18. Hope

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’)

17. The Heavenly Vision Again

Meditations from Ezekiel: 17.  The Heavenly Vision Again

Ezek 10:2  The LORD said to the man clothed in linen, “Go in among the wheels beneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from among the cherubim and scatter them over the city.” And as I watched, he went in.

Recap Overview: Although we are not covering every verse in this book, it is important, I think, to catch the overall structure of the early chapters or the early structure of the book, at least. So far we have seen the following chapter contents:

1 – The heavenly vision of the four creatures (cherubim)

2 – The Divine call of Ezekiel

3 – Further instructions and Ezekiel taken to his people

4 – Picture models & actions of the siege and famine of Jerusalem

5 – Hair scattered to portray fire, death and scattering of the people

6 – Prophecy against the whole country for its idolatry

7 – The immediacy of the destruction to come

8 – The four horrors within Jerusalem

9 – A marking out for destruction of the apostates of Jerusalem.

Heavenly Vision Again: When we come to Chapter 10 our initial impression may be that we are seeing a repeat of chapter 1 but in fact it is the vision now applied to the present prophecies. Verse 1 takes us back to the original vision but verse 2 brings it into the immediate context: The LORD said to the man clothed in linen, “Go in among the wheels beneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from among the cherubim and scatter them over the city.” And as I watched, he went in.” The man in linen is the recorder of the previous part of the vision that marked the separating out of the righteous from the unrighteous in Jerusalem.

The Glory of God: We have commented before on the two aspects of the glory of the Lord – that in heaven and that residing in the innermost part of the Temple. Now watch: “Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court.” (v.3) The heavenly glory comes with the moving cherubim on the south side of the temple in the inner court. Now the references to inner and outer courts indicate areas outside the main Temple structure and so the moving glory together with the creatures appears outside the main Temple building. But then we read, “Then the glory of the LORD rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the LORD.” (v.4) The moving presence of the Lord from heaven moves first to the door threshold of the temple and then fills the very main part of the temple.

Coals of Purging: The instructions to the man in linen are reiterated: “When the LORD commanded the man in linen, “Take fire from among the wheels, from among the cherubim,” the man went in and stood beside a wheel. Then one of the cherubim reached out his hand to the fire that was among them. He took up some of it and put it into the hands of the man in linen, who took it and went out.” (v.6,7) In Isa 6:6  the ‘coals’ were for purging and this, presumably, is what these coals will be for. The cherub takes the coals and hands them to the man. The following verses (v.9-17) reiterate the description of the wheels and the cherubim, the four living creatures’.

The Location of the Glory: Now the cherubim appear to still be outside on the south side of the Temple precincts (v.3) and the Lord’s glory had left them there when it moved into the inner court, then to the threshold and then inside the Temple itself (v.4), while they remained in the outer court (v.5).  It is as if the Lord’s presence takes it’s rightful place in the Temple while still instructing the administration of the purging of Jerusalem that was going on outside. The Lord’s glory rejoins the cherubim (v.18) and together they move to the east gate of the temple precincts (v.19). It is at this point that Ezekiel realises that the four living creatures and the cherubim are one and the same (v.20).

Why? In chapter 11 we will see again straight forward revelation and prophecy against the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so why has there been this ‘interval’ of chapter 10? Well, we suggest, we started out in the book seeing this ‘heavenly vision’ and then we went on to hear words of challenge and judgment over Jerusalem. Having the vision reiterated and linked to the prophetic outworking of judgment suggests that the Lord wants us to realise that there is nothing abstract about prophecy, nothing abstract about the declarations of judgment. They all come about by the divine presence and instruction. God is there is Jerusalem. Yes, He will be moving out but the prophet is being made aware that at the heart of all that he is seeing about judgment is the very presence of the Lord. The Lord is not standing at a distance to bring this judgment. It is so important – unique in His dealings with His people – that He brings it from the heart of Jerusalem, from within the Temple itself.

You may feel that this has been a confusing chapter but the point that Lord is making is that it is His holy presence that is still there in the heart of Jerusalem, despite all the awful idolatrous things going on in Jerusalem. It is as if the Lord stands in the midst of the idolatrous city and declares His will over it. There can be no thought that God doesn’t understand and hasn’t full seen what is there – which is what the leaders had been saying – and so this whole chapter perhaps comes as a direct answer to the words they had been saying, “The LORD has forsaken the land; the LORD does not see.” (9:9) Oh yes He does! He is there in your midst.

