Meditations from Ezekiel: 18. Hope
Ezek 11:17 Therefore say: `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.’
Further evil in Jerusalem: We are about to approach an amazing promise of hope but before we do, we need to clear up another example of those getting it wrong which will lead on to the promise of hope. Chapter 11 starts, “Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the gate of the house of the LORD that faces east. There at the entrance to the gate were twenty-five men, and I saw among them Jaazaniah son of Azzur and Pelatiah son of Benaiah, leaders of the people. The LORD said to me, “Son of man, these are the men who are plotting evil and giving wicked advice in this city.” (11:1,2)
Ezekiel is moved on from the previous vision – but it is still a vision – and he’s put down out the front of the temple where he sees a group that includes leaders of the people. Again there appears no significance in the number twenty five beyond it says this is not a small group but a reasonable sized representative group and having leaders in it they appear, in the light of what the Lord says about them, to be policy makers, we might say today, for the city. They plan and they give advice but their planning is evil and their advice is wicked. Essentially they are godless and self-centred.
Complacency: Moreover they appear smug: “They say, `Will it not soon be time to build houses?” (v.3a) They believe that past invasions are the past and now all is secure. They use a local colloquial expression: “This city is a cooking pot, and we are the meat.” (v.3b) i.e. we in Jerusalem are the good meat and the exiles are the cast off pieces. But the Lord challenges them: “You have killed many people in this city and filled its streets with the dead.” (v.6) Their evil has meant loss of lives by oppression and injustice. So the Lord says He will deal with them and drive them out of the city (v.7), driven out by the sword (v.8) and handed over to foreigners (v.9), even on the borders of the land as they try and escape (v.10,11). Then they will know He is the Lord and they have sinned (v.12).
Death: But as Ezekiel was prophesying these things something happened: “Now as I was prophesying, Pelatiah son of Benaiah died. Then I fell facedown and cried out in a loud voice, “Ah, Sovereign LORD! Will you completely destroy the remnant of Israel?” (v.13) In the vision, one of the well known leaders dies and Ezekiel fears this will be the start of the complete extinction of this remnant back in Jerusalem. Ezekiel thinks the remnant back in Jerusalem are the important ones who may yet be the saved remnant and he obviously has hope that they might repent, but he is about to learn something very different.
The Preserved Remnant: In response to this the Lord turns Ezekiel’s eyes back on the exiles in Babylon. God’s word comes to him (v.14) that the exiles with him are those who those in Jerusalem have written off (v.15), but the Lord points out something significant about these exiles: “Therefore say: `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.” (v.16) i.e. the Lord reminds them that He has looked after them in exile. They are still there as a distinct people and have been kept safe. Now this is highly significant as we will soon see.
To reinforce this let’s read an amazing counterpart prophecy from Jeremiah: “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jer 29:4-7) This is long term planning! Ezekiel speaks to Jerusalem from Babylon and Jeremiah speaks to Babylon from Jerusalem! Amazing!
Hope for the future: Here comes an amazing promise, amazing in the light of all that has gone before so far in this book, and it is the first glimmer of hope that comes through his prophesying: “Therefore say: `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.” (v.17) i.e. you, the exiled remnant, will be the salvation of Israel, the hope for a future.
He expands on what will happen: “They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” (v.18-20) When they eventually return they will cleanse the land of all the past idolatry for they will come with a heart joined to the Lord’s, a new heart that is soft and pliable and they will want to be the people they were intended to be, those who follow the Lord whole heartedly. (The books of Ezra and Nehemiah show how this was exactly fulfilled).
Judgment on Jerusalem still: Oh no, don’t look at the people in Jerusalem who have hardened hearts as the remnant that will save Israel for a future: “But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.” (v.21) No, their ongoing idol worship will bring Jerusalem crashing down around their ears. Ezekiel then sees the glory of the Lord departing the city as if to ratify these words of rejection of the city and its inhabitants (v.22,23) and the Spirit returns him to his people in Babylon (v.24) and he shares with them everything he has seen (v.25) What an incredible chapter!
Reality: Do we understand, I wonder, that the reality of the present situation is the reverse of what the two groups of people think it is. The exiles, now in Babylonia, think they are being punished and that they have no future. The people in Jerusalem think they have been saved and that they are future of Israel – but reality is exactly the opposite. The people in Jerusalem have been given yet a further opportunity to repent and turn away from their idols, but don’t and so will end up being destroyed. The exiles are being purged of their past wrong attitudes and so when in some forty years time the opportunity comes to return, they will come with purged hearts, almost a new people!
In all this we are also to understand that the Lord works on a long-term basis. We are concerned with the here and now, perhaps the next year or so, but the Lord is working towards a long-term future. He is working to bring into being a people who will honour Him and reveal Him to the world – still! – a people into whom His Son can come in some four hundred years time. Forty years, four hundred years. These seem long times to us but the Lord is working on His very long-term plan, and we still haven’t seen the end of it. Marvel and wonder at this and worship Him – and when He appears slow in working out your circumstances, be patient!
(Because Ezekiel is quite ‘heavy’, we are going to take a break from him for a couple of weeks and do some short meditations on ‘The Body of Christ’)