Thursday, 20 November 2014

(325) November 21: Ezekiel 22-23 & James 2

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 sins Samaria and Jerusalem are condemned for.

To ponder:
The LORD asks Ezekiel if he will judge Jerusalem for her bloodshed and detestable idolatry. He is to declare that she is doomed and will become an object of scorn to the nations because of the guilt this has led to (22v1-5). The princes in Jerusalem in particular are denounced for holding their parents in contempt, oppressing foreigners and the needy, despising the things of the temple, and breaking the Sabbath. Different categories of men are then condemned: those who shed blood, those who commit idolatry and immorality in breach of God’s laws on sex, who take bribes, who engage in extortion and forget God (22v6-12). Signifying his anger, God says he will clap his hands at the unjust gain and bloodshed, asking if the people will have sufficient courage to endure the day he deals with them. He promises to put an end to their uncleanness by scattering them amongst the nations where they will be defiled – presumably by the nations’ uncleanness. Then, he states, they will know he is the LORD (22v13-16).
            He continues that Israel have become like the dross left in a furnace. So he will deal with them accordingly - burning them up and melting them in his wrath. He states the land has experienced a drought in this day of his wrath. He then condemns every category of person: (1) Israel’s royal princes for devouring people like a lion, and plundering them; (2) her priests for doing violence (perhaps twisting) to the law, profaning God’s holy things in the temple (no doubt by allowing idolatrous practices), teaching no difference between clean and unclean, and not caring about people keeping God’s Sabbaths; (3) her officials for killing people for gain; (4) her prophets who justify these practices with false visions; (5) the people more generally, for exhortation, and oppressing the needy and foreigners (22v17-29). Using a military metaphor, God declares that in all this he looked for someone who would build up the people’s broken walls (their spiritual ruin) and stand in the gap (their lack of godliness) so that God as the enemy would not be able to break in with his wrath. But he found none, and so will destroy them. The point is that there was no-one who could bring the people to true repentance. Of course, this highlights the need of Christ who both renews our hearts into holiness and takes the full force of God’s wrath upon himself so that we might be protected from it.
            What follows is a story of two daughters who became prostitutes in Egypt when young. They are named as Samaria (the northern capital) and Jerusalem (the southern), who as the united kingdom of Israel first went after idols when in Egypt before Moses. Whilst still God’s, Ohalah (Samaria) then lusted after the upper society of Assyria, no doubt in desiring an alliance and shared culture with them, and defiling herself with their idols. Therefore, God says, he handed her over to them so they striped and killed her, taking her children away – into exile. Despite seeing this however, Oholibah (Jerusalem) was actually even more depraved, not only prostituting herself to Assyria in this way, but with the Chaldeans (ie. Babylonians), who then came and defiled her. She is said to have turned away in disgust – referring to Judah’s rebellions (see 2 Kgs 18-24), yet still increased her prostitution, recalling her idolatry in Egypt. This is described in the most graphic way to emphasize its depravity and intensity. And we are told that because of all this, God turned from her in disgust (23v1-21). There is a sense on the individual level too, that those who come to belong to God can long for and return to their past sins, bringing judgement upon themselves.
            To Oholibah (Jerusalem) God promises that in his fury at her sin, he will bring her Babylonian and Assyrian lovers against her in punishment. The very soldiers she lusted after will therefore attack her, taking away her children into exile, burning and plundering those remaining, and leaving Jerusalem naked, exposed, and shamed for what she has done. The reason seems to be that by this means God will ensure Jerusalem will no longer look back to Egypt or engage in her prostitution (23v22-31). He is prepared to use even the greatest hardships to draw his people to himself from their sin.
            Here God uses the familiar language of “cup” to describe his judgement. The image stresses the depth of judgement Jerusalem will drink – so much so that she will smash her cup having drained the dregs. It also stresses the consequences of the judgement in sorrow and ruin like those of the drunkard. So Jerusalem will tear the breasts in mourning that were once fondled in grief. God is clear, because she thrust him from her she must bear the consequences of her sin, whereas she might have been forgiven if she had only returned to him. So Ezekiel is commissioned to confront both Samaria and Jerusalem for their adultery, violence, idolatry, child sacrifice, defiling of the Sabbath – and of the temple by entering it after committing idolatry. 23v40-45 pictures the two cities sending for the envoys of other lands and preparing themselves like lewd women to offer them what should be offered to God. It adds that they also received from them goods, no doubt to give a false sense of commitment by way of an alliance. But although they entered the relationship like adulteresses, God then determined that the cities in punishment should be used like prostitutes, so the nations metaphorically slept with them, gaining from them what they wanted. Picturing a court in Israel, God declares that righteous men will sentence them to the penalty of adultery and murder – which is death. Perhaps the sense is that the righteous should recognise the fitness of their destruction. So God calls the mob (ie. the nations) to stone them and cut them down as would have been done with an adulterer. And again, as with that punishment, it is so that such lewdness ceases in the wider land, other women (cities) take warning, and these two cities know that God is the LORD (23v46-49). It’s a warning against such practices in our day, and a reminder that the most extreme penalties in Israel were not vindictive, but intended to ensure purity amongst the people and deter others from the same acts.
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for sending Christ to stand in the gap. Pray that the church today would learn from what happened to Jerusalem.
Thinking further:
None today.

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