A Vision of Two Valleys

1 “And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog and say, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. And I will turn you about and drive you forward, and bring you up from the uttermost parts of the north, and lead you against the mountains of Israel. Then I will strike your bow from your left hand, and will make your arrows drop out of your right hand. You shall fall on the mountains of Israel, you and all your hordes and the peoples who are with you. I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field to be devoured. You shall fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. I will send fire on Magog and on those who dwell securely in the coastlands, and they shall know that I am the Lord.

“And my holy name I will make known in the midst of my people Israel, and I will not let my holy name be profaned anymore. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel. Behold, it is coming and it will be brought about, declares the Lord God. That is the day of which I have spoken.

“Then those who dwell in the cities of Israel will go out and make fires of the weapons and burn them, shields and bucklers, bow and arrows, clubs and spears; and they will make fires of them for seven years, 10 so that they will not need to take wood out of the field or cut down any out of the forests, for they will make their fires of the weapons. They will seize the spoil of those who despoiled them, and plunder those who plundered them, declares the Lord God.

11 “On that day I will give to Gog a place for burial in Israel, the Valley of the Travelers, east of the sea. It will block the travelers, for there Gog and all his multitude will be buried. It will be called the Valley of Hamon-gog. 12 For seven months the house of Israel will be burying them, in order to cleanse the land. 13 All the people of the land will bury them, and it will bring them renown on the day that I show my glory, declares the Lord God. 14 They will set apart men to travel through the land regularly and bury those travelers remaining on the face of the land, so as to cleanse it. At the end of seven months they will make their search. 15 And when these travel through the land and anyone sees a human bone, then he shall set up a sign by it, till the buriers have buried it in the Valley of Hamon-gog. 16 (Hamonah is also the name of the city.) Thus shall they cleanse the land.

17 “As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord God: Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field: ‘Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. 18 You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth—of rams, of lambs, and of he-goats, of bulls, all of them fat beasts of Bashan. 19 And you shall eat fat till you are filled, and drink blood till you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you. 20 And you shall be filled at my table with horses and charioteers, with mighty men and all kinds of warriors,’ declares the Lord God.

21 “And I will set my glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid on them. 22 The house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God, from that day forward. 23 And the nations shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity, because they dealt so treacherously with me that I hid my face from them and gave them into the hand of their adversaries, and they all fell by the sword. 24 I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their transgressions, and hid my face from them. Ezekiel 39:1-24 ESV

Gog, this future world leader, who will form an alliance of nations to attack the reestablished nation of Israel, will find himself with a very powerful enemy: God Himself. So, God has Ezekiel write down a message for this as-yet-to-be-born, self-appointed conqueror of Israel.

I am your enemy, O Gog, ruler of the nations of Meshech and Tubal. I will turn you around and drive you toward the mountains of Israel, bringing you from the distant north. – Ezekiel 39:2-3 NLT

From this point forward, God makes it clear that everything Gog does will be according to His plan. Repeatedly, God states, “I will…,” declaring His sovereign plan to use Gog as a means of accomplishing His preferred and predetermined end. Having Ezekiel record this message in written form ensures that it will last long after the prophet’s death. As a divinely inspired portion of Scripture, the message is eternal as well as reliable. What God has said will actually happen. And whether this man, Gog, ever receives this message from God, all those who read it over the centuries will know that both his ambition and ultimate annihilation are the work of God.

God will be the driving force behind this entire end times event. The participants will not be unthinking pawns in His hands, operating like automatons or robots. They will be acting out their own selfish desires and operating according to what they believe is their own free will. But God will be using them to accomplish His predetermined will. When Gog and his allies make the fateful decision to come against the defenseless people of Israel, they will find themselves in a battle with God Almighty.

I will knock the bow from your left hand and the arrows from your right hand, and I will leave you helpless. You and your army and your allies will all die on the mountains. I will feed you to the vultures and wild animals. You will fall in the open fields, for I have spoken, says the Sovereign Lord. And I will rain down fire on Magog and on all your allies who live safely on the coasts. Then they will know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 39:3-6 NLT

This will be a lopsided battle ending in the total annihilation of the enemy’s army and the divine destruction of their homeland. This day of judgment will deliver a powerful message to every person who happens to be alive at the time. Even at this late date in human history, the world will be filled with idolatrous and unrighteous people who have refused to acknowledge Yahweh as the one true god. The apostle Paul provided Timothy with a description of the spiritual climate in those days.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

But with His utter destruction of Gog and Magog, God will send a message to the world.

I will make known my holy name among my people of Israel. I will not let anyone bring shame on it. And the nations, too, will know that I am the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. – Ezekiel 39:7 NLT

It will be painfully clear that this display of supernatural destruction is the work of God, just like the judgments of the seven trumpets and seven bowls recorded in the book of Revelation. No one will be able to miss the message God is sending. He is God alone and no one can resist His sovereign will.

In verses 9-16, Ezekiel records the horrific aftermath of this one-sided battle. The bodies of the slain will cover the ground as far as the eye can see, and it will take seven months to bury all the dead. The size of Gog’s fallen army is so great that the Israelites will be able to use the wood from their shields, spears, bows, and arrows as fuel for a period of seven years. The valley in which the bodies of the fallen will be buried will be called, “The Valley of the Multitude of Gog.” And for seven months after the last body has been interred, a special team of men will scour the land looking for any last bones that may have been missed, marking their location so the burial detail can complete their grisly work.

This imagery stands in stark contrast to that found in Ezekiel 37. There Ezekiel describes his vision of the valley of dry bones. He sees a landscape covered in dry, scattered bones that are intended to represent the spiritual state of God’s people. But in this case, rather than burial, the bones are miraculously rejoined together.

The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies… – Ezekiel 37:7-8 NLT

Then Ezekiel watched as God breathed new life into the newly formed bodies of His people.

breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army. – Ezekiel 37:10 NLT

What a glaring contrast between these two scenes. One is a prediction of a literal event that will take place in human history. The other is a vision of a spiritual transformation that will take place among God’s chosen people. Both are real and guaranteed to take place. But where Gog and his allies will suffer defeat, death, and the dishonor of burial in a mass grave, the people of Israel will enjoy the blessings of a revitalized relationship with Yahweh made possible by His gracious transformation of their hearts.

God reveals the details of this end times event to His prophet so that he can share it with the exiled people of Judah. This entire section of Ezekiel’s book was meant to provide the helpless and hopeless people of God with encouragement by reminding them that He had not forgotten or forsaken them. God assures them, “I will demonstrate my glory to the nations. Everyone will see the punishment I have inflicted on them and the power of my fist when I strike. And from that time on the people of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God” (Ezekiel 39:21-22 NLT).

Yes, they had been punished for their sin. Their status as exiles was proof of that fact. But God wanted them to remember that He was not yet done. Their judgment would be followed by their justification. He would one day redeem and restore them, cleansing them from all their impurities and providing them with new hearts that will allow them to worship Him alone.

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.

God’s Miracle Makeover of Israel

25 “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.

33 “Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. 34 And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. 35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ 36 Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.

37 “Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. 38 Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 36:25-38 ESV

The nations mocked the integrity and reliability of Israel’s God by questioning His failure to protect them.