And Us? Perhaps the challenge that comes out of this for us is never to think the Lord is not with us, that He doesn’t see, that He doesn’t understand. Yes, He does! I often stand in church services and hear prayers read out or spoken out almost as if they are being read and it is like it is just words into the air. Perhaps every time we gather as church, we need to pause up and realise that the Lord IS there in that place with you, and pause and become conscious of His presence with us. It might change the way we speak out in prayer and what we do! Sometimes it is difficult to remember the reality that each one of us is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God. Perhaps it is easier to envisage the whole air of the room in which we are, saturated with the presence of God. He is here with me in this room, now this moment and He’s with you where you are. Excuse me, I must stop this writing and worship the One who is here. But, be ready, we are about to move on to something very different, very hopeful!

16. A Separating Out

Meditations from Ezekiel: 16.  A Separating Out

 Ezek 9:3,4  Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”

Call for the Guards: The vision continues but the content changes and we move away from observing the various expressions of the apostasy in Jerusalem to see something completely different but very much related. It is heralded by the Lord’s loud call: Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring the guards of the city here, each with a weapon in his hand.” (9:1) Now it is speculation whether these are real armed guards or angelic guards within this vision but there is an immediate response: “ I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand.” (v.2a) Why six is uncertain but there is a seventh: “With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar.” (v.2b) Also why they come from the north gate and stand beside the bronze altar is again not explained. Possibly there is a contrast intended, these men coming to do God’s will come from the place where there is an idol and a woman worshiping other false deities. Perhaps it says that despite the appearances of idol worship prevailing the will of God will come forth from within it and be brought to the heart of the place of encounter with God.

The Departing Glory: But then something significant occurs: “Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple.” (v.3a) We have to distinguish in the pages of Ezekiel between the glory in heaven in the vision of chapters 1 and 10, and the glory of the Lord that dwelt on the earth. God’s glory represents His presence and it had been there from the origin of the Temple (see 1 Kings 8:10,11) The movement of the glory is tragic. We saw it first, simply in the Temple in 8:4.  It’s usual resting place was over the cherubim in the Most Holy Place, the innermost part of the Temple, but now (9:3) it moves to the threshold of the Temple. Later (10:18,19) if joins with the heavenly cherubim and moves to the east gate of the Temple. Even later it moves from there and leaves the city (11:23). The gradual departure of the glory of the Lord from His Temple and His city is a key issue in this book.

Back to the guards: Having seen this we return to the seven men. Other versions of verse 1 say, “Let those who have charge over the city draw near, each with a deadly weapon in his hand.” (NKJV) or “Bring near the executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand.” (ESV) each suggesting a different emphasis, one that these men are associated with the city in the same way that the angels are associated with the seven churches  of Asia Minor in Rev 1, and the other that they are to bring the judgment of God.

Marking & Judgment: So now we see the Lord giving instructions to them: Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” (v.3b,4) Now this is important to see. First there is to be a marking out of all the righteous ones in Jerusalem by the one with a priestly appearance and writing kit. But then, second, “As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” (v.5,6) there is to be a judgment on those without the mark.  The absence of pity or compassion suggests that this is to be purely an objective exercise that depends entirely upon the heart of each person confronted in Jerusalem. And so the destruction begins (v.6b-11).

Considerations: Now we have to remember various things about this. First, the context. This is still a vision; this is not what was happening at that moment on the ground in Jerusalem. It is a prophetic picture of what will happen, an analogy of the truth behind what will happen when Nebuchadnezzar comes to Jerusalem again in a few years time.

Second, the cause. We have been shown in previous chapters what is going on in Jerusalem and it is so entrenched that the godless attitude that prevails, encompasses men, women and children, and so all these groups are guilty. Yet within the city there will be a few – a remnant – whose hearts anguish for the state of the city and the land. They are the faithful few, the righteous ones who still hold firm to the Lord and they will be saved. That is what this chapter is all about, dividing out the righteous from the unrighteous.

