11. Action Parts 2 & 3

Meditations from Ezekiel: 11.  Action Parts 2 & 3

Ezek 4:9    “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side.

Recap: So we have seen this new prophet being instructed to go to his home and make a picture-model of Jerusalem under siege and he is to lie on his side prophesying against it for a little over twelve months before lying on his other side and doing the same for a little over a month.  The message will be quite clear and the other exiles round about will hear and the word will spread – most likely back to Jerusalem. But that was only Part 1 of the big picture of what will happen.

Part 2 – Famine: Then come instructions of what he is to eat and drink during this time: Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” (v.9-12) Put very simply, these are bare existence rations and the Lord then explains, “The LORD said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.” (v.13)

This is a challenge to all they have known in the past and Ezekiel revolts against the idea: “Then I said, “Not so, Sovereign LORD! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No unclean meat has ever entered my mouth.” “Very well,” he said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement.” (v.14,15) The Lord relents and allows a marginally better situation. “He then said to me: “Son of man, I will cut off the supply of food in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair, for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin.” (v.16,17) What we have been reading is warning of famine conditions that will come to Jerusalem when it is under siege. The warning is very clear.

Part 3 – Destruction: There is yet a third part of all this to be conveyed to the exiles via Ezekiel’s acted out pictures. “Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair.” (5:1) This, we will soon see comes at the end of the siege. He is to cut his hair and use it in various ways to demonstrate what will happen to the people. His hair represents the people of Jerusalem. “When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair with fire inside the city. Take a third and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind. For I will pursue them with drawn sword.” (v.2) A third of it is to be burnt on the tablet portraying Jerusalem, and a third is to be struck with a sword and a third scattered to the wind. Again there will be a few strands to be saved and tucked in the fold of his garment and yet even of those a few will be burned up. “But take a few strands of hair and tuck them away in the folds of your garment. Again, take a few of these and throw them into the fire and burn them up. A fire will spread from there to the whole house of Israel.” (v.3,4)

Fulfillment: At the latter part of the book of Jeremiah we see Jeremiah and a small remnant being saved (see Jer 39:11-40:6) Yet there was still upset among the survivors and more died (Jer 41) and some fled while others stayed with Jeremiah in the surroundings of the city but still they rejected God’s word through Jeremiah and decided to leave for Egypt but Jeremiah prophesied their destruction there by Nebuchadnezzar still. (see Jer 43,44). In the final part of Jeremiah, in the historical section, we find record of the two year siege of Jerusalem (Jer 52:4,5) and we read, “By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat.” (Jer 52:6) and thus the word about famine was fulfilled. In the accounts that followed we see those who fled the city, the fire that destroyed the city and those who died there, and those who were carried away into exile.

Explanation: Then comes the first real ‘word’ that comes from the Lord that explains why all this will happen: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees. “Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: You have been more unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you.” (Ezek 5:5-7) Observe.

First note, “Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her.” (v.5) In Isaiah’s words, the Lord had made Jerusalem to be a light to the nations, revealing Him and His plans for the earth.

Second, the people of Jerusalem had again and against forsaken the Lord: “she has rebelled against my laws and decrees.”  It will be because of that that they will be answerable to the Lord and everything here follows.

But, even worse, third, they had been worse than the pagan nations around them!  “more than the nations and countries around her…. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you.” Such is the effect of Sin in the world. Because of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, they could never say they had not known.

Historical Context: As we come to the end of these verses, can we hold on to the big picture that is here. The Lord has spoken to Israel and to the leaders in Jerusalem again and again and again through the prophetic word and they have not heeded Him but continued deeper and deeper into idolatry. The Lord watches and sees there is no turning their hearts. Some three or four years back from this point, Nebuchadnezzar had come against Jerusalem a second time (the first being in 605BC when Daniel and his friends were taken into exile) and we are now somewhere about the middle of Zedekiah’s ten year reign in Jerusalem. Zedekiah is there courtesy of Nebuchadnezzar but he is foolish and thinks he can rebel against him and get away with it. The writing, as we say, was on the wall, quite plainly, but still Israel’s sin persists. The fact is that we are part of this foolish human race and although we may be redeemed we can still get it wrong. May these accounts of this period of history make us even more determined to not let ourselves drift away from the Lord in any way.

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1.1 God’s Loving Forgiveness

Meditating on the Judgements of God: General Introduction

We start to move into a new area of consideration, possibly the most difficult area of meditation we have ever sought when writing these various series’. Yes, the heading is right; we are going to focus on God’s judgments.  Now when we put it like that it doesn’t sound as bad as if we had said simply, ‘The Judgement of God’ because so often when we speak of ‘the Judgement of God’ we have in mind the acts of death and destruction that apparently God brings about  – and He does! But when we speak about ‘God’s judgements’ I want to focus more on God’s ‘decisions’ and that is really what is more important, because every time in Scripture we witness an act of death or destruction, before that happens, something even more significant happens: God chose to do it and it is the thinking behind that decision of His that we want to look at, with His help.

