Ezekiel was a messenger to many different people for many different reasons, but much of what he ended up speaking against was the problem of idolatry. In Ezekiel 23, he was called to speak to both the people of Israel and the people of Judah. The people of Israel had wandered away from God earlier after the split of the kingdom, but Judah had remained more faithful. However, we had now come to a point in history where Judah had also fallen.
Eze 23:22 Therefore, O Aholibah, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will raise up thy lovers against thee, from whom thy mind is alienated, and I will bring them against thee on every side;
Eze 23:23 The Babylonians, and all the Chaldeans, Pekod, and Shoa, and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them: all of them desirable young men, captains and rulers, great lords and renowned, all of them riding upon horses.
Eze 23:24 And they shall come against thee with chariots, wagons, and wheels, and with an assembly of people, which shall set against thee buckler and shield and helmet round about: and I will set judgment before them, and they shall judge thee according to their judgments.
Eze 23:25 And I will set my jealousy against thee, and they shall deal furiously with thee: they shall take away thy nose and thine ears; and thy remnant shall fall by the sword: they shall take thy sons and thy daughters; and thy residue shall be devoured by the fire.
I think that there is a powerful lesson here for us. The nation of Judah had indeed been blessed by God. However, even with all of the evidence leading them to believe that it was worthwhile to follow God, they still wandered away.
Here is a little thought experiment. As we know, Zedekiah was the King of Judah when the Babylonians came. There were 19 kings by my count between the reign of David and the reign of Zedekiah.
We know that David died approximately in 970 BC and Jerusalem fell in approximately 586 BC. That is 384 years of spiraling downhill. While there certainly were some improvements along the way, the trajectory was generally downhill until it hit rock bottom.
It is a shame though. You think about a nation that was on top of the world. David was a man after God’s own heart, and although he certainly had many, many flaws, he led Israel in the ways of God. They were a nation that valued and worshipped God. They then became a nation that was about to be judged by God for falling away to idols.
It kind of makes you think of another nation that was founded in Biblical principles but continually slid away for approximately 400 years. We need revival.
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 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.
In Lamentations 4, Jeremiah talks about the perception of other nations in regards to this downfall that was happening in Judah.
Lam 4:11 The LORD hath accomplished his fury; he hath poured out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof.
Lam 4:12 The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem.
God’s people had been blessed for years. They were given many miraculous victories. In the not-too-distant past, David and then Solomon sat on the throne. They ruled a large kingdom through the grace of God. David was obviously a man after God’s own heart, and Solomon had been blessed with wisdom from God. Solomon had built the temple to glorify God. This was not that far in the past, but when you look at the way that the people of Judah were acting, you would have thought that that was ancient history. They had come so far from where they had been.
As a result, God was angry. God brought the consequences that He always said would come when the people drifted too far away from where God told them to be. Think about the end of Deuteronomy where Moses is talking about the blessings of following God or the curses of not following God.
It is interesting in verse 12 that the other people of the world would not believe that that the people of God had fallen. Again, given that miraculous history, it seemed impossible that there would finally be time where they failed. However, they did not fail because God failed to protect them; they failed because they lost touch with God and were exposed to the consequences of their actions.
I think that we have to be careful about this kind of thing in our everyday lives. God has blessed us in so many ways, but if we start to drift from God, He does not always take away the consequences of our actions. If we do drift, all I can say is that we do so at our own risk and need to recognize that.
At the end of the book of Jeremiah, we finally get a summary of all that went wrong with the people of Judah, and even though it took 52 chapters to describe entirely, it really was rather simple.
Jer 52:1 Zedekiah was one and twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah.
Jer 52:2 And he did that which was evil in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done.
Jer 52:3 For through the anger of the LORD it came to pass in Jerusalem and Judah, till he had cast them out from his presence, that Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.
