After the Fall of Israel in 722 BC, the primary message of God's prophets changed from warnings of impending punishment from God, to one of certain restoration if they would sincerely repent from their rebellion against God. Ezekiel found himself in Challenging circumstances but used of God in Prophecy.
Studying the Prophets
At the onset of each opportunity to study the rulers or the prophets of Israel, it pays large dividends to review the historic timeline of Israel’s development to get the context of God’s interaction with His people. As quoted below, the New Testament letter to the Hebrews begins with the words, “1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” (Heb 1:1-2). As God communicated directly with His people, it set up a perfect theocracy; a nation managed by the very hand of God. God spoke to the priests or prophets and those words became the policies and procedures of what Israel would do. Over Israel’s history, there were periods when the earthly manager the prophets interacted with would be patriarchs, judges or kings even while in exile.
Interpreting the messages delivered by the prophets is simplified after first learning the context of the prophetic material delivered. These contexts are changed by national, political and/or positional considerations.
First, it is important to know that the Nation of Israel found its source and its name in a person. Abraham and Sarah form the family at the center of the discussion. Pieces of the Abrahamic Covent are referenced in several places, but the crux of it is the idea that man can find grace in God through man’s heartfelt beliefs. When God shared His call to Abraham, He told him he would be the father of many nations. Nevertheless, by the time Abraham was nearly 100 years old and Sarah was 90, they had no offspring. But in Genesis 15: 4-6, the Lord spoke to Abraham to make His plans clear. “4 And, behold, the word of the LORD [came] unto (Abraham), saying, (Ishmael) shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. 5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. 6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen 15:4-6).
Studying the Prophets (Continued)
This was a major transition in linking personal belief and imputed divine righteousness in a cause-and-effect relationship. That is, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted it to him for righteousness.” Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Again, personal belief yielding imputed divine righteousness.
Genesis 25:24-26 document that Isaac and Rebekah had twin grandsons for Abraham and Sarah. Esau was the eldest and Jacob was the youngest, nevertheless, Esau sold his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a bowl of pottage (Genesis 25:29-34). Jacob had 12 sons by two wives (Racheal and and Leah and their handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah. God renamed Jacob (heel-catcher or supplanter) to Israel (rule as God and posterity) (Gen 35:10).
Joseph was the name of the 11th son but first born of Israel’s intended wife, Racheal. Out of jealousy, the older sons sold Joseph into slavery but told Israel of his murder in the fields. God protected and blessed Joseph to where he became 2nd only to the Pharoah in Egypt and was master over their vast store of food in an otherwise famine-stricken region. God used Joseph to save Israel and provide them with plenty instead of regional famine.
Four hundred years later, Israel was in cruel bondage to Egypt and God sent Moses to lead them out. Their disobedience to God resulted in 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, but eventually to divide share in God’s promised land for sharing among the 12 tribes. The actual taking of the promised land and its divisions was done by Moses’ successor, Joshua (see Bible book by same name).
Studying the Prophets
As Joshua led the founding and distribution of land in the promised land, there were a few noteworthy exceptions. First, the tribe of Levi had become solely responsible for the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the Temple once built. Their inheritance or portion of the promised land would be associated with the care of God’s buildings and services. As Jacob was on his death bed, Joseph came to him with his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh and Jacob blessed them as sons just as Reuban and Simeon were to him. So, Joseph received the double blessing that the eldest child would normally receive and fulfilled the number of Tribes of Israel back to 12.
The earlier years of Israel’s chosen Governmental structure was that of a theocracy, frustrations with the quality of leadership and corruption of the same caused the people to insist on having a king, just like other nations (1 Sam 8:5). And God allowed Saul to be anointed as Israel’s first king and leader over Israel’s first monarchy (1 Sam 10:1).
Saul was the people’s choice, not God’s and he resulted in disappointment and shame. God had chosen David, Son of Jesse as king and sent Samuel to anoint him years earlier (1 Sam 16:1-13). But when King Saul was dead, David was chosen and anointed to become King of all Israel (2 Sam 5). Solomon was the second son between David and Bathsheba and he succeeded David as King. However, God was angry with Solomon because of the wives he chose of other faiths and how he allowed those gods to be represented throughout the land (1 Kings 11:9-13). God divided Israel after Solomon’s reign in the 10 tribes of the north (Israel) and the 2 tribes of the south (Judah).
Both nations sinned against the Lord and the Northern Kingdom was defeated in 722 BC and taken captive by Assyria. These tribe are often referred to as the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel. The Southern 2 tribes were taken captive by Babylon in 586 BC. Prophets, both major and minor, would prophesy based on where they were chronologically, that is, preexilic, exilic and post exilic. We will find Ezekiel and Daniel as Exilic Prophets.
Studying the Prophets
The illustration titled “Timeline of the Prophets” provides a pictural view of the Prophets, both Major Prophets and Minor Prophets relative to the the dates mentioned above. The messages of the prophets shown before the Fall of Israel will have a message of warning to combined Kingdom of their impending judgement by God if they did not repent of their ways and surrender to Him. These would be prophets like Jonah, Joel, Amos, Hosea, Micah and Isaiah. As an aside, the designation of a prophet as a major prophet or minor prophet has nothing to do with their message or importance; rather, the difference in designation is made based on the length of the writing.
Prophets that spoke after the Fall of Israel but before the Fall of Judah would have an exilic message to Israel but a preexilic message to Judah. Those would be like Jeremiah, Nahum, Obadiah, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. Those prophets who prophesied after 586 BC would have an exilic message to Israel and Judah. Those prophets shown after 544 BC would be providing postexilic messages to all Israel. These are prophets like Ezra, Haggai, Nehemiah, Malachi and Zechariah.
Note also that there is no chronological order to the prophets as they are listed in the Scriptures. So, the best way to understand the context of their messages is to look at the date references and remember when the associated history events took place.
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Understand the Context (Ezekiel 1:1-7:27)
Ezekiel, whose name means “Whom God will strengthen,” was called by God into the prophetic ministry in 592 BC. The Fall of Israel had already taken place at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 BC. The Babylonians had begun attacking Judah (the Southern 2 Tribes of Israel’s 12 tribes) to find the best of the leadership and mind-thrust for themselves. Ezekiel was taken captive in the second of such attacks in 597 BC (he was captured 5 years before he was called by God as a prophet). His early reception of the wheel-within-the-wheel vision helps us see Ezekiel’s vision of God as well as catch any message God intended for Ezekiel’s ministry.
First, it is always clear that a wheel or ring or any other circular devise depicts the infinite nature of the item in the vision. Add to that, every wheel was covered with eyes. Eyes are made for seeing, so these wheels have an infinite capacity for seeing. The wheels are inside and perpendicular to one another so their capability to see everything in all directions is a key attribute. Add to that, Ezekiel is in captivity in Babylon. He may believe he has limited vision or that God might not see where he is or what his circumstances are. God is infinitely aware and has full sight of everything everywhere. So, Ezekiel 1:1-14 presents Ezekiel’s vision of God and His angelic host, 1:15-25 shows the far-reaching scope of Divine Providence and 1:26-28 reveal the “Son of Man” on His heavenly throne.
Chapters 2 and 3 drill down into exactly what Ezekiel’s calling is as a prophet. The vision Ezekiel receives is one of a scroll, or rolled up document, which is to be fully consumed by its recipient, Ezekiel. Recall this is how the message of the Revelation was delivered to John (Rev 5:1). The scroll was opened one seal after another for 7 seals and this was the Seven Seals of Judgement opening the Great Tribulation. Likewise, Ezekiel had to fully consume this scroll to see his calling under God. First, Ezekiel was to tell the rebellious nation of Israel (Judah is all that remains) everything God has to say in the scroll. Second, God tells Ezekiel he is not responsible for the responses of the people but fully responsible for faithful delivery of the messages of the scroll.
Understand the Context (Ezekiel 1:1-7:27)
Ezekiel Chapters 4 and 5 reveal several prophetic messages Ezekiel was to act out to reveal God’s warnings to His people. First, God had Ezekiel deliver a brick to the captive Jews so they could better understand the gravity of Jerusalem’s final siege. Jesus used this same figure while looking at Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and testifying that there will not be one stone left upon another (Matt 24:2. Mark 13:2 & Luke 21:6). Jesus was describing the state of Jerusalem after the attacks of 70 AD. Ezekiel was describing the results of the total overthrow of Jerusalem in 586 BC. In both cases, the calamity of the end was physical, emotional and spiritual devastation for the Jewish people.
Next, Ezekiel was to show himself laying on each of his sides for a revealed number of days to show Israel’s number of years in rebellion. Then he was to eat and drink only the smallest rations in the sight the Jewish captives to show how sparse rations were in Jerusalem since their captivity began. Finally, Ezekiel was to shave his head and divide what he had into three to show God’s complete judgement on Israel. But he was to also show symbols of restoral so the people knew that while God was punishing them, God had not left them and would save them again. He would start fresh with a remnant of believers and reestablish His nation again.
At the delivery of these messages, Israel rejected Ezekiel and his message. They rebelled against God, His message and His messenger. God responded with doom and despair for all as described. He showed no pity, removed all wealth the nation once had, showed victory after victory for Israel’s enemies. Chapter 7 shows that Israel finally responds but very much too late.