These are the people of the Lord, but he couldn’t keep them safe in his own land! – Ezekiel 36:20 NLT

The people of Israel had flaunted their sins in the face of God despite His repeated warnings of judgment. Even after the Babylonians had begun their siege of Jerusalem, the city’s residents refused to repent of their sins and return to the Lord so that they might be pardoned and delivered. As far away as Babylon, where the exiles from Nebuchadnezzar’s first incursion into Judah had been sent, the Jews were continuing to flaunt their idolatry and immorality in the face of God.

Yet, despite these ongoing displays of stubbornness and unfaithfulness, God promised to redeem and restore a remnant of His people.

“But the mountains of Israel will produce heavy crops of fruit for my people—for they will be coming home again soon! See, I care about you, and I will pay attention to you. Your ground will be plowed and your crops planted. I will greatly increase the population of Israel, and the ruined cities will be rebuilt and filled with people. – Ezekiel 36:8-10 NLT

But there is far more to this promise than the repatriation of God’s people to the land of promise. They had been cast out because of their wickedness and there had been little change in their spiritual condition. Nowhere along the way has God pointed out any sign of contrition or sorrow for their sin. He has not acknowledged a change in their behavior or any display of repentance among them. Yet, He promises to restore them to the land. How can that be? Why would God allow His rebellious and unrepentant children to occupy the land of promise again when they had shown no indication that they were ready to change their ways?

He has guaranteed their return in no uncertain terms.

“I, the Sovereign Lord, will gather you back from the nations where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel once again.” – Ezekiel 11:17 NLT

I will reach out with my strong hand and powerful arm, and I will bring you back from the lands where you are scattered. – Ezekiel 20:34 NLT

I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. – Ezekiel 34:13 NLT

And there are no conditions tied to these promises. In other words, God has not demanded any particular action on the part of His people for these promises to be fulfilled. This message from God represents a marked change from the original agreement He had made with the Israelites when they were leaving Egypt and headed to the land of promise.

“When I led your ancestors out of Egypt, it was not burnt offerings and sacrifices I wanted from them. This is what I told them: ‘Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!’” – Jeremiah 7:22-23 NLT

That covenant was conditional, stipulating a stringent and unwavering commitment on the part of God’s people that they keep His commands. But this time, God demands nothing from His people. There are no calls to obedience or demands for a change in their behavior. What makes this passage so remarkable is its non-conditional nature. God is going to do for His people what they were incapable of doing for themselves.

The prophet Jeremiah records God’s assessment of His people’s inability to do the right thing.

“But my people would not listen to me. They kept doing whatever they wanted, following the stubborn desires of their evil hearts. They went backward instead of forward. From the day your ancestors left Egypt until now, I have continued to send my servants, the prophets—day in and day out. But my people have not listened to me or even tried to hear. They have been stubborn and sinful—even worse than their ancestors.” – Jeremiah 7:24-26 NLT

It didn’t matter how many times God warned, rebuked, or punished them; they would not repent because they could not. They didn’t have it in them. Yes, there were isolated cases of repentant Jews along the way. There was always a remnant of those who remained faithful to Yahweh, but they were few numbers.

So, God reveals that He is going to do something radically different. Rather than demand repentance, God is going to provide complete renewal – from the inside out.

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

This does not describe some self-motivated, self-improvement strategy instigated by God’s people. No, this is a radical and supernatural transformation of their entire nature. It is exactly what Paul describes in his letter to the Corinthians.

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

The members of the Corinthian church to whom Paul wrote had been radically transformed by the power of God made possible through their faith in Jesus Christ. They had been cleansed, made holy, and restored to a right relationship with God through their relationship with Jesus Christ. And as Paul told the believers in Ephesus, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).

God describes the same kind of transformation taking place in the lives of His chosen people, the Israelites.

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

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” – Jeremiah 31:31-34 NLT

This passage speaks of a future day when God will redeem, renew, and restore His rebellious people. It will be the greatest of all miracles, a profound surgical procedure in which He removes their hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh. Everything about them will be changed in an instant. And He makes it clear that they will have nothing to brag about because they will have done nothing to make it happen.

I am not doing this because you deserve it. O my people of Israel, you should be utterly ashamed of all you have done!” – Ezekiel 36:32 NLT

The holy and righteous God of Israel will one day pardon His rebellious people. He will redeem a remnant from among the descendants of Abraham and restore them to the land of Canaan where they will live in perfect communion with Him. And when this unprecedented transformation takes place, everyone will know that it is the work of God. There will be no other explanation.

Then the surrounding nations that survive will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruins and replanted the wasteland. For I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I say. – Ezekiel 36:36 NLT

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

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

Do the Right Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pride Goes Before the Fall

1 In the eleventh year, in the third month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude:

“Whom are you like in your greatness?
    Behold, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches and forest shade,
    and of towering height,
    its top among the clouds.
The waters nourished it;
    the deep made it grow tall,
making its rivers flow
    around the place of its planting,
sending forth its streams
    to all the trees of the field.
So it towered high
    above all the trees of the field;
its boughs grew large
    and its branches long
    from abundant water in its shoots.
All the birds of the heavens
    made their nests in its boughs;
under its branches all the beasts of the field
    gave birth to their young,
and under its shadow
    lived all great nations.
It was beautiful in its greatness,
    in the length of its branches;
for its roots went down
    to abundant waters.
The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
    nor the fir trees equal its boughs;
neither were the plane trees
    like its branches;
no tree in the garden of God
    was its equal in beauty.
I made it beautiful
    in the mass of its branches,
and all the trees of Eden envied it,
    that were in the garden of God.

10 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because it towered high and set its top among the clouds, and its heart was proud of its height, 11 I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations. He shall surely deal with it as its wickedness deserves. I have cast it out. 12 Foreigners, the most ruthless of nations, have cut it down and left it. On the mountains and in all the valleys its branches have fallen, and its boughs have been broken in all the ravines of the land, and all the peoples of the earth have gone away from its shadow and left it. 13 On its fallen trunk dwell all the birds of the heavens, and on its branches are all the beasts of the field. 14 All this is in order that no trees by the waters may grow to towering height or set their tops among the clouds, and that no trees that drink water may reach up to them in height. For they are all given over to death, to the world below, among the children of man, with those who go down to the pit.

15 “Thus says the Lord God: On the day the cedar went down to Sheol I caused mourning; I closed the deep over it, and restrained its rivers, and many waters were stopped. I clothed Lebanon in gloom for it, and all the trees of the field fainted because of it. 16 I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit. And all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, were comforted in the world below. 17 They also went down to Sheol with it, to those who are slain by the sword; yes, those who were its arm, who lived under its shadow among the nations.

18 “Whom are you thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? You shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the world below. You shall lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword.

“This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 31:1-18 ESV

The Egyptians had a pride problem. They had enjoyed a long tenure as a world superpower and had grown accustomed to throwing their weight around. But their days of glory were about to come to an ignominious end. While they still considered themselves to be a major player on the global stage, God held a different opinion. He invites them to consider the Assyrians, whom He compares to “a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches and forest shade, and of towering height” (Ezekiel 31:3 ESV). This well-watered “tree” thrived and grew to unimaginable heights, towering  “high above all the trees of the field” (Ezekiel 31:5 ESV).

This horticultural metaphor portrays the Assyrian empire as a towering tree that overshadows every other tree in the forest. The upstart Assyrians had asserted their influence in a major way, having expanded their domain throughout that region of the world. At one point, they had no rival and faced no threat to their hegemony. Like the Egyptians, they reveled in their military superiority and took pride in their seeming invincibility. And God took full credit for their meteoric rise to power and prominence.