Third, nothing changes. In the big overarching history of the Bible and of the world, this is how it is. Because of Sin entering the world at the Fall, this propensity prevails, this propensity to self-centred godlessness that leads to unrighteousness and so often idolatry. Yet there will always be those who, even before the coming of Jesus, had hearts that sought out the Lord and His goodness (see Rom 2:6-10). Now with the coming of Jesus, he is the bench mark for faith and those who believe will be saved but those who refuse to believe and go on refusing to believe will be condemned.

The heart of God: What we have been reading in this chapter, and what is behind all that is about to happen in the next few years of this history, all boils down to whether a people will determine to remain self-centred, godless, idolaters, or whether they will hear the word of the Lord and repent and be saved. There will be a faithful remnant and we have already referred to them in an earlier study when we recognized Jeremiah and the few with him who were saved. Later in Ezekiel we find a three-times repeated message about the heart of the Lord: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (18:23, then 18:32 and then 33:11)  I have to agree with those who say that these three sets of verses are perhaps the most important message of the entire book and they go to reveal the Lord’s heart behind all that took place in Jerusalem in these years. This judgment that we have been reading about in chapter 9  is no callous, cold-hearted destruction by an unfeeling God. To the contrary we see it is the action of a God who anguishes over His people (even as He had done from the start – See Ex 3:7-9) and who concludes that this must be a judgment of the last resort – and yet one from whom there will be a remnant saved, and of those who are carried away into exile, there will yet be a further chance in decades to come to return home and start again. It is an incredible story!

15. The Horrors of Jerusalem (2)

Meditations from Ezekiel: 15.  The Horrors of Jerusalem (2)

Ezek 8:17    He said to me, “Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the house of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here?

Four ‘horrors’: We are considering the things that Ezekiel, saw when he had been carried in the Spirit in a vision to Jerusalem where he is being shown 4 aspects of the apostasy that is taking place there. The first one we noted in the previous study, was an idol located at the northern entrance to the Temple, and the second one was a picture of the elders worshipping their own idols, hidden away from sight, which brings us to the third one.

Seeing: Perhaps before we move into this more fully, we might note that we are about to read yet again, “Do you see….” Twice in this chapter the Lord asks Ezekiel, does he see (v.6,15) and three times the expression, “You will see”.  (v.6,13,15) The thing with revelation is that it is revelation, something we do not see with our ordinary eyes and it is easy to miss something of what the Lord is showing us. How often does this apply to the Bible? How often do we just skim over truths and miss the wonder of what is there? Now onto the third ‘horror’:

The Third ‘Horror’: Then he brought me to the entrance to the north gate of the house of the LORD, and I saw women sitting there, mourning for Tammuz. He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this.” (8:14,15) Tammuz, it is said, was a Sumerian god of vegetation who, according to popular mythology died and became a god of the underworld. He was associated with a cult that partly incorporated a mourning ritual (for his death and the death of vegetation at the end of the growing season) and partly incorporating fertility rites (highlighting rebirth). It is said of him that he was specifically worshipped in Assyria and Babylonia. The fact that Israel had been overrun by Babylonia twice already under Nebuchadnezzar now suggests that there were those in Israel who took on the worship of their oppressors, identifying more with them than with their God.

A Lesson about Belief: There is a lesson here that suggests that when our faith fails or we appear to be overcome by the world and the enemy, the human tendency is to lose faith in God and believe more in ‘other things’. In respect of the elders worshipping idols behind closed doors, we read, They say, `The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land.” (v.12) Having been overrun by Nebuchadnezzar twice, they used this to justify their falling away from the one true living God and turning to idols. The enemy would have whispered, “God is not here, He doesn’t care about you, you need to take steps to find other gods who will look after you.” Lies!

The Fourth ‘Horror’: “He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east.” (v.16) Now he is taken back in this vision to the inner court. The idol (first horror) had been at the north gate of the actual temple,  the men (second horror) were behind walls of the court surrounding the main building, the woman (third horror)  was worshipping back at the north entrance of the actual Temple building and now these men (fourth horror) are in the ‘inner court’ that presumably surrounded the main building. i.e. two of these were at the north entrance of the main building and two, involving numbers of false worshippers were in the buildings or areas immediately surrounding the main building. One way or another, the temple was well and truly polluted with these idol worshippers.

