The Final Purging

21 In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been struck down.” 22 Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me the evening before the fugitive came; and he had opened my mouth by the time the man came to me in the morning, so my mouth was opened, and I was no longer mute.

23 The word of the Lord came to me: 24 “Son of man, the inhabitants of these waste places in the land of Israel keep saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he got possession of the land; but we are many; the land is surely given us to possess.’ 25 Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord God: You eat flesh with the blood and lift up your eyes to your idols and shed blood; shall you then possess the land? 26 You rely on the sword, you commit abominations, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife; shall you then possess the land? 27 Say this to them, Thus says the Lord God: As I live, surely those who are in the waste places shall fall by the sword, and whoever is in the open field I will give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in strongholds and in caves shall die by pestilence. 28 And I will make the land a desolation and a waste, and her proud might shall come to an end, and the mountains of Israel shall be so desolate that none will pass through. 29 Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolation and a waste because of all their abominations that they have committed.

30 “As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ 31 And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. 32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. 33 When this comes—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” Ezekiel 33:21-33 ESV

Exactly three years earlier, “in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month” (Ezekiel 24:1 ESV), the prophet Ezekiel had received a message from Yahweh concerning the coming destruction of Jerusalem. He was told to “write down today’s date, because on this very day the king of Babylon is beginning his attack against Jerusalem” (Ezekiel 24:2 NLT). And God informed His prophet that the Babylonian siege would last three years, then end with the city’s fall.

“Son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold—their joy and glory, their heart’s desire, their dearest treasure—I will also take away their sons and daughters. And on that day a survivor from Jerusalem will come to you in Babylon and tell you what has happened. And when he arrives, your voice will suddenly return so you can talk to him, and you will be a symbol for these people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 24:25-27 NLT

Up until that point, Ezekiel had been struck mute by God and was completely unable to speak to the people. He was restricted to conveying his messages through dramatic demonstrations as dictated by God. But Ezekiel was informed that his muteness would come to an end on the day he received news of Jerusalem’s destruction. And chapter 33 of Ezekiel records that fateful day.

The night before the messenger arrived from Jerusalem with news of the city’s devastating end, God had opened Ezekiel’s mouth so that he could speak. The prophet’s renewed capacity for speech would be put to use immediately as God provided him with a message for “the scattered remnants of Israel living among the ruined cities” (Ezekiel 33:24 NLT). It seems that for seven-and-a-half years, Ezekiel had only been able to speak when God allowed him to do so.

“I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels. But when I give you a message, I will loosen your tongue and let you speak. Then you will say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!” – Ezekiel 3:26-27 NLT

But with Jerusalem’s demise, this on-again-off-again condition was removed and Ezekiel had full freedom to speak on behalf of God with no restrictions. His first message was to all those Israelites who were living as exiles in foreign lands or who had taken up residence in the wastelands of Canaan. Within these two groups, there were those who believed they had every right to return to the land and make it their own. Their assumption was based on their identity as children of Abraham, and the logic behind it was simple.

“Abraham was only one man, yet he gained possession of the entire land. We are many; surely the land has been given to us as a possession.” – Ezekiel 33:24 NLT

In a sense, they were right. The land had been promised to them by God, but that promise came with conditions. God expected them to live in obedience to His commands. Their status as descendants of Abraham was not enough. Prior to them entering the land of Canaan for the first time, Moses had clearly communicated God’s expectations.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NLT

Obedience was the key to blessing. And those blessings would help to set them apart as God’s chosen people.

“If you obey the commands of the Lord your God and walk in his ways, the Lord will establish you as his holy people as he swore he would do. Then all the nations of the world will see that you are a people claimed by the Lord, and they will stand in awe of you. – Deuteronomy 28:9-10 NLT

But now, centuries later, the Israelites were the laughingstock of the world. Hundreds of years earlier, the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians and now the southern kingdom of Judah was a vassal state of the Babylonians. Its cities lay in ruins and its people had been relegated to a life of poverty and dispossession. Yet, they still believed they had every right to return to the land and enjoy all its benefits.

But God had other plans for them because He knew they remained unrepentant and unworthy to occupy His holy land. Their sinful actions had left the land of promise defiled and in need of divine purging, and God was merciless in exposing their culpability.

You eat meat with blood in it, you worship idols, and you murder the innocent. Do you really think the land should be yours? Murderers! Idolaters! Adulterers! Should the land belong to you?” – Ezekiel 33:25-26 NLT

They were law-breakers and covenant violators and God knew that even the fall of Jerusalem would not cause them to acknowledge their sins and repent. Over the centuries, they had developed a track record of stubborn resistance to God’s calls for repentance, and now they were going to experience the full extent of His wrath, just as He had outlined it to Moses centuries earlier.

“…if you do not listen to me or obey all these commands, and if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, I will punish you.” – Leviticus 26:14-16 NLT

God had given Moses a detailed description of His judgments, clearly indicating the escalating nature of their intensity if the people refused to respond.

And if, in spite of all this, you still disobey me, I will punish you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:18 NLT

“If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey me, I will inflict disaster on you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:21 NLT

“And if you fail to learn the lesson and continue your hostility toward me, then I myself will be hostile toward you. I will personally strike you with calamity seven times over for your sins.” – Leviticus 26:23-24 NLT

“If in spite of all this you still refuse to listen and still remain hostile toward me, then I will give full vent to my hostility. I myself will punish you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:27-28 NLT

Every if-then statement was fulfilled because the people of Israel refused to listen. No judgment awakened their sense of shame or caused them to repent of their sins. They stubbornly clung to their ways and watched as wave after wave of God’s judgments came against them. And now, God declares that He is going to bring the last phase of His judgment, just as He had predicted through the pen of Moses.

