God is awesome.
Sometimes you just have to stand in awe of God. We need look no further than this chapter to realize that God is pretty much indescribable. I mean, Ezekiel tried really hard, but didn’t you chuckle your way through most of this chapter? I tried to imagine four-faced, four-winged creatures who speed around on burning wheels of fire, but the images in my head were most ridiculous.
I wonder how frustrated Ezekiel might have been, trying to relate in human language what must have been an awesome vision. Sort of like spending time in an incredible dream, only to wake up, realize you were sleeping, and then try to tell someone else about your dream. Sometimes you just “had to be there.”
But maybe it’s all the off-the-wall imagery in this chapter that made the really clear stuff stand out—namely that there is a human being on the throne of heaven, surrounded by a rainbow: “Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” (vs 25-28)
Wow. Isn’t God awesome?! When giving a vision of His glory to His prophet—who was most likely depressed and discouraged in captivity—God reminded Ezekiel that (1) someone very much like him sits on the throne of the universe, and (2) He has not forgotten the promise He made to the human race.
Isn’t that just like God? To reveal His glory in a way that we can so personally identify with? It seems to me that God is always seeking to encourage us, to connect with us, to help us feel secure and confident in His presence. And I find that more awesome than any “grand” picture of glory, fire, creatures, wings, or wheels!
God's voice is unmistakable.
At a time when God was “giving up” His people into captivity, He wasn’t actually “giving up” on them at all. That’s one of the things I’ve discovered on this trip through the Bible: at a time when Israel seemed to be at its lowest possible point, God was communicating with them more than ever. Far from abandoning them, He was pursuing them all the more.
Did you know that Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel were all contemporaries of one another? That’s right. Three of the biggest prophetic names in the Old Testament lived at the same time, bringing God’s message to the Israelites who were scattered all over the place. Jeremiah lived and prophesied in Jerusalem; Daniel in the city of Babylon; and Ezekiel in a “prison camp” for exiles about 200 miles north of Babylon.
And that’s why I found these verses interesting from today’s chapter: “The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (vs 4-5)
God’s voice is unmistakable. Even when we’ve stubbornly gone down the wrong path, God doesn’t stop talking to us. He never stops pursuing us. He communicates to us in such a way that we will know that He is the one who has been talking to us.
What’s more, notice that His communicating in such a distinct way doesn’t remove our freedom to reject Him. He told Ezekiel that the people would know He had spoken to them regardless of whether they listened or not. They were still free to ignore Him, if that’s what they chose to do.
So, if you’re wondering whether you’ll be able to hear God’s voice, don’t worry. You will hear it. God is always speaking, and His voice is unmistakable. Even when we think we’re far from Him, He still finds a way to talk to us!
God has a job for you to do.
Well, God sure took His sweet time preparing Ezekiel for his calling as a prophet. He put him through an elaborate, symbolic process (vs 1-3) and then had him sit among the people of Tel Aviv for seven days, waiting for instructions (vs 15).
Several times during this process, God reiterated to Ezekiel that he was to continue on his mission, regardless of the response from the people: “Go now to your people in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.” (vs 11)
There’s no doubt about it: Ezekiel was sent to do a job without reference to whether or not it was received by a single person. His prophetic ministry wasn’t dependent on a salary from the people, approval from the people, or even the acknowledgement of the people. He wasn’t doing his job for the people; he was doing it for God.
You and I may not be prophets, but I believe God still has a job for each of us to do. And, if you’re like me, it’s easy sometimes to start evaluating your job on the basis of what others think of it. But God has a job for you to do—regardless of the response of others. He has called you—with your unique blend of talents and abilities—for such a time as this.
Your ministry, no matter how big or how small, is important. It may never be publicly acknowledged by another human being—but God notices. It may not seem to be making any difference whatsoever in a world that seems so cold, dark, and evil—but God has a purpose for it, or He wouldn’t have called you to do it.
I don’t know what the “unemployment rate” is among God’s followers, but it should be zero, because God has a special job for each one of us to do! And the best part is, we don’t need anyone else’s approval to do it.
I know what my job is. How about you?
God's face is turned toward you.
What a strange chapter! One thing’s for sure: God certainly asked His prophets to do weird things at times. And I don’t know about you, but if I had answered the call to be a prophet, and the first assignment God gave me was to lay on my side(s) for 14 months, I might have to lodge a complaint!
Notwithstanding that part of that chapter, however, here’s what really caught my attention: “Now, son of man, take a block of clay, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it.” (vs 1-3)
Obviously, this was to be a symbolic demonstration of the actual siege that was occurring against Jerusalem. (At the time he began his prophetic ministry, Ezekiel—along with many other Israelites—had already been taken into captivity in Babylon, but Jerusalem had not yet fallen to Nebuchadnezzar.) Of course, a siege meant that a wall was erected around the city so that nothing could come in or go out (in this case, it was nearly 18 months). Eventually, the people inside would begin to starve, and once they were weak and dying, it was much easier to conquer them.
But, in this prophecy of Ezekiel, God appeared to be trying to communicate to His people that the true wall which had been erected around the city had not been built by the Babylonians! The prophet Isaiah had warned the people, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” (Isa 59:1-2)
God was trying to tell His people that the “iron wall” which had been erected outside of Jerusalem was the result of their sin. They had separated themselves from Him, and in so doing, they cut themselves off from the channel of blessings. If they were starving, if they were languishing, if they were suffering, it was because they had—time and time again—refused to allow God to protect and bless them. The walls that were built by the Babylonians around Jerusalem were simply a concrete manifestation of the spiritual wall that had already been erected by the Israelites.
But, placing the iron wall between Ezekiel and the city wasn’t the end of God’s instructions. After it was in place, God told Ezekiel to “turn your face toward it.” I love that!
All throughout the Old Testament, the face of God is synonymous with His compassion and care:
- Turn us again, O God, and cause your face to shine; and we shall be saved. (Ps 80:3)
- Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger. (Ps 27:9)
- May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. (Num 6:25)
And even though the Israelites had put up a wall (that might as well have been made of iron, it was so impenetrable!), God instructed His prophet to convey that His face was still turned toward His people behind the wall. Even in the midst of their stubborn rebellion, God hadn’t given up caring about His people. Though they were most certainly experiencing the dire consequences of separating themselves from Him, His heart was still tender toward them. His face was still turned toward them.
God doesn’t want to be separated from us any more than He wanted to be separated from the Israelites. The astounding thing is that He still leaves us free, however, to choose to separate ourselves from Him—if that’s what we want. But nothing, absolutely nothing!, can force Him to turn His face away from us. We are free to reject Him, we are free to put up that iron wall, but He is forever free to continue loving us.
And He does.
God is provocative.
Okay, this is the second chapter in a row where God has asked Ezekiel to do something that, as a priest, he “shouldn’t” do: “Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair. When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair inside the city. Take a third and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind.” (vs 1-2)
This probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but priests were specifically forbidden to cut their hair (Lev 19:27). And, God went to a lot of trouble to make sure everyone would notice exactly what Ezekiel was doing. (Have you ever smelled burning hair?!)
This comes right on the heels of God’s command to Ezekiel to eat bread that had been baked over a fire made of human feces (Ezek 4:12). This, aside from being totally gross, would have assured that both the bread and Ezekiel would be ceremonially unclean (thus, Ezekiel’s stringent objection).
Would God really do this? Would He specifically ask His prophet to do something provocative that would shock and offend those around Him? You bet He would! God has no problem being provocative, especially if it will grab the attention of those who are hard to reach.
Let’s face it: the ceremonial law had long become an idol for Israel anyway. What did it matter if the priests were meticulous about caring for their beards . . . if they were making sacrifices to the Queen of Heaven? What did it matter if the priests were careful not to make themselves ceremonially unclean . . . if they were burning children alive in order to worship Molech?
I think all of us, to some degree, have this sort of spiritual blindness—where we are holding tight to religious traditions and rituals while trampling on important spiritual principles in the meantime. Wherever and whenever this happens, I think we can expect to encounter God, The Provocateur.
He will expose and overturn our empty rituals—even if they are traditions He recommended in the first place! Wherever spiritual blindness is creeping in, He will shine a bright, provocative light!
God has a Department of Education.
There was a little mantra running through this chapter, and it’s actually not an uncommon one in the Old Testament: “Your people will fall slain among you, and you will know that I am the Lord. . . And they will know that I am the Lord; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them. . . And they will know that I am the Lord, when their people lie slain among their idols around their altars . . . Then they will know that I am the Lord.” (vs 7, 10, 13, 14)
God is very concerned that we get a proper education; His number one priority is for us to know Him. Sometimes, the education is a simple and easy one. Sometimes, as in this case, it’s an education that comes more in the school of hard knocks.
That’s not to say that God kicks us around if we refuse to sit still in class! Rather, it’s more akin to what Pharaoh and the Egyptians experienced during the Plagues of Egypt. Those plagues were about one thing—exposing the reality that there is no god except the God of Heaven and Earth. One by one, God revealed that the so-called “gods” of Egypt were powerless and non-existent and that He was the one, true God.
And, in this chapter, that’s exactly what Ezekiel said would happen to the Israelites who had been worshiping so many other gods. They had given themselves over to the protection of all these other so-called “gods,” and as their idols were demolished and their altars were destroyed, they would come to realize (as Pharaoh and the Egyptians had) that the God of Heaven was the one, true God.
They would know. And, as Paul said in Romans 1, they would write their future in eternity by their response to what they knew.
That’s a picture of how God’s Department of Education works. He provides the necessary instruction, and then He gives us the freedom to embrace or reject what we’ve learned. So, at the end of the day, we may decide to embrace reality, or we may decide to reject reality, but one thing’s for sure: after we have been with God, we will know reality!
God knows there are worse things than death.
And the prophecy of doom continues. It seems to be reaching a fever-pitch now. I wonder what Ezekiel looked and sounded like, running around saying things like, “Disaster! Unheard-of disaster! See, it comes! The end has come! The end has come! It has roused itself against you. See, it comes! Doom has come upon you, upon you who dwell in the land. The time has come! The day is near! There is panic, not joy, on the mountains.” (vs 5-7)
I’m sure the people must have looked at him like he was crazy. I’m sure that’s how we would react to someone on the street corner who was giving the same message today.
This chapter was all about outrageous doom, disaster, and tragedy. And that’s why I was surprised when I ran across this in the middle: “Outside is the sword; inside are plague and famine. Those in the country will die by the sword; those in the city will be devoured by famine and plague. The fugitives who escape will flee to the mountains. Like doves of the valleys, they will all moan, each for their own sins. Every hand will go limp; every leg will be wet with urine. They will put on sackcloth and be clothed with terror. Every face will be covered with shame, and every head will be shaved.” (vs 15-18)
Did you catch that? I mean, really?