The people of Judah had done evil for so long that God finally allowed them to fall. It was the ultimate consequence to all of their actions. It seems as if it was kind of like getting your hands closer and closer to fire. Every time gets a little bit warmer, but when it burns, you feel the consequences. That is kind of like this situation.
Obviously God had not caused people of Judah to fall every time that there were problems. Even under King David there were problems, but by this point, the offenses had grown so great that the consequences had to come.
It is also worth pointing out on this front that while the suffering was certainly awful for the people of Judah, when you think of the larger picture, it did accomplish the purpose of getting the people to come back to God. Under the leadership of Nehemiah, the people did come back to Jerusalem, and there was a return to faith.
It seems as if that a lot as a response to adversity. When all that you have on earth seems to fall apart, we have to go back to what you have in your base, and when you have God in your base, you come back to what is really important. Your eyes opened to all that was going wrong before. Because of that kind of foundation, you end up with people like Nehemiah who are able to then rebuild nations and do it in the right way.
In Jeremiah 46, we hear the ultimate reason that God did not want the people of Israel to go to Egypt. Babylon was going to come in and take over the land. While they were there, the people of Judah who had run there were going to be devastated as well. However, it was going to be okay for the people of Israel because God had been at work the whole time.
Jer 46:27 But fear not thou, O my servant Jacob, and be not dismayed, O Israel: for, behold, I will save thee from afar off, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and be in rest and at ease, and none shall make him afraid.
Jer 46:28 Fear thou not, O Jacob my servant, saith the LORD: for I am with thee; for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee: but I will not make a full end of thee, but correct thee in measure; yet will I not leave thee wholly unpunished.
From the beginning, God had been telling the people that the best course of action was to submit to Babylonian rule, and they didn’t listen. First, they decided to try to fight, and that didn’t go well. Then, the ones that were left behind in Judah to work the land decided that they wanted to run away and not submit.
The people were literally doing whatever they could to disobey what God had told them. Part of that might be because they did not want to be captives, and I can’t necessarily say I blame them on one level.
However, at the same time, when God tells us something, we need to be obedient. Think about Jonah. Think about the fact that Saul was supposed to wait for Samuel before making a sacrifice prior to battle. Actions have consequences, and people are responsible for the choices they make. However, one thing to notice about this particular situation is that God had everything already set for how the people were going to come back to Jerusalem. He was going to do it through the people who did what they had to do and submitted to Babylonian captivity.
In Jeremiah 21, the King of Judah, Zedekiah, called on Jeremiah to pray for the people as the Babylonians put them under siege. They wanted God to protect them from this imminent threat, but part of me has to wonder if the leadership was entirely oblivious because here is the response of Jeremiah.
Jer 21:3 Then said Jeremiah unto them, Thus shall ye say to Zedekiah:
Jer 21:4 Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the king of Babylon, and against the Chaldeans, which besiege you without the walls, and I will assemble them into the midst of this city.
Jer 21:5 And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath.
Throughout this entire book, Jeremiah has been talking about how wrong the people had been and how they needed to come back to God. You have to wonder if the leadership disregarded everything that Jeremiah had ever said. It is possible. After all, don’t we all kind of disregard news that we don’t agree with?
I think there is an important lesson here though. The people of Israel and Judah were the people of God, but they were not immune from sin. God, being a God of justice, gave them the consequences of their actions. They did not get some kind of free pass because they were the chosen people.
I think that we can develop a similar attitude today as Christians. We live however we want, and we think that we can come to God whenever we want and all of the consequences to our actions will disappear. I am not saying that God will not forgive us because God will forgive anyone of anything when they come to him with sincere repentance. However, let’s say that I was addicted to gambling, and I really hit rock bottom. I am entirely out of money, and I realize that what I had been doing was wrong. God would forgive me, but God did not be obligated to put all kinds of money back into my bank account. I would still have the consequences of my actions while simultaneously receiving forgiveness.
I think that this is a hard concept for many people because we just want to say sorry and move on. We want to be like Zedekiah and come to God when we need Him to take away our consequences. It doesn’t quite work that way though, and because God is a God of justice, we might have to deal with the issues that we have created ourselves.
