Friday, September 28, 2012

individual responsibility

"Yet your people say, 'The way of the Lord is not just,' when it is their own way that is not just. When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by this. Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways."
Ezekiel 33:17-20

Israel's perspective on God's justice was skewed. They made the casual observation that God was not just or fair. The text does not give us clarity as to the exact nature of the genesis of their theology, but it appears they were using observations about human culture to deduce what they believed about God. This is almost always a bad idea. God illustrates it by pointing out that human inconsistencies do not change His nature or His methods of dealing with the salvation of people.

All individuals are personally accountable to God. If a man who appears to be outwardly righteous commits a sin, he shall die for it. If a wicked man truly repents, God forgives. God makes the clear claim that He alone is the judge of each person's heart. And that was a message that the nation needed to heed as His judgment fell. Not one person who suffered in the exile was an innocent soul. No sinless or guiltless person could exist, so only the mercies of God would extend to spare any life.

The reminder that mercy exists even in judgment is vital. God never gives up on loving His people. The exile was a mercy extended to those who survived the ransack of Jerusalem. He will be merciful to those who humbly turn to Him, no matter how bad their past. Genuine repentance is known by God and He works in trial to lead hearts back to Him. Ezekiel's passionate defense of the character of God in judgment was just such an evidence of God's mercy at work.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

troubling the people

I will trouble the hearts of many peoples, when I bring your destruction among the nations, into the countries that you have not known. I will make many peoples appalled at you, and the hair of their kings shall bristle with horror because of you, when I brandish my sword before them. They shall tremble every moment, every one for his own life, on the day of your downfall.
Ezekiel 32:9-10

This is the result of God's direct intervention bringing judgment to Egypt. The mighty civilization would fall and the entire Mediterranean world would be shaken by the news. Egypt would be a byword and a warning to the rest of the world.

The content of chapter 32 focuses almost exclusively on Pharaoh and the pride of his position as god-king over Egypt. God would reduce Pharaoh to a dead man. The text goes to great lengths to talk about the dead kings of other gentile nations conquered by Babylon to make the point of Pharaoh's mortality. The Egyptians might have worshiped him, but from God's standpoint the king of Egypt was just another dead pagan leader among the many who had fallen by the sword of Babylon.

Ezekiel serves up this message as a warning to Egypt of what will pass. It is also a warning to the nations of the justice that God brings to the earth. And it is a powerful witness to the sovereign rule of God over all things in all time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Past Perfect Tense

Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because it towered high and set its top among the clouds, and its heart was proud of its height, I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations. He shall surely deal with it as its wickedness deserves. I have cast it out.
Ezekiel 31:10-11

God continues to warn Egypt of its coming downfall. This message was directed to Pharaoh and was a warning that Egypt's pride would lead to complete annihilation. Its superpower status and military prowess would be taken away. The king would be slain. The political giant would fall like a great tree cut down by woodsmen, never to grow back to towering heights again. Egypt would be cut up and made into whatever things the conquering nations wanted to make of her.

One of the main factors in the move God made to judge Egypt was the pride of the nation. They had built a strong and pervasive civilization. From the fertile banks of the Nile they forged a society and a culture that controlled the Middle East for centuries. But the great power would fall. The culture would be cut off. Egypt will be in ruins by the time God's warnings have been realized.

There is a tense to this communication that is ominous. God is warning Pharaoh of what is to come. But in His communication, it is a done deal. The phrasing of the last sentence shows us the sovereign purpose of God: I have cast it down. It was in real time still to happen. But in the purposes of God, it was done. The judgment was final. There was no undoing it. It was done. That is a sure prophetic word.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

the sword in the hand

I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon, but the arms of Pharaoh shall fall. Then they shall know that I am the LORD, when I put my sword into the hand of the king of Babylon and he stretches it out against the land of Egypt.
Ezekiel 30:25

You who place Your sword
in the hand of one
to punish another
show your power
in what is done

You speak Your word
through a prophet's speech
to show Your strength
we see the length
of Your controlling reach

You send your sword
into the entire land
and judge sin's weight
upon those who hate
showing Your hand

You always prove Your word
as we receive it
experiencing the mystery
at real time history
and we must believe it

Thursday, September 20, 2012

empires on the chessboard

It shall be the most lowly of the kingdoms, and never again exalt itself above the nations. And I will make them so small that they will never again rule over the nations.
Ezekiel 29:15

This is the decree of God for the fate of Egypt. In Ezekiel's lifetime Egypt would fall to Babylon. They would tumble from superpower strength to subservient vassal state. Never again would Egypt be the military and cultural force upon the Middle East. No more would an empire rule from the banks of the Nile.

