Posts Tagged 'Ezekiel'

Random Studies in Ezekiel, Part 5

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Even though Ezekiel 24 and 25 form a continuous message, there is a distinct change in tone and topic from one chapter to the next. Just look at how each chapter begins:

In the ninth year, in the tenth month on the tenth day, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, record this date, this very date, because the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day. (Ezekiel 24:1-2 | NIV84)

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against the Ammonites and prophesy against them.” (Ezekiel 25:1-2 | NIV84)

The none too subtle change is this: The first 24 chapters of the book contain prophecies and sermons directed at the exiles from Judah now living and working in Babylon, of whom Ezekiel is one. The messages deal with the sinfulness of Judah and Israel and the coming devastating destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. The overall theme of chapters 1 through 24 is that God will punish His rebellious people by taking away from them the Promised Land and forcing them to live in exile in Babylon for 70 years.

The next group of chapters, 25 through 33, deal with nations that surround Judah. A lot of people raise their eyebrows when they read this section of Ezekiel. That God will judge the godless is not surprising, but the reason is. In the backs of our minds, we assume people will be judged because they didn’t accept Christ as Savior. That’s true enough, but here we learn that whole nations will face severe judgement based on other criteria going back to this ancient verse that very few nations take seriously these days:

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3 | NIV84)

Each of the four nations Ezekiel speaks to historically mistreated Israel and disdained her, but especially now, at this time of her exile. The main theme in these chapters is this: God will be as faithful to punish these nations in keeping with His covenant with Abraham as He was faithful to punish Judah according to His covenant, the Mosaic covenant, with her.

But it gets even more interesting than that. This “judgment of the nations” would begin with the invasion of Babylon and continue until the end times, at which time Judah will possess these nations and the Lord will reign. This very long judgment is viewed as a single judgment which began with Nebuchadnezzar and will end with the second coming of Christ.

In one sense, Nebuchadnezzar is the hinge upon which the door of history swings. The poor, godless warrior never really understood that his actions formed a part of God’s will that continues to unfold to this very day. Joel, a minor prophet, wrote about this “judgement of the nations,” but he sees it as an end-times prophecy:

In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land. They cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes; they sold girls for wine that they might drink. (Joel 3:1-3 | NIV84)

You may wonder why God was and remains so concerned about nations, after all, nations aren’t permanent; they rise and fall; come and go. Here’s the thing that escapes an ego-centric generation: it’s not all about us, as individuals. In our time, we talk a great deal about having a “personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ,” and while that certainly is the basis of our salvation, our “personal God” is also the God all things and all people, whether they acknowledge Him or not. All things – even nations – exist because God allows them to. God’s will for a person or a nation will come to pass whether or not that person or nation co-operates with Him. A nation will be blessed or face certain punishment depending on how it treated it’s people, and especially how it treated God’s people. The judgement of the nations, beginning here in Ezekiel 25 and continuing until our Lord returns, is for the purpose of bringing all nations to the realization that God is who He always said He was: The only true God. As with Judah, judgement will be the only way these other nations could be made to acknowledge this eternal truth.

“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity words that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.’ ”All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the Lord all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult. (Isaiah 45:22c-25 | NIV84)

Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army would be God’s instruments of judgment upon His people and all these nations. Every one of them would go into exile, as Judah did, for 70 years. Ezekiel wasn’t the only prophet to foresee this. Jeremiah did, too:

This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. (Jeremiah 25:11 | TNIV)

In Ezekiel’s list of “these nations,” there is one glaring omission: Babylon. This doesn’t mean Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon escape judgment. Not by a long shot. Again, from Jeremiah:

“But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the Lord, “and will make it desolate forever. I will bring on that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.” (Jeremiah 25:12 – 14 | TNIV)

Against Ammon, 25:1 – 7

Ammon wasn’t more evil than any other pagan nation was, but somebody had to be mentioned first, so Ezekiel began this group of people, of whom we know next to nothing. This nation would be punished because she rejoiced and gloated over the profaning of the Temple and the destruction of Judah.

Say to them, ‘Hear the word of the Sovereign Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because you said “Aha!” over my sanctuary when it was desecrated and over the land of Israel when it was laid waste and over the people of Judah when they went into exile…. (Ezekiel 25:3 | NIV84)

Essentially, Ammon was being accused by God of gloating over the misfortunes of Judah. The Ammonites clapped and stomped and rejoiced over what was going on to the people of Judah and the destruction of their land. The odd-looking word, “aha,” simply means the people chuckled when Nebuchadnezzar finally steam-rolled Jerusalem to the ground.

Their price for mocking God’s people:

…therefore I will stretch out my hand against you and give you as plunder to the nations. I will wipe you out from among the nations and exterminate you from the countries. I will destroy you, and you will know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 25:7 | NIV)

Against Moab, 25:8 – 11

Moab was a longtime enemy of Israel, going back to almost the beginning! Here’s God’s charge against them and His punishment:

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Because Moab and Seir said, “Look, Judah has become like all the other nations,” therefore I will expose the flank of Moab, beginning at its frontier towns—Beth Jeshimoth , Baal Meon and Kiriathaim—the glory of that land.’” (Ezekiel 25:8, 9 | NIV)

What Moab did was far more severe than it may appear. First of all, Judah was never “like all the other nations.” It was divinely created by God Himself. There was nothing ordinary about Judah. Second, likening Judah to all the other fallen nations was really an insult to God, indicating that God wasn’t strong enough to protect His people. Essentially, Moab was laughing at God.

The punishment leveled at Moab was a manifestation of God’s promise to curse those who curse Israel.

Against Edom, 25:12 – 14

Another longtime enemy of Israel had been Edom. God’s accusation against them was really directed at their attitude of vengeance against Judah. That was an age-old attitude, dating back to the conflict between Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom). Edom had forever been resentful and vindictive and jealous of Israel. Their promised destruction would be swift and complete:

…therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will stretch out my hand against Edom and kill both man and beast. I will lay it waste, and from Teman to Dedan they will fall by the sword. (Ezekiel 25:13 | NIV)

The Minor Prophet Obadiah details the stern judgment against Edom and the city chiseled into the mountainside.

Against the Philistines

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Because the Philistines acted in vengeance and took revenge with malice in their hearts, and with ancient hostility sought to destroy Judah, therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to stretch out my hand against the Philistines, and I will wipe out the Kerethites and destroy those remaining along the coast. I will carry out great vengeance on them and punish them in my wrath. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I take vengeance on them. ‘ ” (Ezekiel 25:15 – 17 | NIV)

The destruction of the Philistines was so complete and so literally fulfilled that liberal critics of the Bible find this particular prophecy hard to swallow. But it happened just as God, through Ezekiel, said it would.

