Pergamon Museum, Berlin
The book of Ezekiel was written during a curious time in the life of the nation of Judah. Those who are not students of Old Testament history may not be aware that the destruction of Judah by Babylon took place over two decades, and captives were taken by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon in at least two attacks that were separated by ten years. Ezekiel was taken in the first captivity that took place in 579 BC, along with ten thousand others who were the leadership and respected people of Judah. After being taken captive, Ezekiel was called by God to serve as His prophet to the Jews in Babylon. Jeremiah had been a prophet in Judah for about 10 years prior to the first captivity, and remained there through the second. Consequently, during the ten-year interim period, we find Jeremiah preaching in Judah and Ezekiel preaching in Babylon. Jeremiah's prophecy called upon the people of Judah to turn to God in obedience and submit to the Babylonian king, stating that failure to do so would bring certain and utter destruction to the nation. Ezekiel preached a similar message, but also included several prophesies of specific events that would later take place.
Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Have you ever heard someone say, "God told me ...." as they pronounce some opinion of import? From the time that God created man, He revealed Himself in a progressive manner: through the written word, through the prophets, and finally through Jesus Christ. Though we see the work of the Holy Spirit through this entire period, during the Old Testament era, we find that God spoke through prophets. Many would argue that the last prophet was John the Baptist, who proclaimed the imminent coming of the Messiah. The common ancient formula, "word of the Lord" was used by the prophets to identify that the message was from God, and not their own. Furthermore, the meaning of the word, "word" was much deeper and more meaningful than the word we currently use. To the ancients, the "word" represented the authority and power of the source in addition to the message content. Those who brought the word of the Lord were fully characterized by that word. Prophets did not treat their prophecy as a matter-of-fact of fancy, but were so immersed in the import of their calling that it was the central purpose and definition of their lives, a purpose that also brought the consequences of their uncompromised faith that contradicted the culture of a wicked world.
As Ezekiel prophesied the coming siege of Jerusalem, he drew a map of the city on the ground and lay on his side, surrounding it like a besieging army. For 430 days he laid there while eating only the rations that are typical to those under siege. (4:1-8). He also shaved his head and face, disposing of the hair in an illustrative manner that God had required (5:1-5). In these and other acts, Ezekiel "acted out" the prophesies in silence, following God's command to do so.
Also, thou son of man, thus saith the Lord GOD unto the land of Israel; An end, the end is come upon the four corners of the land.
Ezekiel has been prophesying concerning the coming siege of Jerusalem. However, he also declares that the coming destruction will involve more than only the city. Judah has witnessed the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel, though about 8 generations have passed since the Assyrian invasion took place. Still, they have seen how the entire nation can be destroyed. However, there was an arrogance among the Jews concerning the city of Jerusalem. They felt that since the temple was there, the city was immune to destruction. Yet, Ezekiel prophesies that following the siege of Jerusalem the entire nation will be destroyed. This was a concept that the Jews simply could not understand or accept. After all, they are the "chosen people" and they reside in the "promised land." They thought they were untouchable.
Now is the end come upon thee, and I will send mine anger upon thee, and will judge thee according to thy ways, and will recompense upon thee all thine abominations.
Why would God put an end to the nation of Judea? If God is to be God, there is no other possible solution to the apostasy of the nation. God promised to protect them and keep them in the land as long as they would be obedient to Him (Lev. 26:12, et. al.) Ezekiel uses words like "anger" and "judge" to describe God's response to Judah's apostasy. Though God is patient, His sovereignty dictates that Judah cannot be allowed to go on in sin forever (Gen. 6:3). Still, however, as God lifts His hand of protection from Judea, He still protects and preserves the remnant of faithful: they are taken captive into Babylon.