“Because I made this tree so beautiful,
    and gave it such magnificent foliage,
it was the envy of all the other trees of Eden,
    the garden of God.” – Ezekiel 31:9 NLT

They could not claim responsibility for the dominating nature of their expansion. It had all been God’s doing. He had sovereignty ordained their global expansion, even ordering their invasion of Egypt and the destruction of Thebes 45 years earlier in 633 B.C. The prophet, Nahum, describes the fall of Thebes in graphic detail.

Are you any better than the city of Thebes,
    situated on the Nile River, surrounded by water?
She was protected by the river on all sides,
    walled in by water.
Ethiopia and the land of Egypt
    gave unlimited assistance.
The nations of Put and Libya
    were among her allies.
Yet Thebes fell,
    and her people were led away as captives.
Her babies were dashed to death
    against the stones of the streets.
Soldiers threw dice to get Egyptian officers as servants.
    All their leaders were bound in chains. – Nahum 3:8-10 NLT

What right did the Egyptians have to boast of their great power when they had fallen to the Assyrians? And what hope did the Egyptians have of escaping the Babylonians, the very nation that had destroyed and supplanted the Assyrians? Nebuchadnezzar’s forces had thoroughly trounced the mighty Assyrian army at Haran in 609 B.C., effectively bringing an end to the Assyrian empire.

God hates pride in all its forms. And His hatred of pride is expressed throughout the Scriptures.

Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.  – Proverbs 11: 2 NLT

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:6 NIV

All throughout the Old Testament, God speaks of Israel’s arrogance and pride. He blasts them for their extreme self-importance and attitude of insufferable self-worth. God hates pride in His people, but He won’t tolerate it among the nations either. Pride is what caused Satan’s fall. Just before God cast him out of heaven, Satan’s attitude reflected his unparalleled pride and arrogance.

“For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.'” – Isaiah 14:13-14 NLT

He wanted to be like God. It was the same temptation he used on Adam and Eve in the garden.

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 NASB

Self-reliance and independence lay at the root of pride. We begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. We begin to believe our own press and think that we are something special. Our seeming successes only act to feed our insatiable thirst for recognition, reward, and self-advancement. We even begin to take credit for what God has done and all those things He has made it possible for us to do. You see this reflected in the words of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, as he stood gazing over his royal capital from his palace balcony.

“Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” – Daniel 4:30 NLT

At that very moment, God took away Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom as well as his sanity. And it wasn’t until he looked up and acknowledged the rule and reign of God, that his sanity returned.

In today’s reading, we see God’s anger expressed toward Egypt for her pride and arrogance. Even nations can exhibit an over-inflated sense of self-worth. And Egypt suffered from the same case of bloated ego as the Assyrians. Assyria had once been beautiful, strong, self-reliant, and the envy of the nations. But they had fallen. And so would Egypt. Both failed to recognize that their beauty and greatness were God’s doing, not their own. God had given them their lofty position, and He could remove them from it. God had already used the Babylonians to defeat the Assyrians, and now he would use the very same nation to knock the props out from under Egypt.

Humility is a rare commodity these days. Even among believers. We tend to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. We take credit for things that are the result of God’s handiwork and not our own. We compare and contrast ourselves with others, looking for those with whom we stack up positively. We want to come out on the winning side, so we look for those with more flaws and weaknesses than we possess. We celebrate their failures and revel in our own successes. But Paul warns us, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Romans 12:3 NLT).

Egypt’s pride was going to be its downfall. Its arrogance would bring about its demise. Because God hates pride. But He loves to extend His grace to the humble. When we refuse to lift up ourselves and, instead, give Him the credit, we receive His grace. He exalts us at the proper time and in the proper way. Peter put it this way:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. – 1 Peter 5:6 NIV

It is far better to humble ourselves than to be humbled by God. It is far healthier to let God exalt us when and how He sees fit than to attempt to preemptively promote ourselves. Because God hates pride.

And God makes sure to clarify for Ezekiel that Egypt’s fate will be just like that of Assyria. There was no reason for the Jews living in Judah or in exile in Babylon to place any hope in receiving salvation from the Egyptians because their days were numbered and their fate was sealed.

“O Egypt, to which of the trees of Eden will you compare your strength and glory? You, too, will be brought down to the depths with all these other nations. You will lie there among the outcasts who have died by the sword. This will be the fate of Pharaoh and all his hordes. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 31:18 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.

The Folly of Misplaced Trust

1 In the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him and against all Egypt; speak, and say, Thus says the Lord God:

“Behold, I am against you,
    Pharaoh king of Egypt,
the great dragon that lies
    in the midst of his streams,
that says, ‘My Nile is my own;
    I made it for myself.’
I will put hooks in your jaws,
    and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales;
and I will draw you up out of the midst of your streams,
    with all the fish of your streams
    that stick to your scales.
And I will cast you out into the wilderness,
    you and all the fish of your streams;
you shall fall on the open field,
    and not be brought together or gathered.
To the beasts of the earth and to the birds of the heavens
    I give you as food.

Then all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the Lord.

“Because you have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel, when they grasped you with the hand, you broke and tore all their shoulders; and when they leaned on you, you broke and made all their loins to shake. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will bring a sword upon you, and will cut off from you man and beast, and the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste. Then they will know that I am the Lord.

“Because you said, ‘The Nile is mine, and I made it,’ 10 therefore, behold, I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt an utter waste and desolation, from Migdol to Syene, as far as the border of Cush. 11 No foot of man shall pass through it, and no foot of beast shall pass through it; it shall be uninhabited forty years. 12 And I will make the land of Egypt a desolation in the midst of desolated countries, and her cities shall be a desolation forty years among cities that are laid waste. I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and disperse them through the countries.

13 “For thus says the Lord God: At the end of forty years I will gather the Egyptians from the peoples among whom they were scattered, 14 and I will restore the fortunes of Egypt and bring them back to the land of Pathros, the land of their origin, and there they shall be a lowly kingdom. 15 It shall be the most lowly of the kingdoms, and never again exalt itself above the nations. And I will make them so small that they will never again rule over the nations. 16 And it shall never again be the reliance of the house of Israel, recalling their iniquity, when they turn to them for aid. Then they will know that I am the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 29:1-16 ESV

God’s prophecy concerning Tyre had come to Ezekiel “In the eleventh year, on the first day of the month” (Ezekiel 26:1 ESV). Roughly a year earlier, God had given Ezekiel a message concerning Egypt. The prophet records, “In the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me” (Ezekiel 29:1 ESV). For some undisclosed reason, Ezekiel received this oracle from God a year earlier than the one concerning Tyre but, in recording them, he reversed their order.

God had begun His indictment of the surrounding nations with Ammon, then moved to Moab, Edom, and Philistia. Next on His agenda was the Phoenician city of Tyre. Each of these nations and city-states was located in the vicinity of Judah. Now He moves south, turning His attention to a much larger and more formidable actor on the global stage; the nation of Egypt. In this divine oracle, God directs His attention to Pharaoh, as the royal representative of the nation. Like the “prince” of Tyre, Pharaoh struggles with a bit of a pride problem. As the head of a prosperous and powerful nation, this mere mortal had let his own self-importance get the best of him. He had begun to believe that he was responsible for his own success and even claimed to possess the supernatural powers of a god.

