Lord of All

17 In the twenty-seventh year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army labor hard against Tyre. Every head was made bald, and every shoulder was rubbed bare, yet neither he nor his army got anything from Tyre to pay for the labor that he had performed against her. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it; and it shall be the wages for his army. 20 I have given him the land of Egypt as his payment for which he labored, because they worked for me, declares the Lord God.

21 “On that day I will cause a horn to spring up for the house of Israel, and I will open your lips among them. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 29:17-21 ESV

Some 17 years later, Ezekiel received yet another oracle from God concerning Egypt, and this one came sometime around his 50th birthday. The prophet placed it immediately after the prior message to identify Babylon as the source of Egypt’s fall. King Nebuchadnezzar would be the one wielding the sword against Pharaoh and his people. The same nation that brought about the end of Judah and Tyre would sweep down on the unsuspecting citizens of Egypt, “and the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste” (Ezekiel 29:9 ESV).

The amazing thing about this passage is its insistence that Nebuchadnezzar acted as an agent of God Almighty. He was an instrument in the hands of God, carrying out the divine will exactly as God had intended. Unknowingly serving as God’s instrument of judgment, Nebuchadnezzar would lay siege to Tyre for 13 long years, forcing his army to endure a lengthy and costly campaign that resulted in little benefit.

“Son of man, the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon fought so hard against Tyre that the warriors’ heads were rubbed bare and their shoulders were raw and blistered. Yet Nebuchadnezzar and his army won no plunder to compensate them for all their work.” – Ezekiel 29:18 NLT

This kind of expenditure against a relatively small coastal city made no sense for a global juggernaut like Babylon. It had little to gain from pouring such much time and resources into a single campaign against a city-state that posed little threat to its empire. But Nebuchadnezzar was doing God’s bidding. He was serving as God’s agent of wrath against Tyre, and he would perform the same role against Egypt.

In fact, God makes it clear that the Egyptian campaign would be a form of payback for Nebuchadnezzar’s losses suffered at Tyre.

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He will carry off its wealth, plundering everything it has so he can pay his army.” – Ezekiel 29:19 NLT

The wealth of Egypt made that of Tyre pale by comparison. Nebuchadnezzar’s plunder of the vast Egyptian empire would more than compensate for any losses he suffered in his capture of Tyre.

In ancient days, plunder was one of the primary sources of payment for a nation’s armed forces. A soldier’s base salary was relatively small but the appeal of military service was in the sense of adventure it provided and the potential windfall of booty a successful campaign might bring. The conquest of a wealthy city could result in a sizeable bonus for the average footsoldier. Part of the incentive for defeating their enemies was the right to ransack and loot at will. Victorious soldiers were free to take whatever riches they could carry off as plunder, and the cities and towns of Egypt would prove to be a boon for the Babylonian forces.

“The scant historical data indicates that Egypt and Tyre became allies under Pharaoh Hophra (Apries). The extended siege of Tyre was perhaps due to the aid Tyre received from the Egyptians. In such an act Hophra was going contrary to God’s purposes. Not only was the siege prolonged by Egyptian support, but some also surmise that Egypt’s maritime aid enabled Tyre to send away her wealth for security during the siege. When Tyre surrendered about 573 B.C. . . ., Babylonia gained almost no spoils from the long siege.” – Ralph H. Alexander, Ezekiel

God rewarded Nebuchadnezzar for services rendered. This pagan king and his army would receive ample compensation for their role in the defeat of Tyre and it would come in the form of a successful military campaign against one of the greatest nations on earth at that time: Egypt.

This stunning victory against a perennial powerhouse in the region would be directly attributable to God, and this insight was meant to bring a sense of joy and hope to the exiled people of Judah.

“I have given him the land of Egypt as a reward for his work, says the Sovereign Lord, because he was working for me when he destroyed Tyre.” – Ezekiel 29:20 NLT

As the Jewish refugees living in Babylon heard this oracle from the lips of Ezekiel, they couldn’t help but recall the long and storied history of Israel’s relationship with Egypt. Their ancestors had lived as exiles in the land of the Pharaohs for more than 400 years. In the land of the pyramids and sphinxes, the descendants of Jacob had labored as slaves, building the very edifices that made Egypt the envy of the world (Exodus 1:8-14). They had heard the stories of how the Pharaoh had ordered the enslavement of their forefathers and foremothers. They knew the chilling details concerning the royal edict that ordered the infanticide of all the male children born to the Israelites (Exodus 1:15-22). The stories of Pharoah’s repeated refusals to allow Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt would have been seared into their collective conscience. The people of Judah had no reason to love the Egyptians, so the report of their demise at the hands of the Babylonians should have come as welcome news to the exiles. Any time an oppressor nation got a taste of its own medicine was music to the ears of all those who had suffered at their hand.

