In Ezekiel 22, God is explaining the consequences of idolatry. In the middle of His explanation, we receive a very interesting hypothetical question.
Eze 22:14 Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee? I the LORD have spoken it, and will do it.
God is going to bring judgment on the people of Israel, and He asked the people if they think they are going to be able to hold on under the judgment of God.
This implicitly brings up two questions. The first is whether or not people are strong enough to endure under the judgment of God. To think about it, let’s consider Noah’s Ark. Other than Noah’s family that was saved through the grace of God, was anyone able to survive? Did God say that He was going to destroy every living thing but then some person outsmarted Him and built a raft? No. The judgment of God was done because it was what God willed. Therefore, I think it is pretty safe to say that we cannot resist the judgment of God if it is what He has chosen.
The other question is similar. Can we be strong at all without God? For example, God might not be actively bringing judgment as He did for Noah or the people of Israel. However, what if we did not have the strength of God? What if He simply decided not to be with us anymore? Could we do anything?
Joh 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
I think about this on a few levels. On one hand, this verse in particular is speaking about fruit, so that brings to mind the fruit of the spirit. We cannot do anything that will please God without the work of Jesus. However, on another level, this makes me think about the fact that God holds together the universe. He is the architect, and as easily of God created the universe, He certainly has the power to destroy it. Therefore, the second question is also safe to answer in the negative. Any strength that we have is a consequence of what God has given.
God is good all the time. He is always just and righteous. Part of that justice is the right to judge, and God does hate sin. The people of Israel were facing the prospect of having to stand against God, and it is quite clear that we simply cannot do that.
I think that it is so tragic to read about the fate of Israel in Ezekiel 21.
Eze 21:2 Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel,
Eze 21:3 And say to the land of Israel, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of his sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked.
Eze 21:4 Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of his sheath against all flesh from the south to the north:
Eze 21:5 That all flesh may know that I the LORD have drawn forth my sword out of his sheath: it shall not return any more.
I think that this passage speaks to our responsibility as Christians to be involved in our nation. Notice that both the righteous and the wicked are going to be pulled apart as a result of the sins of the nation. It is not as if God said that there was going to be a special bubble and the righteous people were going to be allowed to remain as the nation of Israel. The nation was going to fall as a whole, and everyone had to handle the consequences.
As Christians, I presume that we don’t want to end up in this type of situation. We don’t want to have to live through what the people of Israel went through. Therefore, it seems to me that the way that Israel could have avoided this punishment by taking the right direction earlier. If the people had come back to God, it never would have gotten that far.
We have the message that will bring people back to Christ. We have the truth that will bring people to repentance. Our nation still might go down the wrong path, but our nation also has the potential for revival. We know why the people of Israel went down, so as Christians, I feel that we have a responsibility to do what we can to try to bring people to the right path.
As I was reading Ezekiel 20, I was struck by how many times my Bible used the term “polluted.” I am reading from the King James Version (I like it), and it seemed like almost every other verse brought this word out and somehow pointed towards the people of Israel. Here is one example for you.
Eze 20:30 Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? and commit ye whoredom after their abominations?
Eze 20:31 For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be enquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be enquired of by you.
I don’t know if Ezekiel could have had any concept of the amount of pollution that one day would occupy the earth, but when I read this, this is a very strong word. It is not as if they are just a little bit dusty or dirty. They are full on polluted. I am visualizing the ocean after an oil spill. Pollution is a big deal that radically alters the landscape and hurts everything in it.
This is how seriously God takes sin. It is something that is corrupting. It is something that necessarily separates us from God. Kind of like the pollution ruins the natural environment, sin ruins the relationship with God.
I don’t think that we always take this perspective though. I know that it is really easy for me to try to justify doing something wrong because it is no big deal. However, sin is sin, and they all separate us from God.
The silver lining of course is that even though sin is a big deal, God is also forgiving. He is faithful and just.
Ezekiel 19 is written to the princes of Israel. It is a lamentation, and it speaks about how their motherland had become desolated.
Eze 19:10 Thy mother is like a vine in thy blood, planted by the waters: she was fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters.
Eze 19:11 And she had strong rods for the sceptres of them that bare rule, and her stature was exalted among the thick branches, and she appeared in her height with the multitude of her branches.