If you read the Old Testament, it is pretty obvious that God demands obedience. There are so many times when people violate the commands of God, and they get punished for it. In Jeremiah 19, we see more of the same, and I guess it raises the question as to why God is so concerned with obedience.
Jer 19:14 Then came Jeremiah from Tophet, whither the LORD had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the LORD’S house; and said to all the people,
Jer 19:15 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words.
It is a basic cause-and-effect relationship. The people are not following the directions that they had been clearly given, so they are going to receive all of the consequences of their actions.
I guess that raises the question as to why God is so worried about obedience. After all, He is always talking about forgiveness, so why is there all this talk of punishment. Can’t God simply forgive?
There are a few points to take on this one. Notice that in this passage in Jeremiah, the punishment is a consequence for breaking the law of God. It is similar to a basic judicial system. When you break the law, you receive punishment because that is justice. There is a difference between justice and forgiveness.
If someone committed a crime against me, I ought to be willing to forgive them. As hard as that is, we are called to forgive. However, that does not mean that we immediately abandon justice. We might forgive a murderer, but that does not mean that we argue for him to be released from prison. There are still consequences to previous actions.
I think that is what we see a lot in the Old Testament that explains why there was a lot of talk about obedience and punishment. It seems to me that the justice comes as the consequence of what the people had done. It doesn’t mean that they are beyond forgiveness whatsoever, and we see that God does forgive the people of Israel many times throughout the Old Testament. However, when the law has been broken, justice is called for.
In Isaiah 28, we get to hear about how far the people of Israel have fallen. Morally, the leaders have gone downhill, and they are simply not doing their job of leading people in worship and dedication to God.
Isa 28:14 Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.
Isa 28:15 Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:
Isa 28:16 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
Isa 28:17 Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.
Isa 28:18 And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.
I am again feeling layers of meaning here. There could be the literal sense. Israel has made agreements and treaties with enemy nations, but because they were not centered on the teaching of God and specifically the prophesied cornerstone Jesus Christ, these agreements are going to fall apart and Israel will be overrun. You can see this with the Roman Empire for example. The people of Israel abandoned the very cornerstone of what made them special, and God was telling them that they are going to be literally overrun.
I think there also can be a bigger picture of salvation here that is a bit more figurative. In essence, we have all signed a contract with death. Because of our sin nature, we have signed a contract that leads to destruction. However, God has given us this cornerstone, Jesus Christ, and through Him, we can tear apart that contract. Yes, we still might get knocked down as it says that the end of verse 18, but Christianity never promised earthly power. The important part in that situation is that we no longer have that contract with death.
These prophetic chapters are fascinating because I feel like the brilliance of them is how they do have these multiple layers of meaning.
Isaiah 17 talks about the judgment that is coming to the people of Damascus. It is quite similar to some of the other things we have heard about, and it is interesting what the reaction of the people will be when this judgment happens.
Isa 17:7 At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel.
Isa 17:8 And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves, or the images.
Difficult times often bring people face-to-face with reality. When this judgment is happening, people will realize that idols are not worth depending on. They will realize that it is the only thing these are only things made by their own hands. They will actually look towards God and understand what should have been blatantly obvious the entire time.
The sad part about this entire situation is that the truth was available the entire time. In this specific situation, the people of Damascus could have recognized the error of their ways. They could have turned it around. It isn’t as if they had to depend on that idolatrous religion before the judgment any more than they had to while the judgment was happening.
It is when these times get difficult that the implications of your belief system really matter, and I think that is why we see this turn towards reality. Think about Elijah and all of the prophets of Baal. All of the implications of these belief system were brought into the light. One was proven to be true while the other one was shown to be false.
The implication for all of us is that we ought to take a close look at our worldviews. Rather than waiting until the hard times, why not evaluate now? Do the homework and understand what you are following.