn out by adultery, ‘Now they will continue to use her for a whore, even her!’ 44 For they have gone in to her, as men go in to a prostitute. Thus they went in to Oholah and to Oholibah, lewd women! 45 But righteous men shall pass judgment on them with the sentence of adulteresses, and with the sentence of women who shed blood, because they are adulteresses, and blood is on their hands.”

46 For thus says the Lord God: “Bring up a vast host against them, and make them an object of terror and a plunder. 47 And the host shall stone them and cut them down with their swords. They shall kill their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses. 48 Thus will I put an end to lewdness in the land, that all women may take warning and not commit lewdness as you have done. 49 And they shall return your lewdness upon you, and you shall bear the penalty for your sinful idolatry, and you shall know that I am the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 23:36-49 ESV

From the moment God gave Moses His law on the top of Mount Sinai to the days before the people of Israel entered the land of Canaan, they had received repeated warnings about practicing idolatry.

“Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the Lord alone, shall be devoted to destruction. – Exodus 22:20 ESV

Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips. – Exodus 23:13 ESV

“So do not corrupt yourselves by making an idol in any form—whether of a man or a woman, an animal on the ground, a bird in the sky, a small animal that scurries along the ground, or a fish in the deepest sea. And when you look up into the sky and see the sun, moon, and stars—all the forces of heaven—don’t be seduced into worshiping them. The Lord your God gave them to all the peoples of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 4:16-19 NLT

So be careful not to break the covenant the Lord your God has made with you. Do not make idols of any shape or form, for the Lord your God has forbidden this. The Lord your God is a devouring fire; he is a jealous God.” – Deuteronomy 4:23-24 NLT

“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.

“So be careful to obey all the commands I give you. You must not add anything to them or subtract anything from them. – Deuteronomy 12:29-32 NLT

But for four chapters, God has delivered His blunt assessment of their abject failure to obey His commands. From the loftiest leader to the lowest peasant, everyone in Israel and Judah was guilty of pursuing an ever-expanding list of false gods. They had turned idolatry into a national sport where it seems everyone had become an active and eager participant.

To make matters worse, in their desperate attempt to elicit a favorable response from their newfound gods, they had embraced the reprehensible practice of child sacrifice. God’s chosen people had literally offered up their sons and daughters as atoning sacrifices to their gods of wood and stone.

They have committed adultery with their idols, and their sons, whom they bore to me, they have passed through the fire as food to their idols. – Ezekiel 23:37 NLT

But they never fully abandoned their worship of Yahweh. They simply integrated their new gods into a new syncretic religious experience that allowed them to hedge their bets and call on any and all deities who might help them succeed. Yahweh was good but not good enough. They wanted to make sure that they had all the proverbial bases covered and a full contingent of deities at their disposal.

But they had failed to remember that Yahweh is a devouring fire and a jealous God. In their zeal to become equal-opportunity idolaters, they had offended the one true God. They had the unmitigated gall to sacrifice their children to a false god and then walk into the temple and expect to receive a warm and welcoming reception from God.

“In the very same day they desecrated my sanctuary and profaned my Sabbaths. On the same day they slaughtered their sons for their idols, they came to my sanctuary to desecrate it. This is what they have done in the middle of my house. – Ezekiel 23:38-39 NLT

They saw nothing wrong with worshiping at the shrine of Molech and then waltzing into the sanctuary to give Yahweh an equal share of their affections. But in doing so, they desecrated the house of God and defamed the honor of His name. They made the name of Yahweh a laughingstock among their pagan neighbors. No other nation treated their god with such disrespect and dishonor.

By embracing the idols of the surrounding nations, both Israel and Judah had hoped to forge alliances with them. They believed the shared experience of a common religion would make it far easier to co-exist with their pagan neighbors. And God accuses both nations of selling themselves out to the highest bidder, like a common prostitute. They had no shame, offering to get in bed with anyone who might benefit them in any way. But even their “lovers” had eventually lost interest in Jerusalem and Samaria, viewing them as nothing more than “lewd women” (Ezekiel 23:44 ESV) of low morals and with no scruples. Even the godless nations will exhibit a greater degree of righteousness as they judge Israel and Judah for their unprecedented treatment of Yahweh.