The Sun? Who these twenty five men are is unclear. They are not described. It is an imprecise number and rather suggests, not a very large group, but a good number are here worshipping the sun! Yet another object of pagan worship for fairly obvious reasons. The sun brings life (warmth) to vegetation, animals and mankind alike. Today science tells us we get most of our vitamin D from sunshine, an essential for healthy bones, a help to warding off certain diseases and may help ward off depression. Perhaps this knowledge was instinctive to the ancients and so in the absence of the Creator God of the Bible, many turned to the sun, but that is merely another of God’s good provisions for us, not to be an object of worship.

Violence! But it wasn’t just the idol worship that upset the Lord, it was the deteriorating moral standards that followed it that was seen throughout the Land: “He said to me, “Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the house of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually provoke me to anger?” (v.17) Hypocrites can exist even with believers of the Lord, but when people turn to other worship, THE key reason for holding to a firm moral base is removed.

Illegitimate Belief: Then He says something strange: “Look at them putting the branch to their nose!” Now some suggest that this is a reference to imbibing nature worship but the context doesn’t confirm that. We suggest that the ‘branch’ is in fact a shoot off the main tree, a growth from the main tree and their attitudes that were ungodly, idolatrous, and resulting in unrighteous apostasy, are an illegitimate branch of the main tree of belief that the Lord has sought to grow as the heart of Israel. It is like they relish in this new and illegitimate belief system. Because they have become so entrenched in it, the outcome will have to be certain: “Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them.” (v.18)

What has this vision been doing? It has been showing Ezekiel how entrenched false worship and the rejection of the Lord is in the heart of the centre of Jerusalem, the centre of Israel. When there is talk of judgment there can be no quibbling; the reason for it is clear and certain. It is the apostasy of this people, Israel, a people who have such a testimony of the goodness of God in their midst for hundreds of years, and yet which has been rejected. The die is cast, the outcome is certain and the only thing that would change it is repentance but it has been made clear that this will not come, so entrenched is this apostasy.

14. The Horrors of Jerusalem

Meditations from Ezekiel: 14.  The Horrors of Jerusalem

Ezek 8:6    And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing–the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary?

Aspects of Apostasy: Ezekiel, we have noted, has been carried in the Spirit in a vision to Jerusalem where he is being shown 4 aspects of the apostasy that is taking place there. The first one we noted in the previous study, was an idol located at the northern entrance to the Temple. Now whether each of these things actually were there or they are simply symbolic pictures of the reality of what was happening in Jerusalem, is not clear.  That first one may have been a literal, physical idol that had been put up just outside the northern entrance or it may be symbolic of the whole idolatrous outlook that prevailed in Jerusalem at that time.

An Action Picture in a Vision: The second of what I have titled ‘the horrors of Jerusalem – because they are so alien to the life God had sought to give this people – comes as an action picture Three times within the next ten verses we find the same opening phrase: Then he brought me”. In this first one he is taken “to the entrance to the court.” (v.7a) Now commentators disagree whether there was one or two courts but the main point is that he comes to the entrance but does not use it. What he is about to see will not be open to public view and will not be accessed by public means. Observe.

“I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall.” (v.7b) A hole is a breach. In modern life we often hear of something being ‘leaked’. An unauthorized access is given. This is not a window or a formed opening but a hole which signifies an unauthorized access. When there are ‘dark doings’ in society, there will always be a leak or an access sometime. Almost like an investigative reporter he is now instructed by the Lord how to proceed: “He said to me, “Son of man, now dig into the wall.” So I dug into the wall and saw a doorway there.” (v.8) He has to make effort to get deeper in to find the truth. This only goes to emphasise even more how what he is going to find is hidden away from sight. There is a door before him. A door is simply a way of easy access. He has done the hard work and so this suggests that he is almost there, to the place of revelation and so the Lord further instructs, “And he said to me, “Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing here.” (v.9) Yes, he’s about to be able to see the reality of what was happening there at the heart of Jerusalem.

“So I went in and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and detestable animals and all the idols of the house of Israel.” (v.10) This feels like something out of an Indiana Jones film, an inner enclave to some terrible, mystical eastern cult with pictures of all sorts of unpleasant if not horrible creatures that make the skin crawl in terror anticipation. But the pictures also include “all the idols of the house of Israel”, i.e. all the foreign idols that have been brought into the land, alien images from pagan places. This is a hidden place of dark demonic worship. So who uses it? Who inhabits this place that is so utterly alien to the holy place of God?

