Divine Payback

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against Mount Seir, and prophesy against it, and say to it, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, Mount Seir, and I will stretch out my hand against you, and I will make you a desolation and a waste. I will lay your cities waste, and you shall become a desolation, and you shall know that I am the Lord. Because you cherished perpetual enmity and gave over the people of Israel to the power of the sword at the time of their calamity, at the time of their final punishment, therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, I will prepare you for blood, and blood shall pursue you; because you did not hate bloodshed, therefore blood shall pursue you. I will make Mount Seir a waste and a desolation, and I will cut off from it all who come and go. And I will fill its mountains with the slain. On your hills and in your valleys and in all your ravines those slain with the sword shall fall. I will make you a perpetual desolation, and your cities shall not be inhabited. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

10 “Because you said, ‘These two nations and these two countries shall be mine, and we will take possession of them’—although the Lord was there— 11 therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, I will deal with you according to the anger and envy that you showed because of your hatred against them. And I will make myself known among them, when I judge you. 12 And you shall know that I am the Lord.

“I have heard all the revilings that you uttered against the mountains of Israel, saying, ‘They are laid desolate; they are given us to devour.’ 13 And you magnified yourselves against me with your mouth, and multiplied your words against me; I heard it. 14 Thus says the Lord God: While the whole earth rejoices, I will make you desolate. 15 As you rejoiced over the inheritance of the house of Israel, because it was desolate, so I will deal with you; you shall be desolate, Mount Seir, and all Edom, all of it. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 35:1-15 ESV

In the last chapter, God delivered the good news regarding Israel’s eventual restoration to the land of Canaan. He announced that in the distant future, He will return His people to their former land where will enjoy the blessings of His presence and His gracious provision for all their needs. This as-yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecy includes their reoccupation of the northern kingdom of Israel as well as the southern kingdom of Judah. But God will not stop there. He intends to expand the land of promise back to the original boundaries He had promised to Abraham and had articulated to Moses as the people prepared to conquer Canaan.

“I will send terror ahead of you to drive out the Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites. But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals would multiply and threaten you. I will drive them out a little at a time until your population has increased enough to take possession of the land. And I will fix your boundaries from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the eastern wilderness to the Euphrates River. I will hand over to you the people now living in the land, and you will drive them out ahead of you.” – Exodus 23:28-31 NLT

But when the people were preparing to enter the land for the very first time, God gave them strict instructions to not take any land from the Edomites, who were the direct descendants of Esau, the son of Isaac and the twin brother of Jacob.

Give these orders to the people: “You will pass through the country belonging to your relatives the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. The Edomites will feel threatened, so be careful. Do not bother them, for I have given them all the hill country around Mount Seir as their property, and I will not give you even one square foot of their land. – Deuteronomy 2:4-5 NLT

But now, centuries later, as God delivers His news of future restoration, He informs Ezekiel that the rules of the game will be drastically different. He gives Ezekiel a message to deliver to Mount Seir, but the recipient is really the Edomites, the people who occupied the land of Seir.

While God had chosen Isaac’s son, Jacob over his brother Esau to be the son of the promise, God had awarded Esau’s descendants the land of Seir as their homeland.

He had done the same for the descendants of Esau who lived in Seir, for he destroyed the Horites so they could settle there in their place. The descendants of Esau live there to this day. – Deuteronomy 2:22 NLT

All during the reigns of David and Solomon, the Edomites had occupied the land of Seir. This region just south and east of the Dead Sea remained under Edomite control even after God had divided Israel into two kingdoms. And during the Babylonian occupation of Judah and while Ezekiel and his fellow Jews lived in exile in Babylon, the Edomites maintained their control of the land.

Over the centuries, the descendants of Jacob and the descendants of Esau had endured an ongoing love-hate relationship. They were like the Hatfields and McCoys, blood relatives who just couldn’t get along, and this fraternal conflict was predicted by God even before the two patriarchs of these people groups were born. While Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, was carrying Jacob and Esau in her womb, God informed her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son” (Genesis 25:23 NLT).

This conflict that began in the womb continued after the birth of the two boys and expanded into an internecine battle between their descendants. Bad blood existed between the Israelites and Edomites for generations, and even when the nation of Judah was under attack by the Babylonians, the Edomites would take advantage of Judah’s vulnerable state by conducting raids against their towns and villages. So, there was no love loss between the two nations.

But for God to fulfill His promise of future restoration as outlined in chapter 34, He reveals that even the Edomites will have to relinquish their land. It belonged to His chosen people, the descendants of Jacob. So, He gives Ezekiel as far-from-promising message for the Edomites.

“I am your enemy, O Mount Seir,
    and I will raise my fist against you
    to destroy you completely.
I will demolish your cities
    and make you desolate.
Then you will know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 35:3-4 NLT

They had aligned themselves against God’s chosen people and now they would pay the price for their misguided decision. From God’s perspective, the Edomites were guilty of piling on. While He was bringing judgment against His chosen people, the descendants of Esau decided to exploit the situation for their own advantage.

“Your eternal hatred for the people of Israel led you to butcher them when they were helpless, when I had already punished them for all their sins. – Ezekiel 35:5 NLT

God had not ordered them to do this. It was not part of His disciplinary protocol for the rebellious people of Judah. The Edomites had acted on their own accord and sought to enrich themselves at Judah’s expense. And the day was coming when they would be held accountable for their mistake. The land God had graciously given them would be taken away and awarded to the people of Israel.

Their real crime was their open disdain for God. As the descendants of Abraham and Isaac, they should have understood the sovereignty and power of Yahweh. They should have had an awe and respect for Him but, instead, they flaunted their will right in His face. They arrogantly declared, “The lands of Israel and Judah will be ours. We will take possession of them. What do we care that the Lord is there!” (Ezekiel 35:10 NLT). And God states that their hubris will be their undoing.

I will make myself known to Israel by what I do to you.” – Ezekiel 35:11 NLT

Some day in the future, the descendants of Jacob will recognize the greatness of God when they watch Him destroy the Edomites and make the land of Seir part of the inheritance of Israel. At this point in human history, the nation of Edom no longer exists. They would eventually fall to the Babylonians, then to the Medo-Persians, and, ultimately to the Hasmoneans in 126 B.C.

But to date, the land of Edom remains outside of Israel’s control. It is not currently a part of the modern state of Israel but lies within the borders of southwestern Jordan, located between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. But God is not done yet. His plan is far from finished and His promise to restore His people to the land will one day be accomplished. Their enemies will be defeated. The land will become theirs, “from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the eastern wilderness to the Euphrates River” (Exodus 23:31 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.

I Am the Lord Their God with Them

25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. 26 And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. 27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. 29 And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. 30 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. 31 And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 34:25-31 ESV

Despite the absence of godly leadership that led to a centuries-long pattern of sin, God had not given up on His rebellious people. Their lack of faithfulness had not diminished His unwavering commitment to His covenant. Early on in this book, Ezekiel recorded Yahweh’s promise to keep His covenant promises.

“I will give you what you deserve, for you have taken your solemn vows lightly by breaking your covenant. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” – Ezekiel 16:59-60 NLT

Their failure to hold up their end of the covenant commitment would not deter God from fulfilling His promises. He would do all that He said He would do. That included their judgment, in the form of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, as well as their future restoration. There would be many dark days in the wake of Judah’s fall, but they would be followed by a glorious and bright future.