So, God determines to bring this charade to an end. No longer willing to stand back and watch His chosen people denigrate and dishonor His name, God declares His intent to “put an end to the obscene conduct in the land” (Ezekiel 23:48 NLT). God had already brought judgment against the northern kingdom of Israel. Now it was time for Judah to experience the full weight of God’s wrath. One of the very pagan nations whom Judah had embraced as a lover would be used by God to deliver the knock-out blow that would bring an end to their serial infidelity. And God is brutally blunt when summarizing the outcome of His pending judgment.

“They will repay you for your obscene conduct, and you will be punished for idol worship. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 23:49 NLT

The sad result of this devastating event will be a sobering awareness that there is only one God. When the dust settles and the ruins of Jerusalem become visible for all to see, the people of Judah will finally realize that Yahweh was exactly who He had always claimed to be: ăḏōnāy yᵊhōvâ – the Sovereign Lord of all.

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

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

Destroyed By the Very Thing You Love

22 Therefore, O Oholibah, thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I will stir up against you your lovers from whom you turned in disgust, and I will bring them against you from every side: 23 the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them, desirable young men, governors and commanders all of them, officers and men of renown, all of them riding on horses. 24 And they shall come against you from the north with chariots and wagons and a host of peoples. They shall set themselves against you on every side with buckler, shield, and helmet; and I will commit the judgment to them, and they shall judge you according to their judgments. 25 And I will direct my jealousy against you, that they may deal with you in fury. They shall cut off your nose and your ears, and your survivors shall fall by the sword. They shall seize your sons and your daughters, and your survivors shall be devoured by fire. 26 They shall also strip you of your clothes and take away your beautiful jewels. 27 Thus I will put an end to your lewdness and your whoring begun in the land of Egypt, so that you shall not lift up your eyes to them or remember Egypt anymore.

28 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will deliver you into the hands of those whom you hate, into the hands of those from whom you turned in disgust, 29 and they shall deal with you in hatred and take away all the fruit of your labor and leave you naked and bare, and the nakedness of your whoring shall be uncovered. Your lewdness and your whoring 30 have brought this upon you, because you played the whore with the nations and defiled yourself with their idols. 31 You have gone the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand. 32 Thus says the Lord God:

“You shall drink your sister’s cup
    that is deep and large;
you shall be laughed at and held in derision,
    for it contains much;
33 you will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow.
A cup of horror and desolation,
    the cup of your sister Samaria;
34 you shall drink it and drain it out,
    and gnaw its shards,
    and tear your breasts;

for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. 35 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you yourself must bear the consequences of your lewdness and whoring.” – Ezekiel 23:22-35 ESV

Both Israel and Judah had developed the habit of reaching out to foreign powers when they found themselves in need of military assistance. Rather than relying upon their omnipotent God, they sought aid from the superpowers of their day. Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon were three of the most powerful nations on earth at the time and each of them lusted after the land of Canaan, viewing it as prime real estate to add to their growing empires.

God uses sardonic imagery to describe the southern kingdom of Judah as a love-struck woman fawning over the glamour shots of the handsome Babylonian soldiers in their impressive military uniforms.

“She saw men carved on the wall, images of the Chaldeans carved in bright red,  wearing belts on their waists and flowing turbans on their heads, all of them looking like officers, the image of Babylonians whose native land is Chaldea. When she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. The Babylonians crawled into bed with her. They defiled her with their lust…” – Ezekiel 23:14-17 NLT

While God portrays Judah as a love-struck, starry-eyed woman with lust on her mind, His assessment of the southern kingdom was spot-on. There had been a time when King Ahaz of Judah had reached out to the Assyrians in hopes that they could assist him in his ongoing conflict with the northern kingdom of Israel.

King Ahaz sent messengers to King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria with this message: “I am your servant and your vassal. Come up and rescue me from the attacking armies of Aram and Israel.” Then Ahaz took the silver and gold from the Temple of the Lord and the palace treasury and sent it as a payment to the Assyrian king. – 2 Kings 16:7-8 NLT

Both Judah and Israel were guilty of viewing these foreign powers as their preferred source of salvation. But God had used the prophet, Jeremiah, to remind them that these “love affairs” rarely produced the outcome they desired.