“And for those of you who survive, I will demoralize you in the land of your enemies. You will live in such fear that the sound of a leaf driven by the wind will send you fleeing. You will run as though fleeing from a sword, and you will fall even when no one pursues you. Though no one is chasing you, you will stumble over each other as though fleeing from a sword. You will have no power to stand up against your enemies. You will die among the foreign nations and be devoured in the land of your enemies. Those of you who survive will waste away in your enemies’ lands because of their sins and the sins of their ancestors.” – Leviticus 26:36-39 NLT

That day had come. God declares to Ezekiel, “I will completely destroy the land and demolish her pride. Her arrogant power will come to an end” (Ezekiel 33:28 NLT). The time for purging and cleansing had arrived.

And as for the exiles among whom Ezekiel ministered, God had a word for them as well. Their plaintive pleas for the prophet to give them a message from God were a sham. They had no intentions of keeping the commands of God, whether written on a scroll as part of the Mosaic Law or spoken from the lips of His prophet.

“…my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money. – Ezekiel 33:31 NLT

God informs Ezekiel that his audience only feigns interest. They listen politely and intently to what he has to say but have no intentions of changing their behavior. Yet God assures His prophet, “when all these terrible things happen to them—as they certainly will—then they will know a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 33:33 NLT). God hints at a day when the people will finally wake up and realize what they have done. The full weight of God’s judgment will have its full effect, awakening His rebellious people to their need for God’s healing and forgiveness. While this chapter ends on a negative note, it gives a glimpse of the good news to come. God’s judgment had a purpose and His plan was not yet complete.

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

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

You Will Know

17 In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, wail over the multitude of Egypt, and send them down, her and the daughters of majestic nations, to the world below, to those who have gone down to the pit:

19 ‘Whom do you surpass in beauty?
    Go down and be laid to rest with the uncircumcised.’

20 They shall fall amid those who are slain by the sword. Egypt is delivered to the sword; drag her away, and all her multitudes. 21 The mighty chiefs shall speak of them, with their helpers, out of the midst of Sheol: ‘They have come down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.’

22 “Assyria is there, and all her company, its graves all around it, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, 23 whose graves are set in the uttermost parts of the pit; and her company is all around her grave, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who spread terror in the land of the living.

24 “Elam is there, and all her multitude around her grave; all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who went down uncircumcised into the world below, who spread their terror in the land of the living; and they bear their shame with those who go down to the pit. 25 They have made her a bed among the slain with all her multitude, her graves all around it, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword; for terror of them was spread in the land of the living, and they bear their shame with those who go down to the pit; they are placed among the slain.

26 “Meshech-Tubal is there, and all her multitude, her graves all around it, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword; for they spread their terror in the land of the living. 27 And they do not lie with the mighty, the fallen from among the uncircumcised, who went down to Sheol with their weapons of war, whose swords were laid under their heads, and whose iniquities are upon their bones; for the terror of the mighty men was in the land of the living. 28 But as for you, you shall be broken and lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword.

29 “Edom is there, her kings and all her princes, who for all their might are laid with those who are killed by the sword; they lie with the uncircumcised, with those who go down to the pit.

30 “The princes of the north are there, all of them, and all the Sidonians, who have gone down in shame with the slain, for all the terror that they caused by their might; they lie uncircumcised with those who are slain by the sword, and bear their shame with those who go down to the pit.

31 “When Pharaoh sees them, he will be comforted for all his multitude, Pharaoh and all his army, slain by the sword, declares the Lord God. 32 For I spread terror in the land of the living; and he shall be laid to rest among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword, Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 32:17-32 ESV

Fourteen days later, Ezekiel received the second part of God’s oracle concerning Egypt’s demise. In it, he is told to “weep for the hordes of Egypt and for the other mighty nations” (Ezekiel 32:18 NLT). The scene depicted by God is that of a funeral and Ezekiel is instructed to “bury” Egypt in a grave, sending the deceased nation “to the world below” (Ezekiel 32:18 ESV); to the afterlife. The entire nation of Egypt is portrayed as a corpse ready for burial and Ezekiel is given the responsibility of interring the body and conducting the funeral.

But despite Egypt’s vast wealth and reputation for extravagance as illustrated by its many architectural wonders, the funeral described is that of a pauper. Rather than a royal entombment attended by visiting dignitaries and marked by solemnity and almost worshipful sorrow by the adoring public, this burial is of a relative unknown. God even gives Ezekiel the words of the eulogy he is to speak at the graveside.

“O Egypt, are you lovelier than the other nations?
    No! So go down to the pit and lie there among the outcasts.” – Ezekiel 32:19 NLT

The nation of Egypt would experience the same fate as the “uncircumcised” heathen. When the Babylonians swept through the land, they would be indiscriminate in their destruction. Nebuchadnezzar’s forces would be merciless and show no pity to anyone, leaving the bodies of the wealthy and well-educated lying in the streets alongside the poor and disenfranchised. God even describes their welcome in Sheol with biting sarcasm.

“Down in the grave mighty leaders will mockingly welcome Egypt and its allies, saying, ‘They have come down; they lie among the outcasts, hordes slaughtered by the sword.’” – Ezekiel 32:21 NLT

Egypt will join the other nations that have fallen before them. People from Assyria, Elam, Meshech-Tubal, Edom, the princes of the north, and the Sidonians have all entered the grave and will be ready to greet its newest occupant with open arms. At one time, all these nations “struck terror in the hearts of people everywhere, but now they have been slaughtered by the sword” (Ezekiel 32:23 NLT). They had been major players and had enjoyed their moment in the spotlight, but now there were relegated to an eternal existence of obscurity and irrelevance in the grave. And Egypt would suffer the same fate.

This message, given by God to Ezekiel, was intended to be shared with the Jewish exiles living in Babylon. It was meant to persuade these displaced people from putting any hope in Egypt as a potential source of salvation for Judah. When the Babylonians had first appeared on the scene, threatening the peace of the region, the people of Judah looked for help from their more powerful allies. The Egyptians were a logical choice because they had a track record of success. As one of the oldest nations in the region, they had a long history of military dominance and hegemony. So, it was only natural for Judah to place its hope in their neighbor to the south. Even the exiles were tempted to see the Egyptians as the key to the survival of their homeland and the means of their eventual return from captivity.

