Posts Tagged 'Judgement of the nations'

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)

 

 

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