Monthly Archives: May 2017

Ezekiel 19 – Israel’s Lament, Our Eternal Joy

Chapter 19 is, as the NIV title puts it, “A Lament for Israel’s Princes,” done allegorically. Look how great you once were, only to now be utterly destroyed. I love the way the last sentence in the chapter is framed:

This is a lament and is to be used as a lament.

What is evoked is pure sadness because Israel could not live up to its divine calling, and why Jesus is the true Israel of God. The only Israelite who ever lived up to that divine calling, Jesus fully fulfilled all the demands of the law, for us, and fully obeyed even to death on a cross. He live both Israel’s covenant curses and blessings in our place, and Israel’s lament became our eternal joy.

 

 

 

Ezekiel 18 – The Lord is Just: The Soul Who Sins Will Die

Chapter 18 is completely different from previous chapters in that is doesn’t deal specifically with Israel’s sin and the Lord’s salvation from it. He starts with this:

 The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:

“‘The fathers eat sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

Where in the world did this come from, and why would the people be saying such a thing? This commentary is helpful in understanding why. The basic idea is that Israel up to this point had been treated as a moral collective, so the sins of one man (one mentioned in the article is the wicked king Manasseh) are visited on the whole nation. The family and tribe had been the focus of the moral nature of blessing or punishment, and thus the current generation could claim to evade moral responsibility for the disaster to come by blaming “the fathers.” In effect they were saying God is unjust, and that they don’t deserve judgment. The Lord won’t let them get away with it.

There is justification for both collective and personal guilt in Scripture prior to this time. In Exodus 20:5 we read:

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,

But in Deut. 24:16 we read this:

Fathers are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each will die for their own sin.

It is obvious from common sense that the sin of parents has implications for the children, who they become, how they live, etc. But from this point forward in Israel’s history, and ours, the Lord is making it clear that guilt for sin belongs to the individual alone:

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.

Most of the rest of the chapter the Lord gives examples a righteous man who has a sinful son, who himself has a righteous son. Even the sinful man who repents and does what is righteous, he will live. And I think what is being spoken of here isn’t spiritual death or life, but physical. In verse 23, the Lord says, “Do i take any pleasure in the death of the wicket?” He would, he says, rather they turn from their ways and live.

Verse 25 gets to the heart of the matter. The people of Israel say, “The way of the Lord is not just.” But the Lord confirms the man who sins will die for his sins, and the man who repents and does righteousness will live. Then the Lord implores them again to repent and live because he says a second time, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone . . . Repent and live!”

But as we know, they won’t, and destruction comes. The point? There are consequences for sin and righteousness, and each person alone will live or die for what they do or don’t do. But when we speak of the spiritual and the state of the human soul, we are all dead in our sin. Only Christ alone can rescue us from this body of death! And only in Christ could God be just, and the justifier of many. 

Ezekiel 17 – The Lord Has Spoken, And He Will Do It

Chapter 17 is a prophecy in the form of an allegory of two eagles and a vine. From a commentary about this chapter:

The prophecy of this chapter was directed against another false hope of the house of Israel, namely, the national conviction that God’s promises to the house of David was an unconditional guarantee that the prosperity of Israel would continue forever, no matter what the moral and spiritual condition of the people was. “They thought that God could not fail toward Zedekiah without reversing his ancient promises to the house of David. Here, the prophet revealed that Zedekiah would receive the due reward of his evil deeds; and, that despite that, God would yet fulfill all of his glorious promises to the Chosen People, though, from human observation, all appeared to be lost, the kingdom of David would be exalted in latter times.”

Another commentary puts this prophecy about 5 years before the fall of Jerusalem. As this comment indicates, we’ll see that the chapter ends with a prophecy about a shoot that will come from the top of the cedar, and the Lord himself will plant it “on a high and lofty mountain.” This tree will produce branches and bear fruit, and “birds of every kind” will nest in it an find shelter, a reference back to Genesis 12 and that all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through Abram. He also gives the reason he will plant this tree:

24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.

“‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’”

Not only is this an obvious reference to Jesus, our Messiah, but a statement of why the Lord does what he does. He wants the human race to know, to make it clear to his fallen creatures, that his work will defy every human expectation. As is said numerous time elsewhere in scripture, he will bring down the high, the mighty, and the proud, and lift up the lowly, the weak, and the humble. As it’s put in the title of a book I haven’t read yet, the Lord’s is an upside down kingdom.

The natural inclination of every human heart is actually what is upside down, and its every inclination at that. We think, delude ourselves actually, that we can put God in our favor, that based on what we do or don’t do, think or don’t think, that he will owe us. It takes the supernatural work of God in the human soul to begin to disabuse us of this notion (it’s a lifelong battle). Paul tells us that salvation comes not from our works so that we may not boast, no doubt referring back to Jeremiah 9:24 (our only boast is in the Lord). In 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 he expands on this by getting to the heart of the matter:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Paul knew his Ezekiel well. “All the trees of the forest” do not know, yet, or acknowledge this, but one day every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Amen!

Ezekiel 15 & 16 – Israel’s Faithlessness Reveals the Lord’s Faithfullness to His Covenant Promise

Chapter 15 is very short, while 16 is very long, but the Lord continues the theme of judgment and salvation. In the former the word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel telling him that Jerusalem is a useless vine that will be burned up because “they have been unfaithful.” That word implies that the Lord sees his relationship to his people as a covenantal marriage, or at least analogous to it. In chapter 16 he goes into detail with an allegory about this marriage relationship, without using the word. Speaking of Jerusalem, he recounts its birth, and that as the Lord passed by he saw it kicking about in its blood, and he said to it, “Live!” And he confirms how he sees the relationship:

“‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.

And he cares for her, dresses up as a partner worthy of this relationship:

You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. 14 And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord.

This relationship, we notice, is completely of the Lord. The city and the people didn’t asked to be born, or rescued in the helplessness of their infancy, or clothed and doted upon to become a queen. The Lord himself determined all that should happen. And how do they respond to all these kindnesses?

15 “‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his.

But it gets even worse:

20 “‘And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough?21 You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols. 22 In all your detestable practices and your prostitution you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, kicking about in your blood.

They became so enthralled with idols that they even did the unthinkable of killing their own children. And they further deluded themselves into thinking that all their glory and splendor was because of them! And the as the prostitution and promiscuity persists, the Lord declares:

32 “‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! 33 All prostitutes receive gifts, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors

It would be hard to imagine any language to characterize Israel’s faithlessness that could be any more harsh. Then they will be punished by these lovers, i.e., the nations that surround them. But judgment will not last forever. He says in verse 42 that his wrath will be satisfied, and anger assuaged at some point, and then after more words of judgment we read of his unilateral covenant:

60 Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. . . . 62 So I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. 63 Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

Verse 63 can only point to one thing: Jesus! Remember, the covenant God made with his people, making himself a people, was first given explicitly to Abram (The Lord made covenant promises to Adam and Eve and Noah before, but Abram was when the full import of the covenant was made known). As the Lord declared to him, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

I ask myself over and over again, why is all this ugly stuff in God’s communication to us? Simply, to reveal the true nature of our salvation to us. We are by nature, the faithless, adulterous Israel. We cannot be anything but that, as we learn in the New Testament. And it is no coincidence that the Church, God’s people, is called a bride. In Revelation we read of the wedding supper of the Lamb, the lamb who has cleansed us, and who made atonement  for all we have done. “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118)

Ezekiel 14 – God’s Judgment is Inescapable

Chapter 14 starts with “some of the elders of Israel” coming to Ezekiel and sitting down before him. The impression seems to be that they are coming to the prophet to hear what the Lord has to tell them, but that is clearly not the case. The Lord tells Ezekiel that “these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces.” He says this three times in the first seven verses. The implication is that idols of the heart will always reflect themselves in worship of the idols of our lives. In other words, what is in our hearts will be apparent in our lives. And idolatry will always be punished because it treats as gods things that are in fact not God. As Paul says in Romans 1, they exchange the glory of the immortal God for images.