But God wanted them to know that Pharaoh would not be their savior. While his people believed him to be a god, he was just another man and his nation would prove to be just another victim of Babylon’s seemingly unstoppable global expansion.

“You too, Egypt, will lie crushed and broken among the outcasts, all slaughtered by the sword. – Ezekiel 32:28 NLT

From chapter 25 to chapter 32, the phrase “know I am the LORD” occurs 19 times. The oracles contained within these chapters serve as a powerful indictment against the nations of the world but are really a divine dismissal of the gods of this world. The nation of Judah, like its northern neighbor, Israel, was guilty of spiritual adultery. For centuries, they had made a habit of worshiping the false gods of the nations that occupied the land of Canaan. They had become equal-opportunity idolaters who saw nothing wrong with adopting the gods of their pagan neighbors and treating them with the same awe and reverence they had once reserved for Yahweh.

During their 400-year exile in Egypt, the people of Israel worshiped the gods of the Egyptians. In the process of delivering them from their captivity, God exhibited His superiority over these false gods through the ten plagues He sent against the people of Egypt. Each plague was a direct attack on one of their many gods. And when God had finished His divine smackdown of Egypt’s deities, He led them out of bondage and to the land He had promised them. But even after arriving in the land of Canaan, the people of Israel continued their love affair with false gods. In direct violation of God’s commands, they embraced the gods of the Canaanites and the neighboring nations. And despite God’s repeated calls to repent and return to Him, they stubbornly refused.

Prior to the people of Israel entering the land of Canaan, Moses stood before them and issued a covenant commitment.

“I am making this covenant both with you who stand here today in the presence of the Lord our God, and also with the future generations who are not standing here today.

“You remember how we lived in the land of Egypt and how we traveled through the lands of enemy nations as we left. You have seen their detestable practices and their idols made of wood, stone, silver, and gold. I am making this covenant with you so that no one among you—no man, woman, clan, or tribe—will turn away from the Lord our God to worship these gods of other nations, and so that no root among you bears bitter and poisonous fruit.” – Deuteronomy 29:15-18 NLT

But his words had little or no lasting impact. It didn’t take them long to break their covenant with Moses and violate the laws given to them by God. Their entire history is replete with examples of their unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity. Now, as Ezekiel ministered to the people of God living as exiles in Babylon, they were reaping the consequences of their disobedience. They were experiencing exactly what Joshua had warned their ancestors would happen in they turned to the false gods of Canaan.

“…as surely as the Lord your God has given you the good things he promised, he will also bring disaster on you if you disobey him. He will completely destroy you from this good land he has given you.  If you break the covenant of the Lord your God by worshiping and serving other gods, his anger will burn against you, and you will quickly vanish from the good land he has given you.” – Joshua 23:15-16 NLT

And all those nations from whom they had adopted their false gods would fall before the righteous wrath of Yahweh. Each would eventually pay the price for its idolatry and refusal to acknowledge the one true God. But their destruction would be a sobering warning to the people of Judah, reminding them of the words of God: “Then they will know that I am 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.

Pride Before the Fall

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God:

“Because your heart is proud,
    and you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of the gods,
    in the heart of the seas,’
yet you are but a man, and no god,
    though you make your heart like the heart of a god—
you are indeed wiser than Daniel;
    no secret is hidden from you;
by your wisdom and your understanding
    you have made wealth for yourself,
and have gathered gold and silver
    into your treasuries;
by your great wisdom in your trade
    you have increased your wealth,
    and your heart has become proud in your wealth—
therefore thus says the Lord God:
Because you make your heart
    like the heart of a god,
therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you,
    the most ruthless of the nations;
and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom
    and defile your splendor.
They shall thrust you down into the pit,
    and you shall die the death of the slain
    in the heart of the seas.
Will you still say, ‘I am a god,’
    in the presence of those who kill you,
though you are but a man, and no god,
    in the hands of those who slay you?
10 You shall die the death of the uncircumcised
    by the hand of foreigners;
    for I have spoken, declares the Lord God.”

11 Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God:

“You were the signet of perfection,
    full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;
    every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
    beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
    and crafted in gold were your settings
    and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
    they were prepared.
14 You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
15 You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created,
    till unrighteousness was found in you.
16 In the abundance of your trade
    you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
    and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
    from the midst of the stones of fire.
17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
    you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
    I exposed you before kings,
    to feast their eyes on you.
18 By the multitude of your iniquities,
    in the unrighteousness of your trade
    you profaned your sanctuaries;
so I brought fire out from your midst;
    it consumed you,
and I turned you to ashes on the earth
    in the sight of all who saw you.
19 All who know you among the peoples
    are appalled at you;
you have come to a dreadful end
    and shall be no more forever.” – Ezekiel 28:1-19 ESV

There is an old proverbial saying that states, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This timeless maxim is credited to the the 19th century British politician, Lord Acton. Its simple six-word structure conveys the profound truth, that as a person’s power increases, their moral sense diminishes. The captivating and intoxicating influence of unfettered power can tempt the best of humanity to lower their ethical standards in an attempt to extend their 15 minutes of fame and fortune.

As God continues His indictment of the city-state of Tyre, He singles out its illustrious “prince” or king. This unnamed ruler had reached the zenith of his career and presided over a wealthy and highly influential kingdom. His ships plied the waters of the Mediterranean. His city boasted massive fortifications to protect its affluent citizens and their abundant riches. His kingdom was world-renowned and the envy of the nations. And all that power, prosperity, and popularity had gone to his head. In fact, God accuses him of having delusions of grandeur.