Having paused at the end of Part 6 (and I will continue) I must confess that  working through the specific judgments has not always been easy and I am sure that I have not, when considering the individual judgments, examined them in the light of all the criteria you will find in this first Part. I am fairly sure that I will have to return here and revisit some of them again after further thought and prayer.

Perhaps from the outset we should ask the question that may arise in many, “Why study judgment? Isn’t it a miserable subject?”  My answers, and they have to be the reasons for this series are as follows:

  • first we need to consider the subject because death and destruction (apparently at the hand of God) DOES appear so often in the Bible and we need to understand it and,
  • second, we should not be afraid of facing up apparent contradictions, such as how a loving God can kill people and,
  • third, no it is not miserable to face and understand the grace, mercy and justice of God; it is actually freeing.

The structure of this series will be as follows:

  • Part 1 of this series will be studies that will focus on God Himself, on His nature or His character, the person behind the judgments we will go on to consider.
  • Part 2 will go on to consider aspects of judgment things, I am going to suggest, that we mostly don’t think about. There is bound to be a little overlap within these first two Parts.
  • In Part 3 we will start to work our way through specific judgments of God in the book of Genesis,
  • Part 4 will cover Exodus and Leviticus and
  • Part 5 covers the book of Numbers.
  • Part 6 will look in depth at the struggle for Canaan.

I hope eventually to continue and cover all the judgements of God in the Old Testament but time will tell if that is possible.

Crusading atheists pound at God for being a vindictive and destructive being (who they don’t believe exists!) and Christians tend to cower and hope that in some way they were wrong, while in their sub-conscious minds having this horrible feeling that perhaps God is a ‘hard man’ (Mt 25:24), and that He does do nasty things – and they don’t know why! Well, in these studies we are going to try to give some answers. To do that I may have to repeat what I have written in other studies, especially the more recent one on the Will of God.

Meditating on the Judgements of God: 1.1 God’s Loving Forgiveness

Prov 3:19,20     By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.

Our starting point has to be what we know of God or, rather, what the Bible tells us about Him. If you have never trodden this path before, I have to warn you that you are about to venture into an area that will challenge your mind and your faith like never before. We are going to look at the character of God and then the acts of judgement of God and struggle to see how the acts can possibly be the works of the One with the character we will see.

This is not a new struggle, it has gone on since the formation of the church and some early heretics answered the problem by creating two Gods, one of the Old Testament, and another of the New. But let’s be quite clear from the outset, philosophically and theologically, that doesn’t work. There is one Creator God who made all things, who brought Israel into being and who had dealings with Israel and eventually brought His Son into the world to save it and who still works to bless it. So what does the Bible tell us about God. Well I’m going to take them in the order they impressed upon me.

Well, this Creator God is all-powerful, all-wise and all-knowing, eternal and unchanging. Those are givens you will find in any basic book on theology and so we won’t take up space providing quotes for that. But then I found I was impacted by the apostle John who declared, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). Yes, he said it twice to make sure we took it in. Is that just a New Testament teaching I wondered?  No, definitely not. Listen! Moses caught something of this when he sung with Israel, In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” (Ex 15:13)  He saw the Exodus deliverance as an act of love, and that even before Israel had been constituted as a nation at Sinai.

It wasn’t a temporary, frail love but an “unfailing love” which suggests strong and enduring. But then later Moses has a particularly close encounter with the Lord and receives the Ten Commandments, and we find there is a ‘love element’ built into them at one point describing the Lord as, “showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex 20:6). Now that offsets the verse before it that speak about God who is described as “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (Ex 20:5b) i.e. a God of judgment. He may punish up to four generations (and we will look at that in a later meditation) but He will bless a thousand generations.

At an even closer encounter a little later, the Lord describes Himself to Moses and we read, “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6,7) So, yes, He is a God who deals with sins and brings judgement but the stronger emphasis is on His love. He abounds in love and He maintains His love. Somehow love and punishment sit together in this description, two aspects of the same God. In a later study we will look at why God punishes but of the moment we simply note that He does intervene in His world and bring punishment to sinners, those who are guilty and are unchanging in their Sin.

We should note that point in passing because it did just say that He forgives “wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  So how does forgiveness equate with punishment. The forgiveness is there for the repentant, the punishment is there for the unrepentant. As the Lord declared through Ezekiel,

  • “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?” (Ezek 18:23) and
  • “Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:31,32) and
  • “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek 33;11).

