Ezekiel 33 – The Lord is Just in His Judgments

I noticed the words that start this chapter: “The word of the Lord came to me.” The phrase is used over and over again in Ezekiel’s book, and it occurred to me as I thought over the Old Testament stories I’ve read thus far that the Lord never speaks directly to his people. His words always need mediation. He dealt directly with the Patriarchs, but as soon as they are to be lead out of slavery in Egypt, Yahweh picks a man to be his representative. And none can enter the Holy of Holies except the High Priest, and that only once a year. Right after he tells us the Lord’s word came to him, the Lord says, “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them:” 

Why can’t or doesn’t the Lord speak directly to his people? The simple answer is that he is holy, and wholly other. There can be no confusion between Creator and created, and we by nature confuse the two. In fact, in our fallen nature and hubris, we want to usurp the Creator’s position and prerogatives, to be, as Satan said, like God. Most importantly, all OT mediators point to Christ because he is The Word. So when “the word of the Lord” comes to Ezekiel, it is Christ himself coming. The ultimate mediator on the cross, or because of it, becomes God himself become man. As Paul tells us:

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus . . .

And through this mediator we were given direct access to the Holy of Holies when “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,” and thus to God himself. To get this access we simply pray in Jesus name. No more prophets, no more priests. But the people in Ezekiel’s day didn’t have Jesus, so they had to go to prophets, or prophets to them, to hear the word of the Lord.

This word from the Lord tells Ezekiel he is to be a watchman, warning the people of the coming destruction. He is to tell them that they should turn from their sin, and if they don’t the destruction will be payment for their sin. But if they do turn from their sin, they can save themselves from the sword. What the Lord is doing is reminding them of their accountability, and that he doesn’t judge whimsically. The reason for the reminder is that the people are doing what is typical of all humans, saying the Lord is unjust, that he’s punishing them for nothing. But the Lord is very clear: they can turn from their wicked ways and live, or continue doing them and die. He implores them to turn from their evil ways in verse 11, then asks this:

Why will you die, O house of Israel?

An intriguing question, that. The Lord has established that the people are morally accountable for their actions. The question raises two assumptions that come to us from Pelagius and Augustine: the people either have the ability to turn from their wicked ways, or they don’t. Which assumption does Israel’s history support? I think we are driven to the conclusion that Augustine got it right. The answer to the Lord’s question might be that their impending physical death is a result of a current spiritual death. The inability of Israel to fulfill the demands of the covenant is the whole story of the OT, and points us to the one who did! And in our place (Isaiah 53). This is not to say that doing right has its own reward, and evil its consequences, only that we cannot attain true life, eternal life, of our own accord.

The remainder of the chapter tells us Jerusalem has finally fallen, and that the Lord plans to make it a desolate waste because of Israel’s sin. We’ve seen the message before, that the people say the right religious stuff, but their hearts aren’t in it, but are far from the Lord. They hear the prophets words, but deny their truth. They have itching ears that hear only what they want to hear. I love the way it’s put in the penultimate verse:

32 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.

As Jesus tells us, wisdom is proved right by her actions.

Ezekiel 25-32 – “Then They Will Know That I Am The Lord”

These nine chapters are a series of prophecies against the lands and peoples surrounding Israel, that they too will be destroyed by the Babylonians for their own sins. Several things stand out to me. One is that Ezekiel is very specific (as he has been previously in the book) about exactly when each prophecy was delivered to him by the Lord. Several times in these chapters he gives the year, the month, and the day. I can only speculate why he does this, but one reason may be that the Lord wants everyone to know that the coming destruction was predicted and caused by him.

In fact, Babylon or Nebuchadnezzar doing something is often synonymous with the Lord doing it. In other words, when Babylon crushes Egypt, for example, he says (32):

15 When I make the land of Egypt desolate,
    and when the land is desolate of all that fills it,
when I strike down all who dwell in it,
    then they will know that I am the Lord.

