Monday, February 28, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 18

    Ezekiel 18 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said:
  2. Ezekiel, I hear the people of Israel using the old saying, "Sour grapes eaten by parents leave a sour taste in the mouths of their children."
  3. Now tell them that I am the LORD God, and as surely as I live, that saying will no longer be used in Israel.
  4. The lives of all people belong to me--parents as well as children. Only those who sin will be put to death.
  5. Suppose there is a truly good man who always does what is fair and right.
  6. He refuses to eat meat sacrificed to foreign gods at local shrines or to worship Israel's idols. He doesn't have sex with someone else's wife or with a woman having her monthly period.
  7. He never cheats or robs anyone and always returns anything taken as security for a loan; he gives food and clothes to the poor
  8. and doesn't charge interest when lending money. He refuses to do anything evil; he is fair to everyone
  9. and faithfully obeys my laws and teachings. This man is good, and I promise he will live.
  10. But suppose this good man has an evil son who is violent and commits sins
  11. his father never did. He eats meat at local shrines, has sex with someone else's wife,
  12. cheats the poor, and robs people. He keeps what is given to him as security for a loan. He worships idols, does disgusting things,
  13. and charges high interest when lending money. An evil man like that will certainly not live. He is the one who has done these horrible sins, so it's his own fault that he will be put to death.
  14. But suppose this evil man has a son who sees his father do these things and refuses to act like him.
  15. He doesn't eat meat at local shrines or worship Israel's idols, and he doesn't have sex with someone else's wife.
  16. He never cheats or robs anyone and doesn't even demand security for a loan. He gives food and clothes to the poor
  17. and refuses to do anything evil or to charge interest. And he obeys all my laws and teachings. Such a man will live. His own father sinned, but this good man will not be put to death for the sins of his father.
  18. It is his father who will die for cheating and robbing and doing evil.
  19. You may wonder why a son isn't punished for the sins of his father. It is because the son does what is right and obeys my laws.
  20. Only those who sin will be put to death. Children won't suffer for the sins of their parents, and parents won't suffer for the sins of their children. Good people will be rewarded for what they do, and evil people will be punished for what they do.
  21. Suppose wicked people stop sinning and start obeying my laws and doing right. They won't be put to death.
  22. All their sins will be forgiven, and they will live because they did right.
  23. I, the LORD God, don't like to see wicked people die. I enjoy seeing them turn from their sins and live.
  24. But when good people start sinning and doing disgusting things, will they live? No! All their good deeds will be forgotten, and they will be put to death because of their sins.
  25. You people of Israel accuse me of being unfair! But listen--I'm not unfair; you are!
  26. If good people start doing evil, they must be put to death, because they have sinned.
  27. And if wicked people start doing right, they will save themselves from punishment.
  28. They will think about what they've done and stop sinning, and so they won't be put to death.
  29. But you still say that I am unfair. You are the ones who have done wrong and are unfair!
  30. I will judge each of you for what you've done. So stop sinning, or else you will certainly be punished.
  31. Give up your evil ways and start thinking pure thoughts. And be faithful to me! Do you really want to be put to death for your sins?
  32. I, the LORD God, don't want to see that happen to anyone. So stop sinning and live!

    A popular saying or proverb in Israel during Ezekiel's day was: "The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?" (18:2) It's point was that a man's children suffered due to his sins. It was a way of shifting blame. Rather than taking responsibility for their own sin, Israel was blaming their ancestors for the problems they suffered. They then blamed God of being unfair.

    In chapter 18, God uses three "cases" to set the record straight. First He supposes there is a man who is righteous. He does not participate in idolatry, does not commit adultry, does not oppress his neighbors or commit robbery. Instead, he gives bread to the hungry and clothes to the naked and lends without interest. Plus, he is obedient to God's statutes. This man will live because of his righteousness. Next, suppose this man has a son who is guilty of doing the opposite of his father. He does all that is sinful and none that is righteous. This son will die because of his sin, and his blood will be on his own head. Finally, suppose this son also has a son. Although this grandson of the first man sees all the sin of his father, he does not do it. Instead, he follows in the footsteps of his grandfather. This grandson will not suffer because of his father's sin, but will live because of his own righteousness.

    As is usually the case when we want to live a rebellious lifestyle, the thinking of these Israelites was inconsistent. Though they wanted to blame the sins of their ancestors for their problems rather than their own sins, they wanted to claim the righteousness of their ancestors as cause for them to be blessed. Though it was they who was unfair in their dealings and in their thinking, they accused God of being unfair. Therefore, God made a declaration: "House of Israel, I will judge each one of you according to his ways. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, so they will not be a stumbling block that causes your punishment." (18:30) Furthermore, God declared: "For I take no pleasure in anyone's death. . . So repent and live!" (18:32) They did not have to die because of sin. God would forgive them and give them life if they would turn away from their sin.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 17

    Ezekiel 17 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said:
  2. Ezekiel, son of man, tell the people of Israel the following story,
  3. so they will understand what I am saying to them: A large eagle with strong wings and beautiful feathers once flew to Lebanon. It broke the top branch off a cedar tree,
  4. then carried it to a nation of merchants and left it in one of their cities.
  5. The eagle also took seed from Israel and planted it in a fertile field with plenty of water, like a willow tree beside a stream.
  6. The seed sprouted and grew into a grapevine that spread over the ground. It had lots of leaves and strong, deep roots, and its branches grew upward toward the eagle.
  7. There was another eagle with strong wings and thick feathers. The roots and branches of the grapevine soon turned toward this eagle, hoping it would bring water for the soil.
  8. But the vine was already growing in fertile soil, where there was plenty of water to produce healthy leaves and large grapes.
  9. Now tell me, Ezekiel, do you think this grapevine will live? Or will the first eagle pull it up by its roots and pluck off the grapes and let its new leaves die? The eagle could easily kill it without the help of a large and powerful army.
  10. The grapevine is strong and healthy, but as soon as the scorching desert wind blows, it will quickly wither.
  11. The LORD said:
  12. Ezekiel, ask the rebellious people of Israel if they know what this story means. Tell them that the king of Babylonia came to Jerusalem, then he captured the king of Judah and his officials, and took them back to Babylon as prisoners.
  13. He chose someone from the family of Judah's king and signed a treaty with him, then made him swear to be loyal. He also led away other important citizens,
  14. so that the rest of the people of Judah would obey only him and never gain control of their own country again.
  15. But this new king of Judah later rebelled against Babylonia and sent officials to Egypt to get horses and troops. Will this king be successful in breaking the treaty with Babylonia? Or will he be punished for what he's done?
  16. As surely as I am the living LORD God, I swear that the king of Judah will die in Babylon, because he broke the treaty with the king of Babylonia, who appointed him king.
  17. Even the king of Egypt and his powerful army will be useless to Judah when the Babylonians attack and build dirt ramps to invade the cities of Judah and kill its people.
  18. The king of Judah broke his own promises and ignored the treaty with Babylonia. And so he will be punished!
  19. He made a promise in my name and swore to honor the treaty. And now that he has broken that promise, my name is disgraced. He must pay for what he's done.
  20. I will spread out a net to trap him. Then I will drag him to Babylon and see that he is punished for his unfaithfulness to me.
  21. His best troops will be killed in battle, and the survivors will be scattered in every direction. I, the LORD, have spoken. *
  22. Someday, I, the LORD, will cut a tender twig from the top of a cedar tree, then plant it on the peak of Israel's tallest mountain, where it will grow strong branches and produce large fruit.
  23. All kinds of birds will find shelter under the tree, and they will rest in the shade of its branches.
  24. Every tree in the forest will know that I, the LORD, can bring down tall trees and help short ones grow. I dry up green trees and make dry ones green. I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will keep my word.

    God kept repeating His message of judgment to Judah through His prophets, retelling it over and over in different ways. Therefore, the scenario described in this chapter is not new. Fore this retelling of the message a riddle is used to again say that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon will defeat Judah, taking captive many of its leaders and other people and establishing a puppet king. This puppet king will rebel and Nebuchadnezzar will return to completely destroy Jerusalem, kill many of the people and take the remainder captive. As this message is retold each time, the accompanying message is of the certainty of the coming judgment. The time of repentance was past and the time had come for judgment.