“In your great pride you claim, ‘I am a god!
    I sit on a divine throne in the heart of the sea.’– Ezekiel 28:2 NLT

This guy had a god complex. His meteoric rise to power and the accolades of his constituents and contemporaries had left him believing his own PR.  Surrounded by all the trappings of success and constantly bombarded by the ego-boosting flattery of his peers and the adoring public, this ruler had developed an overinflated ego. But God brings him down to size by reminding him, “you are only a man and not a god, though you boast that you are a god” (Ezekiel 28:2 NLT).

And not only did this king enjoy unprecedented wealth, but he also boasted of his extraordinary wisdom. He actually attributed his success to his superior intellect.

“With your wisdom and understanding you have amassed great wealth—
    gold and silver for your treasuries.
Yes, your wisdom has made you very rich,
    and your riches have made you very proud.” – Ezekiel 28:4-5 NLT

He had the audacity to take full credit for the preeminent status of his kingdom and the superior state of his financial fortunes.  But the king of Tyre was in for a rude awakening. His illustrious kingdom was about to be exposed as a house of cards that would collapse in ruins with a single blast from God’s righteous breath.

“Because you think you are as wise as a god,
 I will now bring against you a foreign army,
    the terror of the nations.
They will draw their swords against your marvelous wisdom
    and defile your splendor!” – Ezekiel 28:6-7 NLT

This boastful and self-promoting prince of Tyre was going to suffer a devastating demotion – at the hands of the Lord God. His self-deification would come to an abrupt end as God destroyed his kingdom and destined him to an ignoble and humiliating death.

You shall die the death of the uncircumcised
    by the hand of foreigners. – Ezekiel 38:10 ESV

Like the Jews, the Phoenicians practiced circumcision, so to die the death of the uncircumcised was to die like an uncouth and uncultured barbarian. This highly revered leader of a powerful city-state would die in infamy and disgrace.

In the second half of God’s message, He provides Ezekiel with the lyrics to another funeral dirge, dedicated to the demise of the king of Tyre.

“Son of man, sing this funeral song for the king of Tyre. Give him this message from the Sovereign Lord…” – Ezekiel 28:12 NLT

What follows contains one of the most difficult passages in all of Scripture. God appears to be addressing the same king He called out in the opening verses, but His description of this individual makes his identity difficult to discern. In particular, God refers to him as having been in “Eden, the garden of God” (Ezekiel 28:13 ESV). If God is talking about the king of Tyre, how could this mere human being have been around when Eden existed on the earth?

The simple answer is that God was using Eden as a metaphor for the splendor and beauty of the kingdom of Tyre. Describing Tyre as Eden “is probably a figurative way of describing the blessing that this ruler had enjoyed at God’s hand” (Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Ezekiel). Just as Eden had been a garden of earthly delights, so Tyre was a veritable wonderland of plenty and fruitfulness. The king lacked nothing. All his earthly needs and wants had been graciously provided by God.

God describes the king’s splendid garments adorned with priceless gems and fine gold. His appearance was like that of “an anointed guardian cherub” (Ezekiel 28:14 ESV), an otherworldly being of divine origin. It would seem that this self-appointed god-king associated himself with Melkart, the patron god of Tyre.

“The passage would then be declaring that the king of Tyre had become as the guardian cherub for the god Melkart and was bejeweled with his riches as cherub-sphinx normally was.” – Ralph H. Alexander, Ezekiel

It seems that God is describing the king of Tyre as a divine servant to his false god Melkart. Like the cherubim that guarded the entrance to the garden of Eden, preventing Adam and Eve from reentering after the fall (Genesis 3:24), the king of Tyre had been tasked with guarding the “Eden” of Tyre.

But this cherubim would prove unsuccessful in protecting the garden under his care. Despite the fact that God had placed him on the throne, this king would prove unable to protect his God-given domain. It was the prophet, Daniel, a contemporary of Ezekiel, who wrote of God:

He controls the course of world events;
    he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the scholars. – Daniel 2:21 NLT

God claims to have placed the king of Tyre on His “holy mountain” (Ezekiel 28:14 ESV). This most likely speaks of God’s sovereign will in ordaining the king’s reign. The king had reached the pinnacle of success, rising to power according to God’s will. And there had been a time when the king had reigned in keeping with God’s will. But eventually, his pride got the better of him.

Your rich commerce led you to violence,
    and you sinned.” – Ezekiel 28:16 NLT

“Your heart was filled with pride
    because of all your beauty.
Your wisdom was corrupted
    by your love of splendor.
So I threw you to the ground
    and exposed you to the curious gaze of kings.” – Ezekiel 28:17 NLT

This king, who declared himself divine, would be unceremoniously dethroned and deposed. His kingship would end and his kingdom would be destroyed, never to rise to prominence again. He would learn a painful lesson concerning God’s sovereignty and transcendence. Not only was the king of Tyre a man and not a god, but he was a product of God’s sovereign will and merciful grace. He had ruled as a result of God’s providence and would be removed from power according to God’s indomitable will.

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

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

The Bloody City and the Boiling Pot

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

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

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

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

The book of 2 Kings describes what happened that day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Painful But Vital Lesson to Learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not For the Faint of Heart

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother. They played the whore in Egypt; they played the whore in their youth; there their breasts were pressed and their virgin bosoms handled. Oholah was the name of the elder and Oholibah the name of her sister. They became mine, and they bore sons and daughters. As for their names, Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem.

“Oholah played the whore while she was mine, and she lusted after her lovers the Assyrians, warriors clothed in purple, governors and commanders, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses. She bestowed her whoring upon them, the choicest men of Assyria all of them, and she defiled herself with all the idols of everyone after whom she lusted. She did not give up her whoring that she had begun in Egypt; for in her youth men had lain with her and handled her virgin bosom and poured out their whoring lust upon her. Therefore I delivered her into the hands of her lovers, into the hands of the Assyrians, after whom she lusted. 10 These uncovered her nakedness; they seized her sons and her daughters; and as for her, they killed her with the sword; and she became a byword among women, when judgment had been executed on her.