Against Tyre and Sidon, 26:1 – 28:26

Tyre and Sidon weren’t nations but seacoast cities. They were long on trade and short compassion. They were merchants who didn’t care about anybody else as long they benefitted materially from their suffering. The end of Tyre serves as a stark example of what happens to a nation that loves money more than God. Arnold Toynbee, historian, believes materialism to be one of the major factors in the fall of nations. Modern America has far more in common with Tyre than we’d care to admit, with our obsession with things and consumerism. Johann Wolfgang Goethe was a German writer who, over 200 years ago, made this observation:

The spirit tends to take to itself a body.

He could have been talking about 21st century America, a nation concerned more about material things than anything else.

Sidon (28:20 – 23), though given a scant four verses, was probably a larger city than Tyre. Its punishment was frightening:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against Sidon; prophesy against her and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “ ‘I am against you, Sidon, and among you I will display my glory. You will know that I am the Lord, when I inflict punishment on you and within you am proved to be holy. I will send a plague upon you and make blood flow in your streets. The slain will fall within you, with the sword against you on every side. Then you will know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 28:20 – 23 | NIV)

Both disease and violence would overtake the city. But once again, note the purpose for God’s punishment: “Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

Though Sidon was punished, it was never completely destroyed as was Tyre, which was  located just a few miles away. Sidon exists to this very day; it is a thriving sea port city, while Tyre is completely gone. God has kept His eternal word. Tyre was destroyed and has never been rebuilt, yet after 2500 years, Sidon, though punished, is till here.

Restoration of Israel, 28:24 – 26

“ ‘No longer will the people of Israel have malicious neighbors who are painful briers and sharp thorns. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign Lord. “ ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When I gather the people of Israel from the nations where they have been scattered, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of the nations. Then they will live in their own land, which I gave to my servant Jacob. They will live there in safety and will build houses and plant vineyards; they will live in safety when I inflict punishment on all their neighbors who maligned them. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God. ‘ ” (Ezekiel 28:24 – 26 | NIV)

 

 

Random Studies in Ezekiel, Part 4

Right after God called Ezekiel to be a prophet, the Lord sequestered Ezekiel in his house and, amazingly, the newly minted prophet was not allowed to speak a word:

Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet. He spoke to me and said: “Go, shut yourself inside your house. And you, son of man, they will tie with ropes; you will be bound so that you cannot go out among the people. I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, though they are a rebellious house. (Ezekiel 3:24 – 26 | NIV84)

What’s the deal with that? Why would God call Ezekiel to speak His Word, yet shut him up and shut him away from the people he was supposed to preach to? This section is really still part of Ezekiel’s call from his role as a priest to his new role as a prophet. It would be a difficult transition for the son of man to make. As a priest, Ezekiel would have had a series to duties to perform on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. His was a ministry of repetition. But that would all change. Now, Ezekiel would have to learn how to continually submit to the God’s Word. The prophetic ministry was not a repetitive one; from now on, he would never act on his own but would only appear in public when God wanted him to and he would only speak those words God moved him to say. And lastly, he lost the ability to speak.

Reading that paragraph, we realize that there is a co-operation between God and man going on here. Ezekiel was told by God to seclude himself in the house, and Ezekiel complied. He willingly went along with the strange request. But then notice the use of the word “they.” Somebody will tie Ezekiel up. The “they” likely refers to the prophet’s family or friends. Being bound symbolized Ezekiel’s lifelong commitment to his new ministry. And then the Lord stopped Ezekiel from speaking.

• Ezekiel went along with God’s command;
• Ezekiel asked others to tie him up;
• God miraculously shut Ezekiel up.

The work of the Lord involves a co-operation between all the parties involved. Then there’s this fascinating verse that is very telling:

But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ Whoever will listen let him listen, and whoever will refuse let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house. (Ezekiel 3:27 | NIV84)

Take note of the doctrine of personal responsibility. People are free to accept the word of the Lord or not. God sends out the invitations, but it’s entirely up to those who received the invitation to open it up and accept it or not. God never forces anybody to do anything.

What happened to Ezekiel here is not unimportant for Christians to take notice of and take to heart. We as Christians, even though we know God’s way is the only way, have NO right on our own to criticize or condemn or pass judgment on anybody. We cannot set the standards for people to meet. That’s not our job. Rebuke and reproof are what the Lord does. It is only when people are obviously violating the will of God, and only when the Lord allows us, that we are permitted to speak out for Him against them. To speak up and be critical of others on our own may result in our reputations or even the reputation of the faith being mocked or derided. But if God calls us to speak out against an individual or even an entire culture, then we have no choice. However, everything we do or say must always be on His terms, not ours, and under His authority, not ours.

God in control

From the very beginning of his new ministry, Ezekiel needed to realize that he was no longer calling the shots in his life. God was.

The hand of the LORD was upon me there, and he said to me, “Get up and go out to the plain, and there I will speak to you.” (Ezekiel 3:22 | NIV84)

In that “plain” or valley, Ezekiel once again witnessed the glory of the Lord that had so moved him back in chapter one. He knew that he was in the very presence of the Lord, and once more we read this:

Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet. (Ezekiel 3:24 | NIV84)

We read that phrase, “the Spirit came into me,” numerous times in this book, and it suggests that Ezekiel did not enjoy what all Christians enjoy: The abiding presence of the Lord in our lives. The Holy Spirit came and went with Ezekiel but since Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes and abides in the believer forever.

Also, notice the movement in this verse. Ezekiel was raised to his feet. We in the West view that movement differently than those who live in the East. For a king to invite a subject to stand in his presence meant that he had been accepted and that king was going to “do business” with him.

Prophecy in drama

Ezekiel builds a model!

Chapters 4 – 24 record the opening prophetic salvo of Ezekiel, and it’s directed at Jerusalem. Even though he’s in Babylon, there was free communication between where Ezekiel was and his old home town. At the time the events of these chapters occurred, Jerusalem was still standing; it would be a few years before Nebuchadnezzar rolled in to destroy it in 586 BC. In these prophecies – and they are all prophecies even though they may not look it – are many strange symbolic actions, as well as sermons, all delivered in the Name of God. In these twenty chapters are riddles, allegories, and pantomimes, all used as vehicles for the Word of God.

The first prophecy was a clay model of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege. Yes, a clay model.

Now, son of man, take a clay tablet, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 4:1 – 3 | NIV84)

Now, you and I might find this a little odd. Here’s Ezekiel, prophet of God, playing with models. But to the people of the ancient near and middle east, acting out a message was not unusual. Theology of our time has been heavily influenced by many centuries of Plato’s influence of emphasizing highly abstract ideas over concrete actions, like the ones we see Ezekiel taking. Fortunately for us, God was not influenced by Plato. He came to us concretely in the Person of Christ and died on a real Roman cross and rose actually from the grave and ascended literally to Heaven and announced definitely that He would return visibly.