Eze 19:12 But she was plucked up in fury, she was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up her fruit: her strong rods were broken and withered; the fire consumed them.
Eze 19:13 And now she is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty ground.
Eze 19:14 And fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, which hath devoured her fruit, so that she hath no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule. This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation.
The nation of Israel had gone from a group of people who were thriving and secure to a group of people who were entirely dried up and devoured.
I think that we can draw a strong comparison here to our Christian lives. When we are firmly rooted in the identity of Christ, we are going to thrive. We are going to be developing spiritual fruit, and we are going to be strong.
On the other hand, if we don’t have a foundation in a good place, we are going to be cast down and dried out. We won’t make a productive member of the church, and that is not what God wants from us.
I guess the challenge for me and for you is that we need to find out what group we are in. Are we firmly rooted in, or are we going to be blown over and trampled?
Ezekiel 18 is a very telling chapter. We are told to exactly how people end up becoming separated from God.
Eze 18:1 The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,
Eze 18:2 What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?
Eze 18:3 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.
Eze 18:4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
This chapter takes on two very important problems here. On one hand, people are saying that parents or children were responsible for each other’s sins. That is rejected later in this chapter. God affirms that each person is responsible for his or her own actions.
However, more interestingly in my opinion is that this chapter does provide a way for someone to get into heaven. Notice in verse four. If a person sins, he or she will die. That does imply that if you live a perfect life, you are worthy for heaven based on your own merit.
Verses five through nine reaffirm this idea that if you do everything that aligns with the will of God, you will live.
The problem with that is that it doesn’t apply to me. I doubt it applies to you either. I have yet to come across anyone who is perfect. Some people might think they are, and we certainly might try to put on a front that we are without fault, but at the most basic level, I have never found anyone who has done everything exactly right.
That puts us in a bit of a predicament. We are souls that sin. Therefore, we are dead in our sins. Dead people can’t do anything to alter their condition of death.
How amazing is it then that we have Jesus Christ? How amazing is that we have a God who was willing to send His one and only Son to provide the sacrifice that we could not do anything about ourselves? As dead people, we could not improve our situation, but God brought new life to us.
It is worth reflecting on how lost we are without God and how great His love was and still is for us.
It is interesting how in Ezekiel 17, we find out how Israel is going to be taken down by Babylon. They are going to be laid low, and it is not going to be the most pleasant thing in the world.
However, it is not as if God had forgotten about the people of Israel all together. They were not thrown away forever.
Eze 17:22 Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent:
Eze 17:23 In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell.
Eze 17:24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I the LORD have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish: I the LORD have spoken and have done it.
The people who had been powerful before were the ones who are being obviously hurt the most by this. Zedekiah and the line of David were the high cedar. At this point, it seemed like that particular line was going to be chopped off, but there was a higher branch that was going to be saved. An important branch down the line that would come out of the line of David and bear fruit for everyone.
We have found our Messianic prophecy. The Old Testament is full of indicators that help us understand that someone had to come along and meet all of these criteria. The odds are remarkable, but no one has yet been able to find one that Jesus Christ did not fulfill.
Ezekiel 16 takes us through the entire history of the people of Israel. They began as wanderers in the land, but God was with them, and they became a great kingdom. However, as soon as it became that great kingdom, they began losing their faithfulness. They are beginning to deviate and wander away from God who had brought them to the point where they were.
Eze 16:58 Thou hast borne thy lewdness and thine abominations, saith the LORD.
Eze 16:59 For thus saith the Lord GOD; I will even deal with thee as thou hast done, which hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant.
It is important to remember that this is not God changing His covenant. The relationship had been the same from the beginning. He would be their God, and that they would be His people. However, we have a case here where the people have rejected Him and have decided to chase after other pursuits.
I didn’t want to copy the entire chapter, but the language here is related to marital infidelity. This is a serious charge that is being laid on the people of Israel. They had a commitment as strong as any other commitment on earth, and they were violating that. It was not simply like choosing a different item off of a restaurant menu. Those are all equivalent choices. It doesn’t really matter which one you decide. In the case of choosing God or not choosing God, it is obvious that it is not considered to be that type of decision.