As Ezekiel addressed the Jews living in forced exile in Babylon, he was dealing with a doubly defeated audience. They had already experienced the pain and degradation of captivity and had lived for years as refugees in a foreign land. But they managed to endure their humiliating circumstances by dreaming of a day when they would return to the land of Canaan. So, when they received the latest news that Jerusalem had fallen and the temple had been destroyed, they were left in a state of abject despair. All was lost. They had no king, no country, no temple, and, therefore, no hope. Yet, God wanted them to know that He was still in control and had great plans for their future. And He will reiterate that plan repeatedly.

“I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will give them their land and increase their numbers, and 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. – Ezekiel 37:26-27 NLT

Imagine the impact of those words on a people who had just learned that their beloved temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians. They were still reeling from the news that their homeland was now a vassal state of a foreign power and their capital city lie in ruins. The news that God was going to return them to their land and restore their temple would have been music to their ears. And almost as if to silence any doubts they may still have harbored, God stated His intentions yet again.

“I will end the captivity of my people; I will have mercy on all Israel, for I jealously guard my holy reputation! They will accept responsibility for their past shame and unfaithfulness after they come home to live in peace in their own land, with no one to bother them. When I bring them home from the lands of their enemies, I will display my holiness among them for all the nations to see.” – Ezekiel 39:25-27 NLT

To a captive people who hailed from a now-defeated country, this was almost too good to be true. The thought of ever returning to the land would have seemed impossible to them. Even if they could return, how would they ever survive in such abysmal conditions? Yet, God was promising their return to a land of peace and plenty. In the place of the demolished temple, there would stand a glorious new temple. Rather than living as the underlings of the Babylonian king, they would serve the King of kings, Jehovah Himself.

But this divine promise of a bright future has yet to be fulfilled. While a remnant of the Babylonian captives eventually returned to the land of Judah, they did not find it in the glorious state that God described. Some 70 years after the first wave of Jewish citizens arrived in Babylon as captives, Nehemiah would lead a small contingent of Jews back to the land of Judah, arriving sometime in the year 445 B.C. And what they found was far from idyllic or encouraging.

After dark I went out through the Valley Gate, past the Jackal’s Well, and over to the Dung Gate to inspect the broken walls and burned gates. Then I went to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but my donkey couldn’t get through the rubble. So, though it was still dark, I went up the Kidron Valley instead, inspecting the wall before I turned back and entered again at the Valley Gate. – Nehemiah 2:13-15 NLT

Nehemiah was appalled by what he saw. Yes, he had returned to the land but he did not find a restored Jerusalem and a rebuilt temple. After his inspection, he reported his findings to the Jewish leaders.

“You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!” – Nehemiah 2:17 NLT

Thanks to Nehemiah’s organizational skills and the hard work of the people, the walls of the city were eventually restored, the gates rehung, and the temple rebuilt. But when the dust settled, Jerusalem was just a shadow of its former glory. And over the centuries, Judah would never regain its former status as a powerful nation-state. It would remain under the heavy hand of foreign powers, all the way up to the coming of Christ when the Romans ruled over the land of Palestine.

But regardless of Israel’s current conditions, these promises of God remain. Nothing has changed. His commitment to their future restoration has not expired or been abrogated. God speaks of a time when their chains will be removed and their fortunes reversed. The land will provide for all their needs. They will enjoy peace and prosperity.

They will live in safety, and no one will frighten them. – Ezekiel 34:28 NLT

They will suffer no more famines or foreign invasions. Instead, they will enjoy the permanent presence of God in their midst. And with God living amongst them, they will receive a new capacity to serve and worship Him alone.

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” – Jeremiah 31:33-34 NLT

This unprecedented day lies somewhere in the future. It has yet to occur but comes with a divine guarantee of fulfillment. God has promised it and, therefore, it is as good as done.

The book of Isaiah also speaks of this future day, adding the important aspect of an heir of King David who will come to sit on the royal throne in Jerusalem.

In that day the heir to David’s throne
    will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
    and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.
In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time
    to bring back the remnant of his people—
those who remain in Assyria and northern Egypt;
    in southern Egypt, Ethiopia, and Elam;
    in Babylonia, Hamath, and all the distant coastlands.
He will raise a flag among the nations
    and assemble the exiles of Israel.
He will gather the scattered people of Judah
    from the ends of the earth. – Isaiah 11:10-12 NLT

This heir is none other than Jesus Christ himself.  After His second coming, He will ascend to the throne and rule for a thousand years in the city of David. The end of His millennial reign will usher in the eternal state as He completes God’s plans for man’s redemption and the renewal of all creation. The victorious Christ will willingly relinquish His authority in an act of reverence to His Heavenly Father.

After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere. – 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 NLT

In that Millennial Kingdom, Jesus, the son of David, will rule over the restored people of Israel in a revitalized land. He will reign in righteousness and usher in a time of peace and prosperity. Many of the promises found in the book of Ezekiel will be fulfilled at that time. But even that will not be the end. There will be yet another phase to God’s grand redemptive plan that includes a new heaven and a new earth. At the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ, Satan will be defeated and the eternal state will begin, and its arrival will be marked by the New Jerusalem. The apostle John described this epic event in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”  – Revelation 21:1-4 NLT

God will be with them. The same God who founded them as a nation, set them apart as His own, and eventually punished them for their sins, would restore them to their former place at His side. The covenant-making God would prove Himself to be the covenant-keeping God.

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

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

You Won’t, But I Will

11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken. Ezekiel 34:11-24 ESV

God has leveled His indictment against the leaders of Judah. From the priests and prophets to the king and his court, they all stand before God guilty of malfeasance. Not only have they neglected their God-ordained duties, but they have used their roles for personal profit and self-advancement. Personally responsible for the physical and spiritual well-being of God’s flock, these men had left the people of Judah in a weakened and vulnerable state. God describes them as scattered and defenseless. And, repeatedly, God accuses His undershepherds of failing to do anything about it.

“…my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them. – Ezekiel 34:5-6 NLT

“…you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost.” – Ezekiel 34:8 NLT

These men were guilty of abandonment and neglect. They were so self-absorbed with their own well-being that they failed to provide for the ones under their care. And because of their poor job performance, God declares the prophets, priests, and king to be His enemies.

I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

And God emphatically declares His intentions to step in and rectify the problem these men have created.

I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

Four times in verse 10, God states, “I will.” He will not stand back and watch this travesty of leadership any longer. He will get involved intimately and personally. He offers His personal promise to do what the shepherds should have been doing all along.

In the next 14 verses of Ezekiel 34, God continues to use that same phrase, stating 21 more times that He is about to engage His divine powers on behalf of his neglected and disenfranchised sheep.

His use of the sheep metaphor is quite telling. Sheep are not the brightest of animals. They have a herd mentality and rarely think for themselves. They tend to wander, are virtually defenseless, susceptible to disease, easily frightened, injury-prone, and without proper care, can become filthy, matted, and insect-infested. That’s why they need a shepherd.

Throughout the Old Testament, God refers to His people as sheep and their leaders as shepherds. God appoints leaders to shepherd His flock. He expects them to care for and protect His people. But instead, they tended to fend for themselves and take advantage of the people, leading them into sin and causing them to stumble spiritually. Their lousy leadership was devastating to the nation, and it is chronicled in sordid detail in the history of Israel’s kings. Far too many of them proved to be godless men who led the people astray and caused them to seek sustenance and safety from false gods.

Even the spiritual leaders proved to be more harmful than helpful to the well-being of the people. And God was going to hold them all accountable. Ezekiel 34 is God’s indictment against the shepherds of Israel who had failed to do their jobs. He tells them, “You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty” (Ezekiel 34:4 NLT).