Note the twofold reasoning behind the destruction of the nation. First, the nation is being judged according to way of life that they have chosen for themselves. They chose to turn their back on God and follow after the practices of a pagan world. The worship of God had been replaced with the worship of pagan gods and idols. The "church" had gone "secular." Second, God is going to provide a recompense for their sin. God did not need to "send" Nebuchadnezzar upon the nation. All God had to do was allow it. The Jews brought Nebuchadnezzar down upon themselves when they formed a political alliance with Egypt against Babylon. By involving themselves in international intrigue, they became a pawn in a deadly chess match between other larger nations. Judah is simply a minor task in the Babylonian conquest of Egypt.
How does the experience of Judah relate to God's relationship with Christians today? God judges based upon "thy ways," the attitudes and actions that characterize our lives. If "thy ways" are not God's ways, then a price for ungodliness, the recompense, must be paid. Babylon's specific attack of Judah was directly related to Judah's alliance with Egypt. However, the consequence of the alliances with nations came from a basic rejection of God as their Lord. By rejecting God, they lived a basic cultural lifestyle that left God out, replacing Him with secular living, a lifestyle and value system that is ungodly and an "abomination." The world today is just as secular, ungodly, and abominable as it was 2400 years ago. Allying with today's culture is still an act of rebellion against God, a choice that has deep and dramatic consequences. Literally all of the unnecessary suffering that takes place today can be tied to ungodly living, either on the part of the sufferer or someone else who is causing the suffering. It is not possible to live an ungodly lifestyle, hold to worldly values, and find God's approval.
And mine eye shall not spare thee, neither will I have pity: but I will recompense thy ways upon thee, and thine abominations shall be in the midst of thee: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
What is the condition of those who live by worldly values and ignore God? We can note five consequences of living a worldly lifestyle from this verse:
1. "Mine eye shall not spare thee." Much of the covenant that God made with Israel involves His promised hand of protection. We see God's protecting hand in many of the events in Israel's history, from their miraculous exodus from the Pharaoh's Egypt and through the early years of the formation of the independent nation. However, that hand of protection was removed when Israel turned away from God. Those who live apart from God stand outside of God's hand of protection as they accept in His stead the dominion of this world, where Satan is prince. God will not be there to protect them from the consequences of their apostasy.
2. "Neither will I have pity." God's grace is offered to all who would simply turn to Him in faith. However, God is a perfect and sinless God, and does not lavish grace upon those who choose a lifestyle of sin. God cannot be a perfect and sinless God and have fellowship with sin. Therefore, there is no possibility of pity for those who reject God. Those who live a worldly lifestyle have simply chosen to live outside of God's fellowship and by doing so have chosen to ignore God. God simply asks for faith in Him in order to find fellowship with Him. God cannot be God and save those who will not turn to Him in faith. Consequently, His saving grace will not be extended to those who choose to reject Him.
3. "Recompense." Those who reject God will experience the full brunt of the consequences of that choice. As a sovereign God, He has the power to perform miracles and protect us from the consequence of our choices. However, like a father who disciplines a child in order that the child would learn the consequences of bad behavior, God allows us to experience the consequences of our own behavior. The consequence of taking our rejection of God to the grave carries a "recompense" of being awarded what we asked for: to spend eternity without Him.
4. "in the midst." The evil we commit through our rejection of Him is no secret. We cannot hide it from ourselves. We cannot hide it from others. Of course, we cannot hide it from God. Though we dress ourselves in colors and fine linen, sin stains us as black as the blackest ink, reflecting no light at all. One who loves the Lord cannot hide their faith and the fruits of that faith any more than one can hide a city on a hill (Matt 5:14.) The very nature of a true Christian is one that cannot or will not be easily mimicked by one who is lost. The prideful lost often look at faithful Christians as foolish, or intolerant, or ignorant, and certainly as "unenlightened." Thinking themselves wise, the lost become fools, and their true foolishness is ever evident (Rom. 1:22.)
