Ishtar Gate, Babylon
(Rebuilt, Pergamon Museum, Berlin)
Warnings: we see them every day. Everywhere we travel we see warnings of traffic dangers in signs along the road. Speed limits are posted to warn of the dangers of exceeding them. We may find "no swimming" signs in locations where there are dangers in the water, whether it be from rip tides, pollution, or from predators such as sharks or jellyfish. We print warning signs on consumables that are dangerous to one's health when misused.
Children receive many warnings from loving parents during the formative years of growth. When heeded, warnings serve to protect one from the consequences of ignoring, or being ignorant of, dangers. However, it takes a willful choice to either ignore or heed a warning, and we often choose to ignore them.
The destruction of the nation of Israel did not come without much warning. God set down His plan through the books of the Torah, and continually spoke through faithful people who brought God's word. Whether they were the patriarchs, the (few) godly kings, or the prophets, their message from God was consistent: serve God and live in obedience to Him. If we refuse to follow Him and follow the culture of the godless world, only disaster will result.
The covenant that God made with Israel at Sinai, after they had been brought out of Egypt and formed as an independent nation, had one important agreement: as long as the people would honor Him as God and obey Him, God would protect them, provide for them, and give them a land within which to prosper. However, the people forgot the conditional nature of the covenant and became arrogant, thinking that they were invincible because of the presence of God in the temple. Judah had witnessed the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel in 717 B.C. However, with Jerusalem on their side of the border, they did not consider they could suffer a similar fate. As kings such as Jehoshafat and Josiah, with the prophets continued to warn of the danger of their increasing apostasy, the people of Judah would still not turn to God.
By the time Ezekiel is writing, Babylon has already invaded Judah, sacked Jerusalem, and taken 10,000 of its people captive. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel are continuing to bring God's warning, and the people will still not believe that they are in danger of destruction.
The word of the LORD also came unto me, saying, 2Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house.
One might envision someone walking down the main street of a busy city wearing a sandwich sign where, pasted in front and behind him, are the words "REPENT! THE END IS NEAR." How do people respond to such a warning? It is probably safe to say that no individual in the entire city gives any heed to this "prophet's" warning.
Why do we ignore the passionate messages from these urban prophets? We don't believe that the man with the sign knows anything we do not know, and we certainly do not believe that the world is coming to an end. We also do not believe that there is any authority or truth in the prophet's message. So, we ignore the "prophet" and his message. This is an almost identical response to the manner that ancient prophets were received. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were entirely ignored as they used every resource at hand to give the people an opportunity to repent and avoid the coming disaster. However, there was a significant difference between Ezekiel and our urban prophets: Ezekiel (and the other prophets) were sent by God with a message for the people, and they spoke with God's authority.
Still today, the gospel message is a message of joy and hope for all people, yet most of the world's population reject it. God has given us enough evidence through His word and through what He as done to make Himself and His purpose for mankind known to all people. However, most people are much like the ancient Judeans, quite satisfied with their secular life experience, with no interest in repentance and turning to God. God warned the ancients that He will not have fellowship with those who reject Him, and the warning is the same today. We are a rebellious people.
Therefore, thou son of man, prepare thee stuff for removing, and remove by day in their sight; and thou shalt remove from thy place to another place in their sight: it may be they will consider, though they be a rebellious house. 4Then shalt thou bring forth thy stuff by day in their sight, as stuff for removing: and thou shalt go forth at even in their sight, as they that go forth into captivity. 5Dig thou through the wall in their sight, and carry out thereby. 6In their sight shalt thou bear it upon thy shoulders, and carry it forth in the twilight: thou shalt cover thy face, that thou see not the ground: for I have set thee for a sign unto the house of Israel. 7And I did so as I was commanded: I brought forth my stuff by day, as stuff for captivity, and in the even I digged through the wall with mine hand; I brought it forth in the twilight, and I bare it upon my shoulder in their sight.
Much of Ezekiel's prophesy was communicated without words. God would lead Ezekiel to act out the prophesy, and by so doing, arouse questions among those who witnessed his strange behavior. It was when they asked questions that Ezekiel had an opportunity to clarify the prophesy. In this instance, Ezekiel is told to take his "stuff" and move it from one place to another within sight of everyone. His manner of moving is quite unique. He is to dig through a wall, carry the materials on his shoulders, and cover his face so that he cannot see where he is going.