They had failed to do their job. They had left the sheep defenseless and helpless. So, God said He would step in and do what the shepherds had failed to do. Over and over again He says, “I will…” He will search, rescue, feed, care for, tend, bandage, judge, and set over them a true shepherd who will care for them properly.

At the point Ezekiel penned these words from God, the northern kingdom of Israel had been non-existent for hundreds of years. It had fallen to the Assyrians centuries earlier. And, just recently, the southern kingdom of Judah had fallen to the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar and his forces had ended their long siege of Jerusalem by breaking through the walls and completely destroying the capital city of Judah. The temple was demolished, the city looted, and the people were taken back to Babylon as captives. Those who didn’t end up as slaves fled for their lives. That is why God describes them as scattered and wandering “through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth” (Ezekiel 34:8 NLT).

But repeatedly declares that He is ready, willing, and able to do something about their plight. In the final verse of this chapter, God emphatically states His relationship with His sheep.

“You are my flock, the sheep of my pasture. You are my people, and I am your God.” – Ezekiel 43:31 NLT

The psalmists understood this unique relationship between God and His people.

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock. – Psalm 80:1 NLT

Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. – Psalm 100:3 NLT

And as their shepherd, God promises to do what all good shepherds do: Care for His flock. They had been scattered to the four winds, but He would search for them until He found them. Then He would oversee their return to the land of promise where they will enjoy peace and prosperity once again.

Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. – Ezekiel 34:14-15 NLT

God is promising a future day when His scattered, skittish, and scarred sheep will find themselves living in the rich pasturelands of Canaan again. It is an image of complete restoration, both physically and spiritually. They will once again be the sheep of His pasture.

The prophet, Micah, echoes this powerful promise from God.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds! – Micah 2:12 NLT

And Micah takes this powerful prophecy one step further when he writes:

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,
“I will gather together those who are lame,
    those who have been exiles,
    and those whom I have filled with grief.
Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;
    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.
Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem
    as their king forever.”
As for you, Jerusalem,
    the citadel of God’s people,
your royal might and power
    will come back to you again.
The kingship will be restored
    to my precious Jerusalem. – Micah 4:6-8 NLT

But in the midst of all this good news, God delivered a bit of bad news.

I will judge between one animal of the flock and another, separating the sheep from the goats.” – Ezekiel 34:17 NLT

It’s hard not to see the foreboding nature of this statement. The warning of separation is meant to convey judgment. Jesus Himself used this same imagery when speaking of the final judgment in His Olivette discourse.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. – Matthew 25:31-33 NLT

But in Ezekiel 34, the separation seems to be a statement of judgment against the underperforming shepherds of Israel. He accuses them of having kept the best pastures for themselves. In their zeal for self-promotion and personal gain, they had taken advantage of the people, leaving them in a neglected and weakened state. So, God warns them “I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. For you fat sheep pushed and butted and crowded my sick and hungry flock until you scattered them to distant lands” (Ezekiel 34:20-21 NLT).

Then with the sheep restored and the shepherds judged, God promises to give them a new shepherd, a man cut from the same cloth as King David.

“I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 34:23-24 NLT

In the midst of all the turmoil surrounding Judah’s fall, God promises that a day is coming when the people of Israel will be restored and enjoy the protection of a king who, like David, will shepherd them just as David did.

He chose David his servant
    and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
    to shepherd Jacob his people,
    Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
    and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:70-72 ESV

God will make it happen.

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.

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.

Our Multidimensional and Merciful God

20 The word of the Lord came to me: 21 “Son of man, set your face toward Sidon, and prophesy against her 22 and say, Thus says the Lord God:

“Behold, I am against you, O Sidon,
    and I will manifest my glory in your midst.
And they shall know that I am the Lord
    when I execute judgments in her
    and manifest my holiness in her;
23 for I will send pestilence into her,
    and blood into her streets;
and the slain shall fall in her midst,
    by the sword that is against her on every side.
Then they will know that I am the Lord.

24 “And for the house of Israel there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord God.

25 “Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. 26 And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God.” – Ezekiel 28:20-26 ESV

We tend to struggle with a lot of the imagery and words used in a book like Ezekiel. In it, we get a glimpse of God that tends to make us a little bit uncomfortable. He appears angry, vindictive, and violent, using His power like a neighborhood bully.

After a steady diet of the more attractive version of God depicted in the New Testament, the wrathful, vindictive image found in the Old Testament can come across as a bit disconcerting. It can be difficult to reconcile the God found in Ezekiel with the loving, forgiving, merciful, and grace-giving God we have come to know and love.

But the Bible gives us a complete and holistic view of God. Yes, He is at times angry and wrathful. Yet He is also patient and forgiving. He punishes, but He also protects. He destroys, but He also restores. And in each and every case, all that He does is so that the world might know that He alone is God. Every action God takes is aimed at revealing who He is.

Two times in the closing verses of chapter 28, God declares that what He is about to do will result in a greater knowledge of Him.

“Then they will know that I am the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 28:24 ESV

Then they will know that I am the Lord their God.” – Ezekiel 28:26 ESV

Throughout the Bible, we see evidence of God displaying His power. From the creation account in the opening chapters of Genesis to the cataclysmic events recorded in the book of Revelation, the immense and unmatchable power of God is evidenced for all to see. But at the same time, He also reveals His holiness. Not only is He all-powerful, but He is also completely righteous in all that He does.

The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. – Psalm 145:17 ESV

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

He makes this clear in His message to the Sidonians.

“Give the people of Sidon this message from the Sovereign Lord: ‘I am your enemy, O Sidon, and I will reveal my glory by what I do to you. When I bring judgment against you and reveal my holiness among you, everyone watching will know that I am the Lord.’” – Ezekiel 28:22 NLT

God’s judgment of the people of Sidon and His eventual destruction of them would reveal His holiness. But how? In its simplest form, God’s holiness refers to His set-apartness, His transcendence. He alone is God. There is no one and nothing else like Him. He is distinct and unmatched in all His attributes. He is not a God among gods. He is the only true God. And when God acts against evil and punishes sin, He reveals His distinctive nature. He displays His holiness.

Yet God also reveals His holiness through His kind, gracious, and undeserving treatment of His people. In the same chapter where God warns of His holy judgment against the Sidonians, He promises the restoration of His rebellious people.

“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 declares that He is going to reveal His holiness, distinctiveness, and set-apartness by returning His people to their land and restoring them to a right relationship with Himself. He is a promise-keeping God, and while He must punish His people for their sins, He will never fully abandon them. His holiness required Him to punish them for their sins, but He would also forgive and restore them.

“They will live safely in Israel and build homes and plant vineyards. And when I punish the neighboring nations that treated them with contempt, they will know that I am the Lord their God.” – Ezekiel 28:26 NLT

God reveals His holiness; His unmatched, unparalleled, distinctiveness in all that He does. Both His wrath and restoration reveal His one-of-a-kind nature. There is no other god like Him. There is no other god BUT Him. The Sidonians, neighbors and close allies to the residents of Tyre, were going to experience God’s judgment because of their unfair treatment of the people of Judah. And their false gods would prove to be no match for Yahweh. He declares Himself their enemy and vows to bring judgment against them. And for the third time, God announces, “Then everyone will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 28:23 ESV).