Prepared (Ezek 3:8-11)
Here, God shows Ezekiel that he was face adversity in this assign, but that God’s provision is far better than man’s rebellion. God announces that He has made Ezekiel’s face stronger against their faces and his head stronger against their heads (vs. 8). God says He made Ezekiel’s head as hard as flint against this rebellious people and Ezekiel is not to fear them in any way. God also warns Ezekiel of the looks of hate and anger he would see in their faces toward him. But, as is always the case, those operating under the charge of the Lord are far mightier than any enemy can muster.
In verse 10, God reiterates Ezekiel’s mission. God calls Ezekiel “Son of man” as he tells him to preach every word that God has given him for the captives. Every word that Ezekiel has received in his heart and has heard with his ears are to be parts of his message to the captives, the children of your people. Speak to them and then forcibly speak to them saying, Thus sayest the Lord God of Israel.” God reminds him that he remains without charge for whether the rebellious people hear the message or not. He is not accountable for their belief or their responses, but he is gravely responsible for speaking the words God gave him to speak. Does that not remain God’s way until this day. The called of God must deliver God’s message but the responsibility for responding remains with the hearer of God’s Word.
Overwhelmed (Ezek 3:12-15)
Verses 3:12-15 documents still another supernatural step God takes care to do even if we feel we have all the power needed to accomplish His mission for you. “Overwhelmed” is a more than appropriate word to describe how God prepares His people to deliver His message. Ezekiel says, “12 Then the spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of the LORD from his place. 13 I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and a noise of a great rushing. 14 So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me” (Ezek 312-14). Ezekiel takes us back to the visions of his calling of the Lord on his life. Here is the vision of the wheels within the wheels. Recall the significance of the eyes that could see everywhere. The heart of man can hold no secret though or intent from the all-seeing gaze of the Lord. Now, we see Ezekiel armed with this absolutely terrible power of God.
Almost as if it is surprising to Ezekiel, his first knowledge of the proximity of the living creatures is the rustling of their wings as they touched each other along with the great noise of the wheels with them. I can only imaging that the sounds of this display from the God of the universe forced the revelation in Ezekiel’s heart that any help he needed even far beyond what he felt he needed was there in the awe-inspiring vision of these living creatures. The application here is typical of the Lord in the callings He has given to each of us. “Overwhelming” falls far short of the presence of the Lord I have seen and felt when entering into a life-threatening ordeal for Him. He routinely provides the abundant power to overcome any challenge at the exact point of need.
Here, we have one man who has been called to speak to many thousands of people who have already hardened their hearts against the God of the universe. Certainly, they would look down at the picayune present of this one man and fully believe thet could overcome him forth with. All the odds of victory were on the sides of the people; not the prophet. And it is this need that God responded to for Ezekiel in such an overwhelming fashion. It so lifted the spirit within Ezekiel that he not only felt lifted up with the support of the supernatural power of the living God, he also felt taken away (vs. 14). He went in holy anger, under the full power of the Lord. In short, Ezekiel felt COMPELLED to go to the rebellious people and meet them with whatever level of power he needed in order to be heard by them.
Verse 15 announces that he arrived at his destination; he was at the place of Israel’s captivity at Tel Abib by the river Chebar. And the peace that Ezekiel felt allowed him to walk in in glorious full power of God and “sat where they sat.” Further, he remained there among them for seven full days. He confesses to being astonished in their presence, probably that God so totally dominated the meeting that all were at peace during the delivery of God’s message to the captivity.
Assigned (Ezek 3:16-21)
When those seven days were over, the Word of the Lord came to Ezekiel saying, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel. Therefore, hear the word of my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezek 3:16). This is an announcement of a follow-on assignment for Ezekiel. The idea of the watchman was of a man walking on the fence surrounding the city at night and announcing a breach when heard or seen. The city would be warned and ready to neutralize whatever that threat might be, before he could cause any harm. The watchman had the informal role of being awake and alert while the rest of the city slept. He was the guard, the guardian, the protector, the voice announcing a penetration of the city’s primary protection mechanism. The watchman was the one designated to be at risk during his watch so that others would be safe.
But the warning being discussed here is not from the one on the wall; rather, it was not from the countryman hired or appointed for that watch. Verse 17 says that the watchman is to hear the voice of my mouth, and give them warning from me. Here are the Lord’s specific instructions for this watchman. He says, “When I say to the wicked, ‘Thou shalt surely die;’ and thou givest him not the warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked [man] shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” The Lord is warning that if the watchman (Ezekiel) is told to warn a person and refuses to do so, the wicked man will still die, but the blood of that man will be required of the watchman. In verse 19, the Lord addresses the alternative possibility that the Lord issues a warning and the watchman passes on the required warning to the evil man, but the man refuses to hear, the wicked man will die, but the watchman has saved his soul from any guilt.
Assigned (Ezek 3:20-21)
Verses 20-21 repeat the same information again, but in this case, the subject is not a wicked man but a righteous one. The scenario is that the righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity. The Lord continues that He would establish a stumbling block before the righteous man, and he will die because the watchman did not warn him. The Lord states that He will require that man’s blood of the watchman’s hands.
Notice in summary that the appointed watchman has the responsibility to warn the person the Lord identifies regardless of whether the person is a wicked man or a righteous man. Whether the person notified repents or not, has no impact on the watchman. However, in either case, if the watchman was notified to warn that man, and the watchman does not warn the man, the blood of that person will be required of that watchman.
Is there an implied application for all of us who carry the Gospel of Christ in our hearts? Do we not have a required response whenever the Lord lays the name of a person needing the Gospel on our hearts? We are not warned about our success in delivering the Gospel to that person, but instead, warned that failure to deliver that Gospel to that person in need, would result in the Lord requiring the blood of that person of our hands. This is the Doctrine of the Watchman.
Understand the Context (Ezekiel 8:11)
As God provides revelation to the Prophet Ezekiel, He uses visions which appear to the receiver as actual trips from an existing location, time or space to different ones. Most people will recall Charles Dickens’ Christmas Story where Ebenezer Scrooge receives visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future. In the Dickens’ tale, Scrooge is transported from his bedroom to three other times and places. In the revelations to Ezekiel, he too is transported to experience other times and places in the histories of Israel and Judah. Ezekiel experiences the actual wickedness and depth of depravity of God’s people as He shows him the current spiritual condition of Jerusalem. He witnesses God’s mercy terminated and His perfect, yet relentless, judgement applied. He sees the departure of God’s glory from the Temple in preparation for its abandonment by Judah. Ezekiel has the experience of widespread sin and unrestrained evil across Judah.
But Ezekiel also gets to see God’s mercy and plan for future restoral even while he witnesses the reckless abandon of all God held holy. Ezekiel’s description reminded me of Paul’s statement about us in his letter to the Church at Rome. He said, “6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:6-8). Ezekiel watched the open rebellion of Judah against the God Who created them, and, while they continued to sin, God revealed to Ezekiel His plan for mercy and restoral as a nation. It is hard to humanly imagine the love and compassion of the heart of God.
Understand the Context (Ezekiel 12-19)
Ezekiel’s reaction is shown in Chapters 12-19. It begins with his acting out for the people to his packing his belongings to depart for exile away from the promised land. God’s patience and mercy had come to an end. Anyone who remained in Jerusalem after God’s warnings would be forced into exile in Babylonia regardless of their response to God’s judgement. There would no longer be any delay in God’s execution of wrath on the disobedient and final exile for Judah.
Nevertheless, false prophets continued to preach peace with God while Ezekiel already heard from God regarding His promised absence of peace at this time. Those practicing pagan religions would continue to their terrible and irreversible end in eternal condemnation.
The elders of Judah began appealing to Ezekiel to change his mind, but it was not Ezekiel’s mind to change. God, Himself was announcing this judgement and it would not be changed. While the Lord trusted the elders to provide sound judgement and reliable leadership, they had failed to do either. They had not only failed personally; they were leading weaker ones into idolatry, as well. They had multiplied the seriousness of their crime by teaching error to those for whom God was holding them accountable for worship leadership. These leaders were detestable.
So, God’s patience was at end. There was no longer any mercy left for these guilty of such multiplied crime against Him. God’s next move was to declare His Holy City, Jerusalem, DESOLATE, or totally without holiness or even the most basic religious value. Jerusalem’s leadership had become involved in religious prostitution. Much is said throughout the Old Testament about Israel’s unfaithfulness to her one true God. The Book of Hosea renders the idea of God asking Hosea to marry a woman who was a known prostitute to be his wife. After years of marriage, she returned to her profession leaving Hosea with a prostitute as a wife. God told Hosea to go after her again in spite of her shortcomings. I Ezekiel we see another person who is given to this very personal of sins, but the prostitution here, is that of prostituting oneself after a false god. The figure of religious prostitution is an effective one. All Israel knew the penalty for unfaithfulness was stoning.
Called Out (Ezekiel 11:2-4)
Recall that God had called Ezekiel as a watchman over Judah; symbolic of the watchmen who watched over Jerusalem from the mighty wall surrounding Judah’s prized possession – “The City of God.” Ezekiel was specifically called to announce God’s warnings regardless of the response of the people being warned. In short, God said, if you warn these when I tell you to warn them, I will not require their blood of your hands, but if you do not warn them when I tell you to warn them, then their blood will be required of your hands. So, regardless of the blessing or condemnation God has in store for the perpetrators, He expects obedience from the Watchman regarding His warnings.