God providentially moves all things toward that one eventual end, that all will know that he is the Lord. We, even we Christians who serve the Lord, are so steeped in the secularism of Western culture that we often attribute the movement of nations to the will of men (and women), as if anything can happen apart from his directly willing it. It’s not unlike the subtle naturalism that infects our assumptions of how the natural world works. We tend to look at a tree, for instance, and think it grows because of the dirt, and the sun, and the water, instead of the animating will and power of God. His being is the ground, the reason for, every living thing that exists. All of reality, every molecule, is ontologically contingent, and nothing exists of its own accord.

Another thing that stands out is that the arrogance of man will not be allowed to stand. All of these peoples thought they were hot stuff, that they were autonomous and indestructible. And we know that even though he uses Babylon to do his will, their arrogance will also be crushed. He says this of the king of Tyre in chapter 28:

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

“Because your heart is proud,
    and you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of the gods,
    in the heart of the seas,’
yet you are but a man, and no god,
    though you make your heart like the heart of a god—

Man’s arrogance, one way or the other, sooner or later, will be brought low. He further says to this king, and I quote at length because it is so poetically powerful:

therefore thus says the Lord God:
Because you make your heart
    like the heart of a god,
therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you,
    the most ruthless of the nations;
and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom
    and defile your splendor.
They shall thrust you down into the pit,
    and you shall die the death of the slain
    in the heart of the seas.
Will you still say, ‘I am a god,’
    in the presence of those who kill you,
though you are but a man, and no god,
    in the hands of those who slay you?
10 You shall die the death of the uncircumcised
    by the hand of foreigners;
    for I have spoken, declares the Lord God.”

Man’s hubris is pathetic. He, being mortal, deludes himself into thinking he is immortal, and thus blasphemes his maker. He thinks what he has comes from his own hand, his own mind and will, but we know as Paul says, God “gives all mankind life and breath and everything else.”

Lastly, the way Ezekiel records his and the Lord’s thoughts tells us we are reading history. In the prophetic case, before it happens. And as Dominic and I learned at an apologetics conference about archeology in March, that field of study pretty much confirms everything we read about in these chapters. The Bible never reads like a made up fairy tale, as the skeptics insist, and it doesn’t read like other religious texts—it always reads plausible, even if some of it is hard to take. We learn from it what the Israelites learned from Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal in I kings 18:

39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”

Too bad they so quickly forgot what was so apparent at that time. Let us never forgot who is God.

Ezekiel 24 – What or Who is the Object of Our Affection?

The chapter opens with the Lord telling Ezekiel to mark this date because on it “the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem.” Then another metaphor comes depicting its sin and impending judgment, and ends with these words:

13 “‘Now your impurity is lewdness. Because I tried to cleanse you but you would not be cleansed from your impurity, you will not be clean again until my wrath against you has subsided.

To be clean or morally right with a holy God can only come on the other side of his wrath. He says in the next verse that they will be judged according to their conduct and actions (he doesn’t say it, but we’re even guilty because of the thoughts and intentions of our heart). Thus the human dilemma. We, like Jerusalem, stand condemned because of what we do. We, like they, cannot do otherwise, to one degree or another. And since perfect holiness is the criteria, we’re screwed. Without a Savior, that is. The whole of the OT is basically telling us just this, using Israel as an object lesson.

And speaking of object lessons, the last half of the chapter is a heartbreaking object lesson for Ezekiel. His wife dies, who is “the delight” of his eyes. I don’t think he would have been that old, maybe in his 30s. And he is not allowed to mourn, but can only “groan quietly.” When this happens, the people ask what this has to do with them, and through Ezekiel the Lord says:

I am about to desecrate my sanctuary—the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword.

The Israelites think their hope is in a building, rather than the person of God whom the sanctuary represents. He alone is to be the object of our affection, but as Paul explains in his letters, our relationship to a holy God because of our sin is one of enmity. Outside of Christ, he is our judge, jury, and executioner. And who more do we take pride in, and delight in, and shower our affection on than our children. Even that will be taken from them because they are not their, or our, hope and fulfillment either.