The people of Sidon will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Yahweh, the God of Judah, is the one true God. They will have experienced His power and irrefutable presence in the form of their own destruction. While the citizens of Tyre and Sidon gloated over Judah’s demise, they had no idea that a far worse fate awaited them. When they had chosen to align themselves against God’s people, they had unknowingly declared war against Him. They had made God Almighty their sworn enemy. But when the dust settled and the realization of their defeat had sunk in, they would know that He alone is the Lord.

The God of judgment and the God of love and mercy are one and the same God. His holiness requires that He judge sin justly and completely. He cannot turn a blind eye to it. That is why He had to punish the sins of Israel and Judah. Even though they were His chosen people, He could not ignore or overlook their rebellion against Him. But God’s judgment of them was always to be temporary and followed by a remarkable display of His unfailing love and covenant faithfulness, and the author of Hebrews reveals just how compassionate and forgiving God can be.

But when God found fault with the people, he said:

“The day is coming, says the Lord,
    when I will make a new covenant
    with the people of Israel and Judah.
This covenant will not be like the one
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    and led them out of the land of Egypt.
They did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    so I turned my back on them, says the Lord.
But this is the new covenant I will make
    with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds,
    and I will write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
And they will not need to teach their neighbors,
    nor will they need to teach their relatives,
    saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’
For everyone, from the least to the greatest,
    will know me already.
And I will forgive their wickedness,
and I will never again remember their sins.” – Hebrews 8:8-12 NLT

And centuries earlier, God spoke of this very same covenant to Ezekiel.

“And I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will give them their land and increase their numbers, and 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

And when God restores His people, rebuilds His temple, and takes up residence among them once again, the nations will know that He alone is 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.

Divine Payback

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward the Ammonites and prophesy against them. Say to the Ammonites, Hear the word of the Lord God: Thus says the Lord God, Because you said, ‘Aha!’ over my sanctuary when it was profaned, and over the land of Israel when it was made desolate, and over the house of Judah when they went into exile, therefore behold, I am handing you over to the people of the East for a possession, and they shall set their encampments among you and make their dwellings in your midst. They shall eat your fruit, and they shall drink your milk. I will make Rabbah a pasture for camels and Ammon a fold for flocks. Then you will know that I am the Lord. For thus says the Lord God: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel, therefore, behold, I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations. And I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries; I will destroy you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

“Thus says the Lord God: Because Moab and Seir said, ‘Behold, the house of Judah is like all the other nations,’ therefore I will lay open the flank of Moab from the cities, from its cities on its frontier, the glory of the country, Beth-jeshimoth, Baal-meon, and Kiriathaim. 10 I will give it along with the Ammonites to the people of the East as a possession, that the Ammonites may be remembered no more among the nations, 11 and I will execute judgments upon Moab. Then they will know that I am the Lord.

12 “Thus says the Lord God: Because Edom acted revengefully against the house of Judah and has grievously offended in taking vengeance on them, 13 therefore thus says the Lord God, I will stretch out my hand against Edom and cut off from it man and beast. And I will make it desolate; from Teman even to Dedan they shall fall by the sword. 14 And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they shall do in Edom according to my anger and according to my wrath, and they shall know my vengeance, declares the Lord God.

15 “Thus says the Lord God: Because the Philistines acted revengefully and took vengeance with malice of soul to destroy in never-ending enmity, 16 therefore thus says the Lord God, Behold, I will stretch out my hand against the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethites and destroy the rest of the seacoast. 17 I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon them.” – Ezekiel 25:1-17 ESV

From the moment the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, they found themselves surrounded by a host of hostile enemies. When they showed up on the scene after their 40-year trek through the wilderness, they were greeted with less-than-open arms by the land’s current occupants. The Israelites numbered in the millions by the time they entered the land, and they were viewed as a threat by the various people groups who lived in the region. But God had granted them a particular portion of the land as their inheritance. Centuries earlier, God had promised Abraham that the land of Canaan would be the possession of his offspring.

“I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:7-8 NLT

But during the more than 500-year delay between the time when that promise was given and when the people of Israel entered Canaan, the land had not set empty or unoccupied. Its fertile soil and central location made it an attractive piece of real estate. And while the Israelites had been languishing as slaves in Egypt, a host of nations had taken up residence in and around Canaan. This included the nations listed in the chapter: Ammon, Moab, Seir, Edom, and Philistia. These particular groups occupied territory on the edges of the land of Canaan, and God had given Moses instructions about how to deal with them. In order to enter Canaan, the people of Israel would need to pass through some of these outlying territories. Their goal was to do so as peacefully as possible but, if necessary, they were ordered to use force.

“As you approach a town to attack it, you must first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the Lord your God hands the town over to you, use your swords to kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the plunder from your enemies that the Lord your God has given you. – Deuteronomy 20:10-14 NLT

Some of the nations listed in this chapter had an interesting relationship with the people of Israel. They were actually blood relations. In the case of the Ammonites and Moabites, they were the descendants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot. The record of their rather sordid history is found in the book of Genesis. Lot had made the unwise decision to settle his family in Sodom, a city infamous for its immorality. But God graciously rescued Lot and his two daughters before destroying the entire city and all its occupants.

In the immediate aftermath of Lot’s rescue, his daughters took it upon themselves to continue their family line by getting their father drunk and having sexual relations with him. And their depraved plan worked.

…both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their own father.  When the older daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Moab. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Moabites. When the younger daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Ben-ammi. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Ammonites. – Genesis 19:36-38 NLT

So, the Ammonites and Moabites were actually distant relatives of the Israelites. They had settled in the eastern portion of the land of Palestine long before the nation of Israel had been released from its captivity in Egypt. And they both proved to be less-than-accommodating to the Israelites as they attempted to enter the land of Canaan.

But God’s warnings recorded in Ezekiel 25 have to do with their response to the much-later fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, and what will be their gloating response to the fall of Judah and Jerusalem. When the Babylonian finally defeated the southern kingdom of Judah, the Ammonites and Moabites would rejoice. But God warns that they will suffer a similar fate at the hands of “the people of the East” (Ezekiel 25:10 ESV).

And the same thing will happen to the Edomites. This nation enjoyed a close relationship with the Israelites as well. They were the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. And while both brothers were in their mother’s womb, God had warned Rebekah, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son” (Genesis 25:23 NLT).

The Edomites and Israelites never got along. In fact, their history was marked by constant conflict. Despite their blood ties, there was no love lost between these two nations. And because the Edomites would also rejoice at Judah’s demise, God would bring judgment upon them as well.

“I will raise my fist of judgment against Edom. I will wipe out its people and animals with the sword. I will make a wasteland of everything from Teman to Dedan.” – Ezekiel 25:13 NLT

The final nation addressed in God’s message to Ezekiel is Philistia. The Philistines occupied the land along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, just west of Canaan. They are first listed in the book of Genesis as the descendants of Mizraim, the grandson of Noah.

Mizraim was the ancestor of the Ludites, Anamites, Lehabites, Naphtuhites, Pathrusites, Casluhites, and the Caphtorites, from whom the Philistines came… – Genesis 10:13-14 NLT

So, they too were distant relatives of the Israelites. They were a warring people who posed a perennial problem for the Israelites throughout their history. When God released the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, He had chosen to send them via a route that would avoid any conflict with the Philistines.

When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” – Exodus 13:17 NLT

God knew that an encounter with the Philistines might dissuade His people from attempting to enter the land He had promised them, so He sent them on a lengthier and more circuitous way.