5. "ye shall know." The final judgment will not be quite what was expected for most of those who have rejected God. At that time, all will see Him and will recognize and know who He is: Lord and Savior (Isa. 45:23). God has given every opportunity for those who come to the judgment to have turned to Him in faith, yet those who come to him lost have refused to do so. One of the themes that runs through the Revelation of John is God's continual plea for repentance, a plea that continues until the final point of judgment at the end of the age. There is no age for men after the judgment, so there will be no opportunity for salvation after it. Today is the day of salvation. Unfortunately, many will find this out too late.
Yet, how are the lost to come to repentance if they do not know, and remain unconvinced? This is why the most important task for every true Christian is to share God's love with all they meet so that when a Spirit-led opportunity arises, the gospel can be shared.
The sword is without, and the pestilence and the famine within: he that is in the field shall die with the sword; and he that is in the city, famine and pestilence shall devour him.
Ezekiel's prophesies were so accurate that some scholars have insisted that they could not have been written prior to the events they described. However, such criticisms do not hold up to the historical and scriptural evidence that shows that Ezekiel's prophesies clearly took place prior to the final dissolution of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. In this verse Ezekiel describes the situation that will be experienced in the last three years of Judah's existence: the siege of the city. Jerusalem, as with other kingdoms, were almost feudal in design. That is, a central city was the fortress; the domain of a king. The king's army protected the area around the city, keeping the farmers safe and loyal to the throne. The peasants were willing to be subject to the king because of the security he provided.
During a siege the king is unable to protect those around the city. Prior to a siege, the residents surrounding the city will seek shelter within the city walls, increasing the city's population and more quickly depleting its resources. The besieging army will put to the sword those loyal to the king who remain outside the city walls. With the loss of the support of the surrounding agriculture, the city faces starvation. Its citizens will ration the food that can be found, but there is not enough agricultural infrastructure within a city to feed its people. Weakened by starvation and inadequate sanitary conditions, sickness sets in as people die from the many complications of starvation, collected in these verses as "pestilence." The people of the city, so weakened, at some point would no longer be able to defend the city walls, and the city will be taken with little violence. Ezekiel clearly states that the destruction of the "four corners" of the land will come as the result of a siege on Jerusalem. That is, the siege of Jerusalem will result in the loss of the entire nation. This is the siege he was demonstrating in Chapter 4 when he also accurately prophesied its duration, and even the positions of the offending armies.
Of interest: Perhaps the most well-known siege upon Judah took place about 400 years later. The remnant of Judah returned to Jerusalem from Babylon under King Cyrus of Persia, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. The nation still did not turn back to God, depending on their identity and tradition, even after witnessing the coming of the Messiah. In 70 A.D. the Roman emperor sought to destroy this rebellious nation, much for the same reasons that Nebuchadnezzar did. With Jerusalem fallen, the last of the Judean rebels retreated to the mountain fortress of Masada. The Roman siege on the mountain was very similar to the Babylonian siege on Jerusalem so many years earlier. When the starvation and pestilence reached the point that the defenders could no longer hold the walls secure, they met the armies of Rome with a different plan. When the Romans succeeded in breaching the wall after building a large ramp, they found the inhabitants of the fortress dead. Those who had survived starvation committed suicide. This event ended the existence of Israel until it was reformed as the modern nation of Israel in the mid 20th century, almost 1900 years later.
But they that escape of them shall escape, and shall be on the mountains like doves of the valleys, all of them mourning, every one for his iniquity. 17All hands shall be feeble, and all knees shall be weak as water. 18They shall also gird themselves with sackcloth, and horror shall cover them; and shame shall be upon all faces, and baldness upon all their heads.
It would be difficult to understate the demoralization that would be felt by those who survived the siege on Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. When the Babylonian army entered the city they destroyed everything they could not take in spoil. Rather than leaving a remnant behind, they killed or captured all of its inhabitants, leaving not a soul to remain. Those who escaped the violence did so by hiding in the many caves in the mountains surrounding the city. Following the retreat of the Babylonian army many of these gathered at Mispah, the new "capital" of Judah, where a Babylonian governor was placed in charge of the newly organized region. The Babylonians no longer considered the region to be Judah, but another protectorate of Chaldee, the nation around which Babylon was the center.