    Why was God trying so hard to get this message of judgment across to Judah when it was too late for repentance? Usually prophecy is intended to bring repentance, but what was the intended purpose of these prophecies? The purpose was at least two-fold: 1- though the judgment would not be pleasant, it would go better for those who accepted God's message and cooperated with the events that were to transpire, and 2- once judgment came, the people would know it was from God because of the messages the prophets kept retelling of the events that were to transpire. Concerning the first of these two purposes, that it would go better for those who accepted and cooperated with the events that were to occur, the rebellion of Zedekiah, who was the puppet king in Judah, is a good example. Had he understood and accepted that his oath of loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar was of God and thus had cooperated with it, things would have gone better for him.

    The riddle God used for this retelling of the messsage outlines the events just described. In it there are two different eagles. The first eagle went to Lebanon, clipped the top of a cedar, then flew to the land of merchants and planted it in a fertile field. This eagle represents Nebuchadnezzar who went to Jerusalem, took its top leaders (the top of the cedar) and deported them to Babylon (the land of merchants) replanting them in the fertile soil of Babylon. In Babylon, the new plant flourished. Then there was a second eagle to which the new plant was drawn. Even though the plant was in a good field with plenty of water, the plant "stretched out its branches to him (the eagle) from its planting bed, so that he might water it." (17:7) But in the process of this second eagle nourishing the plant, it will "tear out its roots and strip off its fruit so that it shrivels. All its fresh leaves will wither!" Because it is yet a young plant without much root system, "Great strength and many people will not be needed to pull it from its roots." (17:9) The result of Judah's rejection of her judgment and efforts to fix it herself was considerably worse that the original judgment.

    Rebellion against God, foolish in itself, leads to increasingly foolish choices, choices that are clearly not in the person's best interest. But when one is trying to avoid God, their avoidance often drives their actions rather than wise consideration of the best choices. Rebellion against God led Judah to idolatry and wickedness. These choices led to God's judgment and her defeat by Babylon. Had Judah accepted the judgment for what it was and resigned herself to the outcome, waiting for God to again restore her, her plight during exile would not have been so unpleasant, though granted, it would not be in their own homeland where the people would have preferred to be. But rather than accept her temporary plight Judah continued to rebel, trying to fix the problem themselves, turning not to God, but to Egypt who was the second eagle. The result was that most of those remaining in Judah were killed and Jerusalem destroyed.

    Apart from God and His wise counsel, we cannot make the best choices for our lives. This is further complicated when we try to avoid God and keep Him out of our lives.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 16

    Ezekiel 16 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said:
  2. Ezekiel, son of man, remind the people of Jerusalem of their disgusting sins
  3. and tell them that I, the LORD God, am saying: Jerusalem, you were born in the country where Canaanites lived. Your father was an Amorite, and your mother was a Hittite.
  4. When you were born, no one cut you loose from your mother or washed your body. No one rubbed your skin with salt and olive oil, and wrapped you in warm blankets.
  5. Not one person loved you enough to do any of these things, and no one even felt sorry for you. You were despised, thrown into a field, and forgotten.
  6. I saw you lying there, rolling around in your own blood, and I couldn't let you die.
  7. I took care of you, like someone caring for a tender, young plant. You grew up to be a beautiful young woman with perfect breasts and long hair, but you were still naked.
  8. When I saw you again, you were old enough to have sex. So I covered your naked body with my own robe. Then I solemnly promised that you would belong to me and that I, the LORD God, would take care of you.
  9. I washed the blood off you and rubbed your skin with olive oil.
  10. I gave you the finest clothes and the most expensive robes, as well as sandals made from the best leather.
  11. I gave you bracelets, a necklace,
  12. a ring for your nose, some earrings, and a beautiful crown.
  13. Your jewelry was gold and silver, and your clothes were made of only the finest material and embroidered linen. Your bread was baked from fine flour, and you ate honey and olive oil. You were as beautiful as a queen,
  14. and everyone on earth knew it. I, the LORD God, had helped you become a lovely young woman.
  15. You learned that you were attractive enough to have any man you wanted, so you offered yourself to every passerby.
  16. You made shrines for yourself and decorated them with some of your clothes. That's where you took your visitors to have sex with them. These things should never have happened!
  17. You made idols out of the gold and silver jewelry I gave you, then you sinned by worshiping those idols.
  18. You dressed them in the clothes you got from me, and you offered them the olive oil and incense I gave you.
  19. I supplied you with fine flour, olive oil, and honey, but you sacrificed it all as offerings to please those idols. I, the LORD God, watched this happen.
  20. But you did something even worse than that--you sacrificed your own children to those idols!
  21. You slaughtered my children, so you could offer them as sacrifices.
  22. You were so busy sinning and being a prostitute that you refused to think about the days when you were young and were rolling around naked in your own blood.
  23. Now I, the LORD God, say you are doomed! Not only did you do these evil things,
  24. but you also built places on every street corner
  25. where you disgraced yourself by having sex with anyone who walked by. And you did that more and more every day!
  26. To make me angry, you even offered yourself to Egyptians, who were always ready to sleep with you.
  27. So I punished you by letting those greedy Philistine enemies take over some of your territory. But even they were offended by your disgusting behavior.
  28. You couldn't get enough sex, so you chased after Assyrians and slept with them. You still weren't satisfied,
  29. so you went after Babylonians. But those merchants could not satisfy you either.
  30. I, the LORD God, say that you were so disgusting that you would have done anything to get what you wanted.
  31. You had sex on every street corner, and when you finished, you refused to accept money. That's worse than being a prostitute!
  32. You are nothing but an unfaithful wife who would rather have sex with strangers than with your own husband.
  33. Prostitutes accept money for having sex, but you bribe men from everywhere to have sex with you.
  34. You're not like other prostitutes. Men don't ask you for sex--you offer to pay them!
  35. Jerusalem, you prostitute, listen to me.
  36. You chased after lovers, then took off your clothes and had sex. You even worshiped disgusting idols and sacrificed your own children as offerings to them.
  37. So I, the LORD God, will gather every one of your lovers, those you liked and those you hated. They will stand around you, and I will rip off your clothes and let all of those lovers stare at your nakedness.
  38. I will find you guilty of being an unfaithful wife and a murderer, and in my fierce anger I will sentence you to death!
  39. Then I will hand you over to your lovers, who will tear down the places where you had sex. They will take your clothes and jewelry, leaving you naked and empty-handed.
  40. Your lovers and an angry mob will stone you to death; they will cut your dead body into pieces
  41. and burn down your houses. Other women will watch these terrible things happen to you. I promise to stop you from being a prostitute and paying your lovers for sex.
  42. Only then will I calm down and stop being angry and jealous.
  43. You made me furious by doing all these disgusting things and by forgetting how I took care of you when you were young. Then you made things worse by acting like a prostitute. You must be punished! I, the LORD God, have spoken.
  44. People will use this saying about you, Jerusalem: "If the mother is bad, so is her daughter."
  45. You are just like your mother, who hated her husband and her own children. You are also like your sisters, who hated their husbands and children. Your father was an Amorite, and your mother was a Hittite.
  46. Your older sister was Samaria, that city to your north with her nearby villages. Your younger sister was Sodom, that city to your south with her nearby villages.
  47. You followed their way of life and their wicked customs, and soon you were more disgusting than they were.
  48. As surely as I am the living LORD God, the people of Sodom and its nearby villages were never as sinful as you.
  49. They were arrogant and spoiled; they had everything they needed and still refused to help the poor and needy.
  50. They thought they were better than everyone else, and they did things I hate. And so I destroyed them.
  51. You people of Jerusalem have sinned twice as much as the people of Samaria. In fact, your evil ways have made both Sodom and Samaria look innocent.
  52. So their punishment will seem light compared to yours. You will be disgraced and put to shame because of your disgusting sins.
  53. Someday I will bless Sodom and Samaria and their nearby villages. I will also bless you, Jerusalem.
  54. Then you will be ashamed of how you've acted, and Sodom and Samaria will be relieved that they weren't as sinful as you.
  55. When that day comes, you and Sodom and Samaria will once again be well-off, and all nearby villages will be restored.
  56. Jerusalem, you were so arrogant that you sneered at Sodom.
  57. But now everyone has learned how wicked you really are. The countries of Syria and Philistia, as well as your other neighbors, hate you and make insulting remarks.
  58. You must pay for all the vulgar and disgusting things you have done. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  59. Jerusalem, you deserve to be punished, because you broke your promises and ignored our agreement.
  60. But I remember the agreement I made with you when you were young, and so I will make you a promise that will last forever.
  61. When you think about how you acted, you will be ashamed, especially when I return your sisters to you as daughters, even though this was not part of our agreement.
  62. I will keep this solemn promise, and you will know that I am the LORD.
  63. I will forgive you, but you will think about your sins and be too ashamed to say a word. I, the LORD God, have spoken.