What’s strange about these verses, though, is that the Lord says he will use the their idolatry  “to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.” Judgement will come to both the idolater and the false prophet who feeds their idolatry, but amidst the judgement, as we’ve seen over and over again, there will be salvation. First their guilt is addressed:

10 They will bear their guilt—the prophet will be as guilty as the one who consults him.

The word “guilt” is actually used three times in this sentence. The Hebrew word is translated differently in various translations. Of all the times it’s used in the OT, according to the NASB translators it means: blame (1), guilt (21), guilty (1), iniquities (46), iniquity (143), punishment (12), punishment for the iniquity (3), punishment for their iniquity (3).

After addressing their guilt he uses the word to start verse 11, “Then.” There seems to be come kind of causal relationship between the Lord punishing the guilt of sin, and salvation from it:

11 Then the people of Israel will no longer stray from me, nor will they defile themselves anymore with all their sins. They will be my people, and I will be their God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

I think the NKJV gets at the meaning best:

10 And they shall bear their iniquity; the punishment of the prophet shall be the same as the punishment of the one who inquired, 11 that the house of Israel may no longer stray from Me, nor be profaned anymore with all their transgressions, but that they may be My people and I may be their God,“ says the Lord God.’”

The guilt of sin must be punished so that we can be God’s people. But if we pay for our own guilt we can’t be God’s people because we will be dead! So this recapturing of the hearts of his people goes right through Isiah 53, and specifically:

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

The Hebrew word אָשָׁם (asham) is translated here “guilt offering.” From a concordance: “The Messianic servant offers himself as an אשׁם in compensation for the sins of the people, interposing for them as their substitute.” The compensation must be made, and the Lord made it himself in the person of Christ! All I can continue so say is, Wow!

This connection is even more apparent when you read the last 12 verses of the chapter. At first it made no sense. For the four plagues to come (sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague) he says the same thing:

14 Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,” says the Lord God.

Even these three great men of faith (they all believed, or trusted God despite the circumstances) could do nothing to stay God’s righteous judgment against the sin of his people. As the Lord says in the final verse:

for you will know that I have done nothing in it without cause, declares the Sovereign Lord.

God’s just judgment must come, but only one can save us from it, he who was lifted up that any who look to him and trust shall be saved from God’s wrath.

Ezekiel 13 – “So that you will know the I am the Lord”

In this chapter the Lord declares his judgment against the false prophets. He tells Ezekiel to give his words “to those who prophesy out of their own imagination. . . . Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. They say, ‘The Lord declares,’ when the Lord has not sent them; yet they expect their words to be fulfilled.” That pretty much says it all. The people in Paul’s phrase, have itching ears, and somehow false prophets are there to tell them what they want to hear. The phrase he uses is that they proclaim “Peace,” when there is no peace.

This is a perfect picture of sinful human nature. We do not want to be judged. We do not want to admit we’re guilty before a holy God. We refuse to accept that God has the right to be angry about sin, and that his wrath against us is an appropriate response to the violation of his being. WE want to be God! We would rather be told there is “peace” when in fact we are at war with him. It is not going to turn out well who refuse to listen.

The Lord uses an image of a flimsy wall being built that is covered in whitewash. They think this flimsy device is going to protect them, but that’s just another lie. The only thing that can really protect them is the truth, and that only comes from the Lord. God is doing everything he can to warn them that this is so. And thus we read the common phrase we’ve heard him speak in these chapters, “So that you will know that I am the Lord.” I was thinking about this as I did a final review on chapter 9 of my book where I wrote these words:

The God of the Bible is not a fideist, i.e., a God who expects us to believe just because he says so. Throughout Scripture God condescends to people’s need for evidence and rational reasons to believe, to have faith, to put their trust in him and his Word.