Ezekiel 8:16 advises that there are 24 heads of courses and the high priest who were sun worshippers and tried to lead all of Judah in that direction. Ezekiel 9:6 tells us that the Lord was sufficiently certain of this ending and its subsequent exile, that He had already removed His Glory from the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem’s Temple. God now advises Ezekiel that this same group of people mentioned earlier are the ones who are devising evil against the nations and are giving wicked advice to leadership. They are telling the people that, in spite of prophecies announcing the destruction of Jerusalem, this is the right time to build new houses to prepare for the long run. In other words, ignore predictions of Jerusalem’s fall and buy lands and build new homes for its long and prosperous future. They added that Jerusalem was like an iron pot and the people were like morsels of meat in the pot. The false teachers meant that the people were safe in the strength of the iron pot, but, just like the frog in the boiling water, the people of Jerusalem would be eliminated.
God’s direction to Ezekiel was simply to prophesy loudly and clearly against them (vs. 4). The truth from God will always trump the devil’s folly and lies.
Gathered (Ezekiel 11:14-17)
In the verses after 11:4 but before 11:14, God destroys the whole message of the false teachers and assures them the “iron pot” of Jerusalem will have no protection for them because He will take them out of the city and into the hands of the captors to complete His judgement against them. There would be no escape from the hand of the Lord. While Ezekiel was still hearing the Lord’s comments, he received word that Pelatiah, son of Benaiah suddenly died. This was one of the two men named specifically in Ezekiel 11:1. So, Ezekiel asks Him, “Oh Sovereign Lord, are You going to kill everyone in Israel?” (Exek 11:13, NLT).
His response starts in 11:14 by addressing Ezekiel as “Son of man” again. He says, “The people remaining in Jerusalem right now are saying that all those taken into exile have relinquished their rights to any land they had in Israel, and they are very far from the Lord. Now, all their land belongs to we who have remained.” (Vs. 11:15, NLT).
But God says to Ezekiel, “Therefore say, Thus sayest the Lord God, Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be unto them as a sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.” That is Israel (Judah) may be scattered but I will be their strength while away from the promised land. Further, He says, “Thus sayest the Lord God, I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel” (Ezek 11:17).
God is saying very clearly that He will come to get the people who have been scattered and restore them to the promised land they once owned plus the land abandoned by those refusing to enter exile with the others. This is speaking of forgiveness of past sin, return to the fold of the chosen of Israel, and newly rewarding all that was originally awarded to those entering the promised land under Joshua’s leadership. This is a total restart for Israel and Judah.
Sanctified (Ezekiel 11:18-21)
But what needs to change as God returns the scattered to their inheritance? The Lord begins His revelation of that answer in verse 11:18. First, God says when they return, they must remove every trace of their vile images and detestable idols. This will cleanse the nation of the idols and false gods of the past. But God knows He must go much deeper than that to cleanse the returning captives to the promised land. God must modify the internal part of man to take away his drive to rebellion and disobedience. Verse 19 says God will give them a new heart; one united heart. And put a new spirit within their hearts. It must be one heart; not the stony heart they had when they entered captivity, but a heart of flesh that God will provide. Verse 20 says it must be a heart of flesh that will drive the people to walk in God’s statutes rather than each person going his own way.
Verse 20 provides a view of how God sees the environment of the returned people. It sounds so nearly perfect that many believe it may have near-term and long-term fulfillments of prophesy. That is, it could be that God is revealing to Ezekiel how things will be in the restoral after the exile, while at the same time, He is revealing to a wider audience how He will restore us to the New Jerusalem after the Tribulation and Millennial Periods are finished, in other words, the final restoration. Note the words, “and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” John records the words of the Lord at His establishment of the New Jerusalem as, “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev 21:3). The words are nearly identical, and we have the benefit of seeing the results of the several partial returns of Judah from exile starting about 433 BC. We know they revolted against God many more times and finally rejected Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah and only Son of God. In the New Jerusalem, the restoral will be final and complete. God will once again live along with His created beings.
In the restoration of those returning from exile, God knows the hearts of those being restored, and states that those who are not willing to be changed away from their belief in the teachings of the false prophets and false teachers (the detestable things and their abominations) will receive the just penalties for their rebellious hearts. God tells Ezekiel He will recompence their ways upon their own heads” (Ezek 11:21). In the case of the final restoration, God says, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev20:15). The word is that not everyone will receive the Good News of the Gospel of Christ. Those who refuse will certainly receive the penalty of their choice on their own heads.
God always stands ready to hear any person who wants to change his or her mind to believe that Jesus paid for their sin and is ready to rescue anyone who believes that Jesus died for our sin, was resurrected and lives at the right hand of God (see Romans 10:9-10).
Understand the Context (Ezekiel 20:1-24:27)
Ezekiel Chapter 20 starts with some of the Elders of Israel coming to Ezekiel to ask for a word from the Lord. (This was only the southern two tribes of Judah and Benjamin because Israel’s 10 northern tribes had fallen to the Assyrians in 722 BC.) It is strange that they would seek a word from the Lord when their record of disobedience against Him spoke so loudly against them. But it was August 14th of Jehoiachin’s 7th year. The first of two devastating attacks on Judah (Jerusalem) had taken place on March 16, 597 BC. The second (and final) attack would take place in 586 BC and set the final defeat of Judah and transportation of most of its population to Babylon. The Temple of God (Solomon’s Temple) was dishonored, completed sacked and leveled. In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, would replace Jehoiachin, the King of Judah, with Zedekiah, a king more of his liking.
But in the study of Ezekiel 20, we remain at 592/591 BC as elders await a word from the Lord after inquiring of Ezekiel at the beginning of this chapter. The message back to the elders through Ezekiel was a question of how the elders could even dare to ask for a word when their relationship with God had been so disrespectful for decades. So, instead of responding with a word from the Lord, Ezekiel is directed by the Lord to issue charges against then and condemn them (Ezek 20:4).
The remainder of Chapter 20 is a record of the Lord’s reminders for the elders to review concerning the sin of Israel versus the patience and grace for God. The latter chapters of Genesis document how ten sons of Israel (Jacob) conspired to murder Joseph and finally sold him into slavery. But Joseph ended up in Egypt where God gave him the answer to Pharaoh’s dream of seven fat cows and seven lean cows (Gen 41). Joseph was, in turn, used of the Lord to save Israel and his sons to Egypt where the only source of food during the famine. During the next 400 years, many of Israel accepted the gods of Egypt over Jehovah and worshipped the false gods and idols. After those 400 years in Egypt, the Book of Exodus begins “Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph” (Ex 1:8). Israel became their slaves and they suffered terrible bondage, but God rose Moses to deliver them from bondage. Yet, even as they received the Ten Commandments at the beginning of that freedom, they built an Egyptian calf to worship at the foot of Sinai (Ezek 20:9-17). Ezekiel continues in verses 18-26 how God warned them over and over that He would scatter them across many nations, but they continued their sin of idol worship and worse. Ezekiel’s generation followed the sins of their ancestors as described in 20:27-32, but nevertheless, God promised to have pity on them and one day restore their land (Ezek 20:33-44).
Understand the Context (Ezekiel 20:1-24:27, Cont)
In Chapter 21:1-17, God warns Ezekiel that His anger is growing daily at the open rebellion of Israel against Him through their reluctance to reject idol worship and human sacrifice. In 18-32 He finally warns them that they have no choices left other than being attacked immediately or being attacked after Ammon. God chooses to attack Israel immediately and describes the hot intensity of the battles. But, He also warns Ammon not to get any false security out of seeing Israel attacked first. Ammon would fall very shortly after God let Babylon have what remained of Israel (Judah).
Ezekiel Chapter 22-23 lists many of the ceaseless evil deeds of Israel against their God. Chapter 22 begins with the Lord asking a question of Ezekiel, “Now, thou son of man, wilt thou judge, wilt thou judge the bloody city? Yea, thou shalt shew her all her abominations” (Ezek 22:1-2). The language about “the bloody city” has much to do with the idol worship and the requirements of some of that worship for human sacrifice, even of little babies or children. God calls this all an abomination against Him. The list of abominations covers all ten of the commandments of God. The cause the shedding of innocent blood, vex the fatherless and the widows, despise holy things, profane the Sabbaths, discover their father’s nakedness, commit lewdness, commit lewdness and their neighbors’ wives, and more. The guilty include the priests, prophets, princes and leaders.
Chapter 23 hones in on the sisters Aholah and Aholibah who committed all kinds of prostitution in Israel, Assyria, Babylonia and Egypt. The Lord promises harsh judgements against them to remove them and their sin from Israel and stop and influence they might have had in the community. Verse 23:4 specifically explains that Aholah is a figure of Samaria (the northern 10 tribes of Israel) and Aholibah is Jerusalem (the southern 2 tribes, or Judah). The prostitution was the spreading of false religion and unfaithfulness to the Lord to all those nations. (See Hosea as another example God’s love for Israel as Israel repeatedly rejected Him.)