“I am your enemy, O Pharaoh, king of Egypt—
    you great monster, lurking in the streams of the Nile.
For you have said, ‘The Nile River is mine;
    I made it for myself.’ – Ezekiel 29:3 NLT

His attitude was similar to that of Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon, who also made the mistake of miscalculating his own self-importance.

As he looked out across the city, he said, “Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” – Daniel 4:30 NLT

Both of these men were under the self-inflicted delusion that their power and authority rivaled that of a god. They viewed themselves as superhuman and were worshiped by their people as deities in human form. God refers to Pharaoh as “the great dragon” (Ezekiel 29:3 ESV). The Hebrew word is tannîn (תַּנִּין) and it means “dragon, serpent, sea monster.” In ancient Near Eastern mythology, this sea monster represented the chaos that ruled the earth before creation. The Egyptians had attributed the destruction of this “chaos monster” to one of the earlier Pharaohs, which had resulted in the creation of the life-giving Nile.

But Yahweh, the true Creator-God, exposes Pharaoh as a fraud, accusing him of being the source of chaos, not its destroyer. He is the “great dragon that lies in the midst of his streams” (Ezekiel 29:3 ESV). Pharaoh was not a god to be worshiped but a dangerous foe to be feared and avoided at all costs; a deadly predator lurking just beneath the surface of the Nile.

At the time Ezekiel was writing his book, Egypt was considered a superpower in the region. The Egyptians had enjoyed great success in expanding their empire and had set their sights on Palestine as a natural next step in their desire for global dominion. When the Assyrians invaded the region, the Egyptians tried to play the spoiler, doing everything they could to thwart the Assyrian takeover of Palestine. When the Assyrians set their sights on the northern kingdom of Israel, King Hoshea turned to Egypt for help.

King Shalmaneser of Assyria attacked King Hoshea, so Hoshea was forced to pay heavy tribute to Assyria. But Hoshea stopped paying the annual tribute and conspired against the king of Assyria by asking King So of Egypt to help him shake free of Assyria’s power. – 2 Kings 17:3-4 NLT

But Hoshea’s reliance upon the Egyptians proved unsuccessful.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. – 2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT

Later, when the Assyrians moved against the southern kingdom of Judah, King Shalmaneser warned them against making alliances with the Egyptians.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – 2 Kings 18:19-21 NLT

And the prophet, Isaiah, reveals that King Shalmaneser’s suspicions were justified. King Hezekiah was intending to turn to Egypt for assistance. But God was not pleased with those plans.

“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
    You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
    thus piling up your sins.
For without consulting me,
    you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
    You have tried to hide in his shade.
But by trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated,
    and by depending on him, you will be disgraced.
For though his power extends to Zoan
    and his officials have arrived in Hanes,
all who trust in him will be ashamed.
    He will not help you.
    Instead, he will disgrace you.” – Isaiah 30:1-5 NLT

God even uses the same imagery as King Shalmaneser when describing Egypt as an unreliable staff made of reeds. 

All the people of Egypt will know that I am the Lord,
    for to Israel you were just a staff made of reeds.
When Israel leaned on you,
    you splintered and broke
    and stabbed her in the armpit.
When she put her weight on you,
    you collapsed, and her legs gave way. – Ezekiel 29:6-7 NLT

What Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Shalmaneser all failed to understand was that their 15 minutes of fame had been the work of God. The rise to power had been His doing and not their own. But each of these men and the nations they represented had wrongly assumed that they were the masters of their fates and the arbiters of their own futures. Yet, God warns Pharaoh, “Because you said, ‘The Nile River is mine; I made it,’ I am now the enemy of both you and your river. I will make the land of Egypt a totally desolate wasteland, from Migdol to Aswan, as far south as the border of Ethiopia” (Ezekiel 29:9-10 NLT).

God was going to do to Egypt what He had done to His own people. He would judge their pride and arrogance by orchestrating their defeat at the hands of a more powerful nation. Their cities would be destroyed and their people taken captive to foreign lands. But after 40 years had passed, God would return them to their land.

“But this is what the Sovereign Lord also says: At the end of the forty years I will bring the Egyptians home again from the nations to which they have been scattered. I will restore the prosperity of Egypt and bring its people back to the land of Pathros in southern Egypt from which they came. But Egypt will remain an unimportant, minor kingdom. It will be the lowliest of all the nations, never again great enough to rise above its neighbors.– Ezekiel 29:13-15 NLT

The history of this region of the world reveals the sovereign will of God as each of these mighty nations vied for hegemony. Egypt fell to the Babylonians in 568-567 B.C., and many of its citizens were dispersed throughout the Babylonian Empire. But the Babylonians were later subsumed by the more powerful Persian Empire, and after 40 years in exile, the Egyptians were allowed to return to their land.

For the Jewish exiles listening to this oracle spoken by Ezekiel, these prophetic pronouncements would have sounded far-fetched and difficult to believe. The thought of Egypt, a perennial powerhouse in the region, falling to the upstart Babylonians was unthinkable. But God was reminding them of His unprecedented power and sovereign control over all nations. He had never intended Egypt to be their savior. The people of Judah were have placed their hope and faith in Him, regardless of what was happening to them or around them. And God makes it clear that Egypt’s fall was meant to provide a powerful lesson for the people of Judah.

“Then Israel will no longer be tempted to trust in Egypt for help. Egypt’s shattered condition will remind Israel of how sinful she was to trust Egypt in earlier days. Then Israel will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 29:16 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.

Your Enemy Is My Enemy

15 “Thus says the Lord God to Tyre: Will not the coastlands shake at the sound of your fall, when the wounded groan, when slaughter is made in your midst? 16 Then all the princes of the sea will step down from their thrones and remove their robes and strip off their embroidered garments. They will clothe themselves with trembling; they will sit on the ground and tremble every moment and be appalled at you. 17 And they will raise a lamentation over you and say to you,

“‘How you have perished,
    you who were inhabited from the seas,
O city renowned,
    who was mighty on the sea;
she and her inhabitants imposed their terror
    on all her inhabitants!
18 Now the coastlands tremble
    on the day of your fall,
and the coastlands that are on the sea
    are dismayed at your passing.’

19 “For thus says the Lord God: When I make you a city laid waste, like the cities that are not inhabited, when I bring up the deep over you, and the great waters cover you, 20 then I will make you go down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of old, and I will make you to dwell in the world below, among ruins from of old, with those who go down to the pit, so that you will not be inhabited; but I will set beauty in the land of the living. 21 I will bring you to a dreadful end, and you shall be no more. Though you be sought for, you will never be found again, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 26:15-21 ESV

The fall of Tyre would have a ripple effect, impacting a host of other nations that had grown rich benefiting from their trading relationship with this Phoenician coastal city. Ships from Tyre plied the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, transporting goods to distant ports in Cyprus, Rhodes, Malta, Spain, Sicily, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, and Africa. As a result of its lucrative trading relationships, the city’s residents had grown wealthy and powerful, and while Phoenicia was a relatively small nation, its influence in the region was sizeable. But God was letting Ezekiel know that the Phoenicians, like the Ammonites, Edomites, Moabites, and Philistines, were going to experience the full measure of His wrath because of their treatment of His chosen people.

In Hebrew, the name Tyre (ṣōr) means “rock,” which provides an accurate description of the island’s geographic makeup. During Ezekiel’s lifetime, the city of Tyre was bifurcated, with the original “old city” located on the mainland and a newer city located on an island just offshore. With its rocky shoreline and impressive defensive features, the island city was thought to be impenetrable. But in 332 B.C., the forces of Alexander the Great constructed a massive causeway that connected the mainland to the island and allowed his troops to eventually reach the walls of the city, then besiege and destroy them.