Here, Ezekiel is doing essentially the same thing with his little model. Think of the old Claymation TV shows and you’ll have an idea of what was going on here. Ezekiel probably built this large model in front of his house in the exile village of Tel-Abib. The exiles would have seen it as they passed by and the prophet would have explained what the model represented: The destruction of Jerusalem and the fact that sin cannot go unpunished. That’s really the big picture here; the sins of the city (the sins of the people of Jerusalem) were seen by God, committed against God, and therefore God would deal with those rebellious people. The sheer wickedness of Jerusalem, if you can imagine, didn’t abate with the first exile. It got worse:

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as Jehoiakim had done. It was because of the LORD’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence. (2 Kings 25:18 – 20 | NIV84)

None of what was about to happen to Jerusalem as portrayed by Ezekiel and his model should have come as a surprise to the exiles or the people who heard about it back home. It was promised by God of they dared broke His covenant.

They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the LORD your God is giving you. Because of the suffering that your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the LORD your God has given you. Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities. The most gentle and sensitive woman among you—so sensitive and gentle that she would not venture to touch the ground with the sole of her foot—will begrudge the husband she loves and her own son or daughter the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears. For she intends to eat them secretly during the siege and in the distress that your enemy will inflict on you in your cities. (Deuteronomy 25:52 – 57 | NIV84)

As Christians, we are not Israel. We aren’t the people whom Ezekiel had in mind when he built his tabletop model. But there are two verses in the New Testament that make it imperative we pay heed to Ezekiel’s words to his people:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature d will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7, 8 | NIV84)

That’s right. For us, our enemy isn’t Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar, but the wages of sin – death. Our siege is accomplished by yielding to sin, trapping us. But in our case, we have God’s armor protecting us and He Himself is a strong refuge against it. And, unlike the iron plate that separated Ezekiel from this model of Jerusalem, God will never separate Himself from us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35 – 39 | NIV84)

Ezekiel bears their sin

If you thought building a model was odd behavior for a serious, grown man to engage in, how about this:

Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So, for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel. “After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.” (Ezekiel 4:4 – 8 | NIV84)

Again, this a drama was acted out to give the people a visual representation of God’s Word. This was a slow, long theatrical prophecy lasting a total of 430 days, 390 of those days representing 390 years of the Northern Kingdom’s punishment for their sin and rebellion and 40 days representing 40 years of Judah’s punishment for their sin. The total number of years – 430 – is significant for a couple of reasons. First, historically, 430 years is the length of time that the Israelites were held in Egypt (Exodus 12:40).

Second, the total of 430 years of punishment for sin looks forward, and is therefore prophetic in nature. It’s a fact that all numbering and dating in the book of Ezekiel begins with the captivity of Jehoiachin in 597 BC; 597 BC is like ground zero for all the dates in Ezekiel. When we number forward 430 years from 597 BC we get to 167 BC (approximately), which is the year the Maccabean revolt began and the Jews finally got back control of the Promised Land – Canaan; for the first time since 597 BC.

Dates and numbers are interesting, but there is a much deeper significance here. By the siege and fall of Jerusalem, both Israel and Judah will be punished for their years of the rebellion and stubbornness. Ezekiel, lying on his side, is the one bearing their sins symbolically, in anticipation of the time when another Son of Man – the divine Son of Man – comes to bear the sins of many on the Cross. Here is a slight glimmer of the vicarious, substitutionary suffering of Jesus Christ.

 

Random Studies in Ezekiel, Part 2

Ezekiel had been a priest in Jerusalem but now he was an exile in Babylon, a result of Nebuchadnezzar’s second siege of Jerusalem in which he and many others had been chosen to participate in the king of Babylon’s “relocation program.” The opening verses of chapter one give us an interesting tidbit of theological information:

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin—the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar
River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was upon him. (Ezekiel 1:1 – 3 | NIV84)

Nobody except Ezekiel knows what “in the thirtieth year” means. Could he have meant it had been about thirty years since the book of the Law had been found in the wreckage of the Temple, which caused a national revival? Some have suggested it had been thirty years since the last Year of Jubilee. Others believe Ezekiel was referring to his own age. Turning thirty was a big deal for a Jewish male, indicating he had attained maturity. This seems the likeliest meaning, with “the fourth month” telling us it was mid-summer when this soon-to-be-prophet had his breathtaking vision. It was also the fifth year of Jehoiachin’s exile.

Assuming our presuppositions to be correct, Ezekiel had been in exile for some five years before his vision and his call to be the exile’s prophet. That “the heavens were opened” means that nobody else saw what he saw; only Ezekiel was given this rare glimpse of God’s glory.

Daniel was also in Babylon at this time, but he was living and working among the Babylonians, carrying out his duties as a politico in the king’s courts, fulfilling God’s calling on his life. But Ezekiel the priest lived and worked among the Jews, also fulfilling God’s calling on his life. Both men, both devout servants of Jehovah, both doing exactly what God wanted them to do, exactly where He wanted them to do it, for the benefit of His people, the exiles.

Ezekiel must have thought he would live out his years ministering before the Lord and His people. It was what he had been trained to do, after all. And as a priest, he was performing a sacred work for God. Yet, at the age of thirty, everything Ezekiel knew or thought he knew, about his life and calling would change. That God would give such visions under such circumstances shows the extent of His great sovereignty. He needs no earthly Temple in which to give visions! And the fact that “the hand of the Lord was upon him” tells us that it was God who was in charge of Ezekiel, supervising and superintending the events of the man’s life.

Creatures of the night, 1:4 – 14

I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal… (Ezekiel 1:4 | NIV84)

The whole thing started with a windstorm out of the north. Here’s a passage that tells us why this statement is so significant:

Do not lift your horns against heaven; do not speak with outstretched neck. No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another. (Psalm 75:5 – 7 | NIV84)

God’s dwelling is many times depicted as being in the north or to the north, the only direction not mentioned in Psalm 75. This was not an ordinary storm; it had something to do with the presence of the Almighty. Unfortunately, it had to do with His judgment.

and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man… (Ezekiel 1:5 | NIV84)

But these were certainly no men, as the prophet’s description proves. It appears they may have been cherubim, a category of angels. They were stationed at the four sides of a supernatural chariot. This was not a UFO. It was not a futuristic mechanical contrivance inhabited by aliens. Ezekiel was simply, to the best of his ability, describing what he saw.

Each of the four creatures had four faces: a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Why these four faces specifically? Some scholars tell us that these were traditionally the four most impressive land animals and air animals. Man, head of all creation, the lion as king of all wild animals, the ox which was the most useful of all domesticated animals, and the eagle as the head of all the birds of the air. So in these four faces – four creatures – is seen all the intelligence, strength, ferocity, and freedom of all creation.