In Chapter 24, God announces Ezekiel’s ninth year as the time for Babylon’s final assault on Israel. God uses the death of the flower of Ezekiel’s eyes (his wife) to illustrate the pain He will feel as He allows the flower of His eye (Israel) to be taken by another nation. There were two successful assaults by Babylon on Judah. The assault in 597 BC was centered on establishing full domination of the country; the assault in 586 BC was centered on elimination of the country including full destruction of the Temple as a source of spiritual power. Everything God had ordained for Israel to be, was now called “desolate.”
Confronted (Ezekiel 20:1-4)
Here is another visit to Ezekiel by some of the elders of Israel. Because of the date (roughly 591 BC), we know that Israel had long since fallen to Assyria (722 BC). We also know that the first defeat of Judah by Babylon has passed (597 BC). So, the elders were visiting the Prophet of Judah. The first obvious question is why the dating of this visit is so accurately given? First, it established the exact amount of time that had passed since Judah’s King Jeconiah had been carried away from Judah. It also showed that the seventy years to the promised restoral was passing quickly.
One can only hope that the people of all Israel will recall the reasons God allowed them to be taken into exile will be remembered as often as God’s promised restoral of the nation. The second reason for the detailed listing of the date of this meeting is to fix the date in the minds of the enquirers. It was the seventh year, fifth month and 1enth day since Jeconiah’s captivity which was also the same length of service for the Babylonian appointed King Zedekiah’s rule over Judah. Further, the elders would learn it was only two years and five months before Nebuchadnezzar’s final destruction of Jerusalem including Solomon’s Temple. The history is important because the elders did not hear and react to the prophecies of the defeat of Israel in 722 BC, they did not hear and react to the prophecies of the defeat of Judah in 597 BC and Ezekiel was told there would be no word from God for them this time (591 BC).
Instead, God tells Ezekiel to judge them harshly by reminding them of how they have reacted to God’s blessings and patience over the last decades and even centuries. So here, God directs Ezekiel to list the specific charges of abominable behavior toward Him by their fathers (Ezek 20:4).
Early Signs (Ezekiel 20:5-7)
So, God tells Ezekiel to take them back in history to the time when He first chose Israel and lifted up His hand to the offspring of the house of Jacob, and made Himself known to them in Egypt. Notice how God differentiates between when He will call Jacob’s offspring “Israel” and when He calls them “Jacob.” “Israel” is the chosen of God – He is the posterity of “Jacob.” “Jacob” on the other hand is the “heel-catcher, the supplanter.” When God wants to identify Israel in all its greatness and obedience to Him, He will call them “Israel.” However, in their disobedience and travel far from Him in their rebellion, they remain “Jacob.”
Here, God chose “Israel,” but he lifted His hand up unto the seed of “Jacob.” As He lists their offenses against Him over the years, he will not call them by the blessed name of Israel, but rather, as the tricky, dishonest, supplanter Jacob. In verse 5, God says He revealed Himself to them in the land of Egypt, and lifted up His hand saying, “I am the Lord, your God.” “I am Jehovah your Elohim (Gen 1:1 & Ex 20:1). (Just a quick note: Jehovah is taken as JHVH with added vowels. The other name for our God is Yahweh which is another way of taking YHWH with vowels added. Israel never spoken or wrote the name of their God; He was far to holy to be mentioned. Rather, they only listed the four consonants of His name. The J and Y were interchangeable as were the V and W.)
In Verse 6, God says it was in that same day that I lifted up my hand to Israel to bring them out of Egypt that He also told them He had espied (sought out) a special land for them; one flowing with milk and honey. God said it was the glory of all other lands (Ezek 20:6). In Verse 7, God levies His first requirement upon Israel. He knows they had become tarnished or dirty by the worship of false gods and idols in that land of Egypt, but now it is time for every man to cast away those abominations of his eyes and stop defiling yourselves with those idols of Egypt. As God prepared His people to occupy a land set aside for them (i.e., made holy for them), He wanted them to leave the filth of Egypt behind them (Ezek 20:7). Why does God want this? Because “I am the Lord your God (again “Jehovah, your Elohim”).
Early Signs (Ezekiel 20:8-9)
Continuing the verses 8 and 9, we hear the words of the actual charges Ezekiel was directed by God to say to Israel. God said, “But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me: they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, either did they forsake the idols of Egypt.” God’s reaction was predictable, He said, “I will pour out my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.” So, the anger of God was justifiably kindled against Jacob’s seed even before they got out of Egypt. We can read the story of how the people of Jacob were impatience that Moses was on Mount Sinai longer than they expected (Gen 32). They began melting down their gold jewelry to make a golden calf as they worshiped while in slavery. God wanted to end the relationship right there, but Moses (still on Sinai talking with God) interceded for Jacob and asked God not to let Egypt get the apparent victory over His people.
So, in Verse 9, God says, “But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it (Jacob) should not be polluted before the heathen (Egypt), among they [were], in whose sight I made my self known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt.” Moses had said to Him, “11 And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? 12 Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever” (Gen 32:11-13). The narrative continues that God listened to Moses and continued to lead the people toward the Promised Land. The Scripture says, “33 And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. 34 Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them. 35 And the Lord plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made” (Gen 32:33-35).
Repeated Rebellion (Ezekiel 20:10-14)
So, God completed the task of delivering the Ten Commandments (His statutes), and He gave Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers as His judgements, interpretations and applications of those statues (Ezek 20:10-11). And God said, “If a man do (these things), he shall even live in them.” In Verse 12, the Lord adds that He gave the people His Sabbaths, to be a sign between Him and them. The additional closeness and nearly direct revelation would result in them knowing that He is the Lord who sanctified them; that is, he has made them holy (Ezek 20:12).
But Verse 13 begins with the words that no one wanted to hear, “But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: that they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgements, which [if] a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them” (Ezek 20:13).
Nevertheless, just as the sinfulness of man endures forever, the righteousness of God endures forever. Verse 14 reveals that once again, God thought about the people who were there as His name’s sake. He reasoned that His name should not polluted with the godless people watching. God brought them out of Egypt based on “His people who are called by His name.” God’s patience has been tested all through His deliverance of us from what we really are. His frustration and His feelings about the inability of those people to keep a holy relationship with Him are well studied at this time of the year. It is almost like God decided that the only way we could be holy would be for Him to make us holy, Himself. At Christmas, God took up residence with us by giving His only Son, that anyone who would believe in Him would not perish but receive everlasting life (John 3:16). God really did make us holy when there seemed to be no hope. He has brought us peace and good will among men. He has indeed, worked the impossible in making us holy if we just accept who Jesus Christ is. The Scriptures tell us that anyone who will confess with his mouth the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in his heart that Jesus died and was raised from the dead, shall be saved from their sin (Rom 10:9-10). And like times past when the well-meaning people would dedicate themselves to lives for God, “Those who say they are His, ought to walk even as He walked” (1 John 2:6, paraphrased).
Understand the Context (Matthew 1:1-2:12)
The context for the Christmas Story according to Matthew is straight to the point. Matthew (aka, Levi, the Tax Collector) wanted to establish three primary facts in the first few paragraphs of his Gospel. The first was that Christ’s birth was the fulfillment of all the prophecy concerning the ancestry of the Messiah. The Old Testament established the fact that the Messiah had to be the Lion of Judah, a descendent of King David and a representative of all levels and kinds of people. Our passage in Matthew 1:1-17 begins with the words, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” So, Matthew established the royal linage of Jesus right away. At that point, verse 1:2 begins to describe how the Messiah was related to that ancestry.
The importance of Matthew’s ancestry for Jesus stems from those he included as well as those he left out. Right after he documented that Jesus was the son of King David and son of the patriarch Abraham, he lists Rahab (1:5), Ruth (1:5) and Bathsheba (1:6). Rahab was the prostitute of Jericho who provided access for the Jewish invaders to get inside the walled city before the attack (Josh 2:1). Ruth was the Moabitess (Moab was a cursed nation) who became King David’s Great Grand Mother (Ruth 1:4 & 4:17). Bathsheba was King David’s mistress whose husband he had killed in order to marry her (2 Sam 11-12). The point was clear, while Matthew showed Jesus had the highest of pedigrees, He also had the lowest. There is no one who should feel too high or too low Jesus’s care and ministry.
The circumstances of Jesus’ birth required that Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem, His mother had to be a virgin and the date of the birth had to support Daniel’s prophecy regarding when Jesus would enter Jerusalem to be recognized as the Messiah (Mic 5:2. Isa 7:14, Matt 1:22-23 & Dan 9:25).
Third, the presentation of the child had to match the complete humility of His coming, the fact that He was seen by the lowest rung s of society (the shepherds) and the highest (wise men of the east), seen directly under the star followed by the wise men and times to meet the historic facts of Herod’s slaughter of the Innocents (Jere 31:15). He had to be a Nazarene (from Nazareth), called out of Egypt yet born in Bethlehem. Jesus completely fulfilled all the prophecies stated hundreds and sometimes thousands of years before His birth.