    A parable is used in chapter 16 to portray the extent of Judah's wickedness and the certainty of her coming judgment. It begins with a description of Israel's history likening her beginnings as a nation to a newborn baby that is not wanted and is left in an open field to die. God found Israel in this condition and gave her life. When she grew and matured He made a marriage covenant with her and took her as His own, making her a queen because of her beauty and lavishing His wealth on her. She became well-known for her beauty. But she also became "confident in your beauty and acted like a prostitute because of your fame." (16:15) Thus, she lavished her sexual favors on everyone who passed by. Then she began to lavish the wealth given her by her husband on her lovers. Though she acted as a prostitute, there was a significant difference. Prostitutes offer their sexual favors for pay, but Israel paid her lovers to have sex with her. From there her promiscuity continued to spiral downward, building male images with which to engage in prostitution and eventually offering the children who were the product of her marriage as sacrifice to these idols.

    The unfaithfulness to her marriage vows referred to the breaking of the covenant between God and Israel, and the prostitution was Israel's turning to idolatry. Israel eventually outstripped the other nations in her idolatry and wickedness. Though the cities of Sodom and Samaria were known to have been destroyed because of their wickedness, Israel, Jerusalem in particular, had become more wicked. It was impossible that God would overlook Israel's sin, and in bringing judgment on her He would use these other nations with whom Israel had engaged in her sin to bring the judgment as stated in 16:37: "I am therefore going to gather all the lovers you pleased--all those you loved as well as all those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and expose your nakedness to them so they see you completely naked." Israel would be judged in keeping with the judgment for adultry and blood shed which was stoning and the sword. Thus Babylon destroyed Jerusalem with stoning and the sword. Also involved was idolatry, and the judgment for a city involved in idolatry was being killed by the sword and burning the city. This too was a part of the destruction by Babylon.

    It is a serious thing to accept the blessings and provisions of God and then credit their source to someone or something other than God and lavish them on purposes God abhors. Everything we have, including our very lives, are gifts from God our Creator. Whether we acknowledge there is a God or not, whether we acknowledge Him as Creator or not makes no difference. Our failure to acknowledge God and His role in creation is not ignorance but rather denial. Romans 1:18-21 puts it in perspective: "For God's wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 15

    Ezekiel 15 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Some time later, the LORD said:
  2. Ezekiel, son of man, what happens to the wood of a grapevine after the grapes have been picked? It isn't like other trees in the forest,
  3. because the wood of a grapevine can't be used to make anything, not even a small peg to hang things on.
  4. It can only be used as firewood. But after its ends are burnt and its middle is charred, it can't be used for anything.
  5. The wood is useless before it is burned, and afterwards, it is completely worthless.
  6. I, the LORD God, promise that just as the wood of a grapevine is burned as firewood,
  7. I will punish the people of Jerusalem with fire. Some of them have escaped one destruction, but soon they will be completely burned. And when that happens, you, Ezekiel, will know that I am the LORD.
  8. I will make their country an empty wasteland, because they have not been loyal to me. I, the LORD God, have spoken.

    The point of a relationship with God is that we might glorify and worship Him and He might give us abundant lives. We tend to define an abundant life in terms of the externals such as wealth and prominence, etc. God defines it in terms of internals such as joy, peace, love, etc. These are the things upon which a life of abundance and of meaning and of purpose is built. These are the things that make a person truly happy. A life such as this cannot be taken from us as long as we remain in the One who gives it to us. The storms of life take from us only the externals upon which such a life is not dependent.

    The people of Judah, however, had staked their lives on the externals. They were not interested in the life God wanted to give them and the result was that they had also turned from glorifying and worshiping God. Their lives produced no fruit that gave evidence of their covenant relationship with God. Therefore they had become as useless as a grape vine that produced no grapes. The fruitless grapevine was used in this passage to illustrate the status of Judah in God's eyes. She was useless. A grapevine that produced no grapes had no other use. Its wood could not be used even for a simple peg on which to hang things. Even the wood of a fruitful grapevine was of no use for wood products. But a vine that had been charred by fire was definitely of no use. Thus the fruitless vine can only be used as firewood.

    This was the status of Judah. Due to her unfaithfulness to God she had become unfruitful and thus useless and fit only for the fire of God's wrath. There was no escaping this end. As God said, "They may have escaped from the fire, but it will still consume them." (15:7) But even in this God had a purpose beyond the judgment, for through this action Judah would "know that I am the LORD."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 14

    Ezekiel 14 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. One day, some of Israel's leaders came to me and asked for a message from the LORD.
  2. While they were there, the LORD said:
  3. Ezekiel, son of man, these men have started worshiping idols, though they know it will cause them to sin even more. So I refuse to give them a message!
  4. Tell the people of Israel that if they sin by worshiping idols and then go to a prophet to find out what I say, I will give them the answer their sins deserve.
  5. When they hear my message, maybe they will see that they need to turn back to me and stop worshiping those idols.
  6. Now, Ezekiel, tell everyone in Israel: I am the LORD God. Stop worshiping your disgusting idols and come back to me.
  7. Suppose one of you Israelites or a foreigner living in Israel rejects me and starts worshiping idols. If you then go to a prophet to find out what I say, I will answer
  8. by turning against you. I will make you a warning to anyone who might think of doing the same thing, and you will no longer belong to my people. Then you will know that I am the LORD and that you have sinned against me.
  9. If a prophet gives a false message, I am the one who caused that prophet to lie. But I will still reject him and cut him off from my people,
  10. and anyone who goes to that prophet for a message will be punished in the same way.
  11. I will do this, so that you will come back to me and stop destroying yourselves with these disgusting sins. So turn back to me! Then I will be your God, and you will be my people. I, the LORD God, make this promise.
  12. The LORD God said:
  13. Ezekiel, son of man, suppose an entire nation sins against me, and I punish it by destroying the crops and letting its people and livestock starve to death.
  14. Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were living in that nation, their faithfulness would not save anyone but themselves.
  15. Or suppose I punish a nation by sending wild animals to eat people and scare away every passerby, so that the land becomes a barren desert.
  16. As surely as I live, I promise that even if these three men lived in that nation, their own children would not be spared. The three men would live, but the land would be an empty desert.
  17. Or suppose I send an enemy to attack a sinful nation and kill its people and livestock.
  18. If these three men were in that nation when I punished it, not even their children would be spared. Only the three men would live.
  19. And suppose I am so angry that I send a deadly disease to wipe out the people and livestock of a sinful nation.
  20. Again, even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were living there, I, the LORD, promise that the children of these faithful men would also die. Only the three of them would be spared.
  21. I am the LORD God, and I promise to punish Jerusalem severely. I will send war, starvation, wild animals, and deadly disease to slaughter its people and livestock.
  22. And those who survive will be taken from their country and led here to Babylonia. Ezekiel, when you see how sinful they are, you will know why I did all these things to Jerusalem.
  23. You will be convinced that I, the LORD God, was right in doing what I did.

    Elders of Israel who were in exile along with Ezekiel came to the prophet to have him consult God on their behalf. Because these elders had "set up idols in their hearts," God was not pleased to be included as one of the multiple gods they consulted. Concerning the enquiry of these elders through Ezekiel God asked, "Should I be consulted by them at all?" (14:3) The unspoken answer is "No." If a person sets up idols in their heart they should not dishonor God by placing Him, the Creator of the universe, on equal standing with idols that are objects of man's creation. If these elders thought God would be pleased with their consultation of His counsel, they were mistaken. Instead of being pleased or of giving the information they sought, God made a ruling: "When anyone from the house of Israel sets up idols in his heart, puts a sinful stumbling block before his face, and then comes to the prophet, I, the LORD, will answer him appropriately. . . . I will turn against that one and make him a sign and a proverb; I will cut him off from among My people. Then you will know that I am the LORD." (14:4 & 8) Instead of responding through the prophet, the one to whom they brought their enquiry, God would respond to them directly, cutting them off from His people. That is, He would take their lives.