What Ezekiel seems to be saying, here, is that when all these people are surrounded by unimaginable disaster and horrible suffering, they will be stricken with . . . the guilt of their own sins. They won’t be bemoaning the plague that has overtaken their children. They won’t be worrying about the famine that is killing their parents. They won’t lose sleep over the sword that is cutting down their friends.
The thing that will have them all tied up in knots is their sin.
It really seems inconceivable to me that this would be so. Granted, I have never (yet) lived in a situation that I would describe as dire, helpless, or desperate. I haven’t been caught up in the middle of famine, plague, or war. But I have imagined that if I was, the last thing I would be worried about would be my own guilt.
Ezekiel, however, seems to have a different perspective. And it made me think of the people in Revelation 6 who, while in the midst of great calamity, seem only to be burdened by their guilt: “They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of his wrath has come, and who can withstand it?’” (Rev 6:16-17)
Incredible! These people are actually hoping to die in an avalanche! They would rather die than spend another minute experiencing their guilt and fear.
Yes, God knows there are certainly worse things than death. And that’s why Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jn 10:10) God doesn’t want us to simply “not die.” He really wants us to live! And that life begins as we allow Him to take away the burden of our sin. As we allow Him to heal us, we will experience a blessed release from guilt, shame, and fear.
Until then, it looks like it doesn’t really matter what particular tragedy we might be suffering in life. Trying to bear up under the weight of our own sin is a fate worse than death.
God loves your face.
The Spirit of the Lord took Ezekiel to Jerusalem in a vision, and there he saw the spiritual degradation of the Israelites—four successively-detestable practices occurring in the temple: idols on display, idol worship, orgies (which, I understand, characterized the worship of Tammuz), and sun worship.
This last practice was described to Ezekiel as the most detestable of them all: “He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east.” (vs 16)
Wow! There is something so highly symbolic here about all idolatry—in order to do it, one must turn his back on God. What I find all the more incredible is that the Israelites were literally turning their backs on God. His glory was still in the temple! (vs 4) In fact, an Israelite couldn’t worship both God and the sun at the same time; the temple had been built specifically to make that impossible.
A few days ago, I wrote about how God always has His face turned toward you. And now, here is the opposite side of that coin—God loves your face! He doesn’t want you to turn your back to Him; He wants you to turn your back on every other idol that would vie for your attention and, instead, choose Him.
But don’t worry. Even if your back is turned toward God, He won’t give up on you. He’ll fight to win you back, because He loves your face. That’s the part of you He wants to see!
God saves individuals.
Ever heard of collective salvation? I was introduced to the term a couple of years ago and found it interesting. According to Wikipedia, “Collective salvation is the religious belief that members of a group collectively influence the salvation of the group to which they belong,” sometimes even teaching “that the group is collectively one person by its nature.” Apparently, this belief has been debated and taught at some point in at least three of the world’s major religions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
But, for Jews and Christians who profess faith in the Bible, Ezekiel 9 should effectively put the theology of collective salvation to rest. For here, we see an excellent example of the collective versus the individual and how God responded to both.
Collectively, the people in Jerusalem had rejected God to the point of no return. They had ignored warning after warning after warning. They had neither turned from their idolatrous worship, nor had their king heeded God’s advice on surviving the impending destruction by the Babylonians. They had “collectively” decided to turn from God and go their own way.
As a result, the temple of the Lord was full of idols, orgies, and the worst kinds of evil. There was violence and injustice in the streets. Jerusalem had become a free-for-all of evil and wickedness, and the time of its destruction was fast approaching.
However, before the moment arrived, God sent the “man clothed in linen” on a special mission: “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” (vs 4)
After that, He told the angels who were with the man to “follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark.” (vs 5-6)
Now, all of this has a rather retributive tone to it, but later in the chapter, God reveals that the people in Jerusalem are simply experiencing the consequences of their actions, reaping what they have sown: “I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.” (vs 10)
Jerusalem was destroyed because, collectively, they went the way of evil. However, it’s important to note that when the consequences arrived, they arrived individually, not collectively. Those who hadn’t sown the seeds of rebellion against God didn’t reap the consequences of that rebellion. On the other hand, those who hadn’t given themselves into the protection of God’s hands didn’t reap the benefits of that protection.
I believe it will be like this in the end as well. The final judgment, the ultimate reckoning, will be realized individually and not by races, nations, or groups of any kind. Everyone will find themselves in one of two classes—the saved or the lost—but these classes will be determined by individual choice, not by social status, wealth, gender, race, age, religion, or nationality.
Anyone can be saved. Anyone can be lost.
Of course, God wants everyone to be saved, but He only works toward this goal one person at a time. With Him, there is no such thing as the collective, the crowd, or the mass. He sees you as an individual. He sees me as an individual.
And that’s how He will save (or lose) us.
God won't stay in a box.
Recently, my mom and I were talking about God and remarking about how hard it is to put Him into (or keep Him in!) a box. I mean, all you have to do is read the Bible and realize that there is no set list of rules for what God is going to do or say. Just like He asked Ezekiel to do things that went against what He had previously asked other people to do, it seems that “nailing God down” is about as easy as trying to do the same thing with jello.
(However, before we go any further, I will say that I do believe there is one absolute when it comes to God, and that is Love. I think every single thing He says and does is motivated by love. Unfortunately, as any good parent knows, what constitutes “the loving thing” when it comes to your children may be different in every situation you face with them.)
A commentary I read on this chapter cemented this idea even further in my mind. Bible scholar G. R. Beasley-Murray wrote, “The most significant thing here is the identity of the Destroyer as God. . . The maneuvering of God’s Glory in this chapter shows that God, whom men thought to be inseparably bound to his sanctuary and to his city of Jerusalem, is about to destroy both of them and to abandon their ruins.”
That made me really stop and consider the mindset of the Israelites. Perhaps they did believe that God was inseparably bound to His sanctuary. After all, in the book of Jeremiah, we considered the idea that it was shocking to both the Israelites and the Babylonians that God’s temple would or could ever be destroyed.
Perhaps this belief that God was in the “box” of His temple (so to speak) and would never allow Himself to be moved from it was the very mindset that fueled the outrageous rebellion of His people. They sinned with utter impunity, and perhaps they believed that they could get away with anything because God was above allowing His own name to be humiliated and dragged through the mud.
How surprised they must have been to discover that not only will God not be confined to a box, but He will destroy that box Himself when necessary. I think He still does this today, doesn’t He? Just about the time we’ve stuffed Him into one theological box or another, He destroys it and breaks free. Just when we think we’ve got Him all figured out, He shatters all our elaborate conclusions and shocks us with some revelation of Himself.
God won’t stay in a box. This shouldn’t surprise us, after all. For “the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor 3:17) That means not being confined—to a physical place, time, or even idea.
So, just for today, Lord, destroy once again the box I’m holding You in. Break free and surprise me. Give me a new revelation of Yourself—one I can’t even completely understand yet. And when I can, and I try to use it to craft a new box to hold You in, shatter it, too. Keep teaching me what it means to not be confined, but to live in freedom, so I may experience it, too. Amen.
God will chase you all the way to death.
There was something utterly fascinating in this chapter. Did you catch it? “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: The bodies you have thrown there are the meat and this city is the pot, but I will drive you out of it. You fear the sword, and the sword is what I will bring against you, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will drive you out of the city and deliver you into the hands of foreigners and inflict punishment on you. You will fall by the sword, and I will execute judgment on you at the borders of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” (vs 7-10)
First of all, you just have to wonder, does this guy ever give up?! I mean, these Israelites have given Him nothing but hassle and grief and disappointment . . . but He’s still pursuing them.
The fascinating part for me was the sequence of events God laid out through the prophet Ezekiel. First, He plans to drive the Israelites out of the city into the hands of the Babylonians. Next, He promises they will fall by the sword. That means, they will be cut down with weapons and, quite possibly, mortally wounded. Then, did you notice what came next? Then you will know that I am the Lord. Huh? Isn’t it a little too late at that point?
Apparently it’s not too late at all! That’s precisely the point! God is not trying to save our temporal life; He’s trying to save our eternal life. Truthfully, it’s really all one life. We just close our eyes for a dark, unconscious moment, and then we wake up and go right on. So, if these people—who have been mortally wounded by the sword—realize in that instant who God is, it’s not over for them, it’s just the beginning! The next time they open their eyes, they will go right on living, having come to an understanding of who God is.
Perhaps for these sin-hardened, evil-crusted Israelites, the only way to get through to them was with something as dire as falling into the hands of their enemies. And, even though it meant the end of their temporal life, God was planning to use that moment to secure their eternal life.
God will do that, you know. He will chase you all the way to death if He has to. And if you can get to that final moment—if you can come to the ultimate realization that God is sovereign and you are dependent on Him for life—and still thumb your nose at Him, then there isn’t much more He can do for you.
But I think there will be a lot of people who are turned back to God in the final, harrowing moments of temporal life. I think God will use those desperate moments to reveal Himself to people, to speak in a new way, to win hearts. How else could He say, then you will know. . . ? Indeed, as the Hound of Heaven, He will chase us our whole life long, if necessary—even to the point of death.
God: first-ever film director?
I have to take a few moments to tell you about my wonderful dad. He was a teacher, but not just any kind of teacher; he was a Bible teacher. And he wasn’t just any kind of Bible teacher; he was a high school Bible teacher. When you teach Bible in a denominational school, I think there is a lot of pressure to spoon-feed theology to the students. That is a recipe for more regurgitation than thought.
But my father didn’t care much for regurgitation. In fact, as I understand it, from the earliest years of his teaching career, he took a lot of heat from administrators and parents because he expected his students to think. Not just to fill in the answer blanks to the pre-made questions, but to think. To reason. To question. To object. To wrestle.
One of the ways he loved to challenge his students’ thinking was with the use of media. This was sometimes controversial, especially in a denomination where some people frown on media altogether. But that never deterred my father, and some of my earliest memories are taking trips with him to sit in the corner of some semi-dark room with a coloring book while he previewed reel-to-reel films. (I love the fact that the sound of a film releasing itself from the reel with an abrupt clickety-clickety-clack is a foundational sound from my childhood.)
My father’s passion for media meant that, as children, we were exposed to high-quality, value-driven films from an early age—before there was ever such a thing as VCRs. It meant that, circa 1985, when video cameras (that sat like a small suitcase on your shoulder, with a large microphone jutting out front) became available to the public, we were one of the first families I knew that had one. And it meant that I grew up with a profound awareness of the power of media and its influence on us.
It’s incredibly hard to imagine a time when there were no movies or TVs or phones or cameras or pictures or radios or books. It’s hard to imagine a time when there was virtually no media, a time when the simplest of writing implements wasn’t even available to the common man.