This vision told Ezekiel two things which became evident shortly after he saw it. First, God is about to move; He is about to do something. Second, whatever God is planning, it will happen in Mesopotamia, to the exiles who thought God had forgotten them completely. God hadn’t forgotten His people, and even though the Lord is showing Ezekiel that the forces of Nebuchadnezzar were about to loosed upon what was left of Jerusalem, God was the One in charge of what was going to happen, not the king of Babylon.

Wheels within wheels, 1:15 – 25

As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about d as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. (Ezekiel 1:15 – 18 | NIV84)

Ezekiel is not seeing a UFO and he is not seeing God. He is seeing a portrayal or a drama of the power, ingenuity, majesty and sovereignty of God. The Bible is correct when it asserts that “no man has seen God at any time.” Moses saw the glory of God, but not the person of God. Man has been forbidden to even make a likeness of God. We don’t even know what the Son of God looked like before He came to us as a man. But there is within every human being a longing to see God. God gave Ezekiel a glimpse of His Person in a way Ezekiel could relate to.

Verse 18 tells us that God is a God who sees all and has a purpose for this planet and universe. It would have been tempting for these exiles to remain dispirited and discouraged, thinking they had been all but abandoned by God. This verse told them the opposite was true. God’s eyes are everywhere; He sees everything. As the “wheels within wheels” moved and progressed, Ezekiel knew God was on the move and He was moving quickly and with purpose.

When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. (Ezekiel 1:19, 20 | NIV84)

The “wheels” give us a picture of what the ceaseless activity and energy of God looks like. Just like a well-oiled machine are the plans of God, always, relentlessly, and perpetually moving forward.

So far in his vision, Ezekiel has seen dramatized before his eyes the Lord’s judgment. But here the mercy of God is seen by the prophet.

Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. (Ezekiel 1:26 – 28 | NIV84)

What an incredible scene! Ezekiel saw what was probably the Christ, who will one day come changing judgment into mercy. The inclusion of a “rainbow” means that mercy is on the way, just as the Lord promised to Noah.

His reaction – falling on his face before the Lord – was the only appropriate posture a man could take in the presence of the Lord of the universe. It’s an incredible picture of our holy God. I give Ezekiel credit for staying put and watching it unfold. I probably would have hidden in a cave somewhere.

Throughout the Old Testament, it was common that when man came into the presence of God, they fell face down. Remember Isaiah?

Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5 | NIV)

There is nothing else a human being can do in the presence of God. This vision is a barest, sliver of a glimpse of the majestic and awesome glory of the Lord. It is also a picture very similar to the vision given back in Exodus 19 and 24 at the giving of the Mosaic Covenant. How appropriate it was, therefore, that the same manifestation of God be given now, at a time when God was executing the judgments and promises of that very Covenant to the very people with whom it was made.

Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God is, perhaps, the most profound vision of its kind in the Bible and may well hold the key to all the visions found in Scripture. It’s not insignificant that both Daniel and Ezekiel were busy prophesying about the End Times from Babylon, during the Captivity or Exile of their people. The book of Revelation and even Jesus’ Olivette Discourse, owe much to both the prophecies of Daniel and to the apocalyptic visions of Ezekiel. You and I are living, as it were, in a kind of exile. When we became Christians, we entered the Kingdom of God and became citizens of that Kingdom, even while we are putting in our time on earth. Sometimes we get discouraged and disillusioned as we wait for our Lord to return and establish His spiritual kingdom in reality on earth.  Ezekiel may have experienced what he did and prophesied long ago to people long gone, but his words resonate with the world-weary believer down to this very day.

 

 

 

 

Ezekiel and Dem Dry Bones

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Ezekiel 37:1-10

 These verses give us the concluding illustration of a message Ezekiel began back in 36:16.  Bible readers and church goers are very familiar with the vision of the “dry bones” thanks to famous song.  In spite of their fame, these verses are often misunderstood and taken to mean things they do not.

In fact, the bones in the vision refer to “the whole house of Israel,” as The Lord Himself says at the end of the vision:

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’  Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.’  (Ezekiel 37:11-12 NIV84)

As a nation, Israel had been scattered among the nations, like bones thrown into a valley.  Thanks to their sin and rebellion, God’s people had become a nation without a homeland.  For half of Ezekiel’s book, he had spent time explaining to the people why their Babylonian exile had to happen; why they were being punished.  Naturally the people were angry, frustrated, sad, depressed, and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness had fallen over the exiles.

A rough patch can make anybody feel like that.  Human beings end up in trouble all the time, sometimes that trouble is a result of sin – decisions we make that are selfish or just plain wrong.  Sometimes trouble comes into our lives for no apparent reason.  Regardless of how we end up in our rough patch, if we’re stuck in that rut long enough we’re apt to lose faith; to lose heart; to feel hopeless and dread.  That’s how the Jews in exile were feeling.

So after many messages about how bad they were and why they were being punished, the Lord, through His prophet Ezekiel, is about to encourage them; to give them a reason to hope.  The time would come when the breath of God’s Spirit would blow over them, and return life to them.  Now, flat on their backs, one day they would be standing up tall and straight, restored to their homeland, stronger than ever.

Of course, this is prophecy.  It hadn’t happened in Biblical history and it hasn’t happened yet.  But it will.  God always keeps His Word and fulfills His prophecies.  But there is a present-day application to this chapter as there is to all of Scripture because it is all divinely inspired. 

1.  How the vision came

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  (Ezekiel 37:1 NIV84)

 Here is a most remarkable vision.  It’s a vision.  It never really happened.  The bones weren’t real.  But we need to understand that Ezekiel simply recorded what he saw, or more accurately, what The Lord showed him.  That being the case, we need to take it literally.  God will interpret the vision for Ezekiel and us later.  We are not allowed to assign a different meaning to what Ezekiel saw.   The interpretation of this vision is the complete restoration of national Israel, physically and spiritually, and nothing more.

This vision, regardless of how it sounds, has nothing to do with the resurrection of the dead or the restoration of the Church.   We need to be very careful not to spiritualize passages of Scripture that God has interpreted for us.  If we take this prophecy and all Biblical prophecy literally, respecting  the meaning The Lord has assigned to it, then the the Word will always make sense.

Ezekiel was a prophet on the move!  This wasn’t the first time Ezekiel was transported by the Lord.  Back in chapter 8, God beamed the prophet to Jerusalem:

He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance to the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood.  (Ezekiel 8:3 NIV84)

 Was Ezekiel really in the Jerusalem?  Was he really in a valley?  Scholarship is divided.  Some write that all this happened in the prophet’s head; that God gave him visions in his head at his present location.  But others teach that God miraculously transported Ezekiel to Jerusalem and to this certain valley and there gave him the visions there.  God is certainly capable of doing that, if He so desired.