Long before Alexander the Great came to power, God described the coming fall of Tyre in graphic terms.

“The whole coastline will tremble at the sound of your fall, as the screams of the wounded echo in the continuing slaughter. All the seaport rulers will step down from their thrones and take off their royal robes and beautiful clothing. They will sit on the ground trembling with horror at your destruction. – Ezekiel 26:15-16 NLT

The omniscient God was fully aware of Tyre’s fate because it would be His doing. He would bring judgment against the Phoenicians because they had taken advantage of the people of Judah during their darkest days. When Jerusalem eventually fell to the Babylonian forces, the citizens of Tyre rejoiced because they saw it as the elimination of one more competitor in the region. But while the Phoenicians would celebrate Judah’s demise, the day would come when their neighbors would mourn their destruction.

“O famous island city,
    once ruler of the sea,
    how you have been destroyed!
Your people, with their naval power,
    once spread fear around the world.
Now the coastlands tremble at your fall.
    The islands are dismayed as you disappear. – Ezekiel 26:17-18 NLT

Basking in the protective surroundings of its fortified walls, and enjoying the financial rewards of its trading prowess, the citizens of Tyre had grown arrogant and aloof. They saw themselves as untouchable and invincible. They had successfully survived the earlier threat brought on by the Assyrian invasion and now believed that they would weather the Babylonian storm as well. But they failed to realize that their real enemy was God. In choosing to treat Yahweh’s people with disrespect, they had made Him their adversary and would soon feel the full weight of His righteous indignation.

I will make Tyre an uninhabited ruin, like many others. I will bury you beneath the terrible waves of enemy attack. – Ezekiel 26:19 NLT

I will send you to the pit to join those who descended there long ago. – Ezekiel 26:20 NLT

I will bring you to a terrible end, and you will exist no more. – Ezekiel 26:21 NLT

They had made things personal. By choosing to mistreat the people of Judah, the Phoenicians had unknowingly picked a fight with God Almighty, and He had a long memory. He would not soon forget the actions of the people of Tyre. The prophet, Jeremiah, recorded God’s plans for all the enemies of Judah.

This is what the Lord said to me: “Make a yoke, and fasten it on your neck with leather straps. Then send messages to the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon through their ambassadors who have come to see King Zedekiah in Jerusalem. Give them this message for their masters: ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: With my great strength and powerful arm I made the earth and all its people and every animal. I can give these things of mine to anyone I choose. Now I will give your countries to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who is my servant. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control. All the nations will serve him, his son, and his grandson until his time is up. Then many nations and great kings will conquer and rule over Babylon. So you must submit to Babylon’s king and serve him; put your neck under Babylon’s yoke! I will punish any nation that refuses to be his slave, says the Lord. I will send war, famine, and disease upon that nation until Babylon has conquered it.” – Jeremiah 27:2-8 NLT

God seems to indicate that every nation, including the Phoenicians and their city of Tyre, would fall to the Babylonians. But it seems that Tyre was spared destruction by making a treaty with King Nebuchadnezzar.

“Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, besieged Tyre for 13 years (585-572 BC), but the precise historical facts of its outcome are still unclear. He evidently did not conquer the city, but it may have surrendered conditionally to him. Both Jeremiah (27:3-11) and Ezekiel (26:7-14) spoke of this event. Apparently, both Tyre and Sidon surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar, based on a fragmentary Babylonian administrative document which mentions the kings of Tyre and Sidon as receiving rations from the royal Babylonian household (Pritchard 1969a: 308).” – biblearchaeology.org, Fall 2002 issue of Bible and Spade.

If the citizens of Tyre did negotiate a treaty with the Babylonians and managed to stave off the destruction of their city, their joy would prove to be short-lived and premature. Their fall, ordained by God, would take place according to His timing and in keeping with His divine will. They would not escape His judgment.

You will be looked for, but you will never again be found. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 26:21 NLT

God describes destruction so significant that it will leave the city of Tyre virtually unrecognizable. This is not a declaration of Tyre’s complete elimination as a city. But it is a divine guarantee that the once-great city of Tyre would never rise to its former level of power and influence in the region.

“While Tyre seemed to withstand Nebuchadnezzar, it was not prepared for Alexander 250 years later. Although every Phoenician city to the north, including Sidon, welcomed Alexander, Tyre would only agree to surrender nominally to him. They would not allow him entrance to the city, which was exactly what Alexander intended to do. Not be denied, after only a seven-month siege of the island city, he did what no one else had ever considered possible. Utilizing stones, timber, dirt and debris from the mainland, Alexander constructed a causeway out into the Mediterranean. At last he reached the island, breached the city wall and slew or put into slavery the defiant Tyrians. An amazing feat, Tyre was changed forever.” – biblearchaeology.org, Fall 2002 issue of Bible and Spade.

As Ezekiel delivered this message to his fellow exiles in Babylon, it must have rung hollow. How were they supposed to find joy in the fall of Tyre when they were also facing the news of the coming destruction of their own hometown of Jerusalem? But God wanted them to know that He was in control of all that was happening. It was His doing. No one would escape His sovereign will or alter His providential plan. While the primary focus of His attention was on the rebellious people of Judah, God had not overlooked or ignored the rest of the nations. He would eventually deal with them all.

And God wanted His chosen people to know that they could rely upon Him to do what was just and right. His judgment was necessary and His wrath was justified. But He would also keep His covenant promises to them. And He gave the prophet Isaiah a powerful reminder of His unwavering faithfulness.

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.” – Isaiah 35:3-4 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.

Trust and Obey

“And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer, and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them. During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it. 10 And your food that you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from day to day you shall eat it. 11 And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin; from day to day you shall drink. 12 And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.” 13 And the Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations where I will drive them.” 14 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I have never defiled myself. From my youth up till now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has tainted meat come into my mouth.” 15 Then he said to me, “See, I assign to you cow’s dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread.” 16 Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, behold, I will break the supply of bread in Jerusalem. They shall eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay. 17 I will do this that they may lack bread and water, and look at one another in dismay, and rot away because of their punishment. – Ezekiel 4:9-17 ESV

During the first 390 days of Ezekiel’s one-man theater production, he was limited to a diet of water and bread made from a strange blend of wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and emmer. This unappealing and nutritionally insufficient food regimen was intended to illustrate the conditions the people would suffer in the actual siege of Jerusalem. It would be long in duration and result in the inhabitants of the city living off a subsistence diet made from whatever grains they could find. God restricted Ezekiel’s food intake to a meager eight ounces of bread and just over a liter of water per day. Subsisting for more than a year on this nutritionally deficient diet would have left Ezekiel emaciated and weak. And because he was commanded to act out this parabolic lesson in full display of the people, they would have witnessed the startling and discomfiting transformation in Ezekiel’s physical state.

All of this was intended to provide a vivid illustration of the horrific conditions within the walls of the city of Jerusalem when the Babylonians conducted their final siege of the city. And Moses had warned of this day centuries before.