“In front of them stood seventy elders of the house of Israel, and Jaazaniah son of Shaphan was standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising.” (v.11) Oh my goodness!  They are the very leaders of the people and there is even a prominent figure that he actually recognizes. They are offering incense worship to these mystical and horrible creatures. Are they out of their minds? If there was any doubt about who these people were, the Lord casts it away: “He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, `The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land.’” Again, he said, “You will see them doing things that are even more detestable.” (v.12,13) Now this would suggest that this initial picture is a summary of all that is going on at the heart of Jerusalem for it speaks of each of these leaders as worshipping “at the shrine of his own idol”, suggesting that each one has his own particular place of worship. None of these people can make the excuse, well I just went along with the crowd, for each one is identified by the Lord as having his own false worship place. They are individually guilty.

Now there is too much in the following two ‘horrors’ so we will leave them until the next study, but are there things in these verses that can speak to us personally? Our initial reaction, I am sure, is surely not, but think about this in general terms. We have been shown things that are happening ‘behind closed doors’. Now I suspect that most of those who would be reading these notes come from a good Biblical background and (because this is not the easiest of reading and we are therefore ‘serious’ Christians) are strong believers, we do have a temptation to be compartmentalized from the rest of the world and therefore fail to realise the things that are going on in our societies.

Having said that, the media (particularly the film industry) do a good job at showing us drug, sex and power abuses that go on in our modern Western society, and yet little glimmers  (the hole in the wall) suggest to me the darkness that prevails behind closed doors. For example, my son-in-law mentors and counsels young people who are disturbed, more often than not because of dysfunctional family life. He tells me that he regularly comes across children of under 10 who have no family restrictions placed on them so they are regularly playing the worst ‘18’ video games and watching the worst ‘18’ video films. Access to internet pornography is almost unlimited.

Many, if not most, modern novels for adults you can buy in your local bookstore today, have some element of sex in them. Recently traveling on a long flight, I picked up and bought an apparently innocent looking novel only to find it had the most graphic sex in it of a style that left me shocked (and I as a retired pastor thought I was unshockable). If half of what is conveyed by modern films about college or university life is true, then there will be things going on there ‘behind closed doors’ that will send you to prayer and fasting for your young people!

We still have elements of conservative attitudes towards moral issues (thankfully) in our societies, in public at least, but ‘behind closed doors’ it is something else. I could write another page on the sort of church we need to be to counter these trends (and they are still moving downwards, with only one or two hopeful glimmers to the contrary) but I leave you to pray about the realities of your society and its need for the Lord to come revealing its unrighteousness and ungodliness and the folly and futility of that.  But it IS a time to wake up to these realities and pray and work like we never have before to save our peoples. The church today NEEDS to be salt and light, portraying a lifestyle that is loving, caring, good,  i.e. holy, so that an alternative is portrayed to an otherwise lost world.

13. God on the Retreat?

Meditations from Ezekiel: 13.  God on the Retreat?

Ezek 8:6    And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing–the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary?

Retreat? It is an amazing thing that the almighty, all-powerful God who is Creator of everything can retreat before the sinfulness of man, and yet that is the truth, but it is simply that where He finds entrenched sin He will remove His presence and that is what we find in this present chapter. From the big picture, sweeping judgment that we have recently been observing in the previous chapters, we now have a revelation in this present chapter of the sin in Jerusalem, expressed in a variety of ways.

Dating: First the date: “In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day.” (v.1a) This is the second of thirteen dates given in Ezekiel.  In chapter 1 we saw, “fifth of the month–it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin,” the dating given according to the time from which Ezekiel, King Jehoiachin and many others had been taken into exile in 597BC and so that date had been 593BC, and so the present date is probably September of the year 592BC, fourteen months on from the previous vision.