    Those who propose to seek truth by enquiring of the teachings of the various religions, including Chrisitanity, as if there are no differences and all are the same, should know that God is not honored and truth will not be found. God will not be drawn down to the same level with the religious creations of men. Such an approach will lead to confusion rather than truth. Nor will one find any peace in this manner. God's peace can only be found through Jesus Christ, and as for truth, Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father (God) except through Me." (John 14:6)

    Following God's ruling about those who set up idols in their hearts, He gave another ruling through Ezekiel: Israel will not be saved through the righteousness of others. Those who turn to God will save only themselves. To emphasize this message God drew on three of the most righteous men of Israel - Noah, Daniel, and Job. The presence in Israel of all three of these righteous men would not save even their own sons or daughters let alone all of Israel. It will not be like Sodom and Gomorrah that could have been saved had their been even 10 righteous people found in the city. Only a person's own righteousness would deliver them.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 13

    Ezekiel 13 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said:
  2. Ezekiel, son of man, condemn the prophets of Israel who say they speak in my name, but who preach messages that come from their own imagination. Tell them it's time to hear my message.
  3. I, the LORD God, say those lying prophets are doomed! They don't see visions--they make up their own messages!
  4. Israel's prophets are no better than jackals that hunt for food among the ruins of a city.
  5. They don't warn the people about coming trouble or tell them how dangerous it is to sin against me.
  6. Those prophets lie by claiming they speak for me, but I have not even chosen them to be my prophets. And they still think their words will come true.
  7. They say they're preaching my messages, but they are full of lies--I did not speak to them!
  8. So I am going to punish those lying prophets for deceiving the people of Israel with false messages.
  9. I will turn against them and no longer let them belong to my people. They will not be allowed to call themselves Israelites or even to set foot in Israel. Then they will realize that I am the LORD God.
  10. Those prophets refuse to be honest. They tell my people there will be peace, even though there's no peace to be found. They are like workers who think they can fix a shaky wall by covering it with paint.
  11. But when I send rainstorms, hailstones, and strong winds, the wall will surely collapse.
  12. People will then ask the workers why the paint didn't hold it up.
  13. That wall is the city of Jerusalem. And I, the LORD God, am so angry that I will send strong winds, rainstorms, and hailstones to destroy it.
  14. The lying prophets have tried to cover up the evil in Jerusalem, but I will tear down the city, all the way to its foundations. And when it collapses, those prophets will be killed, and everyone will know that I have done these things.
  15. The city of Jerusalem and its lying prophets will feel my fierce anger. Then I will announce that the city has fallen and that the lying prophets are dead,
  16. because they promised my people peace, when there was no peace. I, the LORD God, have spoken.
  17. Ezekiel, son of man, now condemn the women of Israel who preach messages that come from their own imagination.
  18. Tell them they're doomed! They wear magic charms on their wrists and scarves on their heads, then trick others into believing they can predict the future. They won't get away with telling those lies.
  19. They charge my people a few handfuls of barley and a couple pieces of bread, and then give messages that are insulting to me. They use lies to sentence the innocent to death and to help the guilty go free. And my people believe them!
  20. I hate the magic charms they use to trick people into believing their lies. I will rip those charms from their wrists and set free the people they have trapped like birds.
  21. I will tear the scarves from their heads and rescue my people from their power once and for all. Then they will know that I am the LORD God.
  22. They do things I would never do. They lie to good people and encourage them to do wrong, and they convince the wicked to keep sinning and ruin their lives.
  23. I will no longer let these women give false messages and use magic, and I will free my people from their control. Then they will know that I, the LORD, have done these things.

    A prophet's primary purpose was to warn God's people concerning their sin and of coming judgment if they did not turn from their sin. A secondary purpose of the prophet's message to the people was that even if they did not heed the warning and judgement came, they would know that the prophecies were true and that it came from the Lord. Hopefully they would then turn to the Lord.

    This chapter, which is about prophecy, is a denouncement of the false prophets of Israel who diluted the effectiveness of God's prophets such as Ezekiel. The true prophets revealed the sin of the people and warned of coming judgment as a result. Then the false prophets contradicted these prophecies by telling the people as was well. People are prone to accept what they want to hear without examining it closely, and peace is what they wanted to hear. By prophecying falsely these prophets were harming the people. Ezekiel likened them to those who plaster over a crumbling wall with whitewash. The whitewash plaster does not repair the wall, but only hides its condition. That was the case with the false prophets. God told them that his judgment would come like a torrential rain with hail and strong winds and would cause the wall to fall they had whitewashed. The crumbling wall, of course, was Israel in its moral decay. Then the Lord said, "After I exhaust My wrath against the wall and against those who plaster it with whitewash, I will say to you: The wall is no more and neither are those who plastered it." (13:15) This was the fate of Israel and the false prophets to whom she loved to listen.

    Ezekiel addressed separately the male and female false prophets and told them that they prophecied "out of their own imagination." (13:2) Then, knowing they spoke falsely, they "waited for the fulfillment of their message." (13:6) It was as if they came to believe their own concocted messages. Worst of all, they claimed God had sent them with the message. God's message against these false prophets was this:  "Therefore, this is what the Lord GOD says: I am against you because you have spoken falsely and had lying visions." This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. 'My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and speak lying divinations. They will not be present in the fellowship of My people or be recorded in the register of the house of Israel, and they will not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord GOD.'" (13:8-9)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 12

    Ezekiel 12 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said:
  2. Ezekiel, son of man, you are living among rebellious people. They have eyes, but refuse to see; they have ears, but refuse to listen.
  3. So before it gets dark, here is what I want you to do. Pack a few things as though you were going to be taken away as a prisoner. Then go outside where everyone can see you and walk around from place to place. Maybe as they watch, they will realize what rebels they are.
  4. After you have done this, return to your house. Later that evening leave your house as if you were going into exile.
  5. Dig through the wall of your house and crawl out, carrying the bag with you. Make sure everyone is watching.
  6. Lift the bag to your shoulders, and with your face covered, take it into the darkness, so that you cannot see the land you are leaving. All of this will be a warning for the people of Israel.
  7. I did everything the LORD had said. I packed a few things. Then as the sun was going down, and while everyone was watching, I dug a hole through one of the walls of my house. I pulled out my bag, then lifted it to my shoulders and left in the darkness.
  8. The next morning, the LORD
  9. reminded me that those rebellious people didn't even ask what I was doing.
  10. So he sent me back to tell them: The LORD God has a message for the leader of Jerusalem and everyone living there!
  11. I have done these things to show them what will happen when they are taken away as prisoners.
  12. The leader of Jerusalem will lift his own bag to his shoulders at sunset and leave through a hole that the others have dug in the wall of his house. He will cover his face, so he can't see the land he is leaving.
  13. The LORD will spread out a net and trap him as he leaves Jerusalem. He will then be led away to the city of Babylon, but will never see that place, even though he will die there.
  14. His own officials and troops will scatter in every direction, and the LORD will track them down and put them to death.
  15. The LORD will force the rest of the people in Jerusalem to live in foreign nations, where they will realize that he has done all these things.
  16. Some of them will survive the war, the starvation, and the deadly diseases. That way, they will be able to tell foreigners how disgusting their sins were, and that it was the LORD who punished them in this way.
  17. The LORD said:
  18. Ezekiel, son of man, shake with fear when you eat, and tremble when you drink.
  19. Tell the people of Israel that I, the LORD, say that someday everyone in Jerusalem will shake when they eat and tremble when they drink. Their country will be destroyed and left empty, because they have been cruel and violent.
  20. Every town will lie in ruins, and the land will be a barren desert. Then they will know that I am the LORD.
  21. The LORD said:
  22. Ezekiel, son of man, you've heard people in Israel use the saying, "Time passes, and prophets are proved wrong."
  23. Now tell the people that I, the LORD, am going to prove that saying wrong. No one will ever be able to use it again in Israel, because very soon everything I have said will come true!
  24. The people will hear no more useless warnings and false messages.
  25. I will give them my message, and what I say will certainly happen. Warn those rebels that the time has come for them to be punished. I, the LORD, make this promise.
  26. Ezekiel, the people of Israel are also saying that your visions and messages are only about things in the future.
  27. (SEE 12:26)
  28. So tell them that my words will soon come true, just as I have warned. I, the LORD, have spoken.

    The people of Judah had become brazen and smug in their rebellion against God which is not unusual behavior among the rebellious. Not only had they flaunted their idolatrous abominations before the Lord in His temple, they scoffed at His warnings to them of their behavior sent through the prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In this chapter Ezekiel addresses their scoffing.

    There was a saying or proverb in Israel that said, "The days keep passing by, and every vision fails?" (12:21) Not only did this proverb scoff the reliability of God's prophets but it ridiculed God's mercy. It was in God's mercy that Judah and Israel's fall had not already happened. God delayed His judgment, sending His prophets to warn the people, to allow time for repentance. Instead of appreciating and taking advantage of God's mercy and patience, they pointed to this delay of the predicted judgment as evidence the predictions had failed. Another saying in Israel was that, "The vision that he sees concerns many years from now; he prophesies about distant times." (12:27) Though this saying acknowledged that the prophecies of judgment might be true, it considered the warning of no concern since it would happen far out in the future and have no effect on them.