He says pretty much the exact same thing to end the chapter (v.25), but adds their “heart’s desire” to the list. On the day when this is all taken away, he says a fugitive will come to tell Ezekiel the news. Somehow a man will escape the destruction and come and tell the exiles. Then, the Lord says, Ezekiel’s mouth will be opened, and they will all know his predictions were the truth, that he was a sign for them that this would all happen.

The purpose of it all is always the same, “that they will know the I am the Lord.” The end point of all of history, of all of God’s judgments and providence is the same:

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Lord points to this ultimate purpose through Israel over and over again so there can be no doubt.

Ezekiel 23 – The Adulterous Sisters and the Judgment to Come

The Lord certainly likes his sexual metaphors, as we’ve seen. He conceived of and created sex after all, so why not. Chapter 23 is one long metaphor of two adulterous sisters, those being Samaria and Jerusalem. The former was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel before it fell to the Assyrians in the 8th century BC. The latter will soon experience the same result from the Babylonians for its unfaithfulness.

The Lord dates their “prostitution” back to their youth in Egypt. In other words, they have unfaithful from the very start. Remember the golden calf. No sooner had Moses gone up the mountain than they were worshiping an inanimate object, forcing Aaron to make them a god to protect them. And this was after they’d been rescued from slavery in Egypt. Even there it was in her nature to lust after other gods. I bet there are few Christians who know these graphic images can be found in the Bible:

19 Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. 20 There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.21 So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled.

God was looking for a faithful bride, and this is what he got. He again details their sin, and the punishment that will come as a result, as he has done over and over in these chapters. Get the message? The purpose is always the same as it is said in the last verse: “Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.” Yahweh is looking for a faithful bride, and as we know there is only one way that will come about. He must do it himself, in Christ. The Church, clothed in garments of his righteousness, is what Israel never could be.

Ezekiel 22 – No Man Could be Found to Save Israel From Her Sin

In this chapter we see yet again a litany of Jerusalem’s sins, and it isn’t pretty. The Lord calls them “detestable practices,” and his response is a word used five times, wrath. They will be punished so that when he has poured out his wrath upon them, they will know that he is the Lord. The prophets want nothing to do with wrath, so they lie to the people that what they’re doing is no big deal, even using the phrase, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says.”

The sinful human heart loves the lie that God will not judge them for their sin. But the Sovereign Lord says sin must be punished, and anyone who says differently does not speak for him. And either we can be judged and punished for our own sin, or accept Christ’s vicarious atoning for our guilt. I think the latter is the better option.

Then comes a verse at the end of the chapter that I memorized back in the day, and I’m sure I completely missed the meaning:

30 “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.

Of course this verse was about me, that I would be the man to stand before the Lord on behalf of “the land,” which of course would be America. Or something like that. But this verse has nothing to do with me, other than that I am in Christ because he was the only man who was worthy to stand before the Lord “in the gap on behalf of the land so” he “would not have to destroy it.” Throughout Israel’s history the Lord was always looking for the man, but every man who appeared was a flawed sinner who could never save Israel from what they needed saving most, their sin.

So the Lord will pour out his wrath on the city, and on the land the people defiled, just as one day he poured out his wrath on his son. The physical land and city point to a spiritual land and city as we know from the Book of Revelation. The ultimate cleansing that Christ accomplished on the cross will eventually lead to a new heavens and a new earth that will be populated by his Church, his bride purchased by his blood, and clothed in his very own righteousness.