The Arrival (Matthew 2:1-3)
Our focused study begins in Matthew 2:1-3. The immediate testimony is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea during the reign of King Herod. The physical distance from Bethlehem to Jerusalem was only a little over seven miles north, but the distance between the religious orthodoxy and foreign control was light years away. The Romans, through Herod and the local Roman garrison, used religion to control its occupied countries. The opening sentence also shares that there were wise men who had come from the east to Jerusalem. These were likely scholars of archeology and/or astronomy looking for solutions to unusual changes they had seen in the patterns of stars. Numbers 22-24 refer to the Balaam Cycle which looked at “Jacob’s Star” and eventually, in Numbers 24:17-18, Balaam declares Yahweh (Jehovah) as his God.
So, in verse 2, the scholars go to Herod with the question, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? We have seen His star in the east and are come to worship Him.” Now, this same Herod is the one who was a friend of Rome and was appointed as the King of all Judea. He had invested large sums of money to rebuild Judea including Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem. He had endeared himself to the religious zealots of Judaism as well as the empire-building enthusiasts of Rome. In his climb to king, he had murdered everyone he believed might be a threat to his success. This included many family members, several wives and even children. Verse, 3 says he was troubled at the news of a new King of the Jews and all of Jerusalem with him. This was a massive understatement – more likely, he was infuriated! After all, there could be only one King of the Jews.
The Direction (Matthew 2:4-8)
So, Herod gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together. He wanted all the most respected and highly educated people in the Jewish faith to meet with him and tell him where the Christ (Jewish Messiah) was to be born. This was a question often studied by the leaders of the religion because the Christ was to set them free from bondage (Roman occupation, in their understanding) when He came. So, the leaders quoted what the scriptures said, “In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet (Micah 5:2), ‘And thou Bethlehem, [in] the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel’” (Matt 2:5-6 & Micah 5:2).
Now, Herod knew the place so, he recalled the wise men to him (privately this time) and asked them when the star appeared (Matt 2:7). They told Herod earlier that they had been following the star, and He must have reasoned that the Christ may have been born when they first saw the star. Herod gave them the information he received from the Jewish leaders and sent them the Bethlehem to find the new King (Matt 2:8a). And, he gave them the following charge, “Go and search diligently for the young child; and when you have found [Him], bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also (Matt 2:8b). The wise men were probably sufficiently studied that they knew the history of Herod and the many stories of treachery he had amassed to this point, but they would not be sharing that information back to the Roman-appointed King of the Jews.
The Discovery (Matthew 2:9-12)
The wise men took the information on the prophesied location of the child and began their 7.1 mile trip south of Jerusalem for Bethlehem. Now, the miracle of the star they saw in the east continued as the star went ahead of them until it came and stood over where the young child was (Matt 2:9). When they saw the star and the way it seemed to come to rest over the place where Jesus was, they were extremely pleased and knew their searching had ended. They were full of joy.
So, the wise men from the east went into the house and saw the young child with Mary, His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him (Matt 2:11a). Notice a couple distinct differences here between the language in Luke 2. First, the shepherds “came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child” (Luke 216-17). There, Jesus was a newborn baby in a manger in a stable with Mary and Joseph nearby. In the story of the wise men, they entered “the house and saw the young child with Mary, His mother” (Matt 2:11). Unlike our best displays of the nativity scene, the visits of the shepherds and the wise men may have been separated by as much as two years. (When Herod ordered the “Slaughter of the Innocents,” he specified the murder of all male children in and around Bethlehem, two years old and younger in accordance with the information he received from the wise men (Matt 2:16).
The rest of verse 11 reveals that the wise men had brought treasures with them as gifts for the newborn King. The fact that the verse specifies gold, frankincense and myrrh has led some to believe there were three wise men, but the number of wise men is nowhere mentioned. Some have suggested that these men were of sufficient status and wealth that there may well have been an assigned entourage accompanying them.
The specific gifts have also led to some speculation about a prophecy concerning the wise men’s knowledge of the future of the child. First, the gold would provide for the upkeep of the King for some time to come. Second, the frankincense was often used for fragrance during prayer and symbolized the intervention of the Christ for people before God. And third, the myrrh was frequently used as a perfume during the burial services. Taken together, we see the gifts for a King who would make intercession for the people and destined to die for them.
Verse 12 finishes the thought of God’s warning to the wise men to forego any idea of returning to Herod to tell him where they found the child. The Scripture says, “And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way” (Matt 2:12). Not included in this study is Matt 2:16 which suggests that Herod was angry that the wise men did not return to report where they found the Messiah but given the history of death caused by Herod for all of his political opposition over the years, it was always certain that Herod would attempt to find and murder the Messiah.
The overwhelming story of Christmas will always find its way to the forefront of history. Here we can all celebrate the birth of the Christ of God. He came to give us the gift that no one else could or would give. “Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He came to pay the ransom for our salvation, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Tim 2:6). The greatest gift of any Christmas is to recall that gift given by God as represented by John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Understand the Context (Ezekiel 25:1-32:32)
One of the primary missions of the prophets was to deliver the messages of God to the people He identified, exactly the way He spoke them. The prophets had no license to change or modify the words of God; but only to deliver them just as God commanded. Recall the specifics of Ezekiel’s call to the ministry of prophet: God called him as a watchman for Him over Israel. He was to warn Israel of the dangers on the way. If He changed the words God gave him, the blood of those he was supposed to warn would be required of his hands.
In Ezekiel 25, God speaks words to several nations, and most of these nations would not be surprises to anyone in Israel. Consider Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia. Ammon and Moab were cursed nations because they were formed from the children born out of incest between Lot and his two daughters shortly after God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:30-38). Here. Ammon and Moab have rejoiced in the destruction of Israel. As a result, they were told they would feel the destruction of their lands and know that God is the Lord (Ezek 25:6-7).
Likewise, Edom was the land of Esau and his lifelong treachery toward his brother, Jacob. They have taken vengeance on Judah even though they were not enemies. God promised to cut off Edom from man and beast and have it declared desolate in the eyes of the world (Ezek 25:12-14). The word to Philistia was similar (Ezek 25:15-17). They acted against Judah because of bitter revenge over long-standing contempt. God said He would destroy their people and eliminate those who live by the sea.
Chapters 26 – 28 moves on to God’s judgement on Tyre, the seashore nation to the north of Israel. Tyre was rejoicing over the fall of Jerusalem. They felt like the destruction of Israel would cause them to be wealthy. The Lord’s message, however, was that there would be many nations crashing their shoreline to destroy their walls, tear down their towers and scrape away the soil of the ground. Ezekiel is given the details of exactly how God would destroy Tyre and what He has planned for their king. He says, “6 Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘Because you think you are as wise as a god, 7 I will now bring against you a foreign army, the terror of the nations. They will draw their swords against your marvelous wisdom and defile your splendor! 8 They will bring you down to the pit, and you will die in the heart of the sea, pierced with many wounds. 9 Will you then boast, 'I am a god!' to those who kill you? To them you will be no god but merely a man! 10 You will die like an outcast at the hands of foreigners. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken!’" (Eze 28:6-10, NLT].
God finishes His judgement on the nations with Egypt (Ezek 29-32). Just like His judgements on Tyre, God provides extensive detail on every move he would make against Egypt. Chapters 29-31 deal with judgements against the nation while Chapter 32 deals with specific judgements against its Pharaoh. God’s revelation to Ezekiel begins right to the point. God tells Ezekiel to tell the Pharaoh simply, “I am your enemy, O Pharaoh, king of Egypt – you great monster, lurking in the streams of the Nile. For you have said, ‘The Nile River is mine; I made it for myself.’” (Ezek 29:3). God’s response is, “9 The land of Egypt will become a desolate wasteland, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD. "Because you said, 'The Nile River is mine; I made it,' 10 I am now the enemy of both you and your river. I will make the land of Egypt a totally desolate wasteland, from Migdol to Aswan, as far south as the border of Ethiopia. 11 For forty years not a soul will pass that way, neither people nor animals. It will be completely uninhabited. 12 I will make Egypt desolate, and it will be surrounded by other desolate nations. Its cities will be empty and desolate for forty years, surrounded by other ruined cities. I will scatter the Egyptians to distant lands” (Ezek 29:9-12, NLT). The Lord makes His plans and reasons for those plans obvious for each of these countries.
Past Glory (Ezekiel 28:11-15)
Our focused study begins with Ezekiel 28:11-15. Earlier in this chapter, Ezekiel documented Tyre’s ego as being so intense that they were proclaiming their own deity. God’s reaction to any person or nation claiming personal deity will always be anger. The reason is simple: when God formalized His statutes for man in the Ten Commandments, the starting place was, “1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I [am] the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Ex 20:1-6). So, anything that stands between a person and the Lord is defined as an idol, and therefore, any person who worships such things is an idolator. As we have studied over the last several weeks, God has had His fill of Israel and Judah worshiping other gods, false religions and false prophets.
The word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel saying, “Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, ‘Thus saith the Lord God.’” (Ezek 28:12). God is telling Ezekiel that this message to the king of Tyre will be a funeral song for him. God admits that the king was the model of perfection while in the Garden of Eden (vs. 13). And then Ezekiel lists every precious stone that was included in the clothing of the king, and all of them were crafted into the finest gold and presented to you the day he was created. In short, the past glory of this king was that he was perfect and of extreme value to God. But He adds one more phrase to the verse 15 summary, “till iniquity was found in thee.” All was perfect until ego entered the equation.