The take-away-truth from verse one, though, is that we must be “in the Spirit” if we want to hear from Heaven.  If we want to hear from God we can’t be worldly minded; we must be walking and thinking in the Spirit.  A carnal Christian will never hear from God.  Not only that, if you want to see things the way they really are – if you want to see your life in the right perspective – you must be “in the Spirit.”

2.  What the vision was

The valley was full of bones in Ezekiel’s vision.  The bones, we will learn later, represented both the nation of Israel and individual Jews.  They were a wrecked and ruined nation and they were people with no hope.

He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.   (Ezekiel 37:2 NIV84)

Those many dry bones characterized in symbolic form the people of Israel.  Through their constant backsliding and indifference to the Word of God, they had become like skeletons.  They had become worse than skeletons – they had become like a pile of loose, unconnected bones, piled one on top of the other.   Spiritual pride and worldliness had drained the life right out them.

The same principle is at work in the lives of Christians today.  If a Christian’s walk with The Lord is “out of whack,” they shrivel up in their spirit.  No doubt there are a lot of carnal, worldly Christians who through neglect are literally starving their spirits to death.  When you don’t read the Word and when you don’t get good, wholesome Biblical teaching, you are starving your spiritual selves.

3.  A probing question

 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”I said, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”  (Ezekiel 37:3 NIV84)

A question like that tells us a lot about Ezekiel.  He was a spiritually-minded man.  Only somebody living by faith and walking in the Spirit is able to see the spiritual needs, not only of his own life, but of those around him.  Some Christians dearly want to be used by God but He can’t do anything with them because their minds are worldly; they are not attuned to  spiritual things.  If you want God to use you, and if you want God to speak to you, your mind has to be inclined in His direction.  It has to already full of His Word.  Worldly-minded Christians are like the people Paul warned young Timothy about.  They have–

…a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.  (2 Timothy 3:5 NIV84)

They look the part, but they are nothing but bones, barely holding on to life.  When you start seeing through spiritual eyes, you’ll see the world the way God does:  full of lost, hopeless people so spiritually dead they can’t  help themselves.  These are the ones Jesus came to save; these are the ones He wants to rescue through you!  But if you don’t see the lost around you as sick and dying, He can’t empower you to do the work.

4.  A truthful answer

Ezekiel saw the bones – the true state of his people – and he knew that God knew, too.  God knows the hearts of people.  Are you worried about an unsaved loved one?  God knows!  Are you concerned about all the lost all around you?  God knows, and He’s even more concerned than you are!

5.  The cure

God has a sense of humor.  God’s command to Ezekiel in funny on a couple of levels:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!”  (Ezekiel 37:4 NIV84)

 First, how ridiculous is it to “speak” to piles of bones?  Now, if they were piles of ears, maybe!  But just piles of old, dry bones?  What good would speaking to them do?  So on one level, Ezekiel is being told to do something that made little sense.

Second, did God really think those bones could hear the Word of the Lord?  Wasn’t He simply expecting the impossible?  Did you know God excels at doing the impossible?  You may think it’s a complete waste of time sharing for faith with a certain person, or even praying for them.  But God may be wanting to do a mighty work in their life and maybe He wants to use you!  You could be the catalyst in the salvation of their soul!

Ezekiel looked out over all those dry bones and he’s about to speak to them.  By the way, many a preacher is expected to do the same thing every Sunday!  There are a lot “dry bones” lying in pews all over the land, and some of them are barely Christian!

As Ezekiel declared the Word of The Lord to the dry bones, a most remarkable thing happened:

This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.   (Ezekiel 37:5 NIV84)

You can’t help but compare the valley of the dry bones to the condition of Church today.  Many members are skeletal, barely clinging to life.  But we all need a move of God if we are to have a vital spiritual life.  It’s the Word of God, carried by the Spirit of God, that brings life to a believer.

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet–a vast army.  (Ezekiel 37:10 NIV84)

 The meaning of this verse in the context of Ezekiel’s vision is startling.  At some point in the OUR future, God, by a work of His Spirit, will completely restore the nation of Israel.  It will be strong and vital, like a vast army.  Consider the order of events in this vision and you’ll see the dynamic of Biblical prophecy as it relates to the nation of Israel.  The bones were:  (a)  scattered all over the valley.  In other words, Israel as a nation was as good as dead; it’s people scattered all throughout the Babylonian Empire.  (b)  the bones began to be drawn together, flesh and sinew began to cover them.  They were still just dead bones though.  Here we have very beginnings of the great regathering of Israel to its homeland.  (c)  God’s Spirit brought life back to the bones and they lived again, standing tall, upright, like an army.  What a glorious future awaits the nation of Israel on that great day of days!

That’s the meaning of the vision.  The application for believers is just as powerful.  Without the power of the Spirit behind us, we are as good as dead in terms of our service to the Lord.  May we all realize our place in the Kingdom and may we, like the believers who gathered in Jerusalem, receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit so that we may go forth like a mighty army, breathing out God-given life so that others may live.

Israel’s future as a nation is all part of God’s plan for the world He created.  But God has a plan for people, too.  He wants the lost to come to know Him as a loving heavenly Father.  He wants all people to be saved.  God alone, by His Spirit, is able bring eternal life to the helpless, hopeless piles of old bones that are the lost.

Ezekiel and the False Shepherds

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Ezekiel 34:11 – 30

God wants very much to bless; He takes no pleasure in cursing.  However, both blessing and cursing are part of how God dealt with Israel.  Both are elements in His covenant arrangement with His people.

Even though we as Christians are not under any of His covenants per se, God has not changed how He deals with His people.  Obedience is rewarded, disobedience carries with it unpleasant consequences for the believer.

Ezekiel’s prophecies and sermons were given with God’s covenants in view.  It might be helpful to understand those covenants as we proceed to look at Israel’s glorious future.

1.  A God of Covenants

(A)  The Abrahamic Covenant, Genesis 12:1-3

This covenant is really God’s declaration of how He wants to bless the world.  Through one man, Abram, God would establish a nation – Israel – and through that nation God would bless the entire world.  This is the covenant that is in focus from Genesis through Joshua.  The Hebrew people became a nation in Egypt, during their captivity.  Israel’s government was established at Mount Sinai, after they left Egypt.  They acquired their homeland after the conquest of Canaan, being led by Joshua.

(B)  The Mosaic Covenant, Exodus 20 – Numbers 9, Deuteronomy.