As they had done throughout their hostile history with Israel, the Philistines would take advantage of the northern kingdom’s fall to the Assyrians, confiscating their land and plundering their cities. And when Jerusalem came under siege by the Babylonians, the Philistines would use Judah’s suffering as an opportunity to extend their own borders and enrich their coffers. But they would pay dearly for their efforts.

“I will raise my fist of judgment against the land of the Philistines. I will wipe out the Kerethites and utterly destroy the people who live by the sea. I will execute terrible vengeance against them to punish them for what they have done.” – Ezekiel 25:16-17 NLT

Each of these nations had direct ties to the people of God. Yet they had chosen to rejoice at Israel’s suffering and profit from their loss. But when God was done punishing His disobedient people, He would turn His wrath upon their enemies. When the dust settled and the judgment of God had run its course, everyone would know that He alone was God. He warns the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, and Philistines, “when I have inflicted my revenge, they will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 25:17 NLT).

And the prophet, Isaiah, predicts a future day when the once-divided nations of Israel and Judah will be reunited and they will wreak vengeance upon all their former enemies.

Then at last the jealousy between Israel and Judah will end.
    They will not be rivals anymore.
They will join forces to swoop down on Philistia to the west.
    Together they will attack and plunder the nations to the east.
They will occupy the lands of Edom and Moab,
    and Ammon will obey them. – Isaiah 11:13-14 NLT

God was going to judge His rebellious people, but He was not done with them. He would not renege on His commitment to them. And while the surrounding nations might see the fall of Israel and Judah as a godsend, they would one day experience the miracle of their complete revitalization and restoration as God’s chosen people. As God told Isaiah, the day was coming when all His promises to His people will be fulfilled and their fortunes will be restored.

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time
    to bring back the remnant of his people—
those who remain in Assyria and northern Egypt;
    in southern Egypt, Ethiopia, and Elam;
    in Babylonia, Hamath, and all the distant coastlands.
He will raise a flag among the nations
    and assemble the exiles of Israel.
He will gather the scattered people of Judah
    from the ends of the earth. – Isaiah 11:11-12 NLT

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

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

Polluted Prophets, Priests, and Princes

17 And the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to me; all of them are bronze and tin and iron and lead in the furnace; they are dross of silver. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have all become dross, therefore, behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. 20 As one gathers silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into a furnace, to blow the fire on it in order to melt it, so I will gather you in my anger and in my wrath, and I will put you in and melt you. 21 I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it. 22 As silver is melted in a furnace, so you shall be melted in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord; I have poured out my wrath upon you.”

23 And the word of the Lord came to me: 24 “Son of man, say to her, You are a land that is not cleansed or rained upon in the day of indignation. 25 The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. 26 Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. 27 Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain. 28 And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord has not spoken. 29 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. 30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. 31 Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 22:17-31 ESV

God pulled no punches in His indictment of His disobedient people. There were no bright spots for Him to point out and very few reasons for Him to offer compliments or commendations. His assessment of the Israelites was dark and far from flattering, and it left no one unscathed.

“…the people of Israel are the worthless slag that remains after silver is smelted. They are the dross that is left over—a useless mixture of copper, tin, iron, and lead.” – Ezekiel 22:18 NLT

The entire nation had become contaminated by centuries of sinful behavior, produced by their penchant for idolatry and immorality. Israel, once the prized possession of God Almighty, had allowed itself to become defiled and corrupted through its ongoing love affair with the world. They had lived out the stark reality of 1 John 2:15-17.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave.

And God informs Ezekiel that He would use His coming judgment as a refining fire to purify His contaminated people.

“Just as silver, copper, iron, lead, and tin are melted down in a furnace, I will melt you down in the heat of my fury. I will gather you together and blow the fire of my anger upon you, and you will melt like silver in fierce heat. – Ezekiel 22:20-22 NLT

God’s judgment was far from just punitive in nature. It had a positive aspect to it. God was going to use it to purify and cleanse His people; an act they had failed to carry out on their own. All throughout the book of Deuteronomy, Moses provides the Israelites with repeated instructions to “purge the evil” in their midst. These admonitions to practice corporate cleansing were written before the Israelites ever set foot in the land of Canaan. Moses was warning them that God expected His chosen people to pursue holiness at all costs.

Moses listed a variety of instances in which corporate cleansing would be necessary, including when any individual violated God’s covenant by practicing idolatry.

“…they might serve other gods or worship the sun, the moon, or any of the stars—the forces of heaven—which I have strictly forbidden…” – Deuteronomy 17:3 NLT

When that happened, an investigation was to be launched, guilt determined, and punishment served.

“…then the man or woman who has committed such an evil act must be taken to the gates of the town and stoned to death…” – Deuteronomy 17:5 NLT

And Moses states the desired outcome of this display of corporal punishment: “In this way, you will purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 17:7 NLT). And he would apply this same exacting standard to false prophets (Deuteronomy 13), false witnesses (Deuteronomy 19), rebellious sons (Deuteronomy 21), and those guilty of adultery (Deuteronomy 22). In each case, Moses affirmed that the goal was to “purge such evil from among you.”

But the Israelites had failed to heed Moses’ warnings. Over the centuries, they had developed a bad habit of excusing sin and turning a blind eye to its damaging effects on their corporate purity. As a result, by the time God was delivering His message of coming judgment to Ezekiel, He had determined that Israel was “a polluted land” (Ezekiel 22:24 NLT). They were damaged goods. And the cancer was widespread and went all the way to the top of the Israelite leadership structure.

In the closing verses of this chapter, Ezekiel includes God’s indictments against the prophets, priests, and princes who had played a role in the nation’s moral collapse. He accused the princes of devouring innocent people, seizing treasures, and extorting wealth (Deuteronomy 17:25). The priests were guilty of violating His instructions and defiling His holy things. They made no distinction between what is holy and what is not (Deuteronomy 17:26). The princes and priests were in it for the money, and the prophets were complicit in their sin by covering up for them by announcing false visions and making lying predictions (Deuteronomy 17:28). This unholy trinity of civic and religious leaders had done irreparable damage to the nation.

These men were in positions of responsibility. They should have been in the vanguard of those seeking to restore the holiness of God’s people. But sadly, God states that when He sought to find someone who would stand in the gap and restore the purity of His people, He came up empty-handed.

“I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one.” – Ezekiel 22:30 NLT

It’s difficult to read this verse and not be reminded of the famous WWII recruitment poster of Uncle Sam pointing his finger and saying, “I want you!” Here in Ezekiel 22, God is pointing His finger and saying that He looked for a few good men, but found none. There was no one who might help rebuild the spiritual walls of the nation of Judah. Not a single man could be found who was willing or able to stand in the gaping holes of the nation’s proverbial spiritual wall. There was no one willing to protect the people and preserve the integrity of God’s name.

God said, “I searched…but I found no one!” He could find plenty of murderers, unethical leaders, immoral husbands and wives, extortioners, swindlers, unrighteous priests, and false prophets, but He couldn’t a single, solitary man to “stand in the gap.”

From God’s perspective, the land was polluted. The people were like worthless slag, the leftovers of the refining process. The chosen people of God had become valueless because they were no longer holy and set apart. Rather than live their lives as God’s special possession, set apart for His use and His glory, they had chosen to defile themselves and dishonor God by serving other gods. After all that God had done for them, there was not a single individual whom God could point at and say, “I want you!” Yes, He had Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, and a handful of other prophets, but there was a glaring absence of faithful men and women who could be trusted to help rebuild the spiritual legacy of the nation of Israel. Things were so bad that even God’s faithful prophets would prove unsuccessful in stemming the tide of sin and rebellion. The moral condition of the nation had reached an all-time low.