“The siege and terrible distress of the enemy’s attack will be so severe that you will eat the flesh of your own sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you. The most tenderhearted man among you will have no compassion for his own brother, his beloved wife, and his surviving children. He will refuse to share with them the flesh he is devouring—the flesh of one of his own children—because he has nothing else to eat during the siege and terrible distress that your enemy will inflict on all your towns. The most tender and delicate woman among you—so delicate she would not so much as touch the ground with her foot—will be selfish toward the husband she loves and toward her own son or daughter. She will hide from them the afterbirth and the new baby she has borne, so that she herself can secretly eat them. She will have nothing else to eat during the siege and terrible distress that your enemy will inflict on all your towns.” – Deuteronomy 28:53-57 NLT

But for Ezekiel, the most startling part of God’s command was the requirement to bake his bread over a fire made with dried human dung. Of all the strange things God had asked him to do, this was the part that got Ezekiel’s attention. He was appalled at the thought of doing such a thing because he knew it would render him ceremonially impure. God had intended this unsavory action to remind the exiles of the spiritually impure state of their current conditions.

“This is how Israel will eat defiled bread in the Gentile lands to which I will banish them!” – Ezekiel 4:13 NLT

Without the sacrificial system, the people of God living in Babylon had no way of receiving atonement and cleansing for their sins. As a result, they remained in a perpetual state of spiritual impurity and separation from God. Their very presence in a foreign land living among pagans left them defiled and unworthy of coming into God’s presence.

But while Ezekiel was willing to do everything God had commanded him to do, this part was too much for him, so he appealed to God.

“O Sovereign Lord, must I be defiled by using human dung? For I have never been defiled before. From the time I was a child until now I have never eaten any animal that died of sickness or was killed by other animals. I have never eaten any meat forbidden by the law.” – Ezekiel 4:14 NLT

Even while in exile, Ezekiel had labored to remain faithful to the Mosaic Law. The thought of defiling himself in such a way was unacceptable to him. So, God graciously allowed him to use cow dung instead. Amazingly, this was the only part of God’s plan at which Ezekiel balked. He was willing to do everything God had commanded him to do – without question – even though it all appeared strange and senseless, and would probably result in his own humiliation in the eyes of the people.

The remarkable thing about this story is not the mysterious symbolism of the brick, the number of days involved, or the content of Ezekiel’s diet. It is the faithful obedience of Ezekiel in the face of a very strange request from God. None of this made sense. Ezekiel was being asked to do something patently absurd that would result in him making a fool of himself. And he knew that nothing he did or said was going to make an impact on the people. God had already told him that they would not listen or repent.

But Ezekiel obeyed anyway. He did what God asked him to do. And this will be the pattern portrayed throughout the pages of this book. Over and over again, Ezekiel will respond obediently to the commands of God. He will do what he is told to do, regardless of its difficulty or credibility. He will consistently and persistently obey – time and time again.

But what about us? How do we respond to the Word of God in our lives? Do we obey or do we rationalize, argue, debate, or simply disobey? Does it all have to make sense before we do what God is asking us to do? If it requires us to humble ourselves or get out of our comfort zone, do we balk and bail?

God is looking for men and women who will faithfully obey and do what He is calling them to do – no questions asked. It may not make sense, but it will make a difference because God is behind it all. He has a plan. He knows what is best. There is always a method to His seeming madness. We just need to trust and obey.

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.

Potential Trouble in Paradise

1 These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the Lord, and these are their stages according to their starting places. They set out from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month. On the day after the Passover, the people of Israel went out triumphantly in the sight of all the Egyptians, while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them. On their gods also the Lord executed judgments.

So the people of Israel set out from Rameses and camped at Succoth. And they set out from Succoth and camped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness. And they set out from Etham and turned back to Pi-hahiroth, which is east of Baal-zephon, and they camped before Migdol. And they set out from before Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, and they went a three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham and camped at Marah. And they set out from Marah and came to Elim; at Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there. 10 And they set out from Elim and camped by the Red Sea. 11 And they set out from the Red Sea and camped in the wilderness of Sin. 12 And they set out from the wilderness of Sin and camped at Dophkah. 13 And they set out from Dophkah and camped at Alush. 14 And they set out from Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink. 15 And they set out from Rephidim and camped in the wilderness of Sinai. 16 And they set out from the wilderness of Sinai and camped at Kibroth-hattaavah. 17 And they set out from Kibroth-hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth. 18 And they set out from Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah. 19 And they set out from Rithmah and camped at Rimmon-perez. 20 And they set out from Rimmon-perez and camped at Libnah. 21 And they set out from Libnah and camped at Rissah. 22 And they set out from Rissah and camped at Kehelathah. 23 And they set out from Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher. 24 And they set out from Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah. 25 And they set out from Haradah and camped at Makheloth. 26 And they set out from Makheloth and camped at Tahath. 27 And they set out from Tahath and camped at Terah. 28 And they set out from Terah and camped at Mithkah. 29 And they set out from Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah. 30 And they set out from Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth. 31 And they set out from Moseroth and camped at Bene-jaakan. 32 And they set out from Bene-jaakan and camped at Hor-haggidgad. 33 And they set out from Hor-haggidgad and camped at Jotbathah. 34 And they set out from Jotbathah and camped at Abronah. 35 And they set out from Abronah and camped at Ezion-geber. 36 And they set out from Ezion-geber and camped in the wilderness of Zin (that is, Kadesh). 37 And they set out from Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, on the edge of the land of Edom.

38 And Aaron the priest went up Mount Hor at the command of the Lord and died there, in the fortieth year after the people of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month. 39 And Aaron was 123 years old when he died on Mount Hor.

40 And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negeb in the land of Canaan, heard of the coming of the people of Israel.

41 And they set out from Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah. 42 And they set out from Zalmonah and camped at Punon. 43 And they set out from Punon and camped at Oboth. 44 And they set out from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the territory of Moab. 45 And they set out from Iyim and camped at Dibon-gad. 46 And they set out from Dibon-gad and camped at Almon-diblathaim. 47 And they set out from Almon-diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, before Nebo. 48 And they set out from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho; 49 they camped by the Jordan from Beth-jeshimoth as far as Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab.

50 And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, 51 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 52 then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. 53 And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. 54 You shall inherit the land by lot according to your clans. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance. Wherever the lot falls for anyone, that shall be his. According to the tribes of your fathers you shall inherit. 55 But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. 56 And I will do to you as I thought to do to them.” Numbers 33:1-56 ESV

The people of Israel are almost home. After more than 40 years in the wilderness, they stand on the eastern bank of Jordan River waiting for God’s command to cross over and begin their conquest and occupation of the land of promise. The day they had long been waiting for had finally arrived. There had been a lengthy delay, but now it was time to enjoy what God had promised so long ago.

But as with most things associated with God, the blessing was tied to a requirement. He had one last instruction to give them before they took possession of the land, and it was a fairly significant one. They must drive out all the people who were living there. On top of that, they had to destroy all the idols and pagan shrines erected to the gods of the land. They were to smash every vestige of idol worship they found. In other words, God expected them to clean house before they set up house.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? But if you’re the least bit familiar with the story of the Israelites, they didn’t exactly follow God’s instructions to the letter. They took a few liberties. It’s almost as if the enemy (Satan) was standing there just as he had been in the garden of Eden, asking the question, “Surely, God has not said…”

I can just hear Satan whispering in their ears, “You don’t have to get rid of ALL the idols, just most of them.” Or maybe he worded his temptation this way: “You might want to leave one of the pagan shrines intact, just in case Yahweh doesn’t come through for you.”

And as far as ridding the land of all its occupants, Satan probably did his best to convince the people of God just how politically incorrect and insensitive this might appear to the rest of the people in the region. They probably thought to themselves, “We don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with our new neighbors, do we?”