11 “Her sister Oholibah saw this, and she became more corrupt than her sister in her lust and in her whoring, which was worse than that of her sister. 12 She lusted after the Assyrians, governors and commanders, warriors clothed in full armor, horsemen riding on horses, all of them desirable young men. 13 And I saw that she was defiled; they both took the same way. 14 But she carried her whoring further. She saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, 15 wearing belts on their waists, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them having the appearance of officers, a likeness of Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea. 16 When she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. 17 And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoring lust. And after she was defiled by them, she turned from them in disgust. 18 When she carried on her whoring so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned in disgust from her sister. 19 Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt 20 and lusted after her lovers there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses. 21 Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom and pressed your young breasts.” – Ezekiel 23:1-21 ESV

This chapter needs a graphic-warning label. It is full of sexual imagery and illicit language that makes it difficult to read and even harder to reconcile as content befitting God’s Word. But its message was meant to produce shock and disgust by comparing the behavior of God’s people with the grossest and most unacceptable sexual sins imaginable.

God begins this unflattering portrayal of His people by alluding to them by different names. The northern kingdom of Israel becomes Oholah and the southern kingdom of Judah becomes Oholibah. These pseudonyms were meant to depict each kingdom in a negative light, portraying them as two sisters who each display a penchant for sexual promiscuity and immorality. Oholah means “her tent,” and is meant to represent Samaria, the capital city of the northern kingdom. This designation most likely refers to King Jeroboam’s determination to set up his own houses of worship in Israel to prevent the people from returning to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. His actions are recorded in 1 Kings.

…on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there.

Jeroboam also erected buildings at the pagan shrines and ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. And Jeroboam instituted a religious festival in Bethel, held on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in imitation of the annual Festival of Shelters in Judah. There at Bethel he himself offered sacrifices to the calves he had made, and he appointed priests for the pagan shrines he had made. So on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a day that he himself had designated, Jeroboam offered sacrifices on the altar at Bethel. He instituted a religious festival for Israel, and he went up to the altar to burn incense. – 1 Kings 12:18-31 NLT

In a sense, Jeroboam, the first king to rule over the northern kingdom, made the grave error of erecting an alternative house of worship, tempting the people to reject Yahweh as their god.

By contrast, the name Oholibah means “my tent is in her,” and stands for Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah where God’s temple was located. It was at this one “tent” that the people of Judah were to worship the one true God: Yahweh. But like their northern neighbors, the Judahites had proven themselves to be unfaithful. 

This entire chapter acts as a metaphorical version of Jeremiah 3:6-11, where God outlines the sins of Israel and Judah.

During the reign of King Josiah, the Lord said to me, “Have you seen what fickle Israel has done? Like a wife who commits adultery, Israel has worshiped other gods on every hill and under every green tree. I thought, ‘After she has done all this, she will return to me.’ But she did not return, and her faithless sister Judah saw this. She saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery. But that treacherous sister Judah had no fear, and now she, too, has left me and given herself to prostitution. Israel treated it all so lightly—she thought nothing of committing adultery by worshiping idols made of wood and stone. So now the land has been polluted. But despite all this, her faithless sister Judah has never sincerely returned to me. She has only pretended to be sorry. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Then the Lord said to me, “Even faithless Israel is less guilty than treacherous Judah!” – Jeremiah 3:6-11 NLT

In the Ezekiel passage, God describes Ohalah and Oholibah as His “wives.” This is not intended to be a divine endorsement of polygamy but is simply meant to be a picture of the intimate relationship between God and His chosen people. The two kingdoms comprised the 12 tribes of Israel and they had been set apart as His own. But God accuses them of having committed adultery. The northern kingdom, allured by the power and prestige of the Assyrian Empire, made unsanctioned alliances with this up-and-coming global power. God deems these dalliances as nothing short of adulterous.

“Oholah lusted after other lovers instead of me, and she gave her love to the Assyrian officers.” – Ezekiel 23:5 NLT

The kings of Judah literally prostrated themselves as the feet of the Assyrian kings, hoping to evade defeat at their hands. This scene is depicted in The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser,  which shows King Jehu of Israel bowing in submission before King Shalmaneser III of Assyria and giving him tribute money.

The primary problem with these alliances was that they encouraged the people to place their hopes in someone other than God. Secondarily, they led to idolatry. Each time Israel made a treaty with a foreign power, they ended up embracing the false gods of their newfound “lovers.”

“…she prostituted herself with the most desirable men of Assyria, worshiping their idols and defiling herself.” – Ezekiel 23:7 NLT

And God reveals that this tendency to spiritual adultery had begun all the way back in Egypt. At one time, Israel and Judah had been one nation, formed by God in the crucible of captivity in Egypt. There, for 400 years, the descendants of Abraham had suffered under the oppressive hand of their Egyptian overlords, but they had also grown into a mighty nation. And during their four-century-long stay in the land of the Pharaohs, they had turned their backs on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, embracing instead the gods of the Egyptians. So, idolatry was nothing new for them. It had been a problem from the very beginning.

“…when she left Egypt, she did not leave her spirit of prostitution behind. She was still as lewd as in her youth, when the Egyptians slept with her, fondled her breasts, and used her as a prostitute. – Ezekiel 23:8 NLT

They brought their adulterous tendencies with them to the land of promise, continuing to give their affections to other gods. Even when Solomon, the son of King David, ascended to the throne of Israel, he promoted idolatry. Having disobeyed God by marrying many foreign wives, he soon found himself embracing their false gods and erecting shrines and worship centers all over the kingdom. It was for this reason that God split Solomon’s kingdom in half, creating Judah and Israel.

And after the division of the kingdom, the adultery continued virtually unabated. Eventually, God punished the northern kingdom, using the Assyrians to destroy the capital city of Samaria and subjugate the disobedient citizens of Israel.