But this chapter reminds us that God is always looking for men and women who will rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. Today, we face similar conditions to that of Ezekiel’s day, including immorality, unethical leadership, graft, greed, corruption, and a growing sense of spiritual apathy. And God is looking for a few good men and women who will stand in the gap and help preserve righteousness.

It’s not that they don’t exist, but that they seem to be few in number. The righteous seem to be overwhelmed by the unrighteous and the spiritually indifferent. But God has always worked with a remnant. He is looking for the faithful few through whom He can restore the spiritual walls that have been damaged by constant exposure to sin and unrighteousness.

God is still looking for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. He continues to search for someone to stand in the gap in the wall. Has He found you? Are you willing, ready, and able to do your part?

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.

Good News and Bad News

18 The word of the Lord came to me again: 19 “As for you, son of man, mark two ways for the sword of the king of Babylon to come. Both of them shall come from the same land. And make a signpost; make it at the head of the way to a city. 20 Mark a way for the sword to come to Rabbah of the Ammonites and to Judah, into Jerusalem the fortified. 21 For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination. He shakes the arrows; he consults the teraphim; he looks at the liver. 22 Into his right hand comes the divination for Jerusalem, to set battering rams, to open the mouth with murder, to lift up the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up mounds, to build siege towers. 23 But to them it will seem like a false divination. They have sworn solemn oaths, but he brings their guilt to remembrance, that they may be taken.

24 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have made your guilt to be remembered, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your deeds your sins appear—because you have come to remembrance, you shall be taken in hand. 25 And you, O profane wicked one, prince of Israel, whose day has come, the time of your final punishment, 26 thus says the Lord God: Remove the turban and take off the crown. Things shall not remain as they are. Exalt that which is low, and bring low that which is exalted. 27 A ruin, ruin, ruin I will make it. This also shall not be, until he comes, the one to whom judgment belongs, and I will give it to him.

28 “And you, son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord God concerning the Ammonites and concerning their reproach; say, A sword, a sword is drawn for the slaughter. It is polished to consume and to flash like lightning— 29 while they see for you false visions, while they divine lies for you—to place you on the necks of the profane wicked, whose day has come, the time of their final punishment. 30 Return it to its sheath. In the place where you were created, in the land of your origin, I will judge you. 31 And I will pour out my indignation upon you; I will blow upon you with the fire of my wrath, and I will deliver you into the hands of brutish men, skillful to destroy. 32 You shall be fuel for the fire. Your blood shall be in the midst of the land. You shall be no more remembered, for I the Lord have spoken.” – Ezekiel 21:18-32 ESV

Once again, God orders Ezekiel to illustrate His message through the use of performance art. To better illustrate the coming Babylonian invasion, Ezekiel must produce a two-dimensional map for the people to see. Perhaps he used the model of the city of Jerusalem that he created earlier and simply added a few pertinent details. But the goal was to show that the Babylonians would enter the land of Palestine somewhere in the north, near the city of Damascus. At that point, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, will use divination in order to determine whether to attack Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah or send his troops to Rabbah, the capital city of Ammon.

The king of Babylon now stands at the fork, uncertain whether to attack Jerusalem or Rabbah. He calls his magicians to look for omens. They cast lots by shaking arrows from the quiver. They inspect the livers of animal sacrifices. – Ezekiel 21:21 NLT

This pagan king will utilize belomancy to determine his military strategy. This involved inscribing different names on the shafts of arrows and then placing the arrows in a quiver. Then an arrow was drawn out at random and whichever name was on that arrow indicated the god’s decision. In this case, the name on the arrow will be “Jerusalem.” But this will not be the work of a false god, but the sovereign will of Yahweh. He will determine the destination of the Babylonians.

The omen in his right hand says, ‘Jerusalem!’ With battering rams his soldiers will go against the gates, shouting for the kill. They will put up siege towers and build ramps against the walls. – Ezekiel 21:22 NLT

As the book of Proverbs states, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33 BSB). Despite the efforts of the Babylonian magicians, it will be God Almighty who determines Nebuchadnezzar’s actions.

But when the people living in Jerusalem hear that the Babylonians are headed their way, they will view this as a false omen. Nebuchadnezzar must have chosen the wrong arrow. Surely God would have preferred Ammon as the target of the Babylonian hordes. Not only had the Ammonites rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar’s rule just as the Judahites had, but they were godless and wicked. They deserved to be destroyed. The leaders of Jerusalem still believed that they were somehow immune from God’s wrath because they were His chosen people. But they were wrong, and God was about to give them a not-so-gentle wake-up call.

…the king of Babylon will remind the people of their rebellion. Then he will attack and capture them. – Ezekiel 21:23 NLT

And God gave King Zedekiah a foreboding message concerning his fate.

“Take off your jeweled crown,
    for the old order changes.
Now the lowly will be exalted,
    and the mighty will be brought down.
Destruction! Destruction!
    I will surely destroy the kingdom.
And it will not be restored until the one appears
    who has the right to judge it.
Then I will hand it over to him. – Ezekiel 21:26-27 NLT

And once Nebuchadnezzar has completed God’s plans for Judah and Jerusalem, he will be free to turn his attention to the Ammonites.

“And now, son of man, prophesy concerning the Ammonites and their mockery. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord:

“A sword, a sword
    is drawn for your slaughter.” – Ezekiel 21:28 NLT

But even in the midst of all the doom and gloom, there is a message of hope for the future. God hints about the future restoration of Judah. Look closely at verse 27:

I will surely destroy the kingdom.
And it will not be restored until the one appears
    who has the right to judge it. – Ezekiel 21:27 NLT

Over and over again the prophet delivers messages from God regarding the sins of the people and the coming destruction. But occasionally God gives a glimpse of future hope. He lets them in on the secret that there is good news ahead. There is a brighter future on the horizon. He will not remain angry forever. And His destruction will not be complete or permanent. He will keep His covenant promise. In verse 27 we get a glimmer of light in the midst of all the darkness and gloom. Yes, destruction is coming. God is going to destroy the kingdom of Judah. And it will remain in a state of destruction and devastation for many years. But there is a day coming when He will restore the nation of Judah and the people of God. With the death of Zedekiah, the reign of the kings of Judah comes to an end. There would be no more kings sitting on the throne of David. Even now, there is no king in Israel. But God is not done. His plan is not yet complete. God tells Ezekiel that there is a day coming when He will turn over the kingdom to one “who has the right to judge it.”

We are told of this coming king in the book of Isaiah.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah was told about this coming king as well.

“For the time is coming,”
    says the Lord,
“when I will raise up a righteous descendant
    from King David’s line.
He will be a King who rules with wisdom.
    He will do what is just and right throughout the land.
And this will be his name:
    ‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’
In that day Judah will be saved,
    and Israel will live in safety.”Jeremiah 23:5-6 NLT

The bad news came with some very good news. God had a plan for His people. He was not done with Israel. Even now, God’s future plan remains unfulfilled but fully in place. They are a nation, but they do not have a king. They have no temple. There is no sacrificial system to atone for their sins. They have no priesthood. But there is a day coming when God will provide them with a ruler who will serve as their priest and king. He will rule and reign in righteousness. He will reestablish the throne of David and rule in Jerusalem with total power and complete righteousness. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the Messiah, Jesus the Son of God.

But long before the true King of Israel appears, the nation would have to face the righteous judgment of God. Their guilt would have to be condemned and their sins atoned for – until the Son of Righteousness appears.