It was during that time that God had His own actors, and He was the director. Enter Ezekiel, stage left: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people. Therefore, son of man, pack your belongings for exile and in the daytime, as they watch, set out and go from where you are to another place. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious people. During the daytime, while they watch, bring out your belongings packed for exile. Then in the evening, while they are watching, go out like those who go into exile. While they watch, dig through the wall and take your belongings out through it. Put them on your shoulder as they are watching and carry them out at dusk. Cover your face so that you cannot see the land, for I have made you a sign to the Israelites.’” (vs 1-6)
That’s right. In an age of no media, Ezekiel was the medium. He was the actor, and God was the director, and what we’ve read in this chapter was the screenplay for a scene that was to captivate the Israelites. God’s stage directions continued: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, tremble as you eat your food, and shudder in fear as you drink your water.’” (vs 17-18)
Ezekiel wasn’t the first prophet who was asked by God to do something, shall we say, a little unorthodox. And he certainly wasn’t the last! For God is not limited by available man-made methods of communication. If there is no Hollywood, that doesn’t mean God can’t direct a scene. If there is no Broadway, that doesn’t mean God can’t stage a play. He has a passion for media, and He will do whatever it takes to get through to us!
God never cries wolf.
You’ve heard the story about the little boy who cried wolf, haven’t you? It’s a famous fable by Aesop: “There was a boy tending the sheep who would continually go up to the embankment and shout, ‘Help, there’s a wolf!’ The farmers would all come running, only to find out that what the boy said was not true. Then one day, there really was a wolf, but when the boy shouted, they didn’t believe him, and no one came to his aid. The whole flock was eaten by the wolf. (This is how liars are rewarded: even if they tell the truth, no one believes them.)”
I immediately thought of this fable when I read today’s chapter, because in it, God was contending with lying prophets: “I will pour out my wrath against the wall and against those who covered it with whitewash. I will say to you, ‘The wall is gone and so are those who whitewashed it, those prophets of Israel who prophesied to Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her when there was no peace, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” (vs 15-16)
God had a major problem in Israel at this time. As the Great Physician, His people had a terminal illness, and He was trying to help them understand the diagnosis so they could accept the treatment. And in the meantime, He had a bunch of false prophets who were running around, telling His people the exact opposite—that there was no emergency, that their MRIs had been misread, and that they were all in perfect health.
No wonder God was angry!
God never cries wolf. He never tells us we’re in danger when we’re not. He never raises an alarm without good reason. God also never cries peace! He never tells us things are okay when they’re not! He never glosses over a problem or avoids the tough issues.
If God is anything, He’s a straight shooter. We can trust Him to tell us the truth in every situation, no matter what.
God doesn't play favorites.
There is a doctrine in some Christian circles call predestination. As best as I understand it, it means that God decides who will be lost and who will be saved. He “predestines” some people to be righteous and some to be wicked. In other words, God plays favorites. This is what some people believe. (If you are a believer in predestination and I have just butchered its meaning, please forgive my elementary understanding, and feel free to straighten me out!)
But I think it was clear from this chapter that God does not play favorites: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” (vs 12-14)
And God continues for many verses, explaining over and over again that even if three of His best friends were living in wicked cities, His affinity for them wouldn’t sway His decision about how to address the wickedness. Even for His friends, God will not overlook wickedness or gloss over evil or whitewash iniquity.
A few verses later, God gets even more specific: “Or if I send a plague into that land and pour out my wrath on it through bloodshed, killing its people and their animals, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they could save neither son nor daughter. They would save only themselves by their righteousness.” (vs 19-20)
When it comes to salvation, God doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t “wink and nod” at the wicked relatives of His righteous friends. There is no nepotism in the Kingdom of Heaven. No, every person stands or falls on the merit of his own choice about God. Every one of us will stand before Him as an individual.
Fortunately, while God doesn’t “play favorites,” He has favorites. You are His favorite, and I am His favorite. He favors everyone, He loves everyone, and He wants to save everyone. If He practices predestination, it is in the sense that He has predestined everyone to be saved, because He wants everyone to be saved!
And now, the ball is in our court. Hopefully, we will accept God’s favor and be listed among those who choose to be His friends!
God made you special.
This is a sad, little chapter. God is leaving no doubt as to the utter uselessness of His people. They have so joined themselves to idols that they have become worthless: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, how is the wood of a vine different from that of a branch from any of the trees in the forest? Is wood ever taken from it to make anything useful? Do they make pegs from it to hang things on? And after it is thrown on the fire as fuel and the fire burns both ends and chars the middle, is it then useful for anything? If it was not useful for anything when it was whole, how much less can it be made into something useful when the fire has burned it and it is charred?’” (vs 1-5)
Nobody uses the wood of a vine to make fine furniture or build a house. A vine is useful only for bearing fruit. If it doesn’t do that, it has no purpose and isn’t good for very much. Of course, the vine God was speaking of was Israel, and they lost their lost their ability to bear fruit by being unfaithful to God.
That’s the way it is with us, too. Without God, none of us will ever realize our true potential or purpose. That is not to say that, without God, we would never reach a certain level of potential or never accomplish some sort of purpose. But it is to say that God made you special, and it is only in Him that you can realize the true height and depth of that greatness!
You may be a pretty great person right now without God, but when you open your heart to the Lord, He will truly take you places you’ve never dreamed possible. He created you for a special reason, and He has special gifts in store for you to accomplish every purpose He will call you to.
So, don’t settle for being some fruitless vine in a forest of towering trees. Let God turn you into the unique, special person He created you to be. He wants you to be truly great!
God loves you.
Maybe it’s because I gave birth to a baby girl not so very long ago, but the opening metaphor in this chapter really resonated with me:
“On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, ‘Live!’ I made you grow like a plant of the field. . . Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.” (vs 1-8)
I know that, every now and then, someone abandons a baby, but the imagery of tossing a helpless newborn out into a dirty field is extreme! Of course, God was dealing with a very extreme situation that required the use of graphic imagery, and telling His people they were like an unwanted whore was certainly one way to get their attention!
The point is, God protected His people and gave them life—as He does to each one of us. He cherished them and covered them—as He does with each one of us. He lavished them with blessings—as He does with each one of us.
And their response? “You trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. . . All prostitutes receive gifts, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others; no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you.” (vs 15, 33-34)
The sooner we learn this lesson, the better: It is only God who loves you. Even if you find another person who is able to love you totally unconditionally, they still won’t love you as much as God loves you. While others will take from you, He is the one who will give to you. While others will make you buy their love, He will freely give you His love.
He just loves you.
Not because you’re special. Not because you’re worthy.
Just because you’re you.
God can do anything.
I loved the ending of this chapter. I love it when God says things that carry an undertone of, I’m the man. That’s what I heard in these verses:
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’” (vs 22-24)
God can do anything. Nothing is impossible for Him. He created the universe and everything in it. He directs the course of human history just as surely as He directs the great ocean currents. Indeed, He can do anything. (As an aside, there’s a difference between what God can do and what He will do. For example, God could force us to obey Him, but He won’t do that. )
Are you facing something impossible today? Don’t be discouraged. You serve a God who can do anything! If you’re staring at a tall, immovable tree, He can bring that down. If you are stuck with a little, puny tree, He can make it grow tall. In a heartbeat, He can make shrivel what seems to be thriving, and He can make something dead come alive.
There is no obstacle too big for Him to move. There is no detail too small for Him to be concerned about. He loves you, He cares about you, and He wants you to know today—this moment—that He really can do anything.
So, whatever you need today, trust Him for it. He’s equal to the task!
God doesn't hold grudges.
This chapter reveals how God deals with the wicked and the righteous—as individuals, not as a group. If a person is saved, it is because of what he chose—not someone else. And if a person is lost, it is because of what he chose—not someone else. God is all about freedom, and because of that, your eternal destiny is only on one person’s shoulders: yours. Nobody else gets to choose for you.
As if that wasn’t enough great news, however, there’s more: “If a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (vs 21-23)
For far too long, the death of the wicked has been blamed on God. But if you read the above passage carefully, you’ll see that nowhere in it does God say He is going to kill the wicked. They may die, but their death is the natural result of their sin, just as living is the natural result of turning away from sin and back toward God.
God doesn’t hold grudges. You can be the dirtiest, ugliest sinner today, and if you decide to turn from your evil ways and come back to God, you are given a brand, new start. God doesn’t hold the past against you.
Remember the story of the Prodigal Son? When he came home, he was not only accepted, he was celebrated! Remember the story of Saul on the Damascus Road? God turned someone who had been going around killing His people into one of the greatest apostles in the history of the world.
God doesn’t want anybody to die. He doesn’t want anybody to hold on to their sin so tightly that it destroys them. Instead, He wants us to turn back to Him and live. And when we come home to Him, we’ll find that He doesn’t hold grudges. He doesn’t hold our past mistakes against us. He doesn’t keep throwing our previous sin up in our face.
He is utterly forgiving and totally accepting.
Isn’t it time you came home?
God has His eye on forever.
Once again, the demise of Jerusalem is told—this time, to the captives living in Babylon. When they had been taken into captivity, they knew that some of their fellow countrymen and a king had been left behind. I’m sure they must have hoped that, somehow, the Israelite army would make a comeback and defeat the Babylonians.
In light of that hope, Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry must have been such a discouragement to them. He was very clear about the fact that there was absolutely no hope for Israel: “But it was uprooted in fury and thrown to the ground. The east wind made it shrivel, it was stripped of its fruit; its strong branches withered and fire consumed them. Now it is planted in the desert, in a dry and thirsty land. Fire spread from one of its main branches and consumed its fruit. No strong branch is left on it fit for a ruler’s scepter.” (vs 12-14)
But what sounded like very bad news for the captives in Babylon was actually very good news. You see, the exiles were hoping that the leaders left in Jerusalem would somehow rescue them and usher their nation back into prosperity. After all that had happened, they still had confidence in their government—but they were about to learn that human government without God will always fail.
And I don’t just mean Israel, either. Any nation on the planet that tries to prosper without God will fail. Sure, there may be temporary prosperity: nearly every evil dictator in history has enjoyed temporary prosperity. But eventually, every nation that attempts greatness without God will fail, and He will let them fail.
I don’t think God let Israel (or any other nation) fail out of spite. Rather, God has His eye on forever. He is concerned first and foremost about gathering as many of His people to be with Him for eternity as possible. That’s what He cares about most. Whether we enjoy Earthly prosperity is a far-distant second on His list.
If letting us fail in this life will secure our hearts for eternity, God will dash every hope we have.
Aren’t you glad?
God is faithful, even when we're faithless.
If you didn’t know better, you might think God was a broken record in this chapter. He seems to say the same things over and over again. Actually, He was once again relating the broken record of the history of the Israelites. They were stuck on one setting: Rebellion.