“What have you gained by your alliances with Egypt
    and your covenants with Assyria?
What good to you are the streams of the Nile
    or the waters of the Euphrates River? – Jeremiah 2:18 NLT

Yet, they never seemed to learn from their mistakes. They would get in bed with these attractive-looking saviors, only to find out that their desires were driven by lust and not love.

“…after she was defiled by them, she became disgusted with them. When she lustfully exposed her nakedness, I was disgusted with her, just as I had been disgusted with her sister.” – Ezekiel 23:17-18 NLT

Once the thrill of the hunt was over, the attraction was quickly replaced by loathing. Regret would eventually set in, but it never seemed to diminish Judah’s lustful quest for power and protection from outside sources. So, God warns them that He is going to use their former lovers to destroy them.

“I am about to stir up against you the lovers with whom you were disgusted; I will bring them against you from every side: the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod, Shoa, and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them, desirable young men, all of them governors and officials, officers and nobles, all of them riding on horses.” – Ezekiel 23:22-23 NLT

At the time Ezekiel penned these words, the Assyrians had been subsumed by the more powerful Babylonian empire. Pekod, Shoa, and Koa are references to tribes that lived in what was formerly Assyrian territory but were now part of the rapidly expanding Babylonian empire. By this time, the northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians, and God is warning the rebellious northern kingdom of Judah that they are about to feel the full weight of His wrath in the form of the Babylonians.

“They will attack you with weapons, chariots, wagons, and with a huge army; they will array themselves against you on every side with large shields, small shields, and helmets. I will assign them the task of judgment; they will punish you according to their laws.” – Ezekiel 23:24 NLT

And God makes it clear that all of this will be His doing.

I will direct my jealous anger against you, and they will deal with you in rage. – Ezekiel 23:25 NLT

The Babylonians will become His instrument of judgment. The very nation that Judah turned to for hope and help would become their destroyer. Their former lover would turn on them and become their executioner. And the destruction would be devastating. God describes Judah as being defaced and deformed, having its former symbols of beauty and vitality violently marred.

They will strip your clothes off you and take away your beautiful jewelry. – Ezekiel 23:26 NLT

And the book of 2 Kings describes exactly what happened when that fateful day finally arrived.

As the Lord had said beforehand, Nebuchadnezzar carried away all the treasures from the Lord’s Temple and the royal palace. He stripped away all the gold objects that King Solomon of Israel had placed in the Temple. King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land. – 2 Kings 24:13-14 NLT

In this chapter, God has repeatedly referred to Judah by the name Oholibah, which means “my tent is in her.” The coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians was going to leave God’s “tent” or temple completely destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar’s forces would tear it down stone by stone, leveling this once-magnificent edifice to rubble and leaving its former beauty unrecognizable.

On August 14 of that year, which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard and an official of the Babylonian king, arrived in Jerusalem. He burned down the Temple of the Lord, the royal palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the important buildings in the city. Then he supervised the entire Babylonian army as they tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. Then Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, took as exiles the rest of the people who remained in the city, the defectors who had declared their allegiance to the king of Babylon, and the rest of the population. But the captain of the guard allowed some of the poorest people to stay behind to care for the vineyards and fields. – 2 Kings 25:8-12 NLT

The people of Judah thought the temple was their get-out-of-jail-free card. They truly believed it gave them carte blanche and allowed them to do as they pleased. The prophet Jeremiah accused them of boldly proclaiming, “The LORD’s Temple is here! The LORD’s Temple is here!” (Jeremiah 7:4 NLT). It was their ultimate security blanket. Yet, God had repeatedly warned them that the temple would not and could not save them.

“Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, ‘We are safe!’—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the LORD, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 7:8-11 NLT

And the day would come when God’s warnings came to fruition. He would bring about the destruction of the house that bore His name, and He would destroy the very people who had repeatedly defamed His name before the nations.

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

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