I handed her over to her Assyrian lovers, whom she desired so much. They stripped her, took away her children as their slaves, and then killed her. After she received her punishment, her reputation was known to every woman in the land. – Ezekiel 23:9-10 NLT

Yet, the fall of Judah did nothing to change the behavior of the southern kingdom of Israel. Having watched their northern “sister” suffer humiliation and annihilation at the hands of their enemies, they stubbornly continued to pursue the same adulterous path.

“Yet even though Oholibah saw what had happened to Oholah, her sister, she followed right in her footsteps. And she was even more depraved, abandoning herself to her lust and prostitution. – Ezekiel 23:11 NLT

Rather than learn a valuable lesson from the fall of Judah, the southern kingdom upped the ante and escalated their idolatrous ways. And God uses extremely graphic language to describe just how wicked Judah became.

“…she turned to even greater prostitution, remembering her youth when she was a prostitute in Egypt. She lusted after lovers with genitals as large as a donkey’s and emissions like those of a horse.” – Ezekiel 23:19-20 NLT

To understand just how disturbing this message must have been for Ezekiel to deliver and for his audience to receive, imagine going to church one Sunday morning and hearing your pastor present a message that contained some of the same imagery and language that Ezekiel used. Just think how you would feel if he accused you of spiritual prostitution and used the same graphic details to describe your spiritual indiscretions. You would be shocked, appalled, and probably offended. So were the people of Judah. And that is exactly what God intended. He wanted to shock them. He wanted to offend them. And He wanted them to be appalled at the gravity of their guilt. So He used extremely graphic language to describe just how serious their sin was.

Sometimes we can become overly comfortable with our sin that we view it with a kind of casualness. We get so used to it that we forget just how detestable it is to God. That was Judah’s problem. They had sinned for so long that it no longer bothered them. They had learned to live with it and excuse it. They become accustomed to justifying their behavior. But God made it graphicly clear that this was anything but normal. Like two sisters who blatantly prostituted themselves with other men, Israel and Judah pursued relationships with other nations and other gods. They turned their backs on God and sought satisfaction elsewhere. They looked to other nations for their security. They turned to other gods for hope and healing. And while we might consider those actions less-than-shocking, God makes it clear that He viewed their actions as nothing short of immoral and unthinkable. Like a woman who walks out on her loving husband and gives herself physically to every man she meets, Israel and Judah had prostituted themselves time and time again – right in front of the very God who had chosen them, rescued them, and blessed them with His Law, His Temple, and His presence.

This chapter should disturb us and wake us up to the reality of the seriousness of sin. It should shock us and make us understand just how serious spiritual adultery is to God. He doesn’t take it lightly. He won’t tolerate it among His people. He would not and could not turn a blind eye to the actions of Judah or Israel. Spiritual unfaithfulness was and still is an offense to a holy God. If it bothered Him this much, back in the day of Ezekiel, it must still bother Him today. He is warning us to consider the seriousness of unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity in the life of the child of 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.

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.

When the Godly Become Godless

1 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “And you, son of man, will you judge, will you judge the bloody city? Then declare to her all her abominations. You shall say, Thus says the Lord God: A city that sheds blood in her midst, so that her time may come, and that makes idols to defile herself! You have become guilty by the blood that you have shed, and defiled by the idols that you have made, and you have brought your days near, the appointed time of your years has come. Therefore I have made you a reproach to the nations, and a mockery to all the countries. Those who are near and those who are far from you will mock you; your name is defiled; you are full of tumult.

“Behold, the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood. Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you. You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths. There are men in you who slander to shed blood, and people in you who eat on the mountains; they commit lewdness in your midst. 10 In you men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women who are unclean in their menstrual impurity. 11 One commits abomination with his neighbor’s wife; another lewdly defiles his daughter-in-law; another in you violates his sister, his father’s daughter. 12 In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take interest and profit and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; but me you have forgotten, declares the Lord God.

13 “Behold, I strike my hand at the dishonest gain that you have made, and at the blood that has been in your midst. 14 Can your courage endure, or can your hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with you? I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it. 15 I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you through the countries, and I will consume your uncleanness out of you. 16 And you shall be profaned by your own doing in the sight of the nations, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 22:1-16 ESV

The people of Judah were lawbreakers – plain and simple. They were guilty of violating the commands of God as outlined in the Mosaic Law, and they couldn’t pass the buck and blame their ancestors for their predicament. No, this was a present-day problem that persisted in Judah and all the way to the Kebar River in Babylon. Wherever the people of God could be found, spiritual unfaithfulness and moral laxity were in close proximity. The exiles eeking out a living as refugees in Babylon couldn’t claim exemption from God’s wrath because they were just as guilty of apostasy and idolatry as their friends and family members back home. In the short time they had been in Babylon, they had acclimated to their new surroundings and even adopted the gods of their captors. They no longer bothered to keep the Sabbath day holy. Their observance of God’s commands had become optional rather than mandatory.

But God’s greatest condemnation was reserved for the citizens of “the bloody city” (Ezekiel 22:2 ESV). This was His less-than-flattering description of Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah, and the location of the majestic temple that Solomon had built in His honor.

God’s description of Jerusalem as a bloody city was not just hyperbole. He wasn’t exaggerating or attempting to use over-the-top rhetoric to paint the city in as negative a light as He possibly could. In six verses, God lays out the evidence for His accusation of blood-guilt against Jerusalem’s inhabitants. In verses two and three, He refers to Jerusalem as a “city of murderers,” and each of these “murderers” was guilty of committing an actual crime.