Where: Next the situation: “while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me.” (v.1b)  In those fourteen months Ezekiel had become recognized and accepted as a prophet. We saw in the first encounter with the Lord that he had been told to lie on his side twice, for a period that amounted to about fourteen months. It seems no coincidence that he comes to the end of the first task and is now given additional revelation.  As we said, previously the Lord had spoken to him and, presumably, he had spoken out, judgment in respect of both Jerusalem and the whole land of Israel. This had gained the interest of the elders of Israel there in exile with him and they have presumably come to discuss what he had been doing and saying.

Transported in the Spirit: But while that is happening, “the hand of the Sovereign LORD came upon me there.”  i.e. God intervenes and Ezekiel has another vision that we might say, comes in two layers or two parts. In part 1 of the vision he sees a figure: “I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man. From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal.” (v.2) Similar to the previous ‘man’ he had seen, his function is to take Ezekiel in the vision to Jerusalem: “He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem.” (v.3a)

To Jerusalem: Part 2 of the vision is where he goes and what he sees. Initially he is taken, “to the entrance to the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood.” (v.3b) There were three gates giving entrance, the other two being to the east and to the south. Outside the northern gate apparently stood an idol that clearly competes for the affections of the people, with the Lord. In the ongoing vision Ezekiel has his attention drawn to this idol: “And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain. Then he said to me, “Son of man, look toward the north.” So I looked, and in the entrance north of the gate of the altar I saw this idol of jealousy.” (v.4,5).

Jealousy? From the outset of their years in relationship with the Lord, the Lord had declared, “I the LORD your God, am a jealous God.” (Ex 20:5) Now we may think of jealousy as a bad thing but jealousy implies the existence of a relationship which involves affection, of feelings of love for someone, which is what the Lord has for us and for His people Israel. Therefore it is right to have negative feelings objecting when a rival seeks to compete for those affections. So the first thing he is shown in this vision as he approaches Jerusalem is an idol located just outside the Temple which God’s people bow down to. No wonder it stirs jealousy in the Lord!

Detestable! The Lord describes what is going on and asks Ezekiel, still in this vision, to take note of it: “And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing–the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.” (v.6) Remember he is talking about the holy people of God who had been delivered out of Egypt, given the most amazing revelation of any people on earth, then given their own Land and blessed there. Yet this people have sunk to depths of spiritual depravity that you would not think possible, and it is perhaps because of that, that the Lord wants Ezekiel to take careful note of what he sees in this revelation. The Lord’s descriptions of what is going on in Jerusalem, which Ezekiel will no doubt later proclaim and publish, twice includes the word ‘detestable’. Something that is detestable is something utterly revolting, odious, abhorrent, repellant, vile, loathsome and repulsive.

Illustration 1: Compare two pictures: in the first one, people bow down and worship blocks of rough hewn wood; in the second one people bow down and worship the One who has created all things wonderfully, the One who has come down and blessed people with signs, wonders, healings, miracles and so much more. How does the first picture compare to the second one? Well the word that comes instantly to my mind is ‘stupid’. What is happening in it is so stupid, even more when you compare it to the second one.  In fact, the more you enter into the emotions of the people in each picture, those in the first picture are a childish parody of reality, a mockery of what is real and utterly foolish. I’m afraid I can’t convey ‘detestable’ because I believe it is something we can only comprehend in our spirit.

Illustration 2: Let’s try a different picture. Have you ever encountered someone who is suffering from oxygen deprivation? It happened many years ago to my mother when she contracted  pneumonia and her lungs deprived her of oxygen. When we visited her, she had cups and saucers out on a table and had been having a party with relatives – except they weren’t there, it was entirely an hallucination caused by lack of oxygen. That is what this idol worship in Jerusalem was like, an hallucination, a belief is what wasn’t. And the terrible thing is that it was caused by Sin and it meant the people turning their backs on the Lord who had redeemed them and made them a people, and they were now so entrenched in it, that the Lord was retreating from before it. The even more awful thing, was that the people of Jerusalem has so taken His presence for granted and were so blind to the reality of His presence, it was only a prophet in a vision who could see what was happening, the Lord leaving! We’ll consider this more in the next study when we see more of what is going on in Jerusalem.

12. Big Picture Judgment

Meditations from Ezekiel: 12.  Big Picture Judgment

Ezek 5:8,9    “I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again.”