Rebellion Denounced (Ezekiel 28:16-19)
The king began to lose the proper perspective on the source of his blessings of personal perfection and abundance of rich commerce. He was moving away from giving God the credit as the source of his blessings to believe he was the one who was responsible. “Self” had begun to take the king’s focus off God and on himself. The Hebrew word for violence in verse 16 is chamac. It means cruel, unjust, oppressive and unrighteous. In a word, the king allowed his ego to become the object of his worship. He became his own idol; that is, that thing that stood between himself and God has become self. In the most basic terms of God’s message in Exodus 20, the king has sinned because of self-worship.
God’s response to the king’s change of heart is found in the latter half of verse 16. He says, “and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire” (Ezek 28:16b). Just as Adam had rejected the only commandment God gave him in the garden, the king had rejected the first commandment God gave him. God explains this failure in verses 17 and 18 saying, “17 Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. 18 Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.” The king was about to be brought out and casted down. The once shining star was to become a burnt-out amber, and God was going to cause it to happen in the view of those who once held the king in the highest esteem. Jonathan Edwards preached the renowned sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and brought chills to the hearts of many listeners as he described men who were once great but were overtaken by the devils and demons of hell in their search of the entire earth seeking whom they might devour (1 Pet 5:8). Edwards’ sermon of 1741 began the Great Awakening which led many back to Christ and the attitudes of proper Christian worship. But quite the opposite was happening here – the king was hopelessly trapped by his mind’s fullness of his own image. The utilization of God’s rich blessings in great commercial trade was turned into the exploitation of his customers through dishonest trade. He became fully corrupt as he violated all of his personal holy places and misrepresented what God had done for him.
Ezekiel sums this view with the words, “All who knew you are appalled at your fate. You have come to a terrible end, and you will exist no more” (Ezek 28:19). The story would be less sad if it were not taking place almost daily in business, both secular and sacred, as we read these words. Many people who are blessed by God and rewarded with great success because of their personal relationship with Him, begin to take His blessings for granted and start counting His blessings as their personal achievements. When that step takes place, it bridges the idolatry gap and man (or woman) begins to take the place of God. Instead of deep gratitude and worship comes the inflated ego of self-achievement. God had Solomon write, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18). It is greatness brought to grief as “self” takes the place of God. As it was in the days of Ezekiel, it remains today; it is the epitome of plagiarism. It is the act of taking personal credit for work another has done – in this case, it is God’s work claimed by the king.
Hope Stirred (Ezekiel 28:25-26)
In the first bullet, Ezekiel is instructed by God to describe the past glories of the King of Tyre because of the blessings of God. In the second bullet, God tells Ezekiel to write about the rebellion of the king because he began to take personal credit for the work God had done. But even in this seemingly hopeless situation, God remembers His chosen, and gives them hope for the future.
God tells Ezekiel to write, “Thus sayest the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 28:25a). This is the signature set of words God and the prophets agreed to use to let the people know that God had communicated these words to Ezekiel for the purpose of communicating these words to God’s people. Their hearts must have been lifted as they read, “When I shall have gathered the house of Israel from the people among whom they are scattered, and shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the heathen, then shall they dwell in their land that I have given to my servant Jacob” (Ezek 28:25b).
The first thing I noticed in God’s words to Ezekiel was that he started with the word “When” not “If.” The regathering of Israel from all the nations where they had been scattered is not conditional. He reveals that the work of making Him appear appropriately holy to the people (sanctified in them) is something He (God) will do, Himself. Further, He will do this work in the sight of all the heathen. So, just as God punished Israel in the sight of the entire world, He would now bring them back to Himself, demonstrating His holiness in front of the entire world. Further, He will demonstrate His full and complete acceptance of them by blessing their efforts to live for Him. Could this be a prophecy of what God did and will do through Jesus Christ to make it possible for us to live in His presence? “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isa 53:5). Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3).
Further, God says He will bring His people back to the full promised land occupied by Israel and Judah that He originally gave to Jacob. First, notice that God brings back “Israel,” Hebrew “He will rule as God” yet recognizes that he originally gave the land to “Jacob,” heel-catcher, supplanter. He blesses Israel but chastens Jacob. The land will be occupied by the sanctified Israel; God will make that less-than-perfect Jacob into the sanctified Israel by His own hand. Sounds exactly like “imputed righteousness,” right?
Verse 26 defines the quality of the reoccupation of the promised land. God promises Israel they will live there safely. Further, they shall be secure in their stay there. They can feel confident to build houses and plant vineyards; those things you only do when you know you will live there a long time. So, Israel will be gathered from all the nations where they were scattered, they will express the holiness of God, they will occupy all the land promised to Jacob (more than they ever occupied in the past, and they will live there securely and confidently for years to come.
God promises to acquire this longevity, safety, security and confidence for Israel by first bringing harsh judgements on all those people who despised Israel and occupy the areas adjacent to Israel. The people of those lands will honor their commitments to the Lord because “they shall know that I am the Lord (Jehovah) their God (Elohiym)” (Exek 28:26). Elohiym is the Hebrew name for God used in Genesis 1:1 as the name of the Creator of the Universe. Elohiym is the plural of Eloah which is a plural of El which is singular. Therefore, when Elohiym appears without an accompanying number, is mean specifically 3. Eloah is a plural which is less than 3 but greater than the singular El. Therefore, the Trinity was recognized as early as Genesis 1:1. Just a little food for thought.
Understand the Context (Ezekiel 33:1-48:35)
Our focal passage is Ezekiel 37:1-14 and is situated about one-third of the way into the context chapters 33-48. In Chapter 33:1-9, God reminds Ezekiel of the duties of the watchman. God had appointed Ezekiel the watchman over Israel back in Ezekiel Chapter 3. He said, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore, hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezek 3:17). God understands that some in Israel will refuse to hear or will hear but refuse to react properly to His message. The crucial part of the tasking for Ezekiel was to deliver the message of the Lord to the people, immediately. Those Ezekiel warned, whether they repent or not will be handled by the Lord. Those who hear the message and repent will be saved by the Lord (Ezek 33:5). Those who hear the message and continue in their sins will die in those sins (Ezek 33:6). In either case, God will not require the blood of these people of Ezekiel’s hands; however, if Ezekiel hears the warning from the Lord but does not pass that warning to the people, God will require the blood of those people of Ezekiel’s hands (vss. 3:18-19 & 33:6-9).
God hears Israel saying their sins are heavy upon them, and they are asking Him how they can survive (33:10). God assures them that He has no pleasure in seeing the wicked die, but rather, wants all to turn from their sin and be saved (33:11 & 1 Tim 2:4). Nevertheless, even the capture of Jerusalem (Judah) had future hope in Ezekiel’s message from the Lord (vss. 21-33). While God accuses them of false repentance and pretended turning from wickedness, He still takes delight in seeing some come to Him because they will know there has been a prophet among them (33).
Chapter 34 reveals that God recognized the poor leadership Israel had among them. In verse 34:1-10, He makes sure the shepherds (leaders) know that He holds them accountable for feeding themselves rather then their flocks. “So, my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal” (34:5). He says, “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep” (34:11). Not only will the Lord go to wherever they are to find them, but He will also collect them and bring them back to the hills, lush pastures and streams of their promised land (14). He says He will personally tend the sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace (15). Note the Lord also pledges to remember the “fat and powerful” and feed them the justice they deserve (16). It was not bad enough that they kept the best of the pastures for themselves, but they also trampled down what remained. God promises those leaders they will be sought out and brought down, but in their places He promises, “23 And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. 24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Ezek 34:23-24, NLT). The Servant David would appoint over them would actually be David’s Descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Chapter 35 documents God’s judgement against Edom. He documents their intense hate against Israel, but even worse, when Israel was under harsh punishment from the Lord, Edom exploited their weakness and attempted to take all of Israel and Judah as your own. The Lord says simply, “14 Thus saith the Lord GOD; When the whole earth rejoiceth, I will make thee desolate. 15 As thou didst rejoice at the inheritance of the house of Israel, because it was desolate, so will I do unto thee: thou shalt be desolate, O mount Seir, and all Idumea, [even] all of it: and they shall know that I [am] the LORD” (Eze 35:14-15, KJV).
Understand the Context (Ezekiel 33:1-48:35, Cont.)
In Chapter 36, the Lord draws attention to the contrast between those who took great interest in Israel’s suffering and pain while He punished\her for her sins versus those taking interest in her restoral and great comeback under the Lord God of Israel. The Lord repeats His warnings against Idumea in this chapter that they should be very careful to consider Israel’s land as being available to them. Here, He says the fruits of Israel’s branches will be Israel’s and their return is at hand (Ezek 36:8). This is not only a firm warning to those who would exploit the captivity of Israel, it is good news and a source of encouragement to Israel knowing that God is protecting their land in their absence in light of their soon return.