“…you are guilty because of the blood you have shed.” – Ezekiel 22:4 NLT

Every leader in Israel who lives within your walls is bent on murder. – Ezekiel 22:6 NLT

People accuse others falsely and send them to their death. – Ezekiel 22:9 NLT

There are hired murderers, loan racketeers, and extortioners everywhere.” – Ezekiel 22:12 NLT

But now I clap my hands in indignation over your dishonest gain and bloodshed. – Ezekiel 22:13 NLT

The Mosaic Law had been intended to regulate human behavior, dictating how God’s people were to interact and engage with Him and with one another. The law had a vertical and horizontal aspect to it. It outlined how the Israelites were to conduct their lives and display their set-apart status as His chosen people. There were laws that determined how they were to treat God, and there were laws that determined their relationships with one another. And adherence to the law was to produce a community that was regulated and motivated by love.

There was an occasion when Jesus was approached by some Jewish religious leaders, and they asked Him to name “the most important commandment in the law of Moses,” (Matthew 22:36 NLT), to which Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 NLT). Jesus described this as “the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:38 NLT), but then quickly added the following addendum to His answer:

A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:39 NLT

Love God. Love others. The entire corpus of the Mosaic Law rested on those two timeless truths. Obedience to God’s law should reflect a love for Him and demonstrate a love for others. It was never intended to be a list of rules and regulations to adhere to out of some sense of duty or in hopes of a reward for a job well done.

God had graciously given His laws to the descendants of Abraham. They were unique to the people of Israel and were designed to set them apart from the rest of the world‘s population. By living in loving obedience to God’s commands, the Israelites would showcase God’s love, mercy, power, and grace to the nations. But rather than love and listen to God, they had chosen to adopt the ways of the world. They wanted to blend in, not stand out.

We want to be like the nations all around us, who serve idols of wood and stone.” – Ezekiel 20:32 NLT

They chose idolatry over fidelity and faithfulness. And in choosing to love false gods, they rejected the one true God. They fell out of love with God and abandoned His law and, in doing so, lost the capacity to love one another. The apostle Paul describes the sequence of events that leads to this kind of drastic behavioral change.

…they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself… – Romans 1:21-25 NLT

This pattern is on full display in Ezekiel 22, as God describes the downward trajectory of Judah’s apostasy. Their idolatry or love affair with false gods had resulted in abject hatred for one another. Selfishness ruled the day. The entire community was marked by injustice and abuse. By choosing to reject God and embrace idols, the people of Israel had jettisoned their set-apart status and took on the characteristics of the fallen world around them.

They no longer honored their fathers and mothers as God had commanded them to do. They extorted the foreigners living among them, profiting off of them by demanding payment for protection. Rather than treat orphans and widows with dignity and respect as God had commanded, they wronged and oppressed them. They were guilty of perjury and liable, falsely accusing one another just to line their own pockets. And they were even willing to see the innocent put to death if it meant they could somehow benefit from their demise. Adultery was rampant. Sexual sin was widely practiced and accepted. Rape and incest had become so commonplace that there was no longer any shame associated with these heinous acts. Hired murderers, loan racketeers, and extortioners were everywhere. And God sums up the sorry state of affairs by declaring, “They never even think of me and my commands, says the Sovereign Lord” ( Ezekiel 22:12 NLT).

In a sense, God was out of sight and out of mind. They lived as if He didn’t even exist, or if He did, He was too powerless or indifferent to do anything about their behavior. They truly thought they could continue to live in violation of His law and get away with it. But they were in for a rude awakening. God was about to bring their sinful free-for-all to an abrupt and ignominious end.

“But now I clap my hands in indignation over your dishonest gain and bloodshed. How strong and courageous will you be in my day of reckoning? I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said. I will scatter you among the nations and purge you of your wickedness.” – Ezekiel 22:13-15 NLT

The people of God had become godless. They had abandoned their set-apart status in order to blend in with the rest of the world. But their idols would not save them. Their substitute gods would prove to be impotent and incapable of delivering them from the wrath of Yahweh. Their sinful behavior had polluted the land of promise, so God was going to purge the land of their presence, sending them into exile just like Ezekiel and his fellow refugees. But when all was said and done, they would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Yahweh alone is 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.

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.

The Scepter and the Sword

And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus says the Lord, say:

“A sword, a sword is sharpened
    and also polished,
10 sharpened for slaughter,
    polished to flash like lightning!

(Or shall we rejoice? You have despised the rod, my son, with everything of wood.) 11 So the sword is given to be polished, that it may be grasped in the hand. It is sharpened and polished to be given into the hand of the slayer. 12 Cry out and wail, son of man, for it is against my people. It is against all the princes of Israel. They are delivered over to the sword with my people. Strike therefore upon your thigh. 13 For it will not be a testing—what could it do if you despise the rod?” declares the Lord God.

14 “As for you, son of man, prophesy. Clap your hands and let the sword come down twice, yes, three times, the sword for those to be slain. It is the sword for the great slaughter, which surrounds them, 15 that their hearts may melt, and many stumble. At all their gates I have given the glittering sword. Ah, it is made like lightning; it is taken up for slaughter. 16 Cut sharply to the right; set yourself to the left, wherever your face is directed. 17 I also will clap my hands, and I will satisfy my fury; I the Lord have spoken.” – Ezekiel 21:8-17 NLT

In this rather poetic-sounding passage, God refers to the rod and the sword, two symbols of kingly authority. The rod (šēḇeṭ) refers to the royal scepter of the king. It is the same word used in Jacob’s death-bed blessing of his son, Judah.

The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
the one whom all nations will honor.– Genesis 49:10 NLT

Ezekiel’s audience would have been familiar with this passage and would have understood it as a guarantee of the unbroken line of kings to rule over the tribe of Judah. They couldn’t fathom the idea of an end to the royal lineage of King David.

The other imagery used in this passage is that of the sword, another symbol of kingly authority and power. With his sword, the king ruled over the people, providing them with peace and security as he defended them against all those who would bring them harm. The psalmist records the words of a song that celebrates the king and his sword of righteousness and justice.

I will recite a lovely poem about the king,
for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet.