And to add a further ray of hope to the exiles’ dark and difficult existence, God informs them that the day is coming when they will experience His undeserved grace and mercy as He restores them to their former glory as a nation.

“And the day will come when I will cause the ancient glory of Israel to revive, and then, Ezekiel, your words will be respected. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 29:21 NLT

God had predicted the falls of Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, and now, Egypt. The nations would fall like dominoes under the divinely ordained hand of King Nebuchadnezzar. Even Judah would succumb to Babylon’s insatiable and unstoppable quest to expand its empire and secure its place as the world’s most powerful nation.

But the Babylonians wold prove to be just another pawn in God’s strategic unveiling of His sovereign will for mankind. And while Babylon would enjoy its moment in the sunlight, it would prove to be shortlived. God’s real interest was in the well-being of His chosen people, and back in chapter 28, He revealed His intentions to restore them to the land He had given them.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: The people of Israel will again live in their own land, the land I gave my servant Jacob. For I will gather them from the distant lands where I have scattered them. I will reveal to the nations of the world my holiness among my people. – Ezekiel 28:25 NLT

God exists outside of time. He is transcendent and all-knowing, possessing the unique ability to see past, present, and future all at the same time. Time means nothing to Him. As the eternal God, a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8). For the exiles, their stay in Babylon seemed endless and hopeless. They couldn’t see past the next morning. And all this news of Judah’s destruction just seemed to make matters worse. But God was letting them know that He had plans and was working those plans to perfection. He was in control of all things, including their future. The nations were under His rule and operated according to His sovereign will. Their rise and fall were His doing. Their victories and defeats were ordained from His throne room in heaven. And the exiles living in Judah needed to understand that their God was more powerful than their captor. Their circumstance was not a sign of God’s demise. The news of Jerusalem’s pending fall was not to be read as His abandonment of them. He was still on His throne and fully in control of all things at all times. And the day was coming when they would know that He is and will always be the Lord.

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

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

He Is God, And Not A Man.

They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels. My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all.

How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord. Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One. – Hosea 11:5-12 ESV

God’s judgment was coming. It was unavoidable and would be highly deserved. The people of Israel had earned His wrath because they had spurned His love and responded to His many blessings with unfaithfulness. Rather than obeying God and taking seriously the calls of His many prophets to repent, they had chosen to follow their own counsel. They had listened to false prophets and immoral priests. They had sought false gods and pursued the protection of pagan allies. God accused them, saying, “My people are bent on turning away from me” (Hosea 11:7 ESV). And generations earlier, God had warned them what would happen if they failed to remain faithful.

After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time—if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God and arousing his anger, I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. – Deuteronomy 4:25-28 NLT

What God had so clearly warned would happen was about to take place just as He had said. The Assyrians were going to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel and take its inhabitants captive. There they would get their fill of man-made gods and discover the sad reality of life without the one true God.

There is no doubt that God was angry with the people of Israel. But like a father who grieves to see his child rebel against him and suffer the consequences, God did not enjoy the prospect of bringing judgment on His chosen people. He lovingly asks, “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah or demolish you like Zeboiim?” (Hosea 11:8 NLT). Punishing His children was not easy for Him to do. And sometimes we neglect to realize that even God’s discipline is always done in love. Yes, He was being true to His nature as a holy and righteous God. He was obligated to punish sin and deal justly with their rebellion. But He did not do so with joy. He didn’t relish the thought of bringing judgment against His people. Because He loved them. And Moses had told the people long before they had entered the land of promise:

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath. – Deuteronomy 4:29-31 NLT

God is merciful. He is faithful. He would not abandon His people completely. He would not forget the covenant He had made with Abraham. He would remain faithful in spite of their unfaithfulness. Yes, He would punish them and fulfill His promise to bring judgment on them for their unfaithfulness, but He would also one day restore them. And He made an important and often overlooked distinction, saying, “I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hosea 11:9 ESV). Even the misguided prophet, Balaam, understood the incomparable nature of God. “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Numbers 23:19 NLT). It was the prophet Samuel who said, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29 NLT).

God would keep His word to bring punishment on the people of Israel. But He would also keep the covenants He had made with Abraham and David. God would not completely abandon His people. They would one day be restored to the land. A descendant of David would one day sit on the throne in Jerusalem and reign over a restored and reunified nation of Israel. God assured His people, “For someday the people will follow me. I, the Lord, will roar like a lion. And when I roar, my people will return trembling from the west. Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt. Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria. And I will bring them home again” (Hosea 11:10-11 NLT).