Understand the Context (Ezekiel 33:1-48:35)
Chapter 37 is one of the most famous passages in Ezekiel but also in the entire Bible. (It is also the focal point of today’s study.) It looks at a dry, desert valley that is covered by lifeless, dried-out, dead human bones. The Lord reveals that these bones represent the entire house of Israel and asks Ezekiel if these bones can live (37:11 & 3). Of course, Ezekiel is wise enough to tell the Lord that only He could know that answer (37:3). God tells Ezekiel to preach over the dry bones and they will react (37:5). So, Ezekiel preaches, “Thus sayest the Lord God of Israel” (37:7). God is illustrating how He can raise Israel up even if they were like useless, dry bones, rotting on the desert floor. Not only does He show the resurrection of Israel here, but He also shows the reuniting of Israel and Judah, as well as God’s appointment of King David to rule over the united Israel, forever (37:20-23). More on this in the Bible study.
Ezekiel 38 -39 documents God’s judgement against Gog, the Chief Prince of Magog, Meshech and Tubal. Gog is the leader mentioned, so judgement is going against him. The long and short of it is that a major invasion is seen coming for this area against Israel (38:1-23). God makes short order of this threat, judges the attackers harshly and saves Israel (39:1-24). Then comes the prophecy of the restoral and the implanting of God’s Spirit within them (39:25-29). This is setting up a longer-term fulfillment that stretches all the way to Acts 2 version of God filling His people with His Spirit.
Ezekiel 40-48 contains descriptions of how the Lord will fulfill His promises to Ezekiel and, through him, to all Israel. First, we see the Temple and its measurements and many compartments and offices (Ezek 40:1-42:20). Recall that God’s glory had departed the Temple ahead of that second attack from Babylon in 586 BC (11:22-23). Now is the promised return and resumption of sacrifices (43:1-27). God’s people would once again experience good political and spiritual leadership (44:1-31). Chapters 45:1-46:24 document how the Lord and the Prince will handle the distribution of the land.
Verses 47:1-12 document God’s causing living water to flow throughout the land. Verses 47:13 to 48:29 describes the restoral of the land to the tribes of Israel and redistribution of the land to the tribes. The final verses touch were the twelve, heavily-adorned gates of the new Jerusalem will be and the city’s new name – “The Lord is There!” (48:35).
The Potential (Ezekiel 37:1-6)
Ezekiel is concerned about properly introducing this passage with him being completely under the influence of God’s hand and Spirit (Ezek 37:1). This very significant and extremely important vision begins with the prophet under the direct hand (control) of the Lord and being conveyed away (in the spirit) from his current dwelling place to the middle of a valley which was full of bones. In verse 2, Ezekiel observes that there were a great number of these bones, and they were very dry. The Lord levies a question to Ezekiel in verse 3. He asked Ezekiel saying, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezek 37:3). The prophet already knows there is nothing the Lord cannot do, so he responds, “O Lord God, thou knowest.” So, the Lord, having properly set up Ezekiel to expect a serious challenge to his senses says, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the LORD!’” (Ezek 37:4, NLT).
Verses 5 and 6 contain the words God wants Ezekiel to preach at these dry bones. God says, “Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live” (Ezek 37:5). And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live, and ye shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezek 37:6).
Ezekiel has now heard God’s plan. There are no further questions to be answered; God has revealed it all. He has taken Ezekiel on a spiritual journey from the place he was physically standing to the middle of a dry and barren desert. In that place, Ezekiel sees it piled high with dried-up, human bones. God has commended Ezekiel to preach to these bones, and God has given him the sermon notes. Further, God has advised the dry bones ahead of time exactly what was going to take place. Regardless of their current state, God promises to rebuild, refresh and restore the dried-up bones to living, breathing, men again. The heap of death, ugliness and uselessness will be restored as a mighty army for the Lord.
Ezekiel stands as many of us have after hearing God’s call and listening to His plan. The questions that loom greatest in our minds are “How can this be?” and “Does He really plan to accomplish this mighty feat using ME?” There are many who have stood at that place between wonder at the magnitude of the planned work and the absolute certainty that if God spoke it, it will be done. The reality of Ezekiel’s situation is that he has been and still is in captivity. His land, his country, his home and his Temple has been ravished and destroyed. It is easy for Ezekiel to see that the dead, dried bones represent his nation. Once a blessed people of God; now suffering in the consequences of repeated denial of the God Who blessed them. Israel’s leaders repeatedly erected statues and built alters to false gods. Some of those gods required the murder of Israel’s little children. Many, now realizing their gross guilt, wonder if God could ever forgive what they had done.
The Presentation (Ezekiel 37:7-10)
Ezekiel understands that at this point in God’s revelation, all he should do is obediently follow the detailed instructions of God, “So, I prophesied as I was commanded” (Ezek 37:7a). But much to Ezekiel’s shock, there was an audible noise, a physical shaking and he saw the dry bones coming together, bone to bone! Ezekiel was deep into a desert valley, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of dried-up bones laying on the ground. Anyone who would have seen this display of useless, bleached out, dried up, old pieces of bone that once formed the support structure for thousands of bodies of human beings would agree there is nothing of value remaining here. But the reading of verse 8 changes everything. Ezekiel continues, “And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them.” The bones had been miraculously restored, but they remained lifeless.
The Lord seems to be challenging Ezekiel to take a step of faith regarding those dead bones at the point. The Lord wants Ezekiel to finish the process of restoring these dead bones by speaking a word of prophesy (preach) to the wind saying, “Thus sayest the Lord, ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live’” (Ezek 37:9). Ezekiel is already in deep shock at the vision God is showing him, but he was certainly not going to turn back here. Verse 10 shows Ezekiel moving in faith to do what God commanded him. As soon as Ezekiel prophesied, the breath came into the restored bones, and they lived, stood upon their feet and became an exceedingly great army.
Now, Ezekiel can stand in complete awe and ask what happened here and what does it mean. But God does not wait for Ezekiel to clear his head and start asking those deep questions. God speaks first to tell Ezekiel exactly what this vision means for the future of Israel and his role in it. God starts with a definition…
The Promise (Ezekiel 37:11-14)
Verse 11 says that God spoke to Ezekiel and said, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: ‘Behold,’ they say, ‘Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for parts’” (Ezek 37:11). God speaks first to let Ezekiel know that the dried bones represent all of Israel; not just Judah or Israel. This is a key because Israel went into captivity in 722 BC at the hands of the Assyrians and some have called it the captivity of the lost tribes of Israel. The captivity of 586 BC was the taking of Judah, destruction of Jerusalem and desolation of the Solomon’s Temple. The vision given to Ezekiel is that God will raise all the dried bones from their graves; not just Israel or Judah but Israel reunited.
The rest of the report from the dried bones was that they were dried up and hopeless. Verse 12 is the next part of God’s revelation to them through Ezekiel. God tells Ezekiel to “prophesy and say unto them, “Thus sayest the Lord God, ‘Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.’” Notice this is a resurrection of all of Israel and a relocation of them into the land of Israel. “By this,” He says, “Ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves” (Ezek 37:13).
And the final part of solving Israel’s grief is that God will not only raise them to new life, He will raise them to inhabit the original land of Israel, He will raise them to a united Israel reuniting Israel and Judah, but He will also raise all Israel with the Spirit of God within them. The Lord says it this way, “And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD” (Ezek 37:14).
Understand the Context (Ezek 16 & 23, & Psa 139)
From time to time, messages are designed from a content or topical aspect than a chronological context. This is such a message. The topic of the message is “Values” and is concerned with the behaviors associated with such values rather than when the values were demonstrated. Ezekiel 16 shows God’s grace in contrast to Israel’s unfaithfulness. God demonstrates His love for Israel (His chosen people) by establishing and living a covenant with them. The people demonstrated their contempt for that love and covenant by committing religious prostitution with other gods who were no gods at all. Several of these false gods required the blood sacrifices of the little children of the worshipers. This was against the values and desires of God for His people. He warned them and punished them for these actions and eventually removed His protection for the people and let them have the fruits of their rejection of Him.
Nevertheless, God always remembered His faithfulness to His covenant and resulting relationship with the people. When the people began to see what it was like to live without God, He accepted their repentance and restored the benefits of living in a covenant relationship with Him. In Ezekiel 16: 1-5, God commanded Ezekiel to speak to Jerusalem (Judah) to make her understand the abominations of her behaviors. She was not acting like God’s chosen, rather, she was acting like her father, the Amorite and her mother, the Hittite (Ezek 16:1-5). Verses 6-14 describes the covenant and how it generously provided for her, but verses 15-19 shows how she used the blessings God had established for her to build idols to false gods and worship them. In verses 20-34, Gods shows the gross behaviors of sacrificing HIS children to false gods (note the personal tone of Gods relationship with the children of Judah). She also entered into relationships with nations which God had forbidden. God clearly announced His judgement on her for such acts and promised to bring her down (Ezek 35-43). Both Israel and Judah had committed these acts (Ezek 16:44-52). Nevertheless, God promised to restore them and reunite them as they experienced their shame and once again called out to the God of their covenant. They would remember the shame of their mistreatment and rebellion against God.
Understand the Context (Ezek 16 & 23, & Psa 139, Cont.)