    God's message to the people, therefore, was that He would put a stop to these proverbs. He told them these proverbs would not be used again in Israel. From that day forward "None of My (the Lord's) words will be delayed any longer. The message I speak will be fulfilled." (12:28) There would be no further warnings. God would simply tell them what was to happen and it would happen. Described in this chapter are two signs God had Ezekiel deliver to the exiles in Babylon of events about to happen in Jerusalem. These signs were not warnings intended to turn the people from their sin. They were simply messages of events that would soon take place. The two signs depicted King Zedekiah's attempted escape from the Babylonian army as it neared its break through the walls of Jerusalem. Zedekiah went out through the wall at night but his flight did not go undetected. He, and those with him, were captured. The covering of Ezekiel's face so he would not see the land (12:6) depicted Zedekiah's fate in which his eyes were put out and he was taken into exile blind, never to see the land of his exile.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 11

    Ezekiel 11 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD's Spirit lifted me up and took me to the east gate of the temple, where I saw twenty-five men, including the two leaders, Jaazaniah son of Azzur and Pelatiah son of Benaiah.
  2. The LORD said, "Ezekiel, son of man, these men are making evil plans and giving dangerous advice to the people of Jerusalem.
  3. They say things like, 'Let's build more houses. This city is like a cooking pot over a fire, and we are the meat, but at least the pot keeps us from being burned in the fire.'
  4. So, Ezekiel, condemn them!"
  5. The LORD's Spirit took control of me and told me to tell these leaders: I, the LORD God, know what you leaders are saying.
  6. You have murdered so many people that the city is filled with dead bodies!
  7. This city is indeed a cooking pot, but the bodies of those you killed are the meat. And so I will force you to leave Jerusalem,
  8. and I'll send armies to attack you, just as you fear.
  9. Then you will be captured and punished by foreign enemies.
  10. You will be killed in your own country, but not before you realize that I, the LORD, have done these things.
  11. You leaders claim to be meat in a cooking pot, but you won't be protected by this city. No, you will die at the border of Israel.
  12. You will realize that while you were following the laws of nearby nations, you were disobeying my laws and teachings. And I am the LORD!
  13. Before I finished speaking, Pelatiah dropped dead. I bowed down and cried out, "Please, LORD God, don't kill everyone left in Israel."
  14. The LORD replied:
  15. Ezekiel, son of man, the people living in Jerusalem claim that you and the other Israelites who were taken to Babylonia are too far away to worship me. They also claim that the land of Israel now belongs only to them.
  16. But here is what I want you to tell the Israelites in Babylonia: It's true that I, the LORD God, have forced you out of your own country and made you live among foreign nations. But for now, I will be with you wherever you are, so that you can worship me.
  17. And someday, I will gather you from the nations where you are scattered and let you live in Israel again.
  18. When that happens, I want you to clear the land of all disgusting idols.
  19. Then I will take away your stubbornness and make you eager to be completely faithful to me. You will want to obey me
  20. and all my laws and teachings. You will be my people, and I will be your God.
  21. But those who worship idols will be punished and get what they deserve. I, the LORD God, have spoken.
  22. After the LORD had finished speaking, the winged creatures spread their wings and flew into the air, and the wheels were beside them. The brightness of the LORD's glory above them
  23. left Jerusalem and stopped at a hill east of the city.
  24. Then in my vision, the LORD's Spirit lifted me up and carried me back to the other exiles in Babylonia. The vision faded away,
  25. and I told them everything the LORD had shown me.

    Ezekiel's vision concludes in chapter 11 with the withdrawal of God's glory from the city of Jerusalem. Those remaining there were left to their fate at the hands of the Babylonians. They could not depend on God's help. They had left God, and now He had left them. As long as God's presence was with them they could have repented and He would have turned away the destruction, but it was now too late.

    What appears to be in our best interest is not always the case. We should not be too quick to assume what is in our best interest and instead to trust ourselves to God's direction even when we don't understand what He is doing and it appears we are headed into trouble. If we have given ourselves to Him to direct our lives, He will not fail us. As for the people of Judah, it would appear that those taken captive and exiled to Babylon before the fall of Jerusalem were the unfortunate ones. This would especially seem true if one was holding out hope that Jerusalem would not fall. If it did not fall, those remaining in Jerusalem would be safe and those taken exile would not.

    This was the belief of the leaders of Jerusalem. In this final portion of Ezekiel's vision, he was shown 25 men, leaders of the city, standing at the entrance to the eastern gate. This was where the city's leaders handled the affairs of the city and handed out justice. But the Lord said of these men that they were "the men who plan evil and give wicked advice in this city." (11:2) These leaders were telling the people, "Isn't the time near to build houses? The city is the pot, and we are the meat." (11:3)  This was a rejection of what the prophets had been telling them. The building of houses is an anticipation of prosperity and peace which was far from the reality. The statement, "The city is the pot, and we are the meat," was a reference to their security within the city walls. These leaders were communicating a false sense of security. Instead of pointing the people to God who was their real security, they gave them a false security while leading them into the fire of their destruction.

    In reality, the opposite of what these leaders communicated was the truth. It was not the people of Jerusalem who were the meat that was safe in the pot. It was the exiles in Babylon who were the meat safe in the pot. God had withdrawn them from the destruction that was to come on Jerusalem. They were the remnant that would be saved from the fate of Judah and would be part of God's restoration of Israel. Before withdrawing His glory and presence from the city, God gave a glimpse of hope for the restoration that would one day come to Israel. God would assemble those that were scattered to other countries and return them to the land of Israel. When that happened the people would remove the abominations that led to their fall and would give themselves to God. This is a promise that was only partially fulfilled following the Babylonian captivity. It's fuller accomplishment is yet to come in the Millennium.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 10

    Ezekiel 10 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I saw the dome that was above the four winged creatures, and on it was the sapphire throne.
  2. The LORD said to the man in the linen robe, "Walk among the four wheels beside the creatures and pick up as many hot coals as you can carry. Then scatter them over the city of Jerusalem." I watched him as he followed the LORD's instructions.
  3. The winged creatures were standing south of the temple when the man walked among them. A cloud filled the inner courtyard,
  4. and the brightness of the LORD's glory moved from above the creatures and stopped at the entrance of the temple. The entire temple was filled with his glory, and the courtyard was dazzling bright.
  5. The sound of the creatures' wings was as loud as the voice of God All-Powerful and could even be heard in the outer courtyard.
  6. The man in the robe was now standing beside a wheel.
  7. One of the four creatures reached its hand into the fire among them and gave him some of the hot coals. The man took the coals and left.
  8. I noticed again that each of the four winged creatures had what looked like human hands under their wings,
  9. and I saw the four wheels near the creatures. These wheels were shining like chrysolite.
  10. Each wheel was exactly the same and had a second wheel that cut through the middle of it,
  11. so that they could move in any direction without turning. The wheels moved together whenever the creatures moved.
  12. I also noticed that the wheels and the creatures' bodies, including their backs, their hands, and their wings, were covered with eyes.
  13. And I heard a voice calling these "the wheels that spin."
  14. Each of the winged creatures had four faces: the face of a bull, the face of a human, the face of a lion, and the face of an eagle.
  15. These were the same creatures I had seen near the Chebar River. They controlled when and where the wheels moved--the wheels went wherever the creatures went and stopped whenever they stopped. Even when the creatures flew in the air, the wheels stayed beside them.
  16. (SEE 10:15)
  17. (SEE 10:15)
  18. Then I watched the brightness of the LORD's glory move from the entrance of the temple and stop above the winged creatures.
  19. They spread their wings and flew into the air with the wheels at their side. They stopped at the east gate of the temple, and the LORD's glory was above them.
  20. I knew for sure that these were the same creatures I had seen beneath the LORD's glory near the Chebar River.
  21. They had four wings with hands beneath them, and they had the same four faces as those near the River. Each creature moved straight ahead without turning.
  22. (SEE 10:21)

    Ezekiel's vision, introduced in chapter 8, continues into chapter 10. The vision conveyed to Ezekiel what could not be seen but what was in reality happening to Jerusalem.  What could be seen was the Babylonian army that had surrounded Jerusalem and laid siege to it for over two years. When that army broke through the city walls, it killed most of the people and set fire to the city, and thus, the city was destroyed by fire. What could not be seen was God's hand in it all. It was really God who destroyed the city by fire.