The temple of Jerusalem was utterly destroyed. The pillar of fire that stood over the temple for 400 years (and over the tent of meeting for about 400 years) was gone. Many of them would interpret this event in the same manner that the Babylonians did: the God of Israel was defeated. Jeremiah's last prophesies would be concerning the arrogance of Babylon and the judgment of God upon them. The events surrounding the siege of Jerusalem was the peak of the power of Babylon. In only a few short years, less than three generations, even Babylon would be gone both as a nation and as a city.
The mourning of the exiles in the mountains would have been dramatic. With their "God defeated" they would not only have lost a battle: they would have lost an identity. Some of those who were grieving would surely remember the prophesies of Jeremiah as well as the teachings that some must have learned from the early Jewish texts of the Torah. Some would realize that their plight was related to their own iniquity.
Those who escape will have survived the three-year siege. They survived the pestilence and starvation that so plagued the city. Verse 17 refers to the weakened state of those who will leave the city for the mountains. The depth of their grief and horror at the destruction of the temple is inestimable. This would be the seminal event of their lives. For many today, we see the fall of the trade towers in New York on 9/11/2001 as a seminal, horrific, event. Still, with all respect to those so horribly impacted by that event, the event did not destroy America as a nation. In fact, it brought the nation together and strengthened its resolve. The loss of the temple destroyed Judah when its loss stripped them of their identity.
This tremendous loss came as a result of the extracted apostasy of the nation. Having rejected God, the citizens of the nation rejected its purpose for existence. When God took the city and the land away, they were astonished and amazed that the impossible had happened. When those who are lost face the final judgment, a similar response can be expected, an astonishment that is described in the Revelation of John. If the Jews could have been convinced of their apostasy, they would have turned to God, and they occasionally did when they were led by godly leaders. However, by the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, those of the faithful remnant had lost all political influence in the country, and it was doomed to an apostate future. Those who are hard-hearted against God are similar to the last-generations of Judeans. They will be equally astonished and amazed at the devastating impact of the loss they will experience at the final judgment.
What caused this devastating loss for both the Judeans and for the lost souls of all ages? It is simply choosing to adopt an ungodly, worldly, and secular value system.
They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed: their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the LORD: they shall not satisfy their souls, neither fill their bowels: because it is the stumblingblock of their iniquity.
The one thing that empowers people to reject God is the security they hold in the things of this world, particularly those things of worldly value. The example given in these verses is silver and gold, a metaphor for all things considered to be valuable possessions. However, at the time of the siege, all that they have hoarded has no value. When a loaf of breaded is needed to save the life of your starving child, no amount of money can buy one when none exists in the city. Jesus described this nature of man when He stated that it is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 19:24, Mark 10:25). When we observe the "lifestyles of the rich and famous" we are sometimes fooled into thinking that theirs is a life that is exceedingly good, something to be desired. In reality, an opulent lifestyle is something to be greatly feared and respected as it can be as beautiful and as deadly as the most deadly viper. Riches tend to bring out the fruit of our natural spirit: greed, pride, and self-sufficiency. Each of these natural sins are powerful stumbling blocks to faith. We can only approach with wonder the impact that the judgment will have on the richest, yet unrepentant, of this world. When they realize what those riches did to them they will wish they could throw them into the streets. The word "removed" in verse 19 could also be understood to be "despised."
As for the beauty of his ornament, he set it in majesty: but they made the images of their abominations and of their detestable things therein: therefore have I set it far from them.
It is not the riches and wealth themselves that lead one to destruction ... it is what is done with them. The world's value system teaches one to hoard and brag, heedless of the needs of others. Who of us has not wondered what you would do with a sudden windfall of tremendous riches? Would we use it for personal comfort, or would be use it to honor and glorify God? To keep wealth to ourselves is similar to what the rich Judeans did. Without the availability of banks, they concentrated their wealth in portable valuables. Liquid assets were converted to gold and spikenard. Gold was made into idols that they held in esteem over their dependence upon or respect for God. Spikenard was kept in a bottle. It was this spikenard that Mary used to anoint Jesus feet (John 12:3).
