Random Studies in Ezekiel, Part 6

The last major division of Ezekiel’s big book of Bible prophecy begins with chapter 33. From here to the end of the book, we’re reading full throttle, futuristic prophecies – glimpses of not only Israel’s future at the time they were given, but of our future. Specifically, we’ll be reading about the world during the Millennial reign of Christ. Historically, the prophecies given in this section were given after the fall of Jerusalem. It was a dark time for God’s people, so the messages of a final restoration represented hope and a promise from God that in spite of what was going to transpire over the next 70 years, Israel would, in God’s time, be restored in glory and permanence.

Jerusalem has fallen

It was December, 586 BC and Jerusalem had been in ruins for about three months. It took that long for a lone fugitive to reach Babylon with the news. His arrival in Babylon was predicted long before it happened:

Son of dust, on the day I finish taking from them in Jerusalem the joy of their hearts and their glory and joys-their wives and their sons and their daughters-on that day a refugee from Jerusalem will start on a journey to come to you in Babylon to tell you what has happened. And on the day of his arrival, your voice will suddenly return to you so that you can talk with him; and you will be a symbol for these people, and they shall know I am the Lord.”. (Ezekiel 24:25 – 27 | TLB)

This prophecy was fulfilled in Ezekiel 33:21, 22 –

In the eleventh year of our exile, late in December, one of those who escaped from Jerusalem arrived to tell me, “The city has fallen!” Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me the previous evening, and he had healed me so that I could speak again by the time the man arrived. (TLB)

In spite of the the worst news possible, all was not lost, and that’s Ezekiel’s main theme in chapters 33 – 39. In all, there are six separate messages, though all intertwined to produce a very positive and hopeful declaration that better days lay ahead and that ultimately a tremendous blessing awaits God’s people.

Recommissioning of Ezekiel

Chapter 33 begins with the prophet’s recommissioning. God is seen calling this man again to be a watchman over his people in exile:

So with you, son of dust. I have appointed you as a watchman for the people of Israel; therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me. (Ezekiel 33:7 | TLB)

In those days, major cities had walls around them to keep foreign invaders out and a watchman was posted to keep watch and warn of coming danger. That was Ezekiel’s job, and it had been for decades. He took it seriously. And he was right to. His life depended on it.

But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm and warn the people, he is responsible for their deaths. They will die in their sins, but I will charge the watchman with their deaths.’ “So with you, son of dust. I have appointed you as a watchman for the people of Israel; therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will die!’ and you don’t tell him what I say, so that he does not repent-that wicked person will die in his sins, but I will hold you responsible for his death. (Ezekiel 33:6 – 8 | TLB)

Fortunately, modern preachers and evangelists aren’t on the hook like Ezekiel was. Our job is not to “get results,” but to preach and teach the Word of God as effectively as we can; to warn our congregations and to encourage them. The number of people “coming forward” isn’t nearly as important as the number of people who listened, heard the message, and left the church changed in some way by that Word of God.

A question of equity, 33:20

Yet you are saying the Lord isn’t fair. But I will judge each of you in accordance with his deeds.”. (Ezekiel 33:20 | TLB)

Verse 20 is a verse that has likely crossed your mind when you read about nations being judged. Among the exiles in Babylon were some very godly people, men like Ezekiel, for example. Men and women who had never forsaken the Lord and who lived in obedience to the Scriptures, yet who were carried off to Babylon along with the rebellious and wicked people. It looked to these godly folks like God was being unfair.

We experience this kind of “unfairness” all the time. For example, the older you get the higher your life insurance premiums get, even if you are in perfect health. Your property insurance rates will be higher or lower based on things you have no control over, like who your neighbors are and where you live. We pay outrageously high taxes because our government spends the money they confiscate from us recklessly. The fact is, when you age the risk of ill health increases and insurance rates go up for everybody in that age group. The same thing goes for your property insurance. And like it or not, you are identified with your nation – you pay higher taxes even if you’re careful how you spend your money because those over you aren’t.

The good people in Israel were suffering because they were part of a sinful nation under judgment. But God has, like He always has, a terrific comeback:

I will judge each of you in accordance with his deeds.

Everybody will eventually stand before God and be judged according to how they lived. Christians will be judged, though they won’t lose their salvation. But the sinner has no claim on God whatsoever.

For the Lord is watching his children, listening to their prayers; but the Lord’s face is hard against those who do evil. (1 Peter 3:12 | TLB)

That sounds harsh, but all it means is that God owes the sinner nothing – no consideration – but He has bound Himself to His people, even when His people have been swept up in the wicked’s judgment. God is absolutely righteous and right to judge the sinner.

Separated from the Promised Land, 33:21 – 33

Even after the fall of Jerusalem, there were still some Jews living in the area. We call them “the remnant,” but they shouldn’t be confused with a future “remnant” of Jews that will re-possess the land. Here, this Jewish remnant, that was fortunate enough to escape deportation or death, honestly thought they had been done wrong by God.