    As Ezekiel's vision continued in chapter 10, the four cherubim who were first described in chapter 8 with the onset of his vision reappeared. The cherubim, accompanied by the "glory of the Lord," entered the temple in Jerusalem and "The temple was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the LORD's glory." (10:4) A man in the vision who was dressed in linen was told to "Go inside the wheelwork beneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with hot coals from among the cherubim and scatter them over the city." (10:2) When the man followed these instructions, the city was destroyed with fire, which is what the Babylonian army did to Jerusalem. But though the Babylonians were the instrument of judgment, it was God who destroyed the city.

    Once the city was destroyed with fire, the "glory of the God of Israel" left the temple and the city. Chapter 8 described the idolatry taking place in the temple. God would not share His temple with other gods. Therefore He left. It would have been fitting for the inscription "Ichabod" to have been written over Jerusalem, for the glory had departed the city.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 9

    Ezekiel 09 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. After that, I heard the LORD shout, "Come to Jerusalem, you men chosen to destroy the city. And bring your weapons!"
  2. I saw six men come through the north gate of the temple, each one holding a deadly weapon. A seventh man dressed in a linen robe was with them, and he was carrying things to write with. The men went into the temple and stood by the bronze altar.
  3. The brightness of God's glory then left its place above the statues of the winged creatures inside the temple and moved to the entrance. The LORD said to the man in the linen robe,
  4. "Walk through the city of Jerusalem and mark the forehead of anyone who is truly upset and sad about the disgusting things that are being done here."
  5. He turned to the other six men and said, "Follow him and put to death everyone who doesn't have a mark on their forehead. Show no mercy or pity! Kill men and women, parents and children. Begin here at my temple and be sure not to harm those who are marked." The men immediately killed the leaders who were standing there.
  6. (SEE 9:5)
  7. Then the LORD said, "Pollute the temple by piling the dead bodies in the courtyards. Now get busy!" They left and started killing the people of Jerusalem.
  8. I was then alone, so I bowed down and cried out to the LORD, "Why are you doing this? Are you so angry at the people of Jerusalem that everyone must die?"
  9. The LORD answered, "The people of Israel and Judah have done horrible things. Their country is filled with murderers, and Jerusalem itself is filled with violence. They think that I have deserted them, and that I can't see what they are doing.
  10. And so I will not have pity on them or forgive them. They will be punished for what they have done."
  11. Just then, the man in the linen robe returned and said, "I have done what you commanded."

    The scene described in chapter 8 continues into chapter 9. Ezekiel, a captive in Babylon, is seated in his house with the elders of Judah seated around him discussing the fate of Jerusalem. With the elders gathered around him, God gave Ezekiel a vision which took him back to the temple in Jerusalem where he saw a series of four abominations. Each abomination was worse than the ones before it, and each had to do with worship of other gods in the temple in place of worshipping God.

    After showing Ezekiel the abominations in the temple, God told him that He was going to "respond with wrath. I will not show pity or spare them." (8:18) As Ezekiel's vision continues into chapter 9 we see that God's wrath, though without pity, was not without mercy. Ezekiel saw in his vision six men coming through the temple past the four groups who committed the abominations described in the previous chapter, and toward him. One of the six, dressed in linen, was instructed to "Pass throughout the city of Jerusalem . . . and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations committed in it." (9:4) Those who were still faithful to God and who mourned the abominations taking place in the temple and throughout Jerusalem would be given a mark that would spare them from destruction. Unfortunately, this did not spare those with the mark from the loss of friends, loved ones, home, and everything they owned. Neither were they spared exile in Babylon.  Sin and folly does not affect only those who commit the sin. The innocent are also affected.

    Scripture tells us that "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) However, when the time for judgment arrives, confession of our sin will not spare us from the judgment. This was the case with Judah at the time of Ezekiel's vision. God said, "Though they cry out in My ears with a loud voice, I will not listen to them." (8:18) Had the people repented prior to this time and turned from their idolatry and wickedness, God would have spared them, but the time for repentance was past and the time for judgment had come. So it is with us all. There is a time for repentance and a time for judgment.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 8

    Ezekiel 08 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Six years after King Jehoiachin and the rest of us had been led away as prisoners to Babylonia, the leaders of Judah were meeting with me in my house. On the fifth day of the sixth month, the LORD God suddenly took control of me,
  2. and I saw something in the shape of a human. This figure was like fire from the waist down, and it was bright as polished metal from the waist up.
  3. It reached out what seemed to be a hand and grabbed my hair. Then in my vision the LORD's Spirit lifted me into the sky and carried me to Jerusalem. The Spirit took me to the north gate of the temple's inner courtyard, where there was an idol that disgusted the LORD and made him furious.
  4. Then I saw the brightness of the glory of the God of Israel, just as I had seen it near the Chebar River.
  5. God said to me, "Ezekiel, son of man, look north." And when I did, I saw that disgusting idol by the altar near the gate.
  6. God then said, "Do you see the terrible sins of the people of Israel? Their sins are making my holy temple unfit as a place to worship me. Yet you will see even worse things than this."
  7. Next, I was taken to the entrance of the courtyard, where I saw a hole in the wall.
  8. God said, "Make this hole bigger." And when I did, I realized it was a doorway.
  9. "Go in," God said, "and see what horrible and evil things the people are doing."
  10. Inside, I saw that the walls were covered with pictures of reptiles and disgusting, unclean animals, as well as with idols that the Israelites were worshiping.
  11. Seventy Israelite leaders were standing there, including Jaazaniah son of Shaphan. Each of these leaders was holding an incense burner, and the smell of incense filled the room.
  12. God said, "Ezekiel, do you see what horrible things Israel's leaders are doing in secret? They have filled their rooms with idols. And they say I can't see them, because they think I have already deserted Israel.
  13. But I will show you something even worse than this."
  14. He took me to the north gate of the temple, where I saw women mourning for the god Tammuz.
  15. God asked me, "Can you believe what these women are doing? But now I want to show you something worse."
  16. I was then led into the temple's inner courtyard, where I saw about twenty-five men standing near the entrance, between the porch and the altar. Their backs were to the LORD's temple, and they were bowing down to the rising sun.
  17. God said, "Ezekiel, it's bad enough that the people of Judah are doing these disgusting things. But they have also spread violence and injustice everywhere in Israel and have made me very angry. They have disgraced and insulted me in the worst possible way.
  18. So in my fierce anger, I will punish them without mercy and refuse to help them when they cry out to me."

    To be a leader is a huge responsibility. Those who aspire to be leaders are often driven by the acclaim that comes with leadership but sometimes fail to also acknowledge this huge responsibility that also comes with leadership. When disaster comes no leader wants to be held responsible for the disaster, but instead to be seen as one who rescues his people from disaster.

    Ezekiel is seen in this chapter sitting in his house with men sitting around him who had been leaders in Judah. Now all of them were exiles in Babylon, though Jerusalem had not yet fallen to the Babylonians. They were all early captives of the Babylonians. These leaders, or elders, had apparently come to Ezekiel for a word concerning the fate of Jerusalem. While they were sitting around Ezekiel, the Lord gave Ezekiel a vision that would vividly portray Jerusalem's fate to these elders. What they would see was a total disaster for Jerusalem that their leadership failed to avert. Rather than avert it, these leaders had helped bring on the disaster.

    In the vision, Ezekiel was lifted up "between earth and heaven and carried . . . to the entrance of the inner gate that faces north." (8:3) That is, he was carried from Babylon to Jerusalem to the entrance of the temple. What he saw there at the temple entrance was "the offensive statue that provokes jealousy." (8:3) From this point in the vision Ezekiel was led in his vision through a series of scenes that were each more repulsive than the one before. This first scene was of the "offensive statue" that stood at the entrance to the temple. Ezekiel referred to it as the statue that "provokes jealousy." It provoked God's jealousy against His people because they were giving homage to a foreign god that should be given to Him. And to make the offense more blatant, the statue had been placed at the entrance to the Lord's temple.

    Then Ezekiel was taken in his vision to the entrance of the temple court where he saw a hole in the wall. God told him to dig through the wall, which he did. What he saw on the other side of the wall was described as "terrible abominations" that were being committed there. (8:9) Seventy elders of Israel were standing around the walls of the room on which were engraved "every form of detestable thing." (8:10) Each elder had an incense burner in his hand and was apparently worshipping the images on the walls. These elders justified what they were doing by claiming that "The Lord does not see us. The Lord has abandoned the land." (8:12) Granted, the Babylonian army was literally pounding on the walls of Jerusalem and to this point God had not stopped them. But they had turned to these other gods long before the Babylonians had come on the scene. Indeed, it was because they had turned to other gods that the Babylonians were now breathing down their necks.