Our natural tendency is to hoard and cling to objects of wealth. I have seen people so enamored by their automobile that they wash it almost daily, abhorring a single fingerprint that might appear on it. My vehicles are lucky if they get washed once a year! When objects come to mean more to us than they should, they become icons at best and idols at worst. When those icons cause us to stumble in our faithfulness to God, it becomes an abomination to the LORD. I have seen many instances of folks who desire that car, or that house, and borrow to obtain it. Then, in debt beyond their means, they no longer have the resources to honor God with tithes and offerings. Instead, all of their income goes to the things THEY want. The car, or the house, has become an abomination. Recently that tendency for possession, combined with the greed of building developers has resulted in the greatest downturn in the housing and investment market in generations.
The desire for the things of this world is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to faith that exist. The possessions of this world do not, in themselves, have an attribute of ungodliness, as even God appreciates the majesty we see in things that seem greater than ourselves. Still, the icon does not need to be great wealth. Consider the hawk: A beautiful and majestic bird of prey. To the ancients, a hawk was something that could not be tamed, and any animal that could not be domesticated was seen as greater than men. The ancients came to worship these animals, treating them as gods. For the Egyptians, snakes were gods. We can make gods out of anything if we choose. Any time we give authority to anything other than God, that thing becomes an icon, an idol, and an abomination.
And I will give it into the hands of the strangers for a prey, and to the wicked of the earth for a spoil; and they shall pollute it. 22My face will I turn also from them, and they shall pollute my secret place: for the robbers shall enter into it, and defile it.
What will come of those things that we hoard for ourselves? During the siege of Jerusalem the rich tried to buy bread. When scarce amounts were available, the price of bread would rise to the point that only the rich could eat. Then when the food is gone, all of the money that changed hands is worthless. Who ended up with the riches of Jerusalem? Who ended up with the hoarded riches of the temple? All of this "stuff" became spoils for the Babylonian army, the approved compensation for the victorious soldiers and their families. Nebuchadnezzar kept the content of the temple for his treasury. Much of it was later taken to Rome when that empire swept over the region. It was then taken by the Vandals when they sacked Rome. What was placed in the temple had been dedicated to God and for His purposes, but when it became spoils, it was "polluted," becoming a vulgar possession of vulgar men.
When each of us leaves this earth, we will leave everything of material value behind. It will be given to someone else. Those gold coins you may have will simply become someone else's gold coins. When they die, they will then belong to someone else. Nothing of material value will be of eternal value when it is not used to serve the kingdom of God. However, investments in the kingdom last forever.
The experience of the last generations of Judah should not be lost on today's generation. This century may see the last generations of men, and like the Judeans, we have turned from God, perverted what is good, and kept all we can for ourselves. We dishonor God by our failure to worship Him appropriately when we are more interested in the events and objects of our own lives. For some who meet on Sunday mornings, the experience is not one of true worship and adoration of our LORD: For some it has become little more than an obstacle between breakfast and the golf course or afternoon television entertainment.
Some day this entire creation will suffer the fate of Judah. God will not strive for men forever (Gen. 6:3) and this age will come to an end. However, every individual who meets death before the end of the age faces the same end. Will you be a member of the elect, those who have washed their robes with the blood of the lamb, (Rev. 7:14)? Or will you be found empty-handed of all of the objects of value in your life, and empty-handed of faith?
The choice is yours, and yours alone. If you have been sucked in and overwhelmed by the value systems of this present world, it is not too late to repent and turn to God in confession. You will find grace and forgiveness. Like the few faithful Jews who were preserved in Babylon, still under the protection and care of God and his prophet, Ezekiel, the faithful will be preserved from the eternal separation from God, the lake of fire, that awaits all who meet God without faith in Him. Don't let this world drag you down with it. Shed the world's values for God's values, and He will lift you up.