At the time of this prophesy, Zedekiah is king in Judah. In previous chapters Ezekiel has been prophesying concerning the siege of Jerusalem that would precede its utter destruction. Zedekiah would be in power when that siege would take place. The events portrayed in this prophesy take place during the coming siege and relate specifically to this king.
And in the morning came the word of the LORD unto me, saying, 9Son of man, hath not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said unto thee, What doest thou? 10Say thou unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; This burden concerneth the prince in Jerusalem, and all the house of Israel that are among them. 11Say, I am your sign: like as I have done, so shall it be done unto them: they shall remove and go into captivity. 12And the prince that is among them shall bear upon his shoulder in the twilight, and shall go forth: they shall dig through the wall to carry out thereby: he shall cover his face, that he see not the ground with his eyes. 13My net also will I spread upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare: and I will bring him to Babylon to the land of the Chaldeans; yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there. 14And I will scatter toward every wind all that are about him to help him, and all his bands; and I will draw out the sword after them. 15And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall scatter them among the nations, and disperse them in the countries. 16But I will leave a few men of them from the sword, from the famine, and from the pestilence; that they may declare all their abominations among the heathen whither they come; and they shall know that I am the LORD.
It may be interesting to note that Ezekiel may have performed the prophetic skit for the people without knowing its meaning. It was in the morning after his prophetic act that God explained its meaning. God commanded Ezekiel to communicate the meaning to the people in a manner that they would understand.
The "prince in Jerusalem" is a reference to Zedekiah, the king and his exit from the falling city of Jerusalem. When we look at the actual event, recorded in 2 Kings 25:1-7, we can see the warning in the prophesy. In the eleventh year of Zedekiah's reign, a few months before the besieged city fell, the king and the king's men attempted to sneak out of the city in a hole in the wall that surrounded the king's garden. Thinking he would slip through while Nebuchadnezzar was away dealing with the Egyptians, he failed to calculate the voracity of the Chaldeans who captured him, taking him and his sons to Riblah where he was held for judgment by the Babylonian king. As the king was restrained, they slaughtered all of his sons in front of him. Then, so that this image would be the last thing he would see, they "put out his eyes," bound him in brass fetters, and took him to Babylon. Consequently, Ezekiel's prophesy that they would "bring him to Babylon ...; yet shell he not see it, though he shall die there. (vs. 13) was quite accurate. Ezekiel communicated quite clearly what would happen to Zedekiah, yet his prophesy was ignored.
Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 18Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and with carefulness;
As part of Ezekiel's prophesy concerning the siege of Jerusalem, he ate as one who is in a siege, living on meager rations of bread and water. God led Ezekiel to "act the part" of one in a siege even as he ate. Toward the end of a siege, the state of affairs within the city could be no more desperate. The "quaking" and "trembling" is a reference to the fear that will be in everyone's hearts at that time. There will be people dying from weaknesses brought on by starvation. The army that awaits the siege will kill anyone who survives it. The king of Jerusalem and his people have abandoned them. These people are in fear of their lives and have little or no hope of remedy.
He is also to eat the bread with obvious care, again illustrating life at the end of a siege. There will not be enough food available to keep everyone fed, so what little remains will have to be very carefully rationed.
And say unto the people of the land, Thus saith the Lord GOD of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and of the land of Israel; They shall eat their bread with carefulness, and drink their water with astonishment, that her land may be desolate from all that is therein, because of the violence of all them that dwell therein. 20And the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste, and the land shall be desolate; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
Again, after obtaining the interest of the people with his "play acting," Ezekiel is commanded to explain the meaning of his actions. This is what is going to happen to the people in Jerusalem. They will be rationing their food while they huddle in fear for their lives. When an army besieges a city, it has obvious control of the area outside of it. This army will be encamped around Jerusalem for three years, during which it is in need of supplies, food, etc. Consequently, with the protection that Jerusalem provided eliminated, all of the cities in the region are defenseless against the Babylonians. Anyone who resists them will be killed, and the armies will take what they need and want, leaving the cities empty and desolate.