The covenant Moses and the people entered into with God was a detailed expansion of the Abrahamic covenant.  This one gave Israel it’s national constitution and its laws, both civil and religious.  This covenant, though, carried with it a caveat.  Incredible blessings would fall on Israel only so long as they lived up to their end of the covenant.  If, at any time in her history Israel rebelled and disobeyed the stipulations of the covenant, she would find herself a nation without a homeland.  That’s why she found herself in exile in Babylon.  God was faithful in how He dealt with His people.  He warned them in the covenant (Deuteronomy 27, 28) and He sent prophet after prophet to warn them.

(C)  The Davidic Covenant, 2 Samuel 7:12 – 16

This covenant is a little different than the previous two.  Here, God promised David that one of his descendants would always – forever – sit on his throne.  It was to be an eternal throne in an eternal kingdom.  This is where the Jews get their concept of “Messiah.”  Each king was, in essence, their “messiah,” their “anointed ruler.”  But the Davidic covenant went a step further promising a “final son” of David who would rule over the world from David’s throne.

(D)  The New Covenant, Jeremiah 36, 2 Corinthians 3

A lot of Christians think the New Covenant was first mentioned by Jesus, and later by Paul, and is all about them.  That’s not entirely wrong, but when understood correctly the New Covenant takes on profound meaning.

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”  (Luke 22:20  TNIV)

The New Covenant may have been established by the sacrifice of Jesus, but it was first announced by the prophet Jeremiah!

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”  (Jeremiah 31:31  TNIV)

This New covenant, by name, would take in parts of the Mosaic covenant and, instead of being recorded on stone or parchment, it would now be inscribed on the hearts of the people.  This New covenant though would be a great improvement over the other ones in all ways because now, for the very first time, all sins would be forgiven once and for all by the Messiah and the Spirit of God would be poured out all those who believe.

As Ezekiel preached, he always had these covenants in his view.  Because the people had not been faithful in respect to the Mosaic covenant, they would lose their homes and homeland and would be scattered among the nations.  This happened when Jerusalem finally fell.  The Israelites were now a people without a country.  But God didn’t want His people to think He was done with them and that it was all over!  In addition to dealing with them – exiling them temporarily – God promised to deal most severely with the nations surrounding Israel that had oppressed her.  We can see the results of this in history.

2.  Rotten shepherds

What was Israel’s biggest problem?  They were stiff necked and rebellious to be sure, but their biggest problem were the false shepherds that continually led them astray.

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: `This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? [5] So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.  (Ezekiel 34:2, 5  TNIV)

No nation can survive long with leaders who don’t look out for the well-being of the people under their care.  It was all the worse for Israel given their divine origins.  Essentially the Israelites lost the land because of these false shepherds.  The sheep – the people – became lost, distracted souls looking for the light but finding only darkness.

Not every Israelite was rotten and rebellious, but the punishment was national.  Fortunately, the faithlessness of some cannot nullify the grace of God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?  (Romans 3:3  TNIV)

The people were stuck in Babylon for the foreseeable future; there was nothing they could do about that.  But all was not lost!  God had not given up on Israel, and He HAS not given up on His people.  A faithful and just Shepherd will come – the Messiah – and will completely restore Israel’s fortunes and glory and the world will be blessed by her.

3.  What God will do for His sheep

(A)  He will search for them.

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.”  (Ezekiel 34:11  TNIV)

In the context of Ezekiel’s sermon, God will search out and find all the Israelites scattered among the nations.  He knows where they are and He will find them.  But there is a wonderfully comforting feeling you get from reading this verse, especially when we compare it to what Jesus said of Himself:

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.  (Luke 19:10  TNIV)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  (John 10:11  TNIV)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  (John 10:27  TNIV)

The good news is that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He is looking for lost sheep.  As far as the exiles were concerned, even though they had been led astray by the false shepherds, they were responsible but God would seek them out and would lead them personally.  It’s good to know that Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, has loving concern for people gone astray and who are willfully rebellious.  He never gives up!

(B)  He will rescue them.

As shepherds look after their scattered flocks when they are with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.   (Ezekiel 34:12  TNIV)

The Good Shepherd doesn’t just stumble upon a lost sheep, He is out there actively searching for them and He will do whatever it takes to get hold of that sheep and save him.

God would find His people, wherever they were, and would restore them to their land no matter what.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.  (John 10:14-15  TNIV)

(C)  He will bring them.

I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.  (Ezekiel 34:13  TNIV)

Again, all this what God WILL DO for Israel.  It has yet to occur; it will happen in the future, when the Messiah comes in glory.  There is no way God is close to being finished with Israel!  It has a glorious future.

(D)  He will feed them.

I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.   (Ezekiel 34:14  TNIV)

One day, in the future, all their needs will be met.  Hunger, food shortages, all the things that have plagued mankind since the dawn of time will be taken away.

As Christians we are able to enjoy a foretaste of this kind of divine provision today.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:19  TNIV)

(E)  He will give them rest.

I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.  (Ezekiel 34:15  TNIV)

When the Messiah comes, there will be no more wandering around for Israel; no more threat of attack.  She will finally and forever be a nation at peace.

Thank God as Christians we have the promise of peace right now!  One of the benefits of a relationship with the Good Shepherd is an abiding peace.   It’s in us because it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and if you’re born again, then you are full of the Holy Spirit and you are able to access that supernatural peace any time you need it!

(F)  He will bind them (heal them).

I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.  (Ezekiel 34:16  TNIV)

God will restore the nation in every way and justice will finally prevail.

(G)  He will rule over them.

I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.  I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.  (Ezekiel 34:23-24  TNIV)

Here’s an allusion to the David covenant.  God would forever deliver Israel from all her enemies and distress.  No more poor, directionless leadership!  A final, Good Shepherd would come for His people:  the Messiah, whom Ezekiel refers to as “my servant David.”  Really, that’s another term for “a descendant of David.”

(H)  He will make them a blessing.

I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.  (Ezekiel 34:26  TNIV)

Here’s an allusion to an earlier covenant.  When Christ, the Good Shepherd, comes as Messiah, Israel will finally be the conduit of blessing she was always intended to be.  God will bless them and will make them a blessing to the whole world.

3.  A prelude to the Millennial Kingdom

The similarities between John 10 and Ezekiel 34 are so strong that it is obvious that Jesus had Ezekiel’s sermon in mind when He said, “I am the good shepherd.”  When Jesus spoke those words and gave the teaching in John 10, He was telling the Jews with discernment who He really was.  He was the Shepherd of whom Ezekiel spoke.

Spiritually, we may enjoy a full and satisfying relationship with the Good Shepherd today.  We don’t have to wait until the Millennium to have the Messiah reign in our hearts.    The promises made to Israel are real and awaiting fulfillment.  But we who are born again are already part of the Good Shepherd’s flock!  We know His voice.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8  TNIV)

The Good Shepherd gave His life for us, the lost the sheep.  How will you respond?