This was world-shifting change. Israel had always had some relationship with the powerful nation of Egypt. It started from the Exodus. And during the monarchies of Israel and Judah, various alliances and struggles with Israel's powerful and wealthy southern neighbor had defined international relations and military alliances. But the influence of Egypt upon the Holy Land would be permanently and severely diminished by Babylon's armies. God was using Nebuchadnezzar to reshape the world in many ways.

Egypt had always been a source of temptation for Israel and Judah. They would always compare themselves to that mighty empire where their ancestors had toiled in slavery. With the influence of Egypt brought to ruins, God was setting the scene for Israel to thrive when the people resettled the land after the exile.

By the hand of God Babylon rose to become a conquering empire. And by the decree of God, the wealth of Egypt was swallowed up by the army of the Chaldeans. He moves empires at His will. And nothing we trust in is greater than the force of God's will. We only have to look at the magnificent ruins of Egypt to see the truth of that reality.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

an end to idolatry

And for the house of Israel there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord GOD.
Ezekiel 28:24

God reveals His purpose in executing judgment on the pagan nations that were the historic enemies of the people of Israel. No more would these sinful influences draw away the hearts of His covenant people into idolatry. He would remove the irritating, damaging, and destructive element by leveling the nations around Israel. This sets the scene for the return of the Jews to the Promised Land.

Once the nations around Israel have been silenced and weakened, the people can return to the land. And that is the promise at the end of the 28th chapter of Ezekiel. God would restore the people to their land to live in safety and blessing. He would bring his people back to enjoy the blessings of the covenant and to delight in Him. They would return to home, to God's blessings, without the threat of pagan temptation to idolatry.

And true to His promises, this is exactly what occurred with Israel. The Jews returned to the land after 70 years of captivity. And the post-exile Israelites never again were marked by rampant idolatry. They were faithful and serious in their obligation to keep covenant with God. The nations immediately around them were not agents of envy or the evil that they once were.

The Jews were still threatened by outside powers... the Greeks and Romans would subjugate them... but never again would internal or external pressure turn them from God to worship idols. God did His good work in justice to Israel and Judah and the nations around them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

wreck of an economy

In their wailing they raise a lamentation for you and lament over you: 'Who is like Tyre, like one destroyed in the midst of the sea?
Ezekiel 27:32

When Tyre was ransacked by the Babylonians, the influence of the Phoenician trading empire began to fail. When Tyre fell, so did much of the normal economy of the Middle East at that time. Tyre was a major cultural influence of the ancient Mediterranean world. It controlled a substantial amount of the shipborne trade. And the lament recorded in the poetry of Ezekiel 27 (comparing the city's fall to a shipwreck) impresses the reader with the impact of the city's decline and fall.

Nebuchadnezzar's army ransacked and burned the city. They carried away its wealth and its skilled businessmen and traders. But the city remained, scarred and diminished all the way up to Alexander the Great's armies. At that time Alexander and the Greeks were the foes who brought final doom to Tyre. The Greeks then supplanted the Phoenicians as masters of the Mediterranean. And the city of Tyre would never again stand a chance of regaining its former glory or its commercial significance.

What is striking in the judgment of Tyre is that God collapsed the entire economy of the Middle East in these events. We humans place high value and hope in our fragile economics. But when God takes down our flimsy house of cards with a simple wave of His hand, we are left to contemplate what is really important. Nothing in human achievement is more impressive than what Almighty God can do. That is one lesson from the fall of Tyre well worth considering.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sovereign of the nations

For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a host of many soldiers.
Ezekiel 26:7

The fulfillment of this prophecy came to the inhabitants of Tyre. They too delighted in the downfall of Jerusalem. But the conquering army of Babylon would subject Tyre to the same fate as the people of Israel. Their city was destroyed. You can still see the ruins of Nebuchadnezzar's armies and subsequent conquerors right along the barren sea rocks near the modern settlement of Tyre. The ruins were never rebuilt. Just as God said, the old city became a barren waste unfit for habitation.

The power of God's Word even to the pagan people around Israel proves His sovereign care over the lives of all people. He holds all the nations in His hands. He draws them all to Him and He holds all of them accountable to Him. Tyre had once enjoyed great prosperity as a trade city in the Middle East. Under Solomon's kingdom it became a vital trading ally with Jerusalem. But as Israel fell into decline, Tyre rejoiced at its downfall and became adversarial. And from that moment on, God began to pronounce Tyre's own downfall.