And God seemed to know that the people would have second thoughts about His command, so He warned them what would happen if they failed to obey.

“But if you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live. And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them.” – Numbers 33:55-56 NLT

“Disobey me,” God says, “and you will live to regret it.” This was not a suggestion, but a command. God expected them to follow His requirements without delay or deviation. He had a good reason for what He was asking them to do, and He knew exactly what would happen if they chose to disobey Him. If the Israelites failed to remove the land’s occupants, their enemies would become a constant threat and a thorn in their side. They would never learn to live amicably together. So, cleansing was critical for spiritual survival.

In his commentary on the book of Numbers, Dr. Thomas Constable writes, “The repetition of ‘all’ (Numbers 33:52) stresses the importance of completely clearing the land of its inhabitants and their religious paraphernalia. God wanted to clean up the land spiritually and to make it a ‘holy land.’ The land was a gift from God to His first-born son, Israel (Numbers 33:53). God warned the Israelites what would happen to them if they were not completely obedient (Numbers 333:55-56). The Canaanites would be a constant source of irritation to them, and God would deal with His people as He planned to deal with the Canaanites.”

God wanted to purify the land spiritually and make it holy. That reminds me of what God wants to do with my life. He wants to clean it up spiritually and set it apart for His use. He is about removing anything in my life that might defile or defeat me. He wants to clean house.

But I tend to hang on to certain remnants of my past. I want to give the enemy some footholds in my life where he can live at peace. I want to keep some of the idols that were there before God came to occupy the land. I find the idols comforting. They bring me a little bit of peace and assurance. But God wants to purge my life of any vestiges of the past. He wants to make all things new. To receive all the blessings the Promised Land had to offer, the people had to obey God fully. The same thing is true for us today. To enjoy all the blessings our new life in Christ offers, we must obey God fully. God makes this clear in His Word.

…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception. – Ephesians 4:22 NLT

Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. – Colossians 3:9 MSG

The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So don’t live in darkness. Get rid of your evil deeds. Shed them like dirty clothes. Clothe yourselves with the armor of right living, as those who live in the light. We should be decent and true in everything we do, so that everyone can approve of our behavior. Don’t participate in wild parties and getting drunk, or in adultery and immoral living, or in fighting and jealousy. But let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of you, and don’t think of ways to indulge your evil desires. – Romans 13:12-14 NLT

God was looking for change in the lives of the Israelites. He wanted to purge and purify them, and that process began with a thorough cleansing of the land. His desire was to rid the landscape of their lives of any and all vestiges of the past.

Like the Israelites, we must take our set-apart status seriously.  We must remove all the idols and false gods that might draw us away from full reliance upon Him. If we do, we will be blessed. If we don’t, we will always find ourselves doing battle with past enemies and tempted to worship the false gods of our former life. Cleansing is always the key to blessing.

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.

Your Sin Will Find You Out

1 Now the people of Reuben and the people of Gad had a very great number of livestock. And they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, and behold, the place was a place for livestock. So the people of Gad and the people of Reuben came and said to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the chiefs of the congregation, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, the land that the Lord struck down before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” And they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.”

But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lord has given them? Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the people of Israel from going into the land that the Lord had given them. 10 And the Lord‘s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, 11 ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me, 12 none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the Lord.’ 13 And the Lord‘s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone. 14 And behold, you have risen in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel! 15 For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.”

16 Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, 17 but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. 19 For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.” 20 So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the Lord for the war, 21 and every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before the Lord, until he has driven out his enemies from before him 22 and the land is subdued before the Lord; then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the Lord and to Israel, and this land shall be your possession before the Lord. 23 But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out. 24 Build cities for your little ones and folds for your sheep, and do what you have promised.” 25 And the people of Gad and the people of Reuben said to Moses, “Your servants will do as my lord commands. 26 Our little ones, our wives, our livestock, and all our cattle shall remain there in the cities of Gilead, 27 but your servants will pass over, every man who is armed for war, before the Lord to battle, as my lord orders.” Numbers 32:1-27 ESV

This chapter contains one of those familiar and oft-quoted verses that are often taken out of context and applied to all kinds of situations.

But if you fail to keep your word, then you will have sinned against the Lord, and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. – Numbers 32:23 NLT

That last line has been used as both a threat and a word of encouragement over the centuries, but few who quote it realize its original context or meaning. We’ve all heard before, but probably never knew where it came from.

“Be sure your sins will find you out!” are words that have flowed from the lips of many a parent and usually in the direction of a disobedient child. But it may surprise you to see these familiar words in their original context. Many of us have forgotten or never known just why Moses spoke these words in the first place.

As the people of God prepared to enter the promised land, the land of Canaan, Moses was approached by the tribes of Reuben and Gad. They possessed a lot of flocks and had taken note that the land east of the Jordan had some great pastureland. So they asked Moses for permission to settle their tribes on the east side of the river instead of crossing over with everyone else into Canaan.

Moses was flabbergasted by their request. He viewed it as a form of insurrection and compared it to the time 40 years earlier when the people of Israel had refused to enter the land. That event was a sore spot for Moses because it had resulted in the deaths of an entire generation of Israelites because they had chosen to disobey the command of God. Moses reminded the Reubenites and Gadites what had happened.

“Why do you want to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the Lord has given them? Your ancestors did the same thing when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to explore the land. After they went up to the valley of Eshcol and explored the land, they discouraged the people of Israel from entering the land the Lord was giving them. Then the Lord was very angry with them…” – Numbers 32:7-10 NLT

Moses had sent spies into the land of Canaan to bring back news of its fruitfulness and the military strength of its occupants. But ten of the 12 spies had convinced the people that while the land was rich and plentiful, its occupants were undefeatable. So, the people decided to disobey God and return to Egypt. But that decision resulted in God’s wrath and punishment. Now 40 years later, that generation had died off and their descendants stood on the edge of Canaan, preparing to enter the land.

When Moses heard the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad to settle outside the land of promise, he was incensed.

“Are you trying to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the LORD has given them? This is what your ancestors did when I sent them from Kadesh–barnea to explore the land.” – Numbers 32:7-8 NLT

For Moses, this was déjà vu all over again. He saw their request as selfish and short-sighted, and another instance of rebellion against God. But the Reubenites and Gadites assured Moses that they were not abandoning the people of God or attempting to persuade them from entering the land. They simply wanted to take advantage of the better pastureland on the east side of the river. They were willing to fight alongside their brothers and assist them in conquering the land of Canaan until every tribe had gained their portion of the inheritance promised to Abraham.

They made a vow not to settle east of the Jordan until that happened. This assurance calmed Moses’ fears, but he still issued a stern warning.

“But if you don’t do what you say, you will be sinning against GOD; you can be sure that your sin will track you down.” – Numbers 32:23 MSG

Moses expected them to keep their word and reminded them that if they failed to do so, their sin would be against God, not the people, and God would remember their sin. He would deal with them severely if they broke their commitment.

In the end, these tribes held up their end of the bargain.

The armed warriors from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh led the Israelites across the Jordan, just as Moses had directed. 13 These armed men—about 40,000 strong—were ready for battle, and the Lord was with them as they crossed over to the plains of Jericho. – Joshua 4:12-13

But their plan was not necessarily God’s plan. They were motivated by greed and self-interest and their decision to settle east of the Jordan overshadowed the promise that God had made to provide them with abundant land on the west side of the Jordan.  They were attracted to what looked good physically and materially. Rather than wait for what God had promised, they chose what they could see with their own eyes.