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Again and again you remind me of your sin and your guilt. You don’t even try to hide it! In everything you do, your sins are obvious for all to see. So now the time of your punishment has come!” – Ezekiel 21:24 NLT

But the good news is that their time of restoration is still yet to come. God is not done. His promises concerning Israel are yet to be fulfilled. But they will be.

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.

From Retribution to Restoration

27 “Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: In this also your fathers blasphemed me, by dealing treacherously with me. 28 For when I had brought them into the land that I swore to give them, then wherever they saw any high hill or any leafy tree, there they offered their sacrifices and there they presented the provocation of their offering; there they sent up their pleasing aromas, and there they poured out their drink offerings. 29 (I said to them, ‘What is the high place to which you go?’ So its name is called Bamah to this day.)

30 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Will you defile yourselves after the manner of your fathers and go whoring after their detestable things? 31 When you present your gifts and offer up your children in fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.

32 “What is in your mind shall never happen—the thought, ‘Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone.’

33 “As I live, declares the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you. 34 I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out. 35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. 36 As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares the Lord God. 37 I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. 38 I will purge out the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against me. I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

39 “As for you, O house of Israel, thus says the Lord God: Go serve every one of you his idols, now and hereafter, if you will not listen to me; but my holy name you shall no more profane with your gifts and your idols.

40 “For on my holy mountain, the mountain height of Israel, declares the Lord God, there all the house of Israel, all of them, shall serve me in the land. There I will accept them, and there I will require your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your sacred offerings. 41 As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations. 42 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the country that I swore to give to your fathers. 43 And there you shall remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves, and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed. 44 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 20:27-44 NLT

God goes on to reveal that, even after the second generation of Israelites successfully conquered the land of Canaan and established it as their homeland, their apostasy continued. He helped them to defeat their enemies and provided them with cities and homes to live in that they didn’t have to build. He blessed them with vineyards and fields they neither tilled nor planted. And yet, despite God’s gracious provision of their promised inheritance, they continued to blaspheme and betray Him.

“…for when I brought them into the land I had promised them, they offered sacrifices on every high hill and under every green tree they saw! They roused my fury as they offered up sacrifices to their gods. They brought their perfumes and incense and poured out their liquid offerings to them.” – Ezekiel 20:18 NLT

The delegation of Jewish dignitaries who had come to Ezekiel’s home had been hoping that the prophet would provide them with a positive message from Yahweh. They were of the mistaken opinion that God’s intentions to punish Judah was undeserved and, therefore, unjust. In their minds, God was punishing the wrong people. They truly believed that God was acting unfairly by visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children, and they were hoping Ezekiel would intercede on their behalf and get God to change His mind. But God was adamant in declaring their culpability and guilt.

“Do you intend to keep prostituting yourselves by worshiping vile images? For when you offer gifts to them and give your little children to be burned as sacrifices, you continue to pollute yourselves with idols to this day. Should I allow you to ask for a message from me, O people of Israel? As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I will tell you nothing.” – Ezekiel 20:30-31 NLT

They were far from innocent. In fact, their sins were actually worse than those of their forefathers. Their idolatrous behavior had degraded to the point that they were actually offering up their own children as blood sacrifices to their false gods. The prophet, Jeremiah, a contemporary of Ezekiel, had declared God’s disdain for this pagan and perverse practice.

“The people of Judah have sinned before my very eyes,” says the Lord. “They have set up their abominable idols right in the Temple that bears my name, defiling it. They have built pagan shrines at Topheth, the garbage dump in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and there they burn their sons and daughters in the fire. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing! – Jeremiah 7:30-31 NLT

Just like the northern kingdom of Israel, the southern kingdom of Judah was guilty of embracing the false gods of the nations who surrounded them. And, according to God, this was a premeditated and calculated plan on their part. They willingly and wholeheartedly embrace the gods of their enemies in the hopes that they could provide them with an added measure of protection and provision.

“You say, ‘We want to be like the nations all around us, who serve idols of wood and stone.’ But what you have in mind will never happen. As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I will rule over you with an iron fist in great anger and with awesome power.” – Ezekiel 20:32-33 NLT

But God was not going to allow them to continue their pattern of spiritual adultery. He was no longer willing to tolerate their wandering eyes and unfaithful hearts. So, He had Ezekiel tell them the devastating news of a coming judgment that would include the exiles living in the land of Babylon.

“I will judge you there just as I did your ancestors in the wilderness after bringing them out of Egypt, says the Sovereign Lord. I will examine you carefully and hold you to the terms of the covenant. I will purge you of all those who rebel and revolt against me. I will bring them out of the countries where they are in exile, but they will never enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 20:36-38 NLT

Even those living in captivity in Babylon would have to face the music because they were no less guilty of apostasy. In an attempt to acclimate to their new surroundings, many of them had chosen to embrace the gods of Babylon. Believing that Yahweh had abandoned them, the exiles decided to try their luck with the gods of their captors, and there was no shortage of options. The Babylonians worshiped a veritable pantheon of deities that included Ishtar, Nabu, Apshu, Shamash, Ea, Tiamat, Nergal, Marduk, and Adad. To the exiled Jews, it appeared as if these pagan gods had provided Babylon with unprecedented success over their enemies, so it only made sense to test their effectiveness. But like their counterparts in Judah, they were going to discover the painful lesson that their false gods were powerless to deliver them from the coming judgment of Yahweh.

“Go right ahead and worship your idols, but sooner or later you will obey me and will stop bringing shame on my holy name by worshiping idols.” – Ezekiel 20:39 NLT

God reveals His plan for the future restoration of the nation of Israel. He predicts a day when their idolatry will come to an end, but it will only take place after their judgment and with the advent of a new covenant.

“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 31:31-32 NLT

And later in the book of Ezekiel, God describes what He will do to make this new covenant possible.

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

God makes it painfully clear that there will be retribution for their idolatry, but He also promised a time of restoration and renewal.

“For on my holy mountain, the great mountain of Israel, says the Sovereign Lord, the people of Israel will someday worship me, and I will accept them. There I will require that you bring me all your offerings and choice gifts and sacrifices.” – Ezekiel 20:40 NLT

The fulfillment of this prophecy has not yet been fully realized. While Israel has been restored as a nation, it does not enjoy unbroken fellowship with Yahweh. There is no temple in Jerusalem, so there is no means for offering sacrifices to God. There is no king sitting on the throne of David, ruling in righteousness over God’s redeemed and restored people. But the day is coming when all those things will come about. And when they do, God says, “You will look back on all the ways you defiled yourselves and will hate yourselves because of the evil you have done. You will know that I am the Lord, O people of Israel, when I have honored my name by treating you mercifully in spite of your wickedness. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken” (Ezekiel 20:43-44 NLT).

God will do for them what they were unwilling and incapable of doing for themselves. He will restore and reestablish them as His chosen people and revitalize their affection for Him. Centuries will pass and their apostasy will continue. But God will be faithful to keep His covenant promises and restore His people to their rightful place as His sons and daughters.

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 Method to His Seeming Madness

11 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Say now to the rebellious house, Do you not know what these things mean? Tell them, behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took her king and her princes and brought them to him to Babylon. 13 And he took one of the royal offspring and made a covenant with him, putting him under oath (the chief men of the land he had taken away), 14 that the kingdom might be humble and not lift itself up, and keep his covenant that it might stand. 15 But he rebelled against him by sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and a large army. Will he thrive? Can one escape who does such things? Can he break the covenant and yet escape?