Over and over in this chapter, God reminded the Israelites of their wicked ways—”But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me” (vs 8)—as well as His response to their bad choices—”But for the sake of my name, I brought them out of Egypt” (vs 9).
Some may see this chapter as a blistering condemnation of Israel’s faithlessness, but I see it as a glorious revelation of God’s faithfulness. For it didn’t matter how many times Israel turned their backs on God, He hung in there with them and didn’t give up.
Even when things got so bad that He had to begin to “give them up” (remember, that’s the definition of His wrath) to the consequences of some of their evil choices, His discipline of them was a sign that He was faithful to them! If He had been indifferent to them, if He hadn’t cared so much about them, He would have just left them alone.
It doesn’t matter how faithless you are today, God is still faithful. Even if you have turned your back on His plans for you, He still wants to give you a wonderful future. Even if you want nothing to do with Him, He is still thinking of ways to bless you.
Even when we’re faithless, God is faithful. He will always be there for you.
God is the only judge.
When we get to the chapter in the Gospels where Jesus said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” we’ll have to explore what it means to judge. I’m sure Jesus wasn’t saying that we should set aside our power of discernment! On the other hand, even if it’s hard to mentally nail down exactly what Jesus was talking about when He said not to judge, we all know that we do it. Often, I don’t even think it’s a conscious thing. We just sort of automatically “go there.”
But there’s a problem with “going there,” and I’m sure that’s why Jesus told us not to do it. The problem is, we’re often not in a position to make accurate judgments about people because we don’t have all the facts.
For instance, recall the story of Job and the insistence of his friends that he must have done something to cause his own suffering. (They, of course, were wrong.) Or when the disciples asked Jesus whose sin had caused blindness—the own man’s sin or the sin of his parents. (Both options, of course, were wrong.)
When we judge, we usually do so based on external indicators (since none of us can read the heart), but this chapter of Ezekiel provided a great example of why that’s so dangerous: “This is what the Lord says: ‘I am against you. I will draw my sword from its sheath and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked. Because I am going to cut off the righteous and the wicked, my sword will be unsheathed against everyone from south to north.’” (vs 3-4)]
What? “Judgment” against both the righteous and the wicked? I thought the righteous were supposed to be blessed and the wicked were supposed to be punished! If God brings His sword against everyone, even the righteous, how are we supposed to tell which group is which?
Well, that’s precisely the point. We’re not. At least not yet. In this instance, you couldn’t tell who was righteous or wicked by looking at who got run down by the sword. In the case of the flood, you couldn’t tell who was righteous or wicked by looking at who got on the boat. And in Jesus’s day, you couldn’t tell who was righteous or wicked by looking at who spent time in the Temple.
That’s the danger with looking at externals. They aren’t always a reliable indicator of what’s in the heart. And while man looks at the outer appearance, God only looks at the heart. That’s what He’s concerned about.
And because that’s what He’s primarily concerned with, sometimes in an effort to save more people for eternity, those with pure hearts get caught up in the temporal punishment of those whose hearts need help. That’s why we should never use a person’s circumstances as an occasion to judge the level of their spirituality, for they may be closer to the Kingdom than we are. Likewise, we should never use our own circumstances as an occasion to judge the level of our own spirituality, for we may also be closer to the Kingdom than we think we are!
God is the only one who can judge.
God is the doctor.
Legalism. It’s one of Christianity’s four-letter words. For me, it conjures up images of Pharisaical folks with a Bible in one hand and a checklist in the other, trying to make sure they do and say all the right things as they go through the day. For some time now, there has been a movement to help people get away from that (which is great!) and, instead, focus on something else. One blog I recently read summed up the “something else” in this way: Are we growing in our capacity to love all people?
Without trying to over-generalize, it seems that many in the Christian world would like us to quit focusing on the “externals” and start focusing on the “internals.” Instead of trying hard to keep the law, let’s just try hard to grow in our capacity to love people. It sounds so good, but there is a serious danger in Christians attempting to diagnose their spiritual health—either in the “externals” or the “internals.” There is only one Great Physician, and it’s not you (or me).
Of course, there is nothing wrong with hoping that we are growing in our capacity to love all people. Indeed, as we come to know God better and spend time admiring Him, we are undoubtedly changed into His image. But I believe it is a grave mistake for us to take our eyes off of Him, even for a moment, and put them on ourselves in order to find out “how we’re doing.” (Peter did this after he stepped out to walk on the water, and you know what happened next!)
As you’ve been reading the last several chapters of Ezekiel, haven’t you come to the conclusion that, in fact, part of Israel’s problem was their insistence on self-diagnosis? They were in grave danger, and the Lord was trying to warn them of this through His prophet. But the people had little use for God’s diagnosis. They had made their own assessment, but their assessment was wrong.
Again, in this chapter, God laments, “Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey; they shed blood and kill people to make unjust gain. Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says’—when the Lord has not spoken.” (vs 26-28)
God’s primary problem with the Israelites is that they would not listen to His diagnosis.
I wonder if we’re any different sometimes. It seems we’re just as eager to diagnosis ourselves as the Israelites were, and what makes us think we’re going to be any more accurate than they were?
In Psalm 139, David made a doctor’s appointment: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps 139:23-24)
I think there is something significant in realizing that David was asking God to do the searching, the diagnosing, and the treating. He asked God to search his heart. He asked God to point out anything offensive. And he asked God to lead him down a better road.
I don’t know about you, but my natural tendency is to do it the opposite way. My (sinful?) tendency is to search my own heart, determine what I think are the offensive things, and then (usually) try to clean those things up on my own. Sometimes I might admit to God that I can’t clean them up, and ask Him to help.
But the problem with all of that is that my assessment might be totally wrong. There is only one Great Physician, and it’s not me! When I search my own heart, I’m likely to overlook the most offensive things. I’m likely to not even realize what is truly offensive in the first place. In short, I shouldn’t be trying to diagnose myself at all!
And neither should you.
Being a Christian means giving up, letting go, surrendering. And that includes surrendering that part where we want to clean ourselves up and save ourselves and turn ourselves into the “new creation.” Only God can do that. And often, I think He does it in ways we can’t begin to imagine, in ways we could never “help” with, in ways we can’t perceive.
So why don’t you just give up trying to be a better person?
And make a doctor’s appointment.
God is a siren.
Wow! Talk about chapters in the Bible that kids shouldn’t read. Was it just me, or were you also blushing as you read this one? Especially verses 19 and 20—I don’t even want to quote them here! Suffice it to say, make sure you’ve had the talk about “the birds and the bees” with your kids before you read Ezekiel 23 for family worship!
To generally summarize, God was using very graphic terms in this chapter to describe two cities—Samaria and Jerusalem—that strayed away from Him and engaged in all sorts of lewd wickedness. He began by denouncing Samaria, but then declared that Jerusalem was far worse than her sister. (This would have been a special insult to the Israelites, who considered themselves far superior to their Samaritan neighbors.)
But the Israelites were hardly listening. They were caught up in their lust, enjoying their idolatry and adultery, and trying to relive the “glory days” they thought they had enjoyed in Egypt.
God’s answer to all of this? A total reality check: “I will stir up your lovers against you, those you turned away from in disgust, and I will bring them against you from every side. . . I will turn you over to them for punishment, and they will punish you according to their standards. . . I will direct my jealous anger against you, and they will deal with you in fury. They will cut off your noses and your ears, and those of you who are left will fall by the sword. They will take away your sons and daughters, and those of you who are left will be consumed by fire. . . So I will put a stop to the lewdness and prostitution you began in Egypt. You will not look on these things with longing or remember Egypt anymore.” (vs 22, 24-25, 27)
In other words, God was going to allow the Israelites to reap the awful consequences of their wickedness and help them to understand the true and heinous nature of sin. When they were done, they would no longer think of their days in Egypt as “glory days.” They would finally see their sin for what it was and not long for it anymore.
God is a siren. When we are in danger of being overwhelmed by our sin, God sounds the alarm. When we are rushing headlong into destruction, God sets up roadblocks in our way. When we have been seduced by sin’s deceptions, God pulls back the veil on reality.
God helps us see sin for what it is and Him for what He is so we can make our choices with eyes wide open.
God is extreme.
If there’s anything I’ve realized as I’ve read Jeremiah and Ezekiel, it’s that God was totally desperate to find a way to reach His wayward children. I understand now why they refer to Jeremiah as “The Weeping Prophet,” and I’m pretty sure Ezekiel must have dealt with his own share of negative emotions. Both of these men were living in depressing times, trying to deal with irrational people.
The sheer magnitude of what God asked of Ezekiel in this chapter (and the simplicity with which He asked) just blew me away: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover your mustache and beard or eat the customary food of mourners.’” (vs 15-17)
It was bad enough that the circumstances required something as extreme as the death of Ezekiel’s wife, but to ask him not to shed a tear? I suppose he was allowed to “groan quietly,” but no public mourning? No memorial service? No funeral dinner? I think this would drive more than a few of us crazy, especially in our emotion-driven, feelings-obsessed culture. How was Ezekiel supposed to “work through” his grief?
Regardless, Ezekiel did exactly as God had asked him to do, and once again, God proved that He knew exactlyhow to poke through the defensive walls of the Israelites and get their attention: “Then the people asked me, ‘Won’t you tell us what these things have to do with us? Why are you acting like this?’” (vs 19) It was simply an unfortunate reality that the oddity of Ezekiel’s behavior upon losing the one he loved was one of the few ways left for God to get through to His people.
So, what do you think? Should we be offended by this story? Should we be offended that God would take Ezekiel’s wife from him? Should we be offended that God would do something so extreme? Or should we be offended if God were the kind of person who was unwilling to do something extreme if the alternative was the eternal loss of a child? Should we be offended if God’s love would leave stones unturned in the desperate attempt to win us back?
How shall we respond to this story?
One thing’s for sure: The Bible confirms that God is most definitely extreme. When it comes down to the hard choices, He doesn’t shy away from the battle. He doesn’t stay out of the fray. He doesn’t slink back in cowardice. If there is an option available to Him in the pursuit of one He loves, He will take it—even if it is incredibly painful or difficult.
And sometimes, every once in a while, He has a friend (like Ezekiel) who is willing to share a small part of that pain in order to help God pursue His lost children. Every once in a while, He has a friend who is willing to sacrifice what they love in this world for the benefit of the next.
I hope I am someone like that.
God doesn't gloat over the misfortunes of others.
Today’s chapter made me think back to when I was little. I was the middle child (yes, I probably have some sort of complex), with an older brother and a younger sister. Though I can’t remember specifics, I’m sure there were plenty of times when we gloated over each other’s misfortunes.