Ezekiel 21 – The Crown Restored To Whom It Rightfully Belongs

Chapter 21 uses the metaphor of a sword, which will be Babylon, that will bring judgment against the sanctuary and the land of Israel. I think it significant that he mentions the sanctuary because God’s presence in the temple was what once distinguished Israel from all the nations of the world, and now it will be utterly destroyed. Specifically because of Israel’s sin. He says several times that the reason for the sword of judgment is that they have “despised the rod.” For decades, actually hundreds of years, he has warned the people and their leaders against idolatry, and yet they continue to run after other gods. Their guilt (v.23) has brought this horrible destruction upon them. Then we read these amazing, prophetic and Messianic words:

25 “‘You profane and wicked prince of Israel, whose day has come, whose time of punishment has reached its climax, 26 this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low. 27 A ruin! A ruin! I will make it a ruin! The crown will not be restored until he to whom it rightfully belongs shall come; to him I will give it.’

The crown belongs to one who is worthy of it, and there is only one. And there will be something about this one that will be very different, and thus “It will not be as it was.” It’s so clear to understand this in hindsight, post resurrection, post the NT canon to explain it all to us. As I said in a previous post, this will be an upside down kingdom. The lowly and the exalted will trade places in this kingdom because the lowly put their trust, their value, their hope in their Creator, while the exalted trust their own strength and wisdom, as if human flesh has any meaning or value in itself. What is to be made a ruin is most likely the city of Jerusalem, but this can be another metaphor for human pretension. John tells us to whom this crown rightfully belongs:

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Elsewhere John tells us that Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And the Lord’s declaration through Ezekiel to whom he will give the crown is in the context of God pouring out his wrath and anger. Sin must be judged, and thus “the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” One judgment upon Israel that brought destruction, points to another judgment upon Christ that brought eternal life.

Ezekiel 20 – The Lord’s Unilateral Covenant Fulfillment of the Covenant

This chapter starts with “the elders of Israel” again coming before Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord, but the Lord will have none of it. I’m not sure what they wanted or expected to hear, but what they got was an historical recounting of Israel’s sin, the Lord’s judgment because of it, and his mercy in spite of it. None of it is flattering. Again and again, the Lord saves in spite not because of. And he reiterates several times the reason he does this, and it has nothing to do with the people other than that they are the object of his work:

22 But I withheld my hand, and for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out.

He also says something that is a familiar phrase throughout the history of redemption: “So that they will know that I am the Lord.” The whole of this history is a spiritual war that goes back to Genesis 3, and the question posed by Satan to Adam and Eve: just who gets to be God. Satan tells Eve if she will disobey the express order of God, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” All of history, even to this very moment, is humanity refusing to acknowledge their Creator, and that they are the creature. You would think this a simple realization of the obvious, but sin corrupted everything, made us blind as bats. And as the Lord says to Cain, who obviously didn’t listen, “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” The history of Israel, and our own history, shows us that sin will always master us.

In a way, verses 30 through 44 tell us exactly this, and that the Lord will not leave his people in their sin. It will be all the Lord’s doing. In other words, Israel’s complete inability to overcome their sinful inclinations to idolatry and various and sundry other evils is a picture of what it means to be dead in our sin. The wages of sin (death) both spiritual and physical means there are none who do good. All are condemned under the law. But even when we were dead in our sin, as Paul says, Christ died for us. Here are the Lord’s words that state this most starkly:

32 “‘You say, “We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.” But what you have in mind will never happen. 33 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will reign over you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. 34 I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered—with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. 35 I will bring you into the wilderness of the nations and there, face to face, I will execute judgment upon you. 36 As I judged your ancestors in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will judge you, declares the Sovereign Lord. 37 I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. 38 I will purge you of those who revolt and rebel against me. Although I will bring them out of the land where they are living, yet they will not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

I love this! We are not to be people who serve wood and stone! He won’t allow it! Even though we want it! God’s people who somehow live through the Lord’s “outpoured wrath,” and on whom judgment will be executed, will be brought by him “into the bond of the covenant.” We are instantly brought back to Genesis 15, and the Lord’s covenant ceremony with Abram. His salvation will be a unilateral fulfillment of the covenant, which we see could only be done by Christ. He took our place and endured the judgment, the “outpoured wrath” that was due us. The physical fulfillment of the covenant promise, bringing the people into the land, is only a picture of the ultimate spiritual fulfillment in Christ.