    Next, Ezekiel was taken to the "entrance of the north gate of the LORD's house." (8:14) He was told that he would see even greater abominations there. What he saw was "women sitting there weeping for Tammuz." Tammuz was the deity of spring vegetation. According to mythology, the hot, dry summer months were caused by Tammuz' death. His followers would weep, mourning his death, and he would return in the spring to bring with him the spring rains. Ezekiel saw these women sitting at the north gate of the temple worshipping the god Tammuz. But he had not yet seen the worse. He was then taken to the inner court of the temple where he saw 25 men "between the portico and the altar, with their backs to the LORD's temple and their faces turned to the east. They were bowing to the east in worship of the sun." Not only were these men worshipping the sun, but they had turned their backs to the Lord - they had turned away from Him.

    The temple was full of every kind of worship except worship of the One for Whom it was built. Though these elders sitting around Ezekiel were in Babylon and not in Jerusalem, they were as responsible for what Ezekiel saw in the vision as were those in the vision. They had not long before been in Jerusalem responsible for this activity. And it was because of their leadership that the Lord was now saying " I will respond with wrath. I will not show pity or spare them. Though they cry out in My ears with a loud voice, I will not listen to them." (8:18)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 7

    Ezekiel 07 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD God said:
  2. Ezekiel, son of man, tell the people of Israel that I am saying: Israel will soon come to an end! Your whole country is about to be destroyed
  3. as punishment for your disgusting sins. I, the LORD, am so angry
  4. that I will show no pity. I will punish you for the evil you've done, and you will know that I am the LORD.
  5. There's never been anything like the coming disaster.
  6. And when it comes, your life will be over.
  7. You people of Israel are doomed! Soon there will be panic on the mountaintops instead of celebration.
  8. I will let loose my anger and punish you for the evil things you've done. You'll get what you deserve.
  9. Your sins are so terrible, that you'll get no mercy from me. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have punished you.
  10. Disaster is near! Injustice and arrogance are everywhere,
  11. and violent criminals run free. None of you will survive the disaster, and everything you own and value will be shattered.
  12. The time is coming when everyone will be ruined. Buying and selling will stop,
  13. and people who sell property will never get it back, because all of you must be punished for your sins. And I won't change my mind!
  14. A signal has been blown on the trumpet, and weapons are prepared for battle. But no one goes to war, because in my anger I will strike down everyone in Israel.
  15. War, disease, and starvation are everywhere! People who live in the countryside will be killed in battle, and those who live in towns will die from starvation or deadly diseases.
  16. Anyone who survives will escape into the hills, like doves who leave the valleys to find safety. All of you will moan because of your sins.
  17. Your hands will tremble, and your knees will go limp.
  18. You will put on sackcloth to show your sorrow, but terror will overpower you. Shame will be written all over your faces, and you will shave your heads in despair.
  19. Your silver and gold will be thrown into the streets like garbage, because those are the two things that led you into sin, and now they cannot save you from my anger. They are not even worth enough to buy food.
  20. You took great pride in using your beautiful jewelry to make disgusting idols of foreign gods. So I will make your jewelry worthless.
  21. Wicked foreigners will rob and disgrace you.
  22. They will break into my temple and leave it unfit as a place to worship me, but I will look away and let it happen.
  23. Your whole country is in confusion! Murder and violence are everywhere in Israel,
  24. so I will tell the most wicked nations to come and take over your homes. They will put an end to the pride you have in your strong army, and they will make your places of worship unfit to use.
  25. You will be terrified and will desperately look for peace--but there will be no peace.
  26. One tragedy will follow another, and you'll hear only bad news. People will beg prophets to give them a message from me. Priests will stop teaching my Law, and wise leaders won't be able to give advice.
  27. Even your king and his officials will lose hope and cry in despair. Your hands will tremble with fear. I will punish you for your sins and treat you the same way you have treated others. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

    The appeal and attraction of those things that lead us down a path to destruction become distasteful to us once we see their result. The people of Jerusalem pursued wealth - silver and gold - the pursuit of which led them into all sorts of wickedness. They also used the silver and gold to make their detestable idols. But when destruction came as a result of their conduct, the silver and gold became to them "like something filthy" that they threw into the streets. These objects of their trust were "unable to save them in the day of the LORD's wrath. They will not satisfy their appetites or fill their stomachs, for these were the stumbling blocks that brought about their iniquity." (7:19) Even those who were able to escape to the mountains and avoid the plight of those who died from plague, hunger, or sword, would find themselves "moaning, each over his own iniquity." (7:16) They would be grieved over their sin that led to this result.

    But the time had arrived for their punishment. For years prophets had warned them of the outcome if they continued in their sin, but they had ignored it - even killed the prophets who sounded the warning. So God's message through Ezekiel was that "The end is now on you; I will send My anger against you and judge you according to your ways. I will punish you for all your abominations." (7:3)  Ezekiel repeated, "The time has come; the day has arrived," and because of it, "Let the buyer not rejoice and the seller not mourn, for wrath is on all her multitude." (7:12) Those who were forced to sell property needed not mourn the transaction for they would have lost it anyway to the Babylonians, and those who bought property should not rejoice over their gain, for they would lose what they had gained. Life as they knew it was over. The confidence they held in their safety due to the presence of God's temple in their midst was soon to be lost. God proclaimed through Ezekiel, "I will turn My face from the wicked as they profane My treasured place (the temple). Violent men will enter it and profane it." (7:22) God held His people in higher esteem than His "treasured place." If He would not withhold His hand of judgment from the people, neither would He keep His temple safe.

    Once the people saw destruction strike them they would know it was from God and would be ready to seek His instruction from a prophet. "They will seek a vision from a prophet, but instruction will perish from the priests and counsel from the elders." (7:26) The time for instruction from the Lord was past. They had missed their chance.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 6

    Ezekiel 06 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD God said:
  2. Ezekiel, son of man, face the hills of Israel and tell them:
  3. Listen, you mountains and hills, and every valley and gorge! I, the LORD, am about to turn against you and crush all the places where foreign gods are worshiped.
  4. Every altar will be smashed, and in front of the idols I will put to death the people who worship them.
  5. Dead bodies and bones will be lying around the idols and the altars.
  6. Every town in Israel will be destroyed to make sure that each shrine, idol, and altar is smashed--everything the Israelites made will be a pile of ruins.
  7. All over the country, your people will die. And those who survive will know that I, the LORD, did these things.
  8. I will let some of the people live through this punishment, but I will scatter them among the nations,
  9. where they will be prisoners. And when they think of me, they will realize that they disgraced me by rebelling and by worshiping idols. They will hate themselves for the evil things they did,
  10. and they will know that I am the LORD and that my warnings must be taken seriously.
  11. The LORD God then said: Ezekiel, beat your fists together and stomp your feet in despair! Moan in sorrow, because the people of Israel have done disgusting things and now will be killed by enemy troops, or they will die from starvation and disease.
  12. Those who live far away will be struck with deadly diseases. Those who live nearby will be killed in war. And the ones who are left will starve to death. I will let loose my anger on them!
  13. These people used to offer incense to idols at altars built on hills and mountaintops and in the shade of large oak trees. But when they see dead bodies lying around those altars, they will know that I am the LORD.
  14. I will make their country a barren wasteland, from the Southern Desert to the town of Diblah in the north. Then they will know that I, the LORD, have done these things.

    The relationship God desires with His people, both in Ezekiel's day and now, is like that of a husband and wife. This comparison is used throughout scripture. An instance of this is found in Isaiah 54:5, "For your husband is your Maker--His nEzeliel ame is Yahweh of Hosts--and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth." God is not distant or uninterested in the affairs of mankind, as some think. Instead, He desires an intimate relationship with each of us, to care for us as a husband cares for his wife. Therefore, it is in this light that God refers to Israel's worshipping of other gods as adultery. In verse 9 of this chapter, God says, "I was crushed by their promiscuous hearts that turned away from Me and by their eyes that lusted after their idols." This word "promiscuous" is also translated "lewd" and "whorish."  This gives a rather clear sense of how God felt about Israel's idolatry and why He was taking such strong action against her.

    Therefore, God's instruction to Ezekiel in verse 2 to, "turn your face toward the mountains of Israel and prophesy against them," was a reference to her idolatry. It was the mountains of Israel on which the people had built their high places, or shrines to false gods. The message Ezekiel was to deliver to the "mountains and the hills" was that God was "about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars will be desolated and your incense altars smashed. I will throw down your slain in front of your idols. I will lay the corpses of the Israelites in front of their idols and scatter your bones around your altars. (6:3-5) There is no doubt that God's strong judgment against Israel was due to her idolatry and thus her unfaithfulness to God. The result of Israel's idolatry was that she also turned away from the teachings of God and had become wicked in her practices as well. So her wickedness was a part of the judgment, but the leading cause was her idolatry.