Doesn’t that sound like a familiar scenario? Two children are having a fight. Dad steps in and disciplines Child #1 by taking away a privilege or toy. Child #2 decides that’s a perfect time to gloat—either by laughing, sticking out his tongue, or reciting the ever-annoying na na na boo boo. And then Dad turns to Child #2 and gives him the same punishment for gloating.
Why is gloating so much fun anyway? It must be some part of our sinful condition, because it appears to have been going on from the very beginning: “This is what God has to say: Because you cheered when my Sanctuary was desecrated and the land of Judah was devastated and the people of Israel were taken into exile, I’m giving you over to the people of the east. . . Because you clapped and cheered, venting all your malicious contempt against the land of Israel, I’ll step in and hand you out as loot—first come, first served. I’ll cross you off the roster of nations. There’ll be nothing left of you. And you’ll realize that I am God.” (vs 3-4, 6-7)
In their gloating over the destruction of Jerusalem, these heathen nations were demonstrating just how far they had strayed from the sort of love and compassion that characterize God’s government. Truly, the farther we go from God, the less we understand about being human.
I think God made such a big deal out of their gloating because He never gloats over the misfortunes of others. His attitude is never, “I told you so. You brought this all on yourself, and you get everything you deserve.” Instead, He cries: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Lk 13:34)
Even when there is nothing more God can do for a person and He has to let them go, He never ridicules them. He may be incredibly sad about their choices, but He never treats them with disrespect or malice. He never gloats over the misfortunes of others—even those who reject Him!
God's Word is accurate.
In this chapter, Ezekiel predicts the fall of Tyre—its utter and total destruction. Of course, Ezekiel gave this prophecy while far away in Babylon. He wasn’t “on scene” to know what was happening, and even if he had been, there wasn’t anything “happening” in the region of Tyre when he prophesied its demise.
It wasn’t until three years later that Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Tyre. For thirteen years, the Babylonians kept at it, until they finally conquered it in 573 B.C. But even then, they realized that most of the city’s inhabitants (along with their wealth) had escaped to a small island a half mile off shore. There, they were safe from Nebuchadnezzar.
To those familiar with the prophecy, it must have looked like the God of the Israelites didn’t know what He was talking about. Why, He had predicted the total demise of the people of Tyre—and here they were, living it up on their island city, more prosperous than ever. It must have looked like the people of Tyre had gotten one over on God.
It wasn’t until 240 years later, when Alexander the Great began his conquest of the ancient world, that the prophecy God had spoken through Ezekiel found its fulfillment. When Alexander arrived at Tyre on his boat, he demanded that they surrender. They refused, thinking they were pretty well fortified on their little island. (The city was greatly fortified by walls that extended out into the sea to protect the port.)
Instead of giving up, Alexander returned to the ruins of the Tyre that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and ordered his soldiers to throw all the rubble into the sea, thus building a causeway out to the island. Once in place, he promptly walked out to the city with his army, knocked down the walls, and turned the spot into a place where fishermen spread their nets (vs 14).
The point is, God knows what He’s talking about. His Word is accurate. Sometimes, it may look like His promises will never come to pass, or it may even look like the exact opposite of what He said will come to pass. But God only tells the truth, and what He says will be fulfilled, all in His time.
God is the only sure bet.
This chapter made me think of the question Jesus once asked: “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matt 16:26) For, in the ancient world, there were few cities more prosperous than the city of Tyre. Situated on the sea, they did a more-than-bustling trade with virtually every nation.
But all that prosperity, all that gain was perishable. It may have given the citizens of Tyre the illusion of security and permanence, but God revealed through Ezekiel that the whole enterprise would one day come crashing down: “Your wealth, merchandise and wares, your mariners, sailors and shipwrights, your merchants and all your soldiers, and everyone else on board will sink into the heart of the sea on the day of your shipwreck.” (vs 27)
Indeed, a city that was once one of the greatest cities in the world eventually came to nothing. It was literally bulldozed into the sea by Alexander the Great, swept off the map forever.
And where is Alexander the Great and his empire? They went the route of Tyre, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, and all the other kingdoms which have, in their turn, risen up and fallen away. Gone. All the money and power and conquest, gone.
Everything in this world is perishable. Everything. So what good does it do for us to spend our life gaining everything that can’t be kept? The only permanent thing is God and our connection to Him. He is the only sure bet. If we have that, we have everything. If we do not have that, truly, we have nothing.
God is God.
You might remember that, in Isaiah 14, Isaiah started out prophesying about the king of Babylon and ended up talking about Satan. The same thing happened in this chapter. Ezekiel started out prophesying about the king of Tyre, but by the time he was done, it was pretty clear that he was really talking about Satan.
In a nutshell, here was Satan’s sin: “In the pride of your heart, you say, ‘I am a god.’” (vs 2) In fact, this is at the root of every person’s sin. It was the root of Eve’s sin. When she stood at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, she had to decide if she was going to trust what God had told her . . . or if she was going to take matters into her own hands. She chose to act as though she were a god.
What’s so dangerous about this is that there is only one God. There is only one uncreated Being in the entire universe. Everyone and everything else has been created. So, for a created being to try to convince himself that he is god is for him to try to convince himself that he is an uncreated being when, in fact, he is dependent upon the only uncreated Being for life.
We are not independent creatures; we are dependent. We are not uncreated beings; we are created. But Satan somehow decided that he didn’t want to be a created being anymore. He decided he didn’t want to live with God as his Creator. He somehow convinced himself that he had Life within himself, that he could separate himself from God and not die.
Satan was wrong, and anyone else who follows in his footsteps will also eventually discover how wrong they are. There is only one Creator. There is only one Source of Life. There is only one Supreme, Sovereign Being. There is only one God.
God is God . . . and you’re not.
God is in control.
Is any nation “too big to fail” in God’s eyes? In today’s chapter of Ezekiel, He’s at yet another nation—Egypt this time: “I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams. You say, ‘The Nile belongs to me; I made it for myself.’ But I will put hooks in your jaws and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales. I will pull you out from among your streams, with all the fish sticking to your scales. I will leave you in the desert, you and all the fish of your streams. You will fall on the open field and not be gathered or picked up. I will give you as food to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the sky. Then all who live in Egypt will know that I am the Lord.” (vs 3-6)
A few years ago, I heard a fascinating lecture on the Israelites and why they had such a difficult time acclimating to life in Canaan after God brought them out of slavery in Egypt. It all had to do with the difference between how they grew food in Egypt and how food was grown in the Promised Land.
Remember this passage from Deuteronomy? “The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul—then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil.” (Deut 11:10-14)
Here, God draws an agricultural contrast between Egypt and Canaan. In Egypt, irrigation was accomplished when the Nile River flooded, and the people channeled the overflowing water into their gardens with their feet. Though year-round irrigation wasn’t available in Egypt, you could set your clock (or calendar) by the flooding of the Nile. It was so consistent and predictable that it became very easy for the Israelites (and the Egyptians) to build an agricultural strategy around it.
Canaan, on the other hand, was a totally different agricultural story. That land relies on rain for planting, growing, and harvesting crops. The “autumn and spring rains” were promised to the Israelites by God as a blessing. Farmers patiently awaited these rains because they were necessary for an abundant harvest.
During the summer season, the weather was extremely hot and dry. Thus, farmers looked forward to the autumn rains that would soften the ground and allow for planting crops. In the same way, the spring rains were necessary in order for the crops to grow into an abundant harvest. The winter was usually a rainy season, but without the spring rains, there would not be enough irrigation for large crops. Thus, the Israelites had gone from a country where they had complete control over their food supply (even though they were slaves) to a land where they were free, but had to trust God to provide what they needed to grow crops.
Is it any wonder that the Israelites had a perennial idolatry problem with Baal? He was the rain god!
If the Israelites couldn’t go back to Egypt where they could “control” their lives, they decided that they would start worshiping the local rain god—just to cover all the bases. They just couldn’t bring themselves to trust God to keep His word. They wanted some “food insurance,” so they were forever worshiping Baal.
All of this strikes very close to home for me. I can really relate to those Israelites. I may not have a problem putting food on the table, but I seem to be forever anxious about my financial security. Especially with the worsening world economy, I frequently wonder if we’ll be able to continue meeting all of our financial obligations. I worry way too much about money.
What God wanted the Israelites (and the Egyptians) to know was, He is in control. The Egyptians thought they controlled the Nile, but God was going to prove to them that they did not: “Egypt will no longer be a source of confidence for the people of Israel but will be a reminder of their sin in turning to her for help. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.” (vs 16)
God doesn’t want us to put our confidence in anyone or anything but Him. He doesn’t want us to look for security anywhere else. The fact is, there is no security outside of Him. He is in control, and when it comes to providing for our lives, He wants us to be “out of control,” so to speak. That is, the more we can let go of the need to have control, the more we will be available to receive the abundant blessings He has for us.
So, what do you need to give up today? Is it your control over money, power, employment, family, education, or even your health? Whatever it is, when we realize that nobody is “too big to fail” in the eyes of God, we will also discover that nobody is too small to escape His notice and compassion.
Isn’t it time for you to be out of control?
God is coming.
I loved the way this chapter started: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, prophesy and say: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Wail and say, Alas for that day!”‘ For the day is near, the day of the Lord is near.” (vs 1-3) In far too many places to count, the Bible speaks about the Day of the Lord. Invariably, it is described as a day of liberation and justice.
Frankly, it can’t come soon enough!
Whenever I read or think about that day, it reminds me of the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who led many expeditions to the Antarctic. On one such expedition, in 1915, he left some of his men on Elephant Island, fully intending to return for them and take them back to England. However, he became significantly delayed and, when he returned, he discovered that the sea had frozen, and he couldn’t reach the island.
Three times, he tried to force his boat through the ice, but he was prevented. Finally, the fourth time, he broke through and found a narrow way to reach the island. Upon arriving, he was stunned to find his crew ready and waiting with their supplies packed.
On the return trip to England, Sir Shackleton asked how they knew he would arrive at the island that day. The leader said they didn’t know it would be day, and since they didn’t know when to expect him, every morning, they packed their belongings and made sure they were ready. “Get your things ready, boys,” the crew leader would say. “The boss may come today.”
I think the Bible mentions the Day of the Lord often so we will be encouraged to be ready. No matter how bad things get in this world, we know one thing for sure: God is coming back again. We may not know the day He will arrive, but we can choose to be ready each day. We can choose to live this day as if it will be the last one before the Earth is made new.
The boss may come today. What an incredible thought!
God: the Heavenly Lawnmower.
I have a small, albeit dark, pessimistic side to me. And this part of me loves the stuff put out by Despair, Inc. (Their tagline is: Welcome to the Cure for Hope.) They are the purveyors of the popular Demotivators series of products, and often, their witty, sarcastic slant on all things “motivational” leave me in stitches.