You are the most handsome of all.
Gracious words stream from your lips.
God himself has blessed you forever.
Put on your sword, O mighty warrior!
You are so glorious, so majestic!
In your majesty, ride out to victory,
defending truth, humility, and justice.
Go forth to perform awe-inspiring deeds!– Psalm 45:1-4 NLT

The scepter and the sword. These two symbols of royal power and authority would have conjured up images of hope in the minds of the exiled Jews to whom Ezekiel was speaking. They longed for the day when King Zedekiah of Judah would put on his sword and ride out to victory against the Babylonians. They desperately longed for a king who would defend truth, humility, and justice. But from their vantage point in Babylon, they had yet to see anyone step up and wield the sword and the scepter in defense of Judah.

But God wanted them to know that the sword they longed for would not come in the hand of their kingly deliverer, but it would be clutched by their enemy and used to wreak havoc and destruction on His rebellious people.

“Son of man, give the people this message from the Lord:

“A sword, a sword
is being sharpened and polished.
It is sharpened for terrible slaughter
and polished to flash like lightning! – Ezekiel 21:9-10 NLT

God will leave no doubt as to who will be bringing this sword of destruction against the people of Judah. In verse 19, He refers to it as “the sword of the king of Babylon to come” (Ezekiel 21:19 ESV). This sword will be wielded by a king but not a king from the line of David. No, this king will be a foreigner whom God has chosen to be His royal executioner.

“Now will you laugh?
Those far stronger than you have fallen beneath its power!
Yes, the sword is now being sharpened and polished;
it is being prepared for the executioner.” – Ezekiel 21:10-11 NLT

God wanted His people to understand that this coming destruction was His doing. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were His chosen instruments to carry out His just and righteous judgment upon His unrepentant people. In Jeremiah 45:10, God refers to Nebuchadnezzar as “my servant.”

Later in the book of Ezekiel, God will refer to Nebuchadnezzar as His employee.

“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

God was going to use this pagan king and his seemingly invincible army to carry out divine justice upon the recalcitrant people of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar and his forces would serve as God’s instruments of wrath, and He flatly states, “that sword will slaughter my people and their leaders—everyone will die!” (Ezekiel 21:12 NLT).

God is emphatic that this destruction will be all-encompassing and indiscriminate. All will die, including the king. And the historical record asserts that King Zedekiah was not spared the wrath of God. His royal position did not immunize him from God’s righteous reckoning.

But the Babylonian troops chased King Zedekiah and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath. There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. The king of Babylon made Zedekiah watch as he slaughtered his sons. He also slaughtered all the officials of Judah at Riblah. Then he gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him in bronze chains, and the king of Babylon led him away to Babylon. Zedekiah remained there in prison until the day of his death. – Jeremiah 52:8-11 NLT

God wanted His people to know that the royal scepter, while a symbol of kingly authority, would not provide Zedekiah with any protection. The sword of Nebuchadnezzar would show no favorites and extend no courtesies.

“For testing will come, and what will happen when the scepter, which the sword despises, is no more? declares the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 21:14 NET

God was going to remove Zedekiah from the throne, in keeping with the prophecy He earlier gave to Ezekiel.

“…he will die in Babylon, in the land of the king who enthroned him, whose oath he despised and whose covenant he broke.” – Ezekiel 17:16 NLT

Zedekiah would be the last king to sit on the throne of David. According to the book of 2 Kings, “Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan as governor over the people he had left in Judah” (2 Kings 25:22 NLT). This abrupt end to the Davidic line left the people in a state of despair, prompting many of them to flee to Egypt for protection from the Babylonian occupiers.

It seems that a vital part of Ezekiel’s delivery of this less-than-pleasant message was his acting out of the coming destruction. God instructs his prophet to take an actual sword and swing it before the faces of his stunned audience.

“…take the sword and brandish it twice,
even three times,
to symbolize the great massacre,
the great massacre facing them on every side. – Ezekiel 21:14 NLT

The sight of this prophet wildly swinging an unsheathed sword while describing the wholesale slaughter of Jerusalem’s inhabitants would have been unsettling. He was to accompany this disturbing display with loud shouts and the clapping of hands, all intended to create an atmosphere of fear and foreboding.

“Let their hearts melt with terror,
for the sword glitters at every gate.
It flashes like lightning
and is polished for slaughter!” – Ezekiel 21:15 NLT

God declares His intentions to guide the hands of His “servant” Nebuchadnezzar as he delivers each deadly blow with the sword of His fury.

“O sword, slash to the right,
then slash to the left,
wherever you will,
wherever you want.
I, too, will clap my hands,
and I will satisfy my fury.
I, the Lord, have spoken!”– Ezekiel 21:16-17 NLT

All of this disturbing imagery would have left Ezekiel’s audience confused and clamoring for answers. How could a good God pour out such devastating judgment upon His chosen people? For centuries, they had relied upon the enduring patience of God. In fact, they had grown accustomed to abusing His patience, assuring themselves that He would always forgive them of any indiscretions they may have committed.

“At least some of the problem that Ezekiel’s audience had in accepting such a gloomy picture of the future can be traced to the natural religious tendency to think of God as kindly and thus not really capable of punishing people decisively. Why would God destroy His own beloved people in whom He had invested such time and effort since He brought them out of Egypt centuries before? Some of the problem lay also in people’s natural, routine optimism. It is hard to imagine the country in which one grew up and enjoyed life in the past actually coming to an end, never again to be an independent nation, never again to have its own government and laws and economy and stable traditions.” – Douglas Stuart, Ezekiel

But they were in for a rude awakening. The patience of God had finally expired and the sword was coming. There would be no escape and no second chances. While they had long relished the idea of an all-loving, all-forgiving God, they had long ago abandoned any concept of His holiness and righteousness. And their actions had proven that they had no intentions of keeping His command:

You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. – Leviticus 19:2 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.