It will not be until this point is reached that some will note that they are experiencing the fulfillment of God's promise. They will note that the messages that the prophets have been declaring to them all along were true.
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 22Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth?
The "proverb in the land of Israel" is a common and accepted statement that was shared among its people. As they have listened to the words of the prophets over the ages, the days continue and calamity never comes. All of the visions of the prophets have failed with each new day. This is the same rationalization that we use when we ignore the urban prophet who shouts, "REPENT, THE END IS NEAR." The truth is, God has called His people to repentance, and He has promised that this age will come to a violent end. Yet, when even the most concerned Christians share God's message of love and grace, providing a warning of the coming doom for those who reject him, their message falls on deaf ears. Why? The days are prolonged, and every such prophesy has, so far, failed.
Since the sun came up this morning to a world that looked like the world did yesterday, we have full confidence that tomorrow will be the same, and each tomorrow will simply follow every other as it "always has." Actually, there are many flaws with this logic, but it is a rationalization that numbs people to the need to turn to God. We have seen in the illustration of the demise of the nation of Israel what happens to a people who reject God and choose to go their own way. The prophesies came to Israel as a warning, and they did not hear. We have both the prophesies and the history of the demise of the people, and we still do not hear.
Some argue that the New Testament is a replacement of the Old Testament. This is a very incorrect and heretical position. The New Testament is a fulfillment of the Old Testament, and the two sets of writings form one cohesive and complete revelation of God to man. The Old Testament lays the foundation of God's plan and its bulk demonstrates the inability of us to attain righteousness by any work of our own. A thread is woven through the fabric of the Old Testament that shapes its prophesies of the Messiah in such a way that we can recognize Jesus as the One Creator, Redeemer, Advocate, and Judge. There is much that can be learned from the errors committed by the ancient Jews. They thought that they were invincible because they had a "corner on the religious market," one that could not be taken.
Tell them therefore, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision. 24For there shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel. 25For I am the LORD: I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall come to pass; it shall be no more prolonged: for in your days, O rebellious house, will I say the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord GOD.
The proverb itself was a volitional rejection of the warnings brought by the many prophets and spirit-led leaders that the Jewish community had known. Failure to heed that warning led to the fulfillment of God's promised judgment. The loss of their independence as a nation was certainly the seminal event in their history. Even upon their return from Babylon, the Jews were governed by Persians, then Greeks, and then Romans. The Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. scattered the Jews, leaving Palestine to nomads.
Consequently, Ezekiel's prophesy is incredibly accurate. The final dissolution of Judea by Nebuchadnezzar would vindicate the prophets, and the Jews would never again disbelieve their prophecies.
God's warning to the world today is the same as it was to the ancient Jews, for God has not changed, and His plan for man has not changed. God showed tremendous patience with Israel. The time from the covenant at Sinai until the dissolution of the nation could have been in the range of 800 to 1200 years. However long God prolonged, giving every opportunity for the people to turn to Him, their opportunity for repentance was offered only for a season. Today we find ourselves in a world community much like the ancients: there is a remnant of the faithful who love the Lord and are secure in their salvation from condemnation for their sin. God has shown us His plan, that if we will put our faith and trust in Him, through what He has done to provide us that opportunity, we will spend eternity with Him. However, the warning is simple: if we refuse to repent of our sins and reject a relationship with Him, we will spend eternity without Him, in what the scriptures refer to as death, hell, and Hades. God's word also provides us with much instruction for living, warning us of many of the dangers facing those who would put their faith and trust in Him. We are warned to watch out for false teachers. We are warned to be on the watch for Satan's trickery. The scripture contains many warnings that we would be wise to heed.
Still, the greatest warning is against the breaking of the third commandment: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain." The Lord's name is who He is. To reject Him is to lose everything. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the third person of the Holy Trinity shed His blood on the cross to pay the price for the forgiveness of those who put their faith and trust in Him. The choice is simple, and the warning is clear. As with the nation of Israel, the opportunity for salvation will not last forever. Today is the day of salvation. Don't let another pass thinking as the Jews did. The words of the prophets were true and reliable. Likewise, the scriptures are true and reliable, and the age of grace will not last forever. Turn to God now.