One of my favorite posters features a blade of grass with a single, large drop of water on it. The title of the poster is Underachievement. The caption reads, The tallest blade of grass is the first to be cut by the lawnmower. Ha! I love it.
The tallest blade of grass is the first to be cut by the lawnmower. Didn’t you get that vibe from this chapter? God asks Ezekiel to speak to the king of Egypt and ask, basically, “Who do you think you are?”
Then, God goes into an elaborate parable about the Assyrians—the tallest tree in the forest—and how they were eventually cut down to size: “Because the great cedar towered over the thick foliage, and because it was proud of its height, I gave it into the hands of the ruler of the nations, for him to deal with according to its wickedness. I cast it aside, and the most ruthless of foreign nations cut it down and left it.” (vs 10-12)
It’s striking to me that in the very act of telling this parable to the king of Egypt, God was acting as the lawnmower who was cutting down the tallest blade of grass. He was trying to get through to Pharaoh with the truth: that he (Pharaoh) wasn’t the god he thought he was! Why, just look at the king of Assyria! God said. He thought he ruled the world, just like you do, and he and his kingdom are no more. What makes you think you’ll be different?
This is what God always does. If we have set ourselves up as god in some fantasy world of our own creating, God is not shy about crashing in and delivering reality. If we are trying to be the tallest blade of grass, God doesn’t have any qualms about taking us down a notch. He doesn’t do this for His sake, but for ours. As I said a few days ago on this blog, there is only one God, and it isn’t us!
And, incidentally (and, perhaps, ironically), the identifying characteristic of God is not that He is the tallest tree in the forest, but that He was willing to become the lowliest. It is not that He is the greatest, but that He is willing to become the least. Paul reminded us of that: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, because he was God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing.” (Phil 2:5-7)
So, that poster I mentioned might be tongue-in-cheek, but it’s true in the spiritual realm: The tallest, proudest blade of grass is the first to be cut by the Heavenly Lawnmower. But this isn’t meant to keep us from achieving greatness; rather, it is to help us achieve the only kind of greatness there is—the greatness of humility.
God is the great equalizer.
It really must have been something for Ezekiel to utter this prophecy against Egypt while he was sitting in exile with a bunch of other Israelites in Babylon, some 1000 miles away. Not only that, but he gave this prophecy of total Egyptian destruction a whopping 17 years before it actually came to pass! I’m sure there were a lot of nay-sayers in Ezekiel’s day.
But they would soon learn that God knows what He’s talking about. Egypt was utterly destroyed, and it took its place in a long succession of kingdoms that had risen up and fallen away. They ended up suffering the same fate as those whom they had conquered. And the ones who conquered them also eventually suffered the same fate.
Worldly strength and power don’t last.
I’m sure that was just what God was getting at with the message in the final part of this chapter. Ezekiel ran through a whole litany of great and powerful nations . . . who were all now in the same place—Sheol. And God said Egypt was going there, too: “Son of man, weep for the hordes of Egypt and for the other mighty nations. For I will send them down to the world below in company with those who descend to the pit. Say to them, ‘O Egypt, are you lovelier than the other nations? No! So go down to the pit and lie there among the outcasts’. . . Down in the grave mighty leaders will mockingly welcome Egypt and its allies, saying, ‘They have come down; they lie among the outcasts, hordes slaughtered by the sword.’” (vs 18-19, 21)
God was letting Pharaoh know that, though he thought of himself as untouchable, he would end up in the same place as all those who had gone before him. And perhaps an even more interesting observation is that Ezekiel, the very one writing this prophecy, would also end up there! You see, in the Old Testament, Sheol wasn’t just a place for wicked people. It is described as “the grave,” the place of silence, where everyone goes.
- Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? (Ps 6:4-5)
- Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. (Eccl 9:10)
- But [Jacob] refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. (Gen 37:35)
- I said, In the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years. (Isa 38:10)
The wicked and righteous alike—all ended in Sheol. At least, this was the conception of the “afterlife” in the Hebrew mind. And in this, we see that God is the great equalizer. It really doesn’t matter if we lived out our days in this world as a king or a slave. Everyone is going to the same place: the grave. There is no avoiding it. No amount of money can buy your way out of that box, and no amount of power can keep you from ending up six feet under. No matter our lot in the daily grind of this world, all of us have an equal share in the silence of the grave.
I suppose that might seem a little depressing and unfair, but Sheol is not the end. Everyone will awake from that shadowy sleep, and even in the events that follow, we see that God is still the Great Equalizer—not treating His righteous children any different from His wicked children. (Read Malachi chapter 4 for more on that!)
We all have but one life, and when it comes to what we will do with it—whether we will keep it for eternity or throw it away—God treats us all equally. He gives each of us the same gift of eternal life. He gives each of us the same gift of freedom to choose whether we want to keep His gift or not. And He gives each of us the same gift of His love. He loves us and treats us all equally with respect—no matter what we choose regarding His gift.
So, if you’re looking for equality, look no further than God. There is no better example! He is the Great Equalizer!
God does what He can.
I had to marvel at God all over again in this chapter. He will do everything He can to get through to us when we are being stubborn. Did you notice how He “freed” Ezekiel, here? “Now the evening before the man arrived, the hand of the Lord was on me, and he opened my mouth before the man came to me in the morning. So my mouth was opened and I was no longer silent.” (vs 22)
Perhaps it got lost in the details, but for seven long years, Ezekiel was only allowed to speak God’s prophesies to the Israelite exiles in Babylon. That’s it. Just the prophecies. Nothing else. “Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet. He spoke to me and said: ‘Go, shut yourself inside your house. And you, son of man, they will tie with ropes; you will be bound so that you cannot go out among the people. I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, for they are a rebellious people. But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says.”‘” (Ezek 3:24-27)
Those must have been lonely years—especially when Ezekiel’s wife died! Imagine not being able to go out and mingle with the people. Imagine not being able to even discuss the weather! To me, it seems very strange, yet God seemed to know that having Ezekiel interact in this way with the people would be just the thing to get their attention: “As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’”(vs 30)
At the end of those seven years, the people knew that when Ezekiel spoke it was for one reason and one reason only: to give a direct message from the Lord. He didn’t engage in idle chit-chat. He didn’t spout off about politics or child-rearing or finances or food. He didn’t talk about anything else. He didn’t say anything else except whatever followed the words, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says.”
The good news was, God had finally gotten through to His people! The bad news was, they still weren’t listening: “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” (vs 31-32)
At the end of the day, God does what He can. But even what He can do isn’t always enough, because He won’t force us to do what He wants. He finally got the exiles in Babylon to hear His words, but they still weren’t listening. So, let’s face it: the years weren’t only long and lonely for Ezekiel. God must have been feeling pretty isolated as well!
God will take care of us.
Until reading this chapter, I had never realized why the Pharisees were so bothered when Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (Jn 10:11-14)
Immediately after Jesus said this, the Pharisees accused Him of being possessed by a demon. He had been stirring up a lot of trouble by healing people and associating with those who were considered “unclean” by the religious leaders. But when the Pharisees heard this, it must have been just a little too much, for surely, they were well aware of the glorious prophecy recorded in Ezekiel 34: “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered. . . I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,’ declares the Sovereign Lord.” (vs 11-12, 14-15)
Notice who said that: the Sovereign Lord. Thus, for Jesus to declare that He was the Good Shepherd was, in effect, for Him to say, I am God.
The Pharisees simply couldn’t deal with that.
But is there any more beautiful picture of the kind of care God has for us that He became our shepherd in the flesh?! When we were lost, when we had gone astray, He didn’t give up on us. Instead, He came after us in a way so personal, so unbelievably intimate, that we can be left in no doubt of His intentions toward us. Whenever He has disciplined us, it has never been for punishment, but always for redemption. He does not seek to destroy, but to heal and save.
In short, God Himself summed up the cry of His heart at the end of this chapter, which is no less true today than it was in those days of Babylonian exile: “You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.” (vs 31)
And if we are God’s sheep, He knows us, He is concerned about us, and He will take care of us.
God is there.
Oh, those Edomites. They were forever trying to “one-up” the Israelites. They sent their army to block the way when the Israelites first entered the Promised Land. As God so aptly put it, they had “an ancient hostility” (vs 5) toward their Jewish brothers.
Of course, you may remember that the Edomites were the descendants of Esau, and the Israelites were the descendants of Jacob—and that relationship was marked by trickery and one-up-man-ship. Jacob stole his brother’s birthright, and while it seems the brothers eventually made peace with one another, their descendants had a much harder time getting along.
History records that the Edomites partnered with the Babylonians to finally crush Jerusalem in 587 B.C. They must have thought that with all the Israelites gone (and the Babylonians gone back to their own land with them), they’d be able to move in on some of that Promised Land territory.
Not so fast, Edomites! “Because you have said, ‘These two nations and countries will be ours and we will take possession of them,’ even though I the Lord was there, therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will treat you in accordance with the anger and jealousy you showed in your hatred of them and I will make myself known among them when I judge you.” (vs 10-11)
The Edomites made a serious miscalculation. They assumed that because the people were gone, the land had been abandoned. But they overlooked the fact that the Lord was there.
Don’t we often do that, too?
We are quick to judge others based on what we see in their lives, but we forget that the Lord is there. We are quick to judge our own circumstances based on our feelings of loneliness or despair, but we forget that the Lord is there. We sense emptiness, so we assume abandonment, but the Psalmist reminds us that God is everywhere. (Ps 139:7)
Just when we feel isolated and alone, remember the words of God in Ezekiel 35—I, the Lord, am there!
God needs organ donors.
Tucked away in this chapter is a statement that addresses how we become changed: “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (vs 24-27)
I am always amused by those who claim that Jesus and His teachings are somehow different than “the God of the Old Testament.” For it was Jesus who told Nicodemus that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he must be “born again,” and isn’t that exactly what Ezekiel is also saying? The Christian life isn’t about trying to clean up or change the old person; it’s about becoming a totally new person.
Jesus said the greatest commandment was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5). But, the more we try to love the Lord with all our heart, the more we find that we can’t love Him fully with this sinful heart. Hasn’t that been your experience? Even Paul said that he couldn’t do all the things he wanted, but kept doing all the things he didn’t want (Rom 7).
This statement from Ezekiel (and others like it) hold the key to the experiencing victory in the Christian life. It’s not about trying to reform our hearts. It’s about getting new hearts. God doesn’t need candidates for bypass surgery. God needs organ donors! He needs people who are willing to surrender themselves fully—grungy heart and all—and trust that He will give them a new heart and a right spirit.
In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Christ says, ‘Give me ALL. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you My self.’”