THREE times there in Ezekiel the Lord makes this point. He does NOT relish death and would far rather Israel repented and were saved.  This is God who longs to forgive “wickedness, rebellion and sin.” All it needs is our repentance.

So here is our starting place. If we are going to talk about the judgements (decisions) and judgements (acts of punishment) of God, then we must first observe His character. This is vital and we will say something even more earth shattering about it in the next meditation. If you are new to this area of thought, read back through this one before continuing to the next.

May I state from this opening meditation what I am intending to do. I am suggesting we do something that is quite unusual: that we

  • see what the Bible says is the character of God and then
  • what thing LOGICALLY flow from that.

If the Bible says God is love, what LOGICALLY flows from that? What MUST flow from that if that description is accurate. Before we move into the next study, I am going to state four propositions as foundations for this book:

  1. We will see what the Bible states about the character of God
  2. We will consider what are the LOGICAL things that MUST flow from them if they are true
  3. We will examine the judgments in the light of both those things
  4. We will see that the end conclusion MAKES SENSE like nothing else does.

41. Heavenly Watcher

Meditations in 1 Peter : 41 : The Heavenly Watcher

1 Pet 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

The biggest lie that Satan tells people is that they are alone in life – that there is no God, and if there is one He doesn’t care about them. Nothing could be further from the truth and this is the witness of the whole Bible – that God IS there and He is active!    One of Francis Schaeffer’s early books was called, “The God who is There” and it was all about knowing that this is true. The Bible never explains it; it takes it for granted that God is there and He moves and does things and communicates with people.   Take God’s movements and activities and words out of the Bible and you will have nothing left; it is that simple!

Yet again our verse above starts with a ‘For’, a connecting word. Peter has just quoted from Psalm 34 and the prior verses give guidance for living a good life and it then concludes with a word of motivation which could have started with the word ‘because’. In its shortest form this could be put, “Do those things to live a good life because God is watching and He responds to what He sees!”

Now the actions of God in this verse are not what you might expect. They are responses to the righteous and those who do evil; two groups of people who evoke two different responses from the Lord.

First the Lord is watching and listening to the righteous: For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.” The Lord sees the righteous and He listens when they pray, i.e. He is attentive to them and the implication is He is doing this in order to bless them. The Lord is positive about those who are righteous. That may sound an obvious thing to say but it is true. That is the motivation, in Peter’s mind, for us doing good and seeking to be righteous, because the Lord responds well to such people and blesses them.

The other side of the coin is slightly strange at first sight: the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” This rather suggests that He turns His face away from such people and leaves them to their own devices. Now why should such a thing be? It is, I suggest, because Scripture testifies again and again that the wrong things that people do come back on them. It is like a form of judgment but it doesn’t need God to take action for He’s already allowed for it in the way He’s designed the world. We often think that God has to act against evil people but the Bible testifies that they will get what it coming to them simply through the way that the world works.

For example, “A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7), i.e. what he sows, his bad actions, will eventually develop and grow into something that will come back on him. It’s a simple law. Of course there are also Paul’s famous words in Romans: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” (Rom 1:24) and “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.” (Rom 1:26 and “since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom 1:28) In each case God just stood back and did not try to restrain them but allowed them free rein to get deeper and deeper into sin which was destroying them. His judgment is already built into the way things work. Unrestrained sin brings destruction. You see this especially clearly in respect of sex and of taking drugs. Unrestrained expression brings destruction – literally!

It is possible that the latter part of this verse can mean that God does act, for “the face of the Lord” being against someone can also mean He does act against them. It can be taken both ways, and there are times when the Lord stands back and lets evil destroy itself and there are times when the Lord steps in and brings action that prematurely destroys it or even brings someone to their senses. There are examples of both in Scripture. The Lord is not bound by a situation but exercises His knowledge and wisdom to decide the best course of action to be taken in the light of the sort of people involved.

This concept, of alternative responses from the Lord, is seen throughout the Bible. For example, “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” (Isa 1:19,20) There was a clear warning to Israel: obey and be blessed, disobey and be destroyed.  Sometimes it is a simple word of encouragement through the promise of blessing for obedience: “Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety.” (Lev 25:18,19) At other times alternatives are given: “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God…. However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” (Deut 28:2,15) Promises of blessing and warnings against destruction abound in the Bible. God’s desire is to bless us but if we refuse to heed His guidance, then the alternative is there and no one should complain about it. We choose the path we take and what goes with it: “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life.” (Mt 7:13,14)  Choose rightly.