Wednesday, 19 November 2014

(324) November 20: Ezekiel 20-21 & James 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read note the form God’s judgement takes.

To ponder:
Chapter 20 records another time (as 14v1) when elders came to enquire of God through Ezekiel. God’s response is that he will not let them do so, asking Ezekiel whether he will judge and confront them for their idolatry. He relates how he chose Israel, revealed himself to them as the LORD when in Egypt, and swore to bring them to the promised land, calling them to get rid of their idolatry. But they rebelled by not doing so. God therefore said he would pour his wrath out on them, but for the sake of his own reputation before the nations, he continued with them, taking them into the desert and making known to them his laws by which those who obey might live. He gave them the Sabbath as a sign of his covenant agreement with them too – a reminder that they were holy and so to be set-apart and different for God, just as the seventh day is (20v1-12).
            But in the desert the people rebelled, rejecting God’s laws and desecrating is Sabbath (see Numbers). Again, God therefore said he would pour out his wrath on them. And again, to keep his name from being profaned amongst the watching nations he continued with them. He swore not to give them their land, but looked in pity on them and did not destroy them. Instead, he told the children not to follow the ways of their fathers, but carefully keep his laws and Sabbath, so that they will know that he is the LORD their God – presumably by what he would do for them (20v13-20).
            Now, we read that the children rebelled too, as their fathers had. So God promised to pour his wrath on them, but withheld it for the sake of his reputation amongst the watching nations. With hand uplifted in readiness to strike Israel, he swore that he would scatter them, and gave them over to their sinful practices, letting them even be defiled by their sacrificing of their firstborn children to the god Molech. His intention was that this would so horrify them that they would know he was God after all (20v21-26). The whole section demonstrates how the people had always sinned as they now were in Jerusalem and even in exile, and so how justified God’s judgement was, having again and again held it back in the past. It reveals the nation of his wrath in handing people over to sin (see Rom 1v18-32). It also shows God’s concern throughout Israel’s history that the watching world would acknowledge his reality and holiness through his acts for Israel, just as he now desires that as they see his acts through Christ.
            At this point God tells Ezekiel to tell Israel how their fathers also blasphemed God’s name, by forsaking him and turning to idolatry in the land. He is to challenge the exilic elders over whether they will sin in this same way, and declare that because they do God will not let them enquire of him (20v27-31). It is presumptuous indeed if we persist in sin to think that God will hear or respond to our prayers. God adds that whereas the Israelites do this because they want to be like the nations in the form of their religion, that will not happen, as he with a firm hand he will assert his rule over them and actually separate them from the nations they have been scattered to. As in the Exodus, he will take them into a “desert of the nations” (perhaps the land between these nations and Israel) where he will judge them. The “rod” refers to the means of discipline, and “bond of the covenant” to him dealing with them according to their agreement (see Deut 28-30). The sense is that during the return, he will purge the rebellious Israelites from the people, so only a faithful remnant reach Israel itself (20v32-38). It’s unclear how this was fulfilled. It may refer to an event not mentioned in scripture during the return, or to Ezra’s punishment of those not keeping the law as commanded by Artaxerxes (see Ez 7v26). To certainly looks to how Christ will separate the sheep from the goats on the last day (Matt 25v31-46).
            God continues by telling Israel through the elders to carry on in their idolatry, but promising that when finally on Mount Zion, they will listen, no longer profane his name, but serve him. And he will accept them, and so require right worship from them, and show himself holy to the nations – presumably by the holiness he works within his people, as then, they will know he is the LORD and loathe their previous conduct. What is striking however, is that we are told this will take place because God does not deal with them as they deserve, but for his name’s sake – that is for the sake of his own reputation and glory (20v39-44). This is of course the only grounds for his willingness to show such mercy to us. And it makes our holiness that bit more important, that it would display his holiness to the world.
            With all this said, Ezekiel is called to preach against a forest in the south, that it is about to be consume by an unquenchable fire. Previously the kingdom of Israel has been referred to as a cedar (17v3-4), and this is no doubt a prophetic prediction of the coming devastation of Jerusalem and Judea.
            In chapter 21, Ezekiel is then told to preach against the sanctuary (temple) and land, declaring God’s sword will come against both the righteous and the wicked throughout the land. Although chapter 18 has affirmed the righteous will not suffer specific punishment, because this one is against the nation they are included. We’re told that on experiencing this, the people will know God is acting in judgement. Ezekiel is to groan before those in exile, explaining how what will happen will cause every heart to faint. What follows states that there will be no rejoicing in the kingly line from Judah as God’s sword is against them too, causing the fulfilment of God’s promise to David to come into question (21v1-13). Having been called to stress the coming slaughter (21v14-17), Ezekiel seems to be required to draw a map with two roads, one to the Ammonite city of Rabbah, and one to Judah and Jerusalem, with a signpost to the city. He is to say how Nebuchadnezzar will consult his idols for guidance at the crossroads and God will ensure the lot signals for him to besiege Jerusalem. This will seem a false omen to those in Jerusalem who have made a treaty with Nebuchadnezzar (ie. Zedekiah), but his actions in enslaving them will remind them that they are guilty before God (21v18-24). Ezekiel continues, that Zedekiah’s time for punishment has come. So those exalted in Jerusalem will be brought low, whilst the lowly, who trust God will be exalted, presumably in their return from exile. The king is therefore to remove his crown. And it is stressed that it, and by consequence, the kingly line, will be a ruin until the one to whom it belongs comes. This refers to the awaited Messiah (see Gen 49v10). And Zedekiah was the last king of Israel before Christ. (21v25-27).
            The final oracle is against the very Ammonites who seem to have been spared because God moved Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem (see 21v20). The LORD declares that they too will be slaughtered by the sword despite false prophecies that they would not be. However, he then declares that the one wielding the sword (Nebuchadnezzar) will return to his land of origin (Babylonia) where he himself will face God’s wrath, being judged and killed by others so that he is no longer remembered in the sense of not being acknowledged (21v28-32). None escape God’s judgement.
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that in his concern for his own glory he doesn’t treat us as we deserve. Pray that you would nevertheless acknowledge your sin before him.
Thinking further:
None today.

If you receive this post by email, visit and make a comment.


Post a Comment