So they may know confirms that our God is not a fideist. He is constantly showing his people why they should believe him, why they should trust them. Jesus uses the same phrase, no coincidence, as when he heals the paralytic man:

But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.”

The Lord’s consistent “So that you may know that I am the Lord” to the people of Israel is a direct response to Satan’s lie that we can be “like God.” No we can’t. And the idol factory that is the human heart tries to turn everything else into God too. How’s that working out for the human race? As he demonstrates to the people of Israel, that whitewashed wall is a flimsy lie that will be destroyed in the coming flood of his wrath. So too will all human contrivances that try to replace God end up like that wall. But the chapter ends with God’s promise of salvation amidst judgment:

I will save my people from your hands. And then you will know that I am the Lord.

The Lord will never leave his people susceptible to the lies of the false prophets and idols of this world.

Ezekiel 12 – The Lord’s Words Will Be Fulfilled

This chapter begins with another piece of Ezekiel performance art because, as he is told by the Lord:

“Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.

This time his actions represent the exile, which is the punishment for this rebellious people. I’m trying to imagine the scene. Ezekiel had to be the best, though most unwelcome, show in town. Here is a description of the situation from a commentary:

The judicially hardened condition of the Chosen People, including even those of the captivity, had left them unwilling to hear the word of God; and yet both Jeremiah in Jerusalem and Ezekiel in Babylon continued their faithful ministries.

The necessity for God’s prophets to continue their efforts to guide the Chosen People into the Truth derived from the fact that a proliferation of false prophets were shouting their false assurances of the safety and security of Jerusalem, and their equally false promises of a short captivity for the exiles and their speedy return to Jerusalem.

Of course, the message of the false prophets was extremely attractive to the hardened people of God, and that made it very difficult for them to believe God’s true prophets. It was almost impossible for the people to accept the bitter facts that practically none of them would ever return to Jerusalem, that Jerusalem would be destroyed, along with the temple, that the few survivors would be deported to join the other captives in Babylon, and that “the righteous remnant” would be derived from a few of the captives who, in the second generation, would indeed find their way back to Jerusalem.

Ezekiel is told to bring his belongings from his house into the front yard, and have them packed for a trip (exile). Imagine his neighbors seeing this and saying, “What in the world is that crazy old prophet doing now?” The text says, “while they are watching,” and “as they are watching.” There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the prophet of Yahweh is communicating something they need to hear, but as we learn later in the chapter, still won’t accept.

While they are watching, he is told to put the belongings on his shoulder, cover his face so he can’t see (an image of Zedekiah’s being blinded and led out of Jerusalem), and in the evening he is to dig through the wall (it doesn’t way which wall, of his yard or the little town or what), and I guess walk away. The Lord then gives a specific prophecy about Zedekiah without mentioning his name, and that the people of Jerusalem will be scattered. Then there is a phrase used 28 times in the Old Testament, and 26 times in Ezekiel:

Then they will know that I am the Lord.

The other two times are in Isaiah. As we see later in the chapter, the Lord is getting tired of false prophets declaring that these things either will never happen, or that they won’t happen for a very long time. Here are two proverbs spoken in the land and house of Israel:

The days go by and every vision comes to nothing

The vision he sees is for many years from now, and he prophesies about the distant future

This story is good to keep in mind as we look back 2000 years to the ascension and promised second coming of Christ. In Acts 1 we read these words:

10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into [b]the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

In the early decades of the Church, everyone thought Jesus was coming back soon, but they should have known better. God doesn’t do anything in a hurry. Peter even has to admonish his readers in 2 Peter that, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness.” His timing, by definition, is perfect, and we can trust the words he speaks to Ezekiel to end the chapter:

This is what the Sovereign Lord says: None of my words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled, declares the Sovereign Lord.

With confidence we can say with the Apostle John, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”