God was the sovereign of the nations around Israel. He is still the sovereign of the nations today. He gave His Word to all the nations and He still longs for His message to reach the world. He judged the nations then and He still does so, appointing a day when Jesus will judge all the living and the dead. Seeing God's control over the world of the past gives perspective on present global situations and new hope for the future. And that perspective and hope are only found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

the extent of justice

Thus says the Lord GOD: Because the Philistines acted revengefully and took vengeance with malice of soul to destroy in never-ending enmity...
Ezekiel 25:15

This section of the prophecies of Ezekiel now shifts the focus of judgment to the historic enemies of Israel and Judah. God singles out specific messages to these people groups who had been instrumental in enticing His people into idolatry and disobedience. And now that Judah had fallen, these pagan nations had rejoiced in the destruction. But that would not last.

God warned the peoples of Ammon, Moab, Seir, Edom, and Philistia that their sins had not gone unnoticed. His justice was coming to these nations as well so that they would know that He is the Lord. They would fall for their sins against God and against God's people.

These nations would be judged not in retribution, but as a revelation of the power of God. The Lord announces this in advance to them through the prophetic word of Ezekiel. And it is forever recorded in the pages of scripture so that we can see that all nations will answer to Him.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

ignoring the truth in the trauma

Thus shall Ezekiel be to you a sign; according to all that he has done you shall do. When this comes, then you will know that I am the Lord GOD.
Ezekiel 24:24

One of the unique features of the prophecy of Ezekiel was the use of circumstances and actions to convey God's message. This non-verbal communication was meant to get the attention of a rebellious people who were headed into painful consequences for their sin. It was a means toward clarity.

In the circumstances of Ezekiel 24, God warned the prophet that his wife was soon to die. Upon her death Ezekiel was forbidden to speak and forbidden to show any outward sign of mourning. God had a message in those actions. He was warning the people of Jerusalem that they too would experience death and a numbing loss so powerful that they would not be able to mourn it. They were warned by Ezekiel's actions. The crisis trauma would leave them so devastated by its swiftness that they would not be able to mourn.

That may seem to be a cruel message from God, but as I think about it, I see it as a gracious warning. Ultimately the Jews did not heed Ezekiel's warnings in any substantive way. His actions went unheeded. God knew this but still let them know what was coming. They would at least be aware that none of their trauma was taking God by surprise. He mercifully prepared them for it and let them know His sovereign hand was in it. They may have cringed at God's stern justice but it was only because they refused to repent, following God and experiencing His lovingkindness. The Babylonian captivity would purge Israel and eventually restore the covenant commitments of God's people. And that is the end to which these pain-filled warnings clearly point.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

idolatry adultery

For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. With their idols they have committed adultery, and they have even offered up to them for food the children whom they had borne to me.
Ezekiel 23:37

God tells a vivid story about the unfaithfulness of His people. He uses the extended metaphor of adultery to make the point that He is a jilted husband. In the metaphor two sisters (representing the capitals of Samaria and Jerusalem) are loved and cared for by God. Both sisters reject the faithful marital love of their husband and become lust-filled prostitutes.

Their unfaithfulness breaks the heart of their loving husband. Using very strong and graphic language, God describes the degree to which their lust consumed their desires and controlled their actions. They wanted their foreign lovers and were filled not with love but with lust. And it would be their foreign lovers who would ultimately humiliate and destroy the whoring sisters one by one.

God equates their idolatry with adultery. Both are sins of lust. Both are sins of unfaithfulness. Both are self-centered methods of illicit fulfillment. And both idolatry and adultery are outward actions that flow from the deepest longings of the human heart.

Marital unfaithfulness destroys the foundations of a home. It breaks hearts at the most pain-filled level. It violates the most intimate of trusts. And it is beyond repair outside of the healing grace of God. It brings awful consequences to all people involved. And it is unfortunately all too common. As a pastor I am constant witness to the devastation it brings. And the emotion of that experience -- the pain, betrayal, anger, and sorrow are how God explains His heart over the unfaithfulness of His people. God is all too often the broken-hearted lover. But unlike us, He is not powerless. He will judge sin. The cross of Christ is where He judges the sin and forgives the sinner and the cross is the place where He will restore and remake the whoring heart.