    But we must not forget that God's judgment is never an end in itself. Its intent, always, is to bring a reconciliation between God and His people. It is this intent that always inserts a ray of hope within such messages of judgment. We find it here in verses 8-10, "Yet I will leave a remnant when you are scattered among the nations, for throughout the countries there will be some of you who will escape the sword. Then your survivors will remember Me among the nations where they are taken captive, how I was crushed by their promiscuous hearts that turned away from Me and by their eyes that lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves because of the evil things they did, their abominations of every kind. And they will know that I am the LORD; I did not threaten to bring this disaster on them without a reason."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 5

    Ezekiel 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Ezekiel, son of man, get a sharp sword and use it to cut off your hair and beard. Weigh the hair and divide it into three equal piles.
  2. After you attack the brick that stands for Jerusalem, burn one pile of your hair on the brick. Chop up the second pile and let the small pieces of hair fall around the brick. Throw the third pile into the wind, and I will strike it with my own sword.
  3. Keep a few of the hairs and wrap them in the hem of your clothes.
  4. Then pull out a few of those hairs and throw them in the fire, so they will also burn. This fire will spread, destroying everyone in Israel.
  5. I am the LORD God, and I have made Jerusalem the most important place in the world, and all other nations admire it.
  6. But the people of Jerusalem rebelled and refuse to obey me. They ignored my laws and have become even more sinful than the nations around them.
  7. So tell the people of Jerusalem: I am the LORD God! You have refused to obey my laws and teachings, and instead you have obeyed the laws of the surrounding nations. You have become more rebellious than any of them!
  8. Now all those nations will watch as I turn against you and punish you
  9. for your sins. Your punishment will be more horrible than anything I've ever done or will ever do again.
  10. Parents will be so desperate for food that they will eat their own children, and children will eat their parents. Those who survive this horror will be scattered in every direction.
  11. Your disgusting sins have made my temple unfit as a place to worship me. So I swear by my own life that I will turn my back on you and show you no pity.
  12. A third of you will die here in Jerusalem from disease or starvation. Another third will be killed in war. And I will scatter the last third of you in every direction, then track you down and kill you.
  13. You will feel my fierce anger until I have finished taking revenge. Then you will know that I, the LORD, was furious because of your disobedience.
  14. Every passerby will laugh at your destruction. Foreign nations
  15. will insult you and make fun of you, but they will also be shocked and terrified at what I did in my anger.
  16. I will destroy your crops until you starve to death, and disasters will strike you like arrows.
  17. Starvation and wild animals will kill your children. I'll punish you with horrible diseases, and your enemies will strike you down with their swords. I, the LORD, have spoken.

    Ezekiel's fourth sign is visualized in this chapter. It gives a rather graphic picture of the carnage that will come upon Jerusalem. God said of the carnage, "Because of all your abominations, I will do to you what I have never done before." (5:9) This was a first! But God added, "and what I will never do again." Fortunately, it was also a last. Why such a severe judgment upon Jerusalem, the location of His temple, the city He had blessed? It was actually because of the way God had blessed Jerusalem that the judgment was so severe. Jerusalem had been the object of God's love and yet the people had become so wicked they were worse than the other nations. They did not even live up to the standards of the heathen Gentiles. Thus, rather than the special object of God's love, they became the special object of His wrath.

    Previously, Ezekiel had been confined to his house for a lengthy period of time. So when he followed God's instructions to go throughout the city, it was an event, no doubt, that was noticed by the people. It undoubtedly drew a sizeable crowd. This sign began with Ezekiel shaving his head and his beard and then dividing the shaven hair into three equal parts, using a scales to weigh out the parts. A third of the hair was to be carried to the middle of the city and burned, illustrating that a third of the people would die from plague and famine. Another third was to be carried around the city and chopped up with his sword as he went, designating that a second one-third of the people would die by the sword. The final third of the hair was then scattered to the wind showing that this third of the people would be taken into captivity. However, a few strands of hair was to be secured in the folds of Ezekiel's robe and a few more were to be thrown in the fire. The few strands secured in the robe represented a remnant who would escape death and survive in the exile. Though there is uncertainty about the meaning of the strands thrown in the fire, they likely refer to the oppression awaiting those in exile.

    The result of this devastation against the House of Israel will be that "they will know that I, the LORD, have spoken in My jealousy." (5:13) God was jealous because the Israelites had accepted all of His blessings and then turned their backs on Him and gone to other gods as if they had blessed them. As a result, God said, "You will be a disgrace and a taunt, a warning and a horror, to the nations around you." (5:15)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 4

    Ezekiel 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Ezekiel, son of man, find a brick and sketch a picture of Jerusalem on it.
  2. Then prepare to attack the brick as if it were a real city. Build a dirt mound and a ramp up to the top and surround the brick with enemy camps. On every side put large wooden poles as though you were going to break down the gate to the city.
  3. Set up an iron pan like a wall between you and the brick. All this will be a warning for the people of Israel.
  4. After that, lie down on your left side and stay there for three hundred ninety days as a sign of Israel's punishment --one day for each year of its suffering.
  5. (SEE 4:4)
  6. Then turn over and lie on your right side forty more days. That will be a sign of Judah's punishment--one day for each year of its suffering.
  7. The brick stands for Jerusalem, so attack it! Stare at it and shout angry warnings.
  8. I will tie you up, so you can't leave until your attack has ended.
  9. Get a large bowl. Then mix together wheat, barley, beans, lentils, and millet, and make some bread. This is what you will eat for the three hundred ninety days you are lying down.
  10. Eat only a small loaf of bread each day
  11. and drink only two large cups of water.
  12. Use dried human waste to start a fire, then bake the bread on the coals where everyone can watch you.
  13. When I scatter the people of Israel among the nations, they will also have to eat food that is unclean, just as you must do.
  14. I said, "LORD God, please don't make me do that! Never in my life have I eaten food that would make me unacceptable to you. I've never eaten anything that died a natural death or was killed by a wild animal or that you said was unclean."
  15. The LORD replied, "Instead of human waste, I will let you bake your bread on a fire made from cow manure.
  16. Ezekiel, the people of Jerusalem will starve. They will have so little food and water that they will be afraid and hopeless.
  17. Everyone will be shocked at what is happening, and, because of their sins, they will die a slow death."

    To this point in Ezekiel, the prophet has been commissioned and prepared to deliver God's message to the people of Judah. This included being confined to his house. Chapter 4 describes what Ezekiel is to do toward the delivery of the first message. This first message is not spoken verbally, but is conveyed by means of a sign. Ezekiel was to take a clay brick and draw on it an outline of the city of Jerusalem. Then he was to "construct a siege wall, build a ramp, pitch military camps, and place battering rams against it on all sides." (4:2) These were signs depicting the siege by the Babylonian army.

    Then Ezekiel was to "Take an iron plate and set it up as an iron wall between yourself and the city. Turn your face toward it so that it is under siege, and besiege it." (4:3) Many believe this iron plate represents further barriers constructed against Jerusalem by the Babylonian army. To me, it seems more likely that it represented a barrier between Jerusalem and God. During the coming siege Judah would find that there was an impenetrable barrier between them and God because of her sin.

    A further sign Ezekiel was to depict was to lay on his left side for 390 days and then his right side for 40 days. On his left side, Ezekiel was facing north, representing the northern kingdom, Israel, and on his right side he faced south, representing the southern kingdom, Judah. During this period he was also to be tied up with ropes to sybolize the confinement of the siege. There is confusion by scholars as to the specific numbers used here and their meaning, but it seems to compare the length of time Jerusalem would be under siege to the years of her sin.

    The remainder of the chapter outlines a demonstration of the scarcity of food the people will experience while under siege and in exile. During the period Ezekiel was on his side, he was to have measured amounts of food and water - eight ounces of food and one-sixth of a gallon of water per day. The barley cakes were to be baked over fires fueled by dried human excrement, which would be considered both unpleasant and ceremonially unclean. God concluded this demonstration of rationing by saying, "I am going to cut off the supply of bread in Jerusalem." And then He said, "everyone will be devastated and waste away because of their iniquity." (4:16-17) This statement brings to mind a passage from Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death." However, the apostle Paul, in this letter to the Romans, also gives a message of hope, "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."