There seems to be an assumption on their part that there might not be any land on the west side of the Jordan useful for raising flocks. So they chose to settle outside the land of “promise.” And their decision, while approved by Moses, would prove to be a problem in the years to come. Distance from the other tribes would end up producing misunderstanding and disunity (Joshua 22). It also created a hole in the defensive lines of the Israelites. This area was often the first to experience invasion, and Israel would lose control of it several times in its later history (2 Kings 15:29).

So what’s the point? First, there is truth to the adage that my sins will find me out. They will track me down and come back to haunt me. So, I need to take my commitments and my sins seriously because God does. Also, I need to look closely at the motivation behind my decisions. Why am I doing what I am about to do? Am I being motivated by selfishness and greed? What will be the long-term ramifications of my decision if it is wrongly motivated? My sins will find me out. So will my selfish decisions. And both can have a tremendous impact on the lives of others.

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

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

Our Faithful God

27 And Balak said to Balaam, “Come now, I will take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God that you may curse them for me from there.” 28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, which overlooks the desert. 29 And Balaam said to Balak, “Build for me here seven altars and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.” 30 And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

1 When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse and said,

“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
    the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,
the oracle of him who hears the words of God,
    who sees the vision of the Almighty,
    falling down with his eyes uncovered:
How lovely are your tents, O Jacob,
    your encampments, O Israel!
Like palm groves that stretch afar,
    like gardens beside a river,
like aloes that the Lord has planted,
    like cedar trees beside the waters.
Water shall flow from his buckets,
    and his seed shall be in many waters;
his king shall be higher than Agag,
    and his kingdom shall be exalted.
God brings him out of Egypt
    and is for him like the horns of the wild ox;
he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries,
    and shall break their bones in pieces
    and pierce them through with his arrows.
He crouched, he lay down like a lion
    and like a lioness; who will rouse him up?
Blessed are those who bless you,
    and cursed are those who curse you.”

10 And Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he struck his hands together. And Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have blessed them these three times. 11 Therefore now flee to your own place. I said, ‘I will certainly honor you,’ but the Lord has held you back from honor.” 12 And Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not tell your messengers whom you sent to me, 13 ‘If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the Lord, to do either good or bad of my own will. What the Lord speaks, that will I speak’? 14 And now, behold, I am going to my people. Come, I will let you know what this people will do to your people in the latter days.” Numbers 23:27-24:14 ESV

The third time is the charm, or so Balak hoped. In his relentless effort to have Balaam curse the Israelites, Balak suggested that they try their luck at a third location. He still harbored hopes that they might be able to convince Jehovah to change His mind and curse His own people. In a sense, he was attempting to treat God as he had Balaam; by trying to buy Him off. Balak seemed to believe that deities were no different than humans and were susceptible to bribes and influence peddling. He had already authorized the construction of 14 altars and the sacrifice of 56 bulls and seven rams in an attempt to sway the mind of God. And his obsession with defeating the Israelites drove him to up the ante one more time.

But on this occasion, Balaam refused to seek the will of Jehovah because he already knew what the answer would be. The seer had already determined that nothing would convince the God of Israel to do anything but bless His people. Balak’s sacrifices were an exercise in futility and a waste of time.

Rather than follow Balak to Mount Peor, Balaam headed to the wilderness, where it appears he was given a vision by God. As he lay prostrate on the ground, the Holy Spirit opened his eyes to see the Israelites “camping tribe by tribe” (Numbers 24:2 ESV). In the previous accounts, Balaam had stood on higher ground and seen a portion of the Israelite camp with his own eyes. But this time, he was given a vision that allowed him to see each and every one of the 12 tribes of Israel, and this Spirit-induced dream was accompanied by yet another message from God.

“This is the message of Balaam son of Beor,
    the message of the man whose eyes see clearly,
the message of one who hears the words of God,
    who sees a vision from the Almighty,
    who bows down with eyes wide open…” – Numbers 24:3-4 NLT

Balaam was left without any doubts regarding the countless number of Israelites camped in the plains of Moab. He was given a panoramic vision of the entire nation of Israel and was overwhelmed by what he saw.

“How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob;
    how lovely are your homes, O Israel!
They spread before me like palm groves,
    like gardens by the riverside.
They are like tall trees planted by the Lord,
    like cedars beside the waters…” – Numbers 24:5-6 NLT

In his trance-like state, Balaam envisioned Israel as tall trees planted by the hand of God. They grew tall and strong beside the waters, and they were cared for by their divine gardener.

“He will pour the water out of his buckets,
and their descendants will be like abundant water;
their king will be greater than Agag,
and their kingdom will be exalted.” – Numbers 24:7 NET

As God had promised to Abraham centuries earlier, He was going to bless His people and transform them into a mighty nation.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse…” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

God had delivered them from their captivity in Egypt and had been leading them through the wilderness for the last four decades. But soon, they would no longer be wanderers in the wilderness but citizens of a mighty kingdom ruled over by a powerful king. The promised blessings of Jehovah would be fully realized and there was nothing anyone could do to prevent this predetermined outcome.

“God brought them out of Egypt.
They have, as it were, the strength of a young bull;
they will devour hostile people,
and will break their bones,
and will pierce them through with arrows. – Numbers 24:8 NET

Once again, Balak was receiving far-from-pleasant news from his hired gun. Rather than pronouncing a curse on Israel, Balaam was singing the praises of their God and warning against any attempts to do them harm. None of this was what Balak wanted to hear. And to make matters worse, Balaam describes God as a hungry apex predator, waiting to attack and destroy any who would dare stand against His will. And, quoting from Jehovah’s covenant promise to Abraham, Balaam provides Balak with one final warning against trying to curse the Israelites.

“Blessed are those who bless you,
    and cursed are those who curse you.” – Numbers 24:9 ESV

Israel was favored by God and there was nothing Balaam or anyone else could do to alter that fact. Their future was in the hands of Jehovah. He had great plans for them and He would see to it that the covenant promises He made to Abraham were fully fulfilled.

But Balak refused to accept Balaam’s assessment and angrily fired his disappointing diviner. He reneged on his promise of reward and sent Balaam home empty-handed.

“I called you to curse my enemies! Instead, you have blessed them three times. Now get out of here! Go back home! I promised to reward you richly, but the Lord has kept you from your reward.” – Numbers 24:10-11 NLT

But before he departed, Balaam had one more thing to say to his former employer. He reminded Balak that from the very beginning he had been open and above board about his inability to curse the Israelites. He had warned Balak that regardless of how much reward he was offered, he “would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord” (Numbers 24:13 NLT). While Balaam confessed that he could be easily bought off, Jehovah was not susceptible to bribes. The God of Israel had made promises to His people and He would faithfully fulfill them, despite anyone’s attempts to deter or dissuade Him.

As Balaam prepared to return home, he gave Balak one final series of messages that would leave the over-confident king in a state of despair and disillusionment. Not only would God never curse His own people, but He would use them to pour out curses on the nations of Canaan. This wandering band of former slaves would become a force to be reckoned with, as Jehovah carried out His promise to transform them into a mighty nation and gift them the land of Canaan as their home. God would keep every covenant commitment He had made to Abraham, including the promise of many descendants and the gift of a homeland.

“Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.” – Genesis 13:14-17 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.