Monday, September 10, 2012

judgment on leadership

Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.
Ezekiel 22:26

God takes the leadership of Jerusalem to task, holding them accountable for not teaching the nation to obey the covenant and worship the Lord. He will judge the guilt of everyone, but specific judgments will come to the leaders, especially the temple priests. That is the message Ezekiel has for the leaders' sinful misdirection.

The prophet holds the priests accountable for sins, specifically four ways in which they misled the people. The first was the way in which they personally disregarded the law of God. The indictment is that they violently disobeyed the Word of God and deliberately profaned all that which God called holy. There was no respect for God's Word, for the truth that He revealed, of for His prescribed manner of worship or conduct. This was shown by their overt idolatry in the temple.

The second indictment was their loss of distinct holiness. The holy and the common were no more separate because nothing was holy anymore. And God cannot be worshiped without His primary virtue of holiness. If He is common, He is not God. This fits with the third charge against the priests, that they no longer made a distinction between the clean and the unclean. There were no more lifestyle requirements when there was no more worship commitment.

The final charge was that the priests no longer kept Sabbath. They stopped seeing the Sabbath Day as holy to the Lord. In every command and teaching of the Law, they profaned the name of God. That is why they would be severely judged and held accountable to Him because they did not act alone. They led the nation to do the same things.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

the God of righteous ruin

A ruin, ruin, ruin I will make it. This also shall not be, until he comes, the one to whom judgment belongs, and I will give it to him.
Ezekiel 21:27

God was sovereign in the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel was given a message to warn the city, the king, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem that the king of Babylon had sharpened a sword and would soon destroy them all. The city would be left a smoldering ruin. And all of this was not the will of Babylon alone. It was the way God was pouring His wrath out in response to decades of idolatry.

Some of the most descriptive imagery was reserved for the king, in this case Zedekiah, as God took him to task for his improper leadership. The overwhelming devastation was supposed to exalt God and His prophetic word while at the same time humiliating the wicked king and his unrighteous disobedience. God would prove Himself to be still the God of Israel by exercising His discipline.

For some reason contemporary Christians don't like to talk much about God's sovereign justice. Perhaps we are afraid to do so for two reasons. First, we are afraid that if we do, we will get thrown into Fred Phelps' bizarre camp. But knowing God to be sovereign in judgment does not mean that we turn into raving "end of days" picketers. Secondly, we don't really live like God is concerned with justice among us. If we got involved in bringing the gospel to bear against real injustice (not the celebration of sinful life, but the exaltation of righteousness by caring for people), perhaps we would be filled with an understanding of God's holy indignation!

Knowing sovereign justice fills us with proper respect. It is the rescue that the gospel is all about. It does us good to remember God's wrath in order to celebrate His mercy in the gospel.

Help me to hold the truth in a holy, respectful tension. You are both Savior and Sovereign Judge! And the entire message is the gospel upon which I must center my beliefs, my life, and my actions!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

God of wrath. God of restoration.

And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name's sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD.
Ezekiel 20:44

These words are directed for the most part to a generation that will be born exiled from their homeland. In Ezekiel 20, God rehearse the entire history of Israel, from the Exodus to the Exile, and informs the elders of Israel that they are the generation that has enraged His wrath and will endure His judgment. They were no longer welcome to enquire of Him while their idolatry so filled their hearts. The entire history of the nation had been one in which the people were tempted to idolatry and had not wholeheartedly worshiped the Lord. They have never truly kept His laws nor have they obeyed His commandments.

The result was that God had only one answer to the inquiries of Ezekiel's generation: "You will know I am the Lord through My judgment". And the bulk of Ezekiel 20 repeats this in various ways. It culminates in verse 39, where God basically says, "Just go worship your idols and profane My name. I've had enough. You are going to be judged so you will know that My name is holy."

Yet then the chapter transitions to a message of hope and restoration. There would come a time when Israel would repent in the exile and seek the Lord without idolatry. And in that expression, God would begin to move them back to possess the Promised Land again. He would restore them and they would worship Him wholeheartedly as never before.

Just as in judgment they would know the sovereign work of God, so in restoration they would know the sovereign love of God when He dealt graciously with them again. God will be known both by His wrath against sin and His restoration in repentance. And in that hope, sinners find mercy and grace in God.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

thoughts on a lament

And you, take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel,
Ezekiel 19:1

at the loss of

in the light of

to the God of


at the hands of

in the land of

in contrition

on the God of