Recap: Now I am aware that it is not very edifying to read through page after page of judgment warning but it is, I believe, important to see the clarity with which these words of judgment come through Ezekiel to the exiles and no doubt to Jerusalem. In the few verses we have seen so far, in respect of Jerusalem, the Lord has spoken of “her wickedness,” (5:6) so that she has been, more unruly than the nations around.” (5:7)

The Coming Destruction: So now the Lord speaks: “I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations.” (v.8) and “Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again.” (v.9) He reiterates that famine will come and they will be scattered (v.10) and states as the reason for this, “because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your vile images and detestable practices.” (v.11) and then yet again reiterates the death that will come (v.12)

The end product of all this, He declares, will be that, “I will make you a ruin and a reproach among the nations around you, in the sight of all who pass by. You will be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and an object of horror to the nations around you when I inflict punishment on you in anger and in wrath and with stinging rebuke.” (v.14,15) This He reiterates in verses 16 & 17.

Their Idol Worship: In Chapter 6 the Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy against the mountains of Israel (v.1), and to the hills, ravines and valleys (v.3a) and says, “I will destroy your high places. Your altars will be demolished and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will slay your people in front of your idols. I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars.” (v.3b-5) So, to recap, the coming destruction is made clear but so also is the cause of it – their idol worship which is extensive throughout the land. The extent of this destruction is clearly beyond Jerusalem, and will include cleansing the whole land: “Wherever you live, the towns will be laid waste and the high places demolished, so that your altars will be laid waste and devastated, your idols smashed and ruined, your incense altars broken down, and what you have made wiped out.” (v.6)

A Saved Remnant: as always with the judgments of the Lord, there will be a faithful remnant who will be saved: “But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations.” (v.8) Now the reason or perhaps the by-product of this  will be that, “in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me–how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. And they will know that I am the LORD; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.” (v.9,10) i.e. not only will the saved remnant act as a reminder to other nations what the Lord has done, but they themselves will come to see the awfulness of what has happened and why it happened. It will be part of their cleansing process so that in the years to come, many of them will be able to return to the Land. In the remaining verses of chapter 6 the Lord reiterates the coming destruction and the reason for it.

Now! In Chapter 7 the Lord sweeps away any possibility of misunderstanding about WHEN this will happen. He declares its immediacy: “The end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land,” (v.2) and “Disaster! An unheard-of disaster is coming. The end has come! The end has come! It has roused itself against you. It has come! Doom has come upon you,” (v.5-7) and, “The day is here!” (v.10) and, “The time has come, the day has arrived.” (v.12) There is indeed no room left for doubt.

Everyone: In the verses that follow, again any doubts as to WHO will be included is swept away: “none of the people will be left,” (v.11) “Let not the buyer rejoice nor the seller grieve, for wrath is upon the whole crowd,” (v.12) “for the vision concerning the whole crowd will not be reversed. Because of their sins, not one of them will preserve his life.” (v.13) “Outside is the sword, inside are plague and famine; those in the country will die by the sword, and those in the city will be devoured by famine and plague.” (v.15) and in the remaining verses of the chapter this is spelled out in detail.

Recap the Clarity: Let’s recap what we have seen in the words spoken by the Lord describing all that is coming from 5:5 onwards:

  • Jerusalem’s wickedness is worse than surrounding nations (5:5-7)
  • The punishment will be because of their idolatry (5:8,9)
  • So destruction will come via famine and sword (5:10-13)
  • Surrounding nations will see this destruction by famine, plague and sword. (5:14-17)
  • This destruction will include the whole land because of the idol worship at the ‘high places’ (6:1-7)
  • But there will be a remnant saved to act as a reminder and to be hanged ready for the future (6:8-10)
  • Famine, plague and sword will cleanse the land (6:11-14)
  • The time has come, it is now (7:1-12)
  • This destruction will include everyone in the land, in the city or the country, from the greatest – king and princes, prophet and priest – to the lowest (implied) (7:12-27)

There are two point to be emphasised: first, is that the Lord does nothing without telling His prophets (Amos 3:7) and telling the occupants of the Land. The Lord looks for repentance and that follows the bringing of His word. Today that word is the Gospel, it is that simple. Second, the Lord holds a people or a nation responsible and when they turn from Him He acts to bring discipline to correct their folly, but that is often very slow and may not be seen for decades. We, within the West, are in such a period now.