Ezekiel Chapter 23 describes the character of Gods judgements against the two kingdoms of Israel by using the figures of two women, Oholah and Oholibah. Oholah represented Samaria, the capitol city of the northern ten tribes – Israel. Oholibah represented Jerusalem, the capitol city of the southern tribes – Judah. He starts by acknowledging that both women belonged to Him (Ezek 23:1-4). Oholah acted unfaithfully toward God by aligning herself with Assyria (vss. 5-10). Assyria brough destruction to Samaria and all of Israel. Oholibah witnessed all of this taking place, yet behaved even more unfaithfully toward God (vss, 11-21). God’s punishment on her was to bring her down using those nations in which she trusted against her (vss. 22-35). God told Ezekiel to reveal the sins of both sisters (vss. 36-49). God said He would humble both nations (Israel and Judah), they would recognize and repent of their sins, and know that He was God.
In Psalms 139, King David documents his realization that his relationship with God did not begin at his birth. The Lord knew him and thoroughly understood him prenatally (Psa 139:1-6). David saw God’s reach extended throughout the entire universe (vss. 7-12). Nevertheless, God’s attention to the details of David’s life saw the universal God of all creation reach David while he was yet unformed (vss. 13-16). David’s request to God as he began to understand all this, was to ask judgement on the wicked and protection from them (vss. 19-22). David closes the psalm by asking God to intervene in his own life and cause him to be true to the path God had chosen for him (vss. 23-24). The content of this psalm is frequently used to explain why abortion is so totally against the character of a God-loving people. The child who is terminated in the womb is not just “a product of conception” as the abortion practitioners would claim. Rather, he or she is a child of God. Just as God reacts so strongly against the sacrificing of HIS children to idols, He stands firmly against the murder of His children while they are in their mother’s womb.
Wrongdoing is Justified (Ezekiel 16:20-21)
Chapter 16 was a scolding from the Lord on how the behaviors of Judah were no different than the godless people around them. God started out by saying their sins were detestable and no different than the Canaanite nation or their Amorite fathers and Hittite mothers. In verse 20, after talking about their godless behaviors and religious prostitution of turning their backs on Him and going after strange gods, idolatry and false religions, they took the gigantic step of even sacrificing their young children to these false deities. God makes the message more personal by saying that these children were the sons and daughters who were born to Him. In short, these children whose lives were being donated to false gods were not even theirs to give. These were children who God allowed the Judeans to birth. They belonged to Him and were not theirs to do with as they please; let alone killing them for false religions.
In the last part of verse 20 and transition to verse 21, God asks the rhetorical question, “Wasn’t your personal spiritual prostitution bad enough; did you have to add the murder of my children to it?” The phrasing of the act, “causing them to pass through the fire for you” was the description used for sacrificing the newborns or young children to Baal, Ashtoreth, Chemosh or Dagon. I recall several years ago, Pastor Chuck Swindoll talked on his radio show of leading a visit to Ephesus as a part of an Israel tour. He said he found a femur bone only slightly longer than two inches buried behind a sacrificial altar to Baal. It was heartbreaking to hear such a thing more than two millennia after the fact. Nevertheless, it was in the name of these false gods that Judah, and Israel even earlier, murdered God’s little children. Today, our society does not try to dignify such murders by claiming to sacrifice babies to a god; today parents just take the little children to abortionists before they are born! Of course, its legal, is it not?
Callousness becomes the Norm (Ezekiel 23:36-39)
The earlier verse of Chapter 23 is used to set up an illustration from the Lord. He introduces two sisters of the same mother who became prostitutes in Egypt at a young age (vss. 1-4). The Lord introduces the sisters to Ezekiel as Oholah, representing Samaria (the northern kingdom), and Oholibah, representing Jerusalem (the southern kingdom). The Lord describes their promiscuity from a very early age and says He married them and they were unfaithful to Him. Of course, the illustration was that of Israel and Judah. The Lord represented Himself as being a husband to both of them, but they prostituted themselves to other nations and other gods. Worse, they sacrificed their children to false gods.
In the focal verses here (Ezekiel 23:36-39), commands Ezekiel to condemn Oholah and Oholibah of their detestable sins (Ezek 23:36). They had committed adultery and murder. Adultery by worshiping idols and murder by offering the children they bore to Him as burnt sacrifices to the idols (vs. 37). But even worse than the committing of these acts, they defiled my Temple and violated my Sabbath day (vs. 39). God explains to Ezekiel that “on the very same day they committed these horrendous sins of sacrificing their children to idols, they boldly came into my Temple to worship! They came in and defiled my house” (Ezek 23:39, NLT).
The point here is that the sisters were so habitually sinful and completely unrepented, that they thought nothing of committing adultery and murder early in a day and follow that by showing up for worship in God’s Temple later that same day. This was the epitome of callousness! The sisters in God’s illustration not only cared so little about their personal sins, that they could do them on the Lord’s Sabbath, but they were so heartless that they could come to the Temple for worship the same day. But still worse than the behaviors of the sisters in this illustration, the sisters represented the entire nations of Israel and Judah in their routine adulteries and murders as they continued to enjoy the blessings of Jehovah in their everyday existence. God told Ezekiel it was high time that he publicly callout Israel and Judah for the sinful, unrepented, hypocrites they had become.
I recall when I was a child, I was raised in a more formal faith. Before second grade, we were taught that we were not worthy of receiving the Lord’s Supper unless we had attended the Confession Service the evening before and remained sinless for the Communion Service the next morning. Further, when we entered into the Sanctuary for the Service, we were required to anoint oneself with holy water before selecting a pew to sit on, and drop to one knee while making the sign of the cross on one’s body in the aisle before taking a seat. All of that ritual was done to make the worshiper aware that he or she was unworthy to stand in the Sanctuary, let alone receive a Sacrament, save the forgiveness, anointing, and blessing of the Lord on the way into the Service. Somehow these demonstrations of at least wanting to be made holy in God’s eyes stand in stark contrast to God’s illustration of the behaviors of the two sisters. The truth remains, however, that no series of rituals will ever make us sufficiently worthy to enter God’s presence save the wearing of the saving blood of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, John reminds us that if we call ourselves Christians, we ought to walk like He walked (1 John 2:6).
God’s Truth Revealed (Psalms 139:13-16)
Now the realm of investigation moves from the Prophet Ezekiel to the Psalmist, King David. Switching from prophesy to song (psalms are intended to communicate through singing), also changes the methodologies for interpretation. Prophecy is generally simple prose. It reads like a newspaper and the primary requirements for interpretation are history, context, language and so forth. In psalms, one adds rhyme, rhythm, beat measures and so forth. The definitions of words are sometimes stretched to get a word that rhymes with a previous measure.
Technical aspects of psalm construction become an issue. Measures like “iambic pentameters” begin entering the discussions for interpretation. Here, we will try to get beyond that as much as possible to learn of what the author is trying to communicate. In Psalms 139:13-16, it appears we are looking at two lines in the song. The lines are similar and are intended to accentuate the statements made by using the practice of repetition.
Further, this Psalm stands as an often-referenced writing that documents God’s intimate relationship with the children we are permitted to conceive, carry, birth and raise. Our responsibilities under God begin while those children are still in their mothers’ wombs. The question of this day and age seems to be exactly what is the preborn or how should he/she be described. This Scripture deals directly with the truth that God recognizes that the preborn mass a one of His children from the instant of conception throughout the birthing and raising experiences.
Psalms 139:13 in the New Living Translation (NLT) reads “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb” and seems a bit more specific than the KJV. David’s understanding is that God has personally made all the delicate inner parts of him and knit them together while David was in his mother’s womb. So, it would be gross over-simplification to call a freshly conceived child merely “product of conception” as some would want us to do today. The preborn baby is properly called “a child” and a living human being. And, as we can see in the two earlier passages, the child is not the sole property of the mother or the father. Rather, it is a child of God whom we have had the privilege of bringing into existence through our bodies.
David says he praises the Lord that he is fearfully and wonderfully made in the companion verse of the two sets of two verses we are examining. He says his soul knows very well that the work of creating him was marvelous (vs. 14). David can only express his sincere gratitude to the Lord for what He has so marvelously done in him.
As David begins the second pair of two verses, he repeats the idea that God watched him being formed while he was still secluded in his mother’s womb (Psa 139:15). His substance was never hidden nor was it out of the view of Lord even when he was being fashioned in the secret parts of his mother’s anatomy. David knows that God’s eye never left his development before David was born. David knows that “You watched me as I was being formed.”
David links directly to the end of verse 15, “You watched me as I was being formed” by reemphasizing that “You saw me before I was born” (Vs. 16). Jehovah had the picture of what David would be in focus before it existed (God is not bounded by time). Further, the plan for David’s life and those events that no one but David could have done, were written as the intended process of his entire life. All of us who have experienced parenthood know that “the plan” is just that. The little boy who was planned to be the nuclear physicist actually became the greatest baker in his state. The little girl who was planned to be the women’s tennis’ star athlete was actually the Mathematics Department Head at the university. Nevertheless, each of them found their ways to achieve God’s intended plan and purpose for them to establish and move forward the Gospel message. Yet, before any of David’s members were complete, they were each numbered by the caring Master, and David was given the vision to write it down here.
Consider for a moment how many of God’s plans for His people have been written down but could not be fulfilled because the man or woman who was to accomplish them was lost to the abortionist’ knife. Knowing that God’s will cannot be thwarted, how often were His steps transferred to the next little boy or girl to be born?
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