 

EZEKIEL AND THE HYPOCRITES

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Ezekiel 33:30-33

It is December, 586 BC and Jerusalem has lain in ruins for three months.  It took that long for a lone fugitive to reach the exiled Jews in Babylon with the news.  The fall of Jerusalem was the pivot point in Ezekiel’s ministry and his book.  Up to the end of chapter 32, Ezekiel had been prophesying the end of Israel as a nation and explaining to the exiles why this had to happen.  It was because of their continual disobedience to the Covenant.  It’s not like they hadn’t been warned, because they had been.  For generations, prophets came warning the people to smarten up and start abiding by the terms of the Covenant.  But the more they were warned, the more stiff-necked they became; determined to go their own way, doing their own thing.

Verses 21 and 22 set the scene for what we are looking at in this study:

In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen!”  Now the evening before the man arrived, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he opened my mouth before the man came to me in the morning. So my mouth was opened and I was no longer silent.  (Ezekiel 33:21-22 NIV84)

So what we are reading is a message Ezekiel gave the evening before this fugitive arrived with the news.  It was a long series of messages, actually, that took a day to deliver.  Part of his sermon included a message to the small remnant of Jews that had survived the destruction of Jerusalem and was now living among its ruins.  And God’s message to these people was not good:

“Say this to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, those who are left in the ruins will fall by the sword, those out in the country I will give to the wild animals to be devoured, and those in strongholds and caves will die of a plague.'”   (Ezekiel 33:27 NIV84)

There is no escaping God’s judgment!  The people of God needed to judged – all of them – even those who had cleverly hid out in caves when Nebuchadnezzar’s army rolled over Jerusalem.  He didn’t find them, but others would – other armies, animals and sickness.  God’s judgment would be complete and it would be obvious to the exiles that He had spoken; that He had kept His Word.

But what about these exiles in Babylon?   They had escaped death and Ezekiel had been doing his best to set the record straight:  they were in exile because they had been rebellious; they had turned their collective backs on the Lord, and they were being punished.  They were spared death because they needed to see firsthand that when God promises He will do something, He does it.  But the truth is these exiles in Babylon were no better than any other Jew.  They were, as Bunyan said, “a saint abroad and a devil at home.”  In other words, at this point in Ezekiel’s ministry, he’s not dealing with out-and-out idolaters and obviously wicked people.  No, they’re worse than that.  The people Ezekiel is dealing with now actually seemed like him!  But they’re hypocrites.

Let’s look at them.

1.  How they treated Ezekiel

“As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’   (Ezekiel 33:30 NIV84)

There isn’t a pastor or minister who hasn’t experienced exactly what is being described here.  These people crowded around the prophet; they put on a form of Godliness as long as it served their own personal interests.   They assumed the role of God’s people; they did what God’s people would do.  But in secret the made fun of Ezekiel and mocked God’s Word.  The only time they exposed themselves God’s Word was when Ezekiel was preaching.  The only time they fellowshipped with God’s people was when Ezekiel was preaching.

This sounds a lot like modern Christianity.  How many Christians, do you suppose, flock to church on a Sunday, are entertained by their pastor, glad-hand all the members and talk to them like “best friends,” but have virtually nothing to do with them during the week?  The only Bible teaching they get comes from their pastor, whom they support when they are in church, but the rest of time is the object of their scorn or mockery.  They hear the Word but do nothing with it.

Given the state of the Church of Jesus Christ today, it seems like there are is a majority of “Christians” that behaves just like that.  They’re saved, but going nowhere.  They look the part, but lack the power.  And they are befuddled when their prayers seem to go unanswered.

The reality is, if Christians took their faith seriously, churches would be full.  If Christians took their faith seriously, their marriages would work and their children wouldn’t be all mixed up.  If Christians took their faith seriously, they’d elect officials with at least a Biblical worldview.  If Christians took their faith seriously they’d have peace, joy, contentment, a positive outlook, and all the things that “mysteriously” elude them.

Christian, you either believe the Bible or you don’t.  You either crave good Christian fellowship or you don’t.

2.  How they treated God’s Word

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.  (Ezekiel 33:31 NIV84)

These exiles put on a good show.  They did and said everything that was expected of them.  If it were possible to look back in time, you’d probably be very impressed with how these exiles were behaving.  They hear that Ezekiel is going to preach, and they tell their friends and neighbors and they hurry over to hear him.  They hung on his every word.  Ezekiel must have been an attractive preacher!

Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.   (Ezekiel 33:32 NIV84)

What a stinging indictment of God’s people.  But God sees into the hearts of His people.  Nobody can put on the dog-and-pony-show and expect God to buy it.  God is looking into your hearts right now.  He knows what you really think about the Bible, your church, your pastor, and He knows the true state of your soul.

These exiles seemed to be impressed with Ezekiel.  His wholly Scriptural messages sounded like music in their ears.  They just didn’t take them (or him) seriously.  They heard it with their ears, but rejected it in their hearts.  The prophet Isaiah said something very similar:

The Lord says:  “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”  (Isaiah 29:13 NIV84)

Isaiah is describing Israel, but he could easily be describing the modern Church of Jesus Christ.  How many denominations make up rules and change their own rules at the drop of a hat?   What was once unacceptable for a Christian is now acceptable.  What was once called a sin is now called anything but.   How many denominations try to appeal to the worst in sinful man rather than demanding the best?

Something you won’t hear from a lot of church pulpits today is that the Word of God never tries to accommodate your sin.  The Word of God insists that YOU change; that you conform to IT, not the other around.  When you treat the Bible like that you set yourself up as a hypocrite.  Jesus had a low opinion of hypocrites:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”  (Matthew 23:27-28 NIV84)

If you are a Christian, you’d do well to remember these words spoken by Samuel:

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.  (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV84)

The exiles needed to know the truth.  Jerusalem had fallen.  Ezekiel had been proven to be a genuine prophet of God.   Yet still the people refused to obey the Word of the Lord he gave them.  You don’t get tricked into unbelief; it’s wilful.  It’s not that you cannot accept what God says, it’s that you will not act on it.  The real problem that plagued the Jews is the real problem that plagues the church today:  we prefer our sin; we’d rather not change; we choose to hear the Word, but then choose to do nothing with it.

With God, it’s all about the choice.  God saves you, but then it’s up to you; you must choose to live for God.  God gave each of us a rational, thinking mind, capable to making the right choice.  Do it!  Use your God-given rational, thinking mind to make the only rational choice possible:  choose to devote yourself 100% to God.  Enjoy His blessing.  Enjoy the promises of God reaching their fulfilment in your life.