The day is coming when God will redeem and restore His chosen people, the nation of Israel. When Christ returns to set up His kingdom on earth, God will fulfill His promises to His people. The prophet Isaiah tells us about that day:

He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish, and Judah’s enemies will be destroyed; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim. – Isaiah 11:12-13 NLT

Our God is faithful, loving, merciful and gracious. He is trustworthy and always reliable. He is not a man. He doesn’t lie. He never fails to keep His promises. And while circumstances may seem to indicate that He has abandoned us, His character assures us that He is always there and that He cares. He is in control. He has a plan.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

Romans 11:1-24

The Faithful God of Israel.

Romans 11:1-24

You, by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into his cultivated tree, he will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong. – Romans 11:24 NLT

When reading the book of Romans, especially chapters nine through 11, it is easy to make it all about Jew and Gentile. God, it appears, has rejected one and received the other. But while Paul talks a great deal about these two specific people groups, the real hero of the story is God Himself. Paul has emphasized over and over again the sovereignty and grace of God. He has highlighted God’s undeserved grace and mercy, and made clear the fact that no one, either Jew or Gentile, can earn a right relationship with God. Whether speaking of the nation of Israel or the Gentile nations, it is God who calls, chooses, redeems, restores, and even rejects. But Paul makes it clear that God has NOT rejected the people of Israel. “I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1 NLT). Paul himself was a Jew and he most certainly had not been rejected by God. He had been chosen by God and had had a life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ. He was a living example of the fact that God had not completely rejected the people of Israel. Paul reminds his readers that God has been carefully and faithfully sparing a remnant of His chosen people for generations. “…a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace — his undeserved kindness in choosing them. And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is — free and undeserved” (Romans 11:5-6 NLT). As it was with the Gentiles, so it would be with the Jews. A right relationship with God was to be solely based on grace, not works or effort. No one was going to earn their way into good favor with God, not even the people of God, the Jews.

As a result, a majority of the Jews had failed to be restored to God. Unwilling to believe that salvation was available through the death of a single man, they continued to pursue a right relationship with God through attempting to keep the law – a pursuit that Paul considered foolish and impossible. But Paul explains that the rebellion of the people of Israel and their rejection of God had a divine purpose. “Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have — the ones God has chosen — but the hearts of the rest were hardened. As the Scriptures say, ‘God has put them into a deep sleep. To this day he has shut their eyes so they do not see, and closed their ears so they do not hear'” (Romans 11:7-8 NLT). According to Paul, this was all God’s doing. But why? What was His purpose in hardening their hearts, shutting their eyes, and closing their ears? “God made salvation available to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:11 NLT). That was the purpose. Their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah and Savior opened the doors to the Gentiles. This had always been part of God’s plan. Even long before the moment God made His promise to Abraham to bless all the nations of the earth through him, He had planned make His grace and the gift of His Son available to all nations. And He would use the rejection of Jesus by the Jews as a springboard to for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the nations. Jesus, a Jew, would be the Savior of all the nations, not just His own people. And yet, God did not completely abandon the people of Israel. As Paul writes, they had not fallen beyond recovery. Their disobedience made salvation available to the Gentiles. But the day is coming when many of Paul’s Jewish brothers and sisters will turn to Christ. “For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead!” (Romans 11:15 NLT). Why? Because of the faithfulness and mercy of God. He is not done with the people of Israel. He will spare and restore a remnant of the Jewish people, using the Gentiles as a means to create jealousy among them. In all of this, Paul can see the divine hand of God, working behind the scenes in ways we can’t understand. God chose to make the Israelites a special people in His eyes. He raised up the Savior from among them, but they ended up rejecting Him. But their rejection of the Messiah made possible the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles. And the blessings of God upon the Gentiles who received Christ as their Savior would be the impetus behind the future salvation of many Jews. And the day is coming when the salvation of the Jews will lead to even more Gentiles coming to faith in Christ. This whole section is really about the faithfulness and sovereignty of God. It is about His divine plan for mankind and how He intends to fulfill that plan and keep His promises to both the Jews and the Gentiles.

We cannot fully understand the ways of God. But it is dangerous for us to question His methods or means. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have no right to doubt His plan or purposes. He knows what He is doing. We can trust that He will do what He has promised and complete what He has begun. We have a limited, short-term perspective. He is eternal and has a long-term view that knows how all this works out in the end. There is a method to God’s seeming madness. He is purposeful and faithful. He is righteous and just. His ways are not our ways. His wisdom is beyond our understanding. But we can rest in the fact that God has everything under control and nothing can prevent His sovereign plan from one day coming to complete and perfect fruition.

Father, You are in control. You are sovereign and have all things held firmly in Your hands. That includes my future and the future of the people of Israel. You are faithful and always keep Your promises. You never go back on Your word or fail to do what You have said You will do. Thank You for allowing me to be a part of Your plan. Not because I deserved it, but because of Your grace and mercy. Thank You that You are going to one day restore the people of Israel. You are not done yet. Your work is not complete. But one day it will be. And I rest in the assurance that You are in complete control, whether I can see it or sense it. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men