This quote from Lewis always confronts me. When it comes to surrendering myself fully to God, I usually conclude that it’s easier (and much less challenging for me!) to just give Him a lot of my time, money, and effort. Let’s face it: I can control these things much easier than I can control the Almighty God messing around with my heart and mind! I fear that this probably happens more often than we would like to admit—Christians confuse hard work for surrender. God would rather have the surrender!
And I must admit that although I have loved God for a long time and tried to serve Him faithfully, there are still many days when I’m aware that parts of my heart are still stony, but I trust God to be able to do what He says He can. I trust that He will be able to completely remove this old stone heart and give me one that’s fully alive. Indeed, He will give the full treatment to anyone who is willing to be an organ donor.
God brings things to life.
On this trip through the Bible, I was really struck with the story of bringing the bones to life: “Then he said to me: ‘Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” Therefore prophesy and say to them: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.”‘” (vs 11-14)
Death. This is one of the biggest issues we face. Everyone tries to avoid it, but nobody can escape it. None of us wants to die. None of us wants to end up as the object in this lesson—a pile of dry bones.
Yet, sooner or later, that is the reality that we face. We came from dust, and to dust we shall return.
But what does that mean? These dry bones may have looked dead, but were they unable to be brought back to life? No. For the One who is the Resurrection and the Life, what looks “dead” to us may simply be awaiting a rebirth—like seeds beneath a winter’s snow, waiting to bloom in the spring.
I think it’s time that we take a second look at what constitutes “life” and “death.” Jesus once said, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10). When He said this, He was talking to people who were conscious and breathing. This is important to understand, because we mostly associate life and death with whether a person is breathing or not. If a person is breathing, we call them “alive.” If a person has stopped breathing, we call them “dead.”
But that isn’t how God looks at life and death. Here’s how God looks at life and death: If we refuse to have a relationship with God, if we reject His advances, if we cut ourselves off from Him, we are “dead,” even if we’re walking around talking. And the opposite is also true. If we love God, if we have invited Him to be the Lord of our lives, we are “alive,” even if we’re six feet under.
Sometimes it’s hard to put life and death in this perspective. When we lose somebody close to us, we can easily get overwhelmed with grief and sorrow. But God wants us to know that the greater tragedy is that we could walk around on this planet for 90 or 100 years and never truly live, never truly find the life that Jesus so desperately wants to give us. That is the true tragedy, because God is more than able to put living flesh back on dry bones. He is more than able to restore the breathing.
When Jesus stood with Martha at the grave of her brother, Lazarus, He said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. . . He who believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26)
What about you? Do you believe it?
If you do, if you know that there is no power on heaven or earth that can snatch you out of God’s hand, then let that empower you. Don’t let the world around you get you down . . . when things feel the worst, when they look like they couldn’t possibly get any better, remember that God is the resurrection and the life. In an instant, He can turn everything around. Just when everything looks dead, watch out. Those old, dry bones might leap up and turn into an army!
Today, Jesus stands ready to speak new life into your heart and mind. Even if it all looks dead to you, He can transform it. He is the resurrection and the life, and whoever lives by believing in Him will never die.
God destroys defenses.
There was something very interesting in this chapter that I don’t think I’d ever seen before: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On that day thoughts will come into your mind and you will devise an evil scheme. You will say, ‘I will invade a land of unwalled villages; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people—all of them living without walls and without gates and bars. I will plunder and loot and turn my hand against the resettled ruins and the people gathered from the nations, rich in livestock and goods, living at the center of the land.’” (vs 10-12)
God was speaking through Ezekiel to “Gog, of the land of Magog.” (vs 2) A lot of Bible scholars are sort of taken aback by this, because this Gog and Magog were apparently not names that were known at the time of this prophecy. Some scholars conclude that they must have been familiar terms to the people and that their meaning has been lost to us.
But I find it interesting that John brings them up again in Revelation: “When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number, they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.” (Rev 20:7-9)
It really can’t be a coincidence that Ezekiel describes a scene with Gog and Magog very much like the one John describes, which apparently takes place at the end of the world. So while we don’t know exactly what the terms “Gog and Magog” refer to, they obviously represent the people who have chosen to be enemies of God and His people.
What really struck me about this chapter, however, was the description of God’s people at the end of time:
- They are prosperous.
- They are peaceful.
- They are defenseless.
Some of this seems contradictory to me. I mean, when someone has great wealth, isn’t building walls around it one of the first things they do? Yet these people are totally defenseless. Though prosperous, they are living in a place with no walls, gates, or bars. They are at peace within themselves and with one another. They are not suspicious of others.
This is what happens when we surrender ourselves to God. He destroys all our defenses. Because “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 Jn 4:18), the closer we come to God, the less we have to worry about trying to hold on to what we have. When we understand that all we have is God’s and it is all safe in His hands, we can be free!
Living freely and openly—without fear of anyone or anything. I want that to describe me, and as I stick with God each day, I know He is continually working to break down my every defense. Truly, every defense I think I have set up is just an illusion. He is the only sure defense. Safe in His hands, I need no walls, gates, or bars!
God knows the end of the story.
Sitting in my comfy chair with my Bible in hand, it’s easy to forget what the prophecy in this chapter must have sounded like to the exiles who first heard it. Here they were, sitting in a Babylonian prison camp, somewhere far away from home. All they knew was that everything they loved (and, likely, a lot of people they loved, too) were gone. Their nation had been destroyed and their homeland devastated by Nebuchadnezzar. I’m sure it must have all seemed hopeless.
Imagine, then, how this prophecy must have sounded: “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name. They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed toward me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. When I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the people of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (vs 25-29)
Apparently, this was God’s No Israelite Left Behind program. He promised to gather everyone back home, restore their fortunes, rebuild the land, and never send them into captivity again. How unbelievable that must have sounded to those Israelites sitting in Babylon. How hard it must have been for them to believe that God would or could do what He said.
Yet He did.
I think it’s important for us, too, to remember that God knows the end of the story. And often (if not all the time), the end of the story is something that we could never imagine. It makes me think of what God said to Habakkuk, another of His prophets who was complaining about all the evil he saw in the world. God replied, “Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Hab 1:5)
When life looks hopeless, when nothing seems to be going your way, and when it’s impossible to think that there could ever be a change in your circumstances, hold on. God sees a different picture than you do! He knows the end of the story—not just the chapter you’re currently stuck in. He has a plan to bless you—even if there’s no way you can imagine how that could possibly happen!
He knows the end of the story.
God is in the details.
You’ve probably heard it before. It’s a popular saying. The Devil is in the details. I’m not sure where the saying came from, and in some cases, it might be right. But if we learn anything from this chapter of Ezekiel, it’s that God is in the details! This 49-verse chapter was simply one measurement after another:
“I saw a wall completely surrounding the temple area. The length of the measuring rod in the man’s hand was six long cubits, each of which was a cubit and a handbreadth. He measured the wall; it was one measuring rod thick and one rod high. Then he went to the east gate. He climbed its steps and measured the threshold of the gate; it was one rod deep. The alcoves for the guards were one rod long and one rod wide, and the projecting walls between the alcoves were five cubits thick. And the threshold of the gate next to the portico facing the temple was one rod deep.” (vs 5-7)
And on and on and on.
Remember, this was a vision God gave to Ezekiel in order to encourage the Israelite captives. The last thing they knew about their beloved temple was that it had been destroyed and ransacked by Nebuchadnezzar. I’m sure that when they were carried off to Babylon, they thought Israel was gone for good. I’m sure they never imagined that there would be another temple in Jerusalem.
From the context, it’s obvious that Ezekiel’s vision refers to a temple that will be built sometime still in the future, although all Biblical scholars don’t agree on the when. But whether that temple is built 10, 100, or 1000 years from now, don’t you find it interesting that God knew its exact specifications thousands of years ago? It has all been planned—down to the very last cubit.
Let me promise you: if God has such details planned about the walls of a building, He has even more wonderful details planned about the days of your life. If He could sweep you away in a vision right now and show you what He had in store for you . . . well, like I quoted from Habakkuk a couple of days ago, you probably wouldn’t even believe it. Even if He tried to show you what was in store, it is more wonderful than you could imagine.
God is not some fly-by-night guy who leaves things to chance. He doesn’t specialize in the random. He specializes in the specific. He is incredibly meticulous about all His plans—whether it is plans to build a temple, plans to create a world, or plans to prosper you.
So, in case you were thinking that it’s you against the world and you have to find some way of making it on your own, let me give you some good news. God is in the details. And He has plenty that apply to you!
God makes us comfortable.
I have to say, all of these measurements brought to my mind a scene from the great basketball film, Hoosiers. Have you seen it? It’s based on the story of the high school basketball team from the small, rural town of Milan, Ind., who won the 1954 state championships. Actor Gene Hackman did an outstanding job in his portrayal of coach Norman Dale. Really, if you’ve never seen it, you should find a copy and watch it.
Reading Ezekiel’s laundry list of measurements in this (and the last) chapter reminded me of the scene in Hoosiers where the boys entered the stadium in Indianapolis. There, in the middle of the vast expanse, was the basketball court, surrounded by a veritable sea of seats. Surely, most of those boys had never seen a building that large. It must have been overwhelming and intimidating.
So, what’s the first thing the coach did? He pulled out a measuring tape and had a couple of members from the team measure the distance from the basket to the floor. Then, he had them measure the distance from the free throw line to the basket. After that, he said, “I think you’ll find it’s the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory” (the film’s equivalent of Milan).
With that one simple act, the coach diffused much of the team’s nervousness at being in a daunting and unfamiliar place. By demonstrating that the essentials were familiar to them—especially in the midst of what was highly unfamiliar—the coach restored the confidence and focus of his team.
Perhaps it was “reading too much” in to the text, but I saw a little of Coach Dale in God in this chapter, for His people were certainly in an unfamiliar and daunting place. They were frightened, bewildered, and definitely out of their comfort zone. And in the midst of that, God gave them a vision of a restored temple—of something familiar and comforting. He reminded them that, though they were sitting in exile, the essentials had not changed, and what they’d had would be restored to them.
Isn’t this just like God? In every situation—even in the worst of situations that we’ve brought on ourselves!—God is seeking to make us comfortable, to remind us of what’s familiar, and to draw our hearts toward home. When the world we’re faced with is overwhelming, He reminds us of the small, important details, assuring us of His care and concern.
Could we ask for a better Coach?
God is holy.
Did you catch the “holy” mantra in this chapter? Several times, the man who was measuring the temple described things to Ezekiel as “holy,” to the point where Ezekiel said this in summation: “So he measured the area on all four sides. It had a wall around it, five hundred cubits long and five hundred cubits wide, to separate the holy from the common.” (vs 20)
This is a theme that runs throughout Scripture. Especially in the Old Testament, it seems God was forever trying to get His people to respect what was holy. On the other hand, God Himself is not so holy that He felt it beneath Himself to become a common man.