Son of dust, the scattered remnants of Judah living among the ruined cities keep saying, ‘Abraham was only one man and yet he got possession of the whole country! We are many, so we should certainly be able to get it back!’ But the Lord God says: ‘You are powerless, for you do evil! You eat meat with the blood, you worship idols, and murder. Do you suppose I’ll let you have the land?’ (Ezekiel 33:24, 25 | TLB)

These arrogant people couldn’t believe that the Promised Land had been ripped from their possession; they honestly believed that they could defy God’s will and get it back. God’s Word to them was given as clear it He could give it: As long as they – the ill-named God’s people – continued to disobey the Mosaic Covenant, they would reap the judgment of that same Covenant, which was designed to bring about repentance and to prove that God was serious and real.

And they will be told, ‘Because the people of the land broke the contract made with them by Jehovah, the God of their ancestors, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt. For they worshiped other gods, violating his express command. That is why the anger of the Lord was hot against this land, so that all his curses (which are recorded in this book) broke forth upon them. In great anger the Lord rooted them out of their land and threw them away into another land, where they still live today!’. (Deuteronomy 29:25 – 28 | TLB)

Meanwhile, back in Babylon, God had some stern words for the exiles living there:

Son of dust, your people are whispering behind your back. They talk about you in their houses and whisper about you at the doors, saying, ‘Come on, let’s have some fun! Let’s go hear him tell us what the Lord is saying!’ So they come as though they are sincere and sit before you listening. But they have no intention of doing what I tell them to; they talk very sweetly about loving the Lord, but with their hearts they are loving their money. You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings lovely songs with a beautiful voice or plays well on an instrument. They hear what you say but don’t pay any attention to it! But when all these terrible things happen to them-as they will-then they will know a prophet has been among them.”. (Ezekiel 33:30 – 33 | TLB)

That’s good advice for any preacher, by the way. Never believe your own press and rarely take compliments (or sometimes commitments) too seriously.

Two Shepherds, 34:1 – 31

Ezekiel was a “watchman,” and Israel’s so-called leaders were called “shepherds.” And the Lord isn’t at all happy with these “shepherds.”

Son of dust, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Say to them, ‘The Lord God says to you: Woe to the shepherds who feed themselves instead of their flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed the sheep? (Ezekiel 34:2 | TLB)

The leaders of Israel and Judah had, for generations, fed upon the flock instead of feeding the flock. They had exploited the people for their own gain rather than ruling in justice and caring for the the needs of the nation. The result of their shoddy leadership was disastrous:

So they were scattered, without a shepherd. They have become a prey to every animal that comes along. My sheep wandered through the mountains and hills and over the face of the earth, and there was no one to search for them or care about them. (Ezekiel 34:5, 6 | TLB)

Never underestimate the influence national leaders have on a nation. A nation rises or falls to the moral authority of its leadership. God’s solution? He will become their Shepherd!

For the Lord God says: “I will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places they were scattered in that dark and cloudy day. And I will bring them back from among the people and nations where they were, back home to their own land of Israel, and I will feed them upon the mountains of Israel and by the rivers where the land is fertile and good. Yes, I will give them good pasture on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in peace and feed in luscious mountain pastures. I myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep and cause them to lie down in peace,” the Lord God says. “I will seek my lost ones, those who strayed away, and bring them safely home again. I will put splints and bandages upon their broken limbs and heal the sick. And I will destroy the powerful, fat shepherds; I will feed them, yes-feed them punishment! “And as for you, O my flock-my people,” the Lord God says, “I will judge you and separate good from bad, sheep from goats. (Ezekiel 34:11 – 17 | TLB)

God will show no mercy to such evil leaders, but He has glorious plans for His people.

And I will set one Shepherd over all my people, even my Servant David. He shall feed them and be a Shepherd to them. “And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my Servant David shall be a Prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken it. (Ezekiel 34:23, 24 | TLB)

This is a prophecy of the coming Messiah, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Ezekiel is referring to the greater Son of David, his Descendant, the Messiah, promised in the Davidic covenant. He will restore the people of Israel to their land and will shepherd them as His very own. He will be their God and they will be His people. This will happen when Israel finally comes under the new covenant.

The day will come, says the Lord, when I will make a new contract with the people of Israel and Judah. It won’t be like the one I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt-a contract they broke, forcing me to reject them, says the Lord. But this is the new contract I will make with them: I will inscribe my laws upon their hearts, so that they shall want to honor me; then they shall truly be my people and I will be their God. At that time it will no longer be necessary to admonish one another to know the Lord. For everyone, both great and small, shall really know me then, says the Lord, and I will forgive and forget their sins. (Jeremiah 31:31 – 34 | TLB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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