This is a decision that has a right answer. It is kind of like being faithful to your spouse. There technically is a decision to be made there and there are two choices, but there also is a right decision that ought to be made every time. That is exactly what the people of Israel should have understood with God. They were in a relationship, and even though they could drift away from him, there was a right decision to be made based upon the relationship that was in place.
I think that we need to consider this kind of thing as Christians as well. We have made a commitment to be in a relationship with God. We should take that just as seriously as the nation of Israel was called to be in a relationship with God.
Ezekiel 15 provides us with a metaphor. The people of Jerusalem are like a piece of wood that has been thrown in the fire and burned.
Eze 15:6 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; As the vine tree among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so will I give the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Eze 15:7 And I will set my face against them; they shall go out from one fire, and another fire shall devour them; and ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I set my face against them.
Eze 15:8 And I will make the land desolate, because they have committed a trespass, saith the Lord GOD.
The implications are rather clear. The people of Jerusalem brought on their own punishment. They defied God for years, and it finally came to the point where the city was going to fall.
Verse seven stood out to me. The people were going to recognize God more clearly when He was allowing these things to happen to them. I think that a lot of us can identify with that idea. We sometimes recognize God more clearly when difficult times come. We realize that we need him to be there with us if we are going to make it through.
That did happen to the people of Israel if we fast-forward. While they were in captivity, they did get their act back together and came back to Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah. However, had they not been taken away to Babylon, there probably would not have been this return. After all, the people continued spiraling every generation, and the final king Zedekiah was not changing the trend.
Difficult times can actually bring us back to where we need to be. It can be those times where we realize that our own power is not nearly enough, and we recognize that we need God to be by our side.
The people of Jerusalem had turned away from God, and they were basically trapped in idolatry. However, it is interesting in Ezekiel 14 that we receive the following connection to the other books of the Bible.
Eze 14:14 Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD.
Eze 14:15 If I cause noisome beasts to pass through the land, and they spoil it, so that it be desolate, that no man may pass through because of the beasts:
Eze 14:16 Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate.
Eze 14:17 Or if I bring a sword upon that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off man and beast from it:
Eze 14:18 Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only shall be delivered themselves.
These are three men who were saved from physical death by God. Daniel could have died in the invasion, Noah could have drowned and Job could have been killed through all of his trials. However, God preserved them because of how they lived their lives. We are not talking about eternal salvation here necessarily, but because of their righteousness, they did not physically die here on earth when they could have.
At this point, the people were at such a dark point that even with the example of one of these men, no one else would be delivered with them. It is a lot like the time of Noah. Nobody would listen to him because they were in such a dark spot. However, it had even advanced to the point where his own family would not listen to him. That was how awful the situation was for these people.
I hope that we never find ourselves in this kind of position. Even if we had some of the most righteous people of all time there with us, we would ignore them and not turn from our idolatry. That is a sad place.
It seems as if there are a lot of people who like to say that they heard directly from God. However, there have been some pretty contradictory encounters with the God that people have met. The God that the apostle Paul encountered on the road to Damascus is a lot different than the angel who Joseph Smith met and delivered the word of God in the form of the golden tablets.
Even way back in Ezekiel 13, different people were claiming to hear from God, and people were having different results.
Eze 13:6 They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word.
Eze 13:7 Have ye not seen a vain vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, whereas ye say, The LORD saith it; albeit I have not spoken?
Eze 13:8 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye have spoken vanity, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord GOD.
I think this applies quite a bit to the world we have today. We have a variety of people making contradictory truth claims, and certainly by the laws of logic, they cannot all be true. For example, Jesus Christ cannot be the son of God as Christianity claims and not the son of God as Islam claims. One has to be right, and the other has to be wrong. There is no way around that.
However, how do we decide which one is right? That necessitates a long answer on some level, but to simplify, I would say that we basically need to weigh the evidence. It is the same way that you decide on anything else in the world. If I want to buy a car, I evaluate the evidence of people who have the same vehicle and make a decision based on whether or not it seems like a good decision.
It is a similar process for discerning between religions. Look at the evidence. Does that belief system seem to adequately explain the world? If it does, that is great. If it doesn’t, maybe it is not worth believing in.
Obviously, Ezekiel was going to engage in conversation with these people who disagreed with him. That is what we need to be willing to do as well. As Christians, we have made the decision that we believe that one particular religion is right. We need to be willing to talk about that.