It’s another paradox of the Christian life.
God is not some distant, uninvolved deity. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He is on the record with His desire to call us friends (Jn 15:15). However, that doesn’t mean we should forget that God is holy and should be treated as such.
Just because we are friends of God doesn’t mean we should ever begin to treat Him flippantly or blow Him off or jerk Him around. And why? Not because God will be offended and retaliate, but because if we ever begin to treat God as “nothing special,” we inherently put ourselves in danger.
After all, at the end of the day, we are connected to this Friend in some way for our life. If He becomes so commonplace to us, so mundane and tedious, we may start to have contempt for Him. We may start to feel like He holds no special and set-apart place in our lives.
We should never become so familiar with God that we forget that He is the Creator and we are His creatures. The fact that He desires friendship with us says an awful lot about His character, but we should not let that relationship erode any respect we have for God’s position as God.
He is holy. We shouldn’t mistake Him for the common!
God is real.
In this chapter, Ezekiel witnesses the return of the glory of the Lord to the restored temple: “The glory of the Lord entered the temple through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. While the man was standing beside me, I heard someone speaking to me from inside the temple. He said: ‘Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever.’” (vs 4-7)
Since we are so removed from the culture of Old Testament times, I wonder if we sometimes lose a lot of the meaning in passages such as this. But today, when I read through this chapter, I was hit with the thought that for God to show up in His temple must have been quite an incredible thing!
I mean, I don’t think there was any such thing as an atheistic society in those days. Every nation had their gods. Everybody worshiped someone or something. That’s why one of the perennial problems God had with the Israelites was idolatry. He couldn’t get them to leave all those other, non-existent gods alone.
But when you think of all the other nations who worshiped other gods (and most had many different gods), how many of those gods ever showed up at their respective temples? None! Of course, this is because none of them actually existed, but the people kept treating them like they did. Still, they never saw anything more in their temples than idols they had made with their own hands. Their gods never showed up. Their gods never filled their temples with their glory.
Our God is real. He actually shows up. As Woody Allen once quipped, that’s eighty percent of success! And it’s certainly more than any of the other false gods in the Bible were able to accomplish.
Thousands of years later, God is still showing up. He is still filling His restored temples (you and me—1 Cor 6:19) with His glory. He is still proving that He is real. So when we pray, we don’t talk to idols made of wood and stone, but to a real, caring, listening God who just wants to dwell forever with His people.
God is real, and He wants you to know Him and see His glory.
God offers rest.
There was a line in this chapter that I found very curious. Speaking of His priests, God said, “When they enter the gates of the inner court, they are to wear linen clothes; they must not wear any woolen garment while ministering at the gates of the inner court or inside the temple. They are to wear linen turbans on their heads and linen undergarments around their waists. They must not wear anything that makes them perspire.” (vs 17-18)
They must not wear anything that makes them perspire.
What did you make of that?
I suppose some might say that body odor is a turnoff to God, but I thought God was trying to get at something much more symbolic here. I think He was saying, “When you come to me, when you worship me, it shouldn’t be hard work. Doing what I ask is never to be a burden.”
Isn’t that just what Jesus said in Matthew 12? “Come to Me, all of you who work and have heavy loads. I will give you rest. Follow My teachings and learn from Me. I am gentle and do not have pride. You will have rest for your souls. For My way of carrying a load is easy and My load is not heavy.” (Matt 12:28-30)
God offers rest. To be in His presence is to know that we are gifted with grace and forgiveness. We don’t have to work hard for His approval. He accepts us as we are. We don’t have to work hard for His salvation. He is more than willing to heal us. In fact, this is the whole point of the Sabbath. It was the very first gift God gave Adam and Eve—a day to rest and remember that He would provide for all their needs.
God always offers rest. When we do things His way, we will find peace for our innermost being. He will do all the heavy lifting!
God is honest.
There was something in this chapter that stuck out to me, as it sort of puts together a number of little puzzle pieces I’ve been considering lately: “‘This is what the Lord God says: You have gone far enough, you rulers of Israel! Stop being cruel and hurting people, and do what is right and fair. Stop forcing my people out of their homes, says the Lord God. You must have honest scales, an honest dry measurement and an honest liquid measurement.’” (vs 9-10)
I think honesty is the essence of living a godly life. And by honesty, I mean both living with nothing to hide and living with nothing to gain (in a deceptive way). But, in both senses, this seems rather backward to what we’ve become in society, even within the church.
For instance, many of us try to hide our deepest, darkest sins. We put on nice clothes and a nice smile and go to church week after week, while some of us (maybe even most) are trying to pretend like we’ve got it all together and there are no sins we’re struggling with.
I know I’ve been guilty of that.
But, far from hiding our sins, the Bible tells us to confess our sins, to be honest about them! Of course, I don’t know just how far we should go with confessing our sins to one another in church, but the problem with making a habit of hiding from each other is that this behavior tends to spill over into our relationship with God, and we begin to hide from Him, too.
God doesn’t want us to hide from Him! He wants us to be honest about who we are, even if “who we are” is ugly. In Revelation, God said, “I know what you do, that you are not hot or cold. I wish that you were hot or cold! But because you are lukewarm—neither hot, nor cold—I am ready to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich, and I have become wealthy and do not need anything.’ But you do not know that you are really miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev 3:15-17)
God said this to people who were not being honest with themselves (or Him) about who they were. They were pretending to be something they weren’t. Instead of acknowledging all their sin and shortcomings, they were priding themselves on being “good people.” That’s sort of what the Pharisees did as well. They looked down on others as “sinners,” while thinking much more highly of themselves. Apparently, that sort of thinking leads to the desire to kill God.
In contrast, one of the things I admire most about God is that He is honest—brutally honest! Have you read the Bible lately? Do you get the feeling that God is eager to gloss over the problems He encounters in His creation? On the contrary—many people scorn and shun the Bible because God has not ignored the gory details. He has not covered over the problems in His creation, even when those problems included slavery, rampant sexual immorality, greed, murder, and hatred.
God is honest because that’s the only environment in which a true love relationship can flourish. He is always honest with us, and He wants us to be honest with Him. If we’re not, where can He go with that? If one person in a relationship is living a life of pretense, what does that do to the relationship?
So, in everything you do, try to practice honesty. No cheating. No hiding. No deceit. Live openly and transparently—the way God lives toward you. You may just find that practicing His type of honesty is the most freeing experience you’ve ever had!
God changes us.
Ah, something so beautiful in this chapter: "When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed festivals, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out the north gate. No one is to return through the gate by which they entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate." (vs 9)
Note that this exiting through a different gate would come after worshiping “in the presence of the Lord.” (vs 3) The people would enter the temple one way, encounter God’s presence in worship, and then leave through a different way, not going back the same gate they came in.
Why did God command the people to do this? There might be a number of different reasons, but as it is connected with worship, I think God was symbolically reminding the people that after they had been at worship, they would never be the same again. They were not to go back out the same way they came in because, if they had worshiped in God’s presence, they were not the same people who came in!
God changes us, and one of the primary ways He does that is through our worship. It is by beholding that we become changed. That’s what Paul said: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)
One of the hallmarks of being with the Lord is that we never leave that encounter unchanged. Whether we are changed for the better or worse (and that is according to our response to the Spirit), we are changed. We cannot remain neutral. The disciples (except for Judas) were changed for the better through their encounters with Christ. Most of the Pharisees were not. But none of them could stay the same! They all “left” through a different gate than the one through which they “entered.”
Do you need changing? Good news! God changes us! He loves you as you are, but He won’t leave you that way. When you spend time with Him, you will be changed!
God does big things.
How do small things become big things, or small changes become big changes? I’ve been contemplating this idea recently as I observe my growing daughter. She’s 14 months old now, and I can’t even begin to list the great many changes that have taken place in her. For instance, there was a time (in the not-so-distant past) when she couldn’t walk or crawl or even roll over.
In fact, I was just quipping to my husband the other day: Wasn’t it nice when we could lay her down on the floor somewhere and she couldn’t move?! Now, all she does is move!
I marvel at all the big changes she’s gone through in her first 14 months, and I marvel even more at how those changes occur. All she’s done is live one day at a time, and moment by moment, her body is growing and changing—little increments of time bearing out big changes in her.
I thought about her again as I read the chapter from Ezekiel today: “As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross.” (vs 3-5)
This is God’s river of life, and whether it’s a description of a physical river or a spiritual river (or both), the fact is, what started out as a trickle at the beginning of the chapter has grown to an all-consuming, rushing river at the end.
I think this is how God works in our lives. He begins in very small ways, perhaps even small enough to escape our notice. As we continue on, one step at a time, the living water and its impact in our lives is getting deeper and deeper, but it may not dawn on us at first. In fact, we may one day find ourselves awash in God’s raging, life-giving river and wonder, What happened to that trickle we started with?
God always does big things—even when they start out as small things. His blessings, His mercies, and His gifts are ever-increasing. All we need to do is sit back and watch Him go!
God shares His best.
One of the things I’m convinced about God is that He’s a generous Giver. Throughout Scripture, one of the most consistent pictures of Him is the one where He abundantly blesses all those He can. Many of His blessings are conditional—meaning that we experience inherent blessings when we decide to do things the way God suggests. However, I’m convinced God also heaps all the blessings He can on people who don’t follow His ways. He is as good to His enemies as He is to His friends.
I contemplated God’s giving ways once again as I read this chapter: “The special portion [of land] you are to offer to the Lord will be 25,000 cubits long and 10,000 cubits wide. This will be the sacred portion for the priests. . . In the center of it will be the sanctuary of the Lord. This will be for the consecrated priests, the Zadokites, who were faithful in serving me and did not go astray as the Levites did when the Israelites went astray. It will be a special gift to them from the sacred portion of the land, a most holy portion, bordering the territory of the Levites. Alongside the territory of the priests, the Levites will have an allotment 25,000 cubits long and 10,000 cubits wide. . . This is the best of the land and must not pass into other hands, because it is holy to the Lord.” (vs 9-14)
Once again, we see God giving His best to His creation. This is so different to what we have seen modeled in our own sinful world. History is littered with stories of dictators and kings who hoarded the very best resources for themselves whilst their fellow countrymen starved.
God is just the opposite. Instead of hoarding the best for Himself, He freely gives it to us. He never holds back, but always showers blessings and abundance on both His friends and enemies. I must conclude, then, that giving is the very essence of Godliness.
And God doesn’t only give us stuff. In fact, the stuff isn’t even the best part! God gives us nothing better than the gift of Himself. Wasn’t that a most beautiful ending to this chapter? “And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.” (vs 35)
Now that’s a city I want to live in!