16 “As I live, declares the Lord God, surely in the place where the king dwells who made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant with him he broke, in Babylon he shall die. 17 Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company will not help him in war, when mounds are cast up and siege walls built to cut off many lives. 18 He despised the oath in breaking the covenant, and behold, he gave his hand and did all these things; he shall not escape. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord God: As I live, surely it is my oath that he despised, and my covenant that he broke. I will return it upon his head. 20 I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon and enter into judgment with him there for the treachery he has committed against me. 21 And all the pick of his troops shall fall by the sword, and the survivors shall be scattered to every wind, and you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken.”

22 Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”  Ezekiel 17:11-24 ESV

I’m not particularly fond of riddles. I don’t like puzzles either, and guessing games drive me crazy. I prefer answers over questions and clarity over confusion. So, when God speaks in riddles and parables, I find myself getting a bit uncomfortable and, when this chapter started off with a riddle, I was less than excited. But fortunately, this is one of those cases where God doesn’t leave us guessing as to the meaning. He graciously provides an explanation so there’s absolutely no confusion as to what He is trying to say.

Yet God insinuates that the people of Judah should have been able to pick up on the meaning of the riddle. Why? Because they were living it out in real-time. As they listened to the words of the prophet, they were standing somewhere along the banks of the Kebar River deep in the heart of Babylon. They had actually experienced something very similar to what the prophet was describing.

In the first part of his message, God describes a giant eagle swooping down and plucking off the top of a cedar tree, which he carries to a distant city. The eagle also took a seedling and planted it by a river where it grew into a vine with deep roots and strong branches. Then this healthy, growing vine, turned its attention to another eagle. Despite its prosperous and fruitful condition, it looked to the second eagle as a source of sustenance. It had plenty of good soil and water right where it was, but was dissatisfied. So, God indicated this vine would be uprooted, its fruit cut off, and left it to wither and die in the very soil where it had experienced fruitfulness.

But Ezekiel’s audience must have missed the message. They were struggling with the meaning behind this bizarre-sounding story of the eagle and the vine. So, God carefully explains the point He is trying to make.

“The king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, took away her king and princes, and brought them to Babylon.” – Ezekiel 17:11 NLT

At this point, the light should have gone on. They would have immediately made the connection that their very presence in Babylon was the immediate result of that fateful historical event. They could recall the moment when the Babylonian forces invaded the city of Jerusalem and took their king captive.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and captured it, and he bound Jehoiakim in bronze chains and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Chronicles 36:6 NLT

The memory of the temple being ransacked by foreign soldiers was still fresh in their minds.

Nebuchadnezzar also took some of the treasures from the Temple of the Lord, and he placed them in his palace in Babylon. – 2 Chronicles 36:7 NLT

The Babylonians had allowed the people of Judah to keep their monarchy in place, but the kings served as pawns of King Nebuchadnezzar, paying him large annual fees as a form of tribute and a sign of Judah’s subservience to Babylon. Eventually, Jehoiakim was replaced by his son, Jehoiachin, but his reign lasted only three months before he too was deported 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 first eagle represents Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. He “swooped” down with his troops, invaded Jerusalem, and took Jehoiachin, king of Judah as his prisoner back to Babylon. He then set up another puppet king named Zedekiah (the seedling) on the throne of Jerusalem.

This is where the story begins to take on a whole different meaning. Zedekiah was still on the throne when God delivered this riddle to the people of Judah living in Babylon. From their perspective, Zedekiah was firmly entrenched as the sovereign king over their homeland. He had actually made a covenant agreement with Nebuchadnezzar – an oath of loyalty. As long as he kept that oath, the nation prospered. But what the people didn’t know was that their king was wicked and rebellious. He never intended to keep his agreement with Nebuchadnezzar.

But Zedekiah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God, and he refused to humble himself when the prophet Jeremiah spoke to him directly from the Lord. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, even though he had taken an oath of loyalty in God’s name. Zedekiah was a hard and stubborn man, refusing to turn to the Lord, the God of Israel. – 2 Chronicles 36:12-13 NLT

God was revealing the next phase of His judgment upon His unfaithful people. The day was fast approaching when Zedekiah would decide to rebel against the Babylonians by turning to Egypt for assistance.

What is interesting to note is that the prophet, Jeremiah, who was ministering to the people still living in Jerusalem, had been led by God to send a letter to the exiles living in Babylon. In it, he provided them with a word of encouragement regarding their less-than-appealing conditions.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:4-7 NLT

And Jeremiah had also provided Zedekiah and the people living in Judah with a word of warning concerning their response to the Babylonian occupation of their land.

“So you must submit to Babylon’s king and serve him; put your neck under Babylon’s yoke! I will punish any nation that refuses to be his slave, says the Lord. I will send war, famine, and disease upon that nation until Babylon has conquered it. Do not listen to your false prophets, fortune-tellers, interpreters of dreams, mediums, and sorcerers who say, ‘The king of Babylon will not conquer you.’ They are all liars, and their lies will lead to your being driven out of your land. I will drive you out and send you far away to die. But the people of any nation that submits to the king of Babylon will be allowed to stay in their own country to farm the land as usual. I, the Lord, have spoken!’”– Jeremiah 27:8-11 NLT

But Zedekiah would end up violating his contract with Nebuchadnezzar. As a result, Jerusalem would be invaded again, the city would be leveled, and the temple destroyed. Zedekiah would be forced to witness the execution of all his sons, then have his eyes gouged out and be taken captive to Babylon. God made it painfully clear that “the king of Israel disregarded his treaty and broke it after swearing to obey; therefore, he will not escape” (Ezekiel 17:18 NLT). The entire Babylonian occupation had been God’s will and He expected His people to submit to it. They would not escape His divine judgment.

But God was not finished with His explanation. At the very end, He provides a glimmer of hope in the midst of all the gloom and doom. He reveals yet another “eagle” that will take another branch from the top of the cedar tree and plant it on Israel’s highest mountain.

“It will become a majestic cedar, sending forth its branches and producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches.” – Ezekiel 17:33 NLT

God is predicting the future renewal and restoration of His chosen people. But the branch to which He refers is not just another human king who will help to reestablish the fortunes of Israel. This branch will be someone of great importance and renown. He will be a king like no other.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” – Jeremiah 23:5-6 ESV

This branch is Jesus, the Messiah. God is predicting the day when He will send His Son back to earth to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will reign for 1,000 years. Israel will be restored to greatness. The throne of David, long-vacant because of the nation’s rebellion, will once again be occupied by a descendant of the great king. And God assures that all the other nations of the earth will recognize the greatness and glory of God when this happens.

“And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, who cuts the tall tree down and makes the short tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said!” – Ezekiel 17:24 NLT

Babylon, Egypt, the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, and all the other nations of the earth are no match for the plan of God. Babylon was a tool in the hands of God to accomplish His divine will, and He had a greater plan in place. He was out to accomplish His will in His way and according to His divine timetable. When God completes His plan all people will know that He has been in control all along, cutting down the tall trees and making the short tree grow, withering the green tree, and giving new life to the dead one.

God is sovereign and in complete control. In fact, that point is how He began the  chapter.

“Son of man, give this riddle, and tell this story to the people of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord. – Ezekiel 17:2 NLT

He knows what He is doing and there is a method to His seeming madness. We may understand or even like His ways, but we can rest assured that He always does what is just and right. His plan is perfect and His timing is impeccable.

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.