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24:15 NIV84)

EZEKIEL: GOD’S WATCHMAN

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Ezekiel 33:7-11

This chapter marks a turning point in the book of Ezekiel. Up till now, the prophet prophet had been fulfilling his call as Israel’s watchman. A major emphasis of Ezekiel’s preaching was personal responsibility, a theme which reached it climax in chapter 18. This was something the exiled Israelites needed to understand and appreciate. They viewed themselves one way, but God viewed them the correct way. A sort of religious and nationalistic pride had taken hold of the people. They were God’s people, after all. Their’s was a divine heritage; a kingdom formed in God’s mind and forged with His power. They had generations of godly heroes: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, and Solomon. And they were the custodians of God’s Word and Presence. They foolishly thought they could coast along on their Godly heritage; that the blessings would just keep on flowing. They took God’s grace for granted and assumed He would always forgive them and that they could do no wrong.

God, though, had to wake them up. Exiling them was punishment for generations of rebellion and they needed to realize that. They needed to know that He was not a mean, malicious Deity who took joy in watching His people suffer. They needed to know that they, the exiles, and that Jerusalem, on the verge of collapse, were getting exactly what they deserved.

Ezekiel also had harsh words for the nations that surrounded Judah and Jerusalem. Some of those nations shared borders with the land of Israel. And some of those pagan nations were related to Israel – related by blood. All of these prophecies were given before the fall of Jerusalem. Now we come to the second part of the book, a collection of sermons and prophecies given after the fall of Jerusalem.

Up to the end of chapter 32, Ezekiel’s prophecies concerned the immanent fall of Jerusalem and the reasons for that fall. They were prophecies when Ezekiel gave them, but with chapter 33, they become history. Jerusalem fell exactly as predicted. Now the prophet looks forward to Israel’s future – Israel’s far future, and ours – and to the coming of the glorious Millennial Kingdom when the glory of the Lord will again be on this planet.

1. Another commission

The word of the Lord came to me… (Ezekiel 33:1)

As always, Ezekiel had to preach God’s Word, not his own. Not one word of Ezekiel’s messages was his own. The prophets of God were never like the sun, with light shining from within themselves. They were more like the moon. The moon shines brightly in the night sky but emits no light of its own. Instead, it reflects the light of the sun. None of the prophets, including Ezekiel, had any light in them to give. They gave the Word of God to the people as God gave it to them.

Before Ezekiel gives the people a glimpse into the far future – a future of great blessing – he give them one final reminder why, in the present, they were being punished and Jerusalem lay in ruins. His message was a simple one: Now is the time to repent and turn back to the Lord!

Ezekiel was the Israel’s watchman, and the Lord reminded him of this fact:

But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.’ (Ezekiel 33:6)

God had to remind His prophet that he was a watchman. There was still a very real danger to what was left of Israel. That’s why a city needed a watchman: danger. The enemy of God’s people is always trying to get to them. No wonder our Lord, generations after Ezekiel told His prophet to “Watch,” gave us the same command:

What I say to you, I say to everyone: `Watch!’ ” (Mark 13:37)

2. What the watchman does

The watchman of Israel – the literal one as well as Ezekiel, the spiritual watchman – had a two-fold responsibility:

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.” (Ezekiel 33:7)

(A) He had to “hear the word I speak.” Ezekiel had to hear God’s Word. A watchman needed to keep his eyes open to see, but also had to keep his ears open to hear. We are spiritual watchmen, and we have all been called to “hear the Word of the Lord.” We must hear the Word and to understand it so that we may give it to others intelligibly.

To a sinner in peril of losing his soul, the only word that can save him is God’s Word. Your best wishes, as helpful as they may be, won’t bring about the salvation his soul. He needs God’s Word, and if it is in you, you can give it to him. You are God’s watchman, and it is your responsibility to ready.

(B) He had to “give them warning from God.” The sinner needs to be warned that he is in danger and that his only hope for life is a relationship with Jesus Christ. The wayward believer – and there are many of those – needs to be warned to get right with God; to get serious in his relationship with His Savior. There is an ever-present danger swirling all around man; a battle for his very soul, and that’s why you have been called into service as a watchman for the Lord.

3. What the people must do

We, as God’s watchmen, have our responsibility to perform, just as Ezekiel did. But those who hear the Word of the Lord we give them, also have a responsibility once they hear it.

(A) Their condition: LOST!

When I say to the wicked, `You wicked people, you will surely die, ‘ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, those wicked people will die for their sins, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. (Ezekiel 33:8)

Man without Christ is wicked, regardless of how nice and pleasant they are. Once you understand that, you will see the urgency of getting the Word to them. We do the lost a great disservice when we don’t stress their sinful state. It’s out of fashion nowadays to preach against sin, yet we have a solemn responsibility to warn the lost that they are not “good people” in the sight of God. They wicked and they are lost.

(B) Their opportunity

God has sent us to the lost to “warn them for God.” God needs to speak through someone, why not you? Every sinner is given a chance to make his life right; every sinner is given the opportunity to repent.

(C) Their responsibility

But if you do warn the wicked to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sins, though you yourself will be saved. (Ezekiel 33:9)

Here’s that “personal responsibility” theme again. The sinner will be held accountable for NOT heeding the Word of the Lord. As surely as you, a believer, is responsible for the Word God gives you, so the sinner is responsible for the Word you give them. The warning is “to turn from their ways.” In other words, as we might say today: “Get right with the Lord!” If they do not, they will be held accountable for their decision. A lot of sinners will say things like, “I know you’re right. I know I need to get my act together.” But nice sentiments like that count for nothing. Putting off the decision to repent and follow Christ is the same thing as saying NO.

Regeneration is completely a work of God, but conversion – turning from sin – is an act of man’s own will. God cannot make the decision for the sinner. He respects the free will He gave mankind. That’s why the sinner will be held accountable for what they do with God’s Word.

4. What God thinks

Say to them, `As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11)

This is the agony of God’s love that found its ultimate expression in the words of His Son: Father forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.

God wants to bless, He takes no delight in cursing. But both blessing and cursing are part of the way God works with His people. They are very much a part of God’s covenants with Israel.

The Fall of Jerusalem was the pivot point of Ezekiel’s prophecy. All the warnings from accumulated generations of prophets went unheeded. Time and again as God spoke to His people,He promised blessings if they obeyed, and curses if the rebelled. The warnings came to pass with fall of Jerusalem. In addition, God would also deal with other nations that refused to repent.

But God was not finished with the exiles. God would restore the nation to its former glory. But at the same time, God sees the individual needs of His people. God sees the painful, pitiful state of a lost soul.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Ezekiel as Israel’s watchman had a job to do. We as modern-day watchmen have a job to do. It’s the same as Ezekiel’s. Let’s take our job seriously. Let’s take the Word of the Lord to people who are dying to hear it.


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