The death of Ezekiel’s wife
Ezekiel 24: Get dressed as usual and go about your work — none of the usual funeral rituals.
The final part of Ezekiel 24 is one of the most painful passages one can read. The Lord tells his prophet that his wife is about to die but as an object lesson for the people he’s not to publicly mourn her death. By the time of this event Ezekiel is well known for his messages of God’s anger with his people. He’s also known for “acting out” some event as an object lesson. When his wife dies and Ezekiel just goes on with his preaching everyone knows there’s an object lesson in it. They gather round this broken man and ask him why he isn’t mourning the loss of the love of his life. It’s then that he warns them that even as his beloved has been taken from him their beloved city and Temple are going to be taken and, even as he’s not gone through a mourning process their enemies won’t give them even a moment to mourn the loss of it all. I can hardly imagine what it was like for Ezekiel that day as God’s message had to take precedence over his personal loss. Earlier in his ministry the Lord promised to stiffen Ezekiel that he could face all the rejection that was coming, so maybe that’s in play here. Another thing I can hardly imagine is how God could love these hard people so much as to keep reaching out to them, calling them to himself in such drastic ways. Finally, I don’t think Ezekiel’s situation can be viewed as typical of God’s servants. On one hand, I’m reminded of what it means to be surrendered to the Lord; that it can take us to places we never would go otherwise. On the other hand, I remember that this is a very unique situation in the Bible and can’t be viewed as how the Lord usually deals with us. Of course, the Lord asks noting of Ezekiel that he doesn’t require of himself. Even as God’s Only Begotten Son dies on the cross, he’ll have to turn his back on him.
Take Away: The Lord loves lost people so much that he’ll act in extreme ways to redeem them.
The death of Ezekiel’s wife
Don’t push God too far
Ezekiel 24: I wanted to clean you up, but you wouldn’t let me.
I don’t like this portion of Ezekiel. He graphically describes people’s betrayal of God as adultery. The picture is ugly and the images are “R” rated. Not only that, but Ezekiel offers them no hope. God, he says, is done with them. Even if the sexual content of this passage didn’t earn an “R” the violence Ezekiel says is coming would. Again, this isn’t a warm, fuzzy passage! The Lord doesn’t want it to be this way. Even after his people committed spiritual adultery with other gods and nations he reached out to them. The problem was that they wanted none of it. No matter what God did or said, they refused to respond. They turned their backs on God and acted in ways intended to send him the message that they didn’t want anything to do with him. It could have been different. His plan was to clean them up, to make them into a holy people, his very own. In fact, that’s still his plan. However, that will come in a different generation. For now, he’s finished with them and he’s going to clean the place up by getting rid of them. Their children and grandchildren will get another chance, not them. The Lord won’t force us to come to him. We can break his heart and we can make him angry but he’ll never force us to do the right thing even when it’s for our own good. I may not be able to solve the needs of my life but I do have the final say as to whether or not God is allowed to do so. If I agree, he’ll go to work, cleaning up the mess I’ve made. If I refuse, there’s a very real danger that he’ll let me continue down the path I insist on traveling and in so doing, will arrive at the destination I’ve persisted in reaching.
Take Away: We may not be able to solve the needs of our lives but we have been granted the responsibility and ability to allow the Lord to do so.
Ezekiel 22: I looked for someone to…stand in the gap to protect this land.
The Lord’s on the lookout for people who’ll take a stand for righteousness. The reason he seeks such people is not so churches can build nicer buildings or even so that more people will attend their services. God knows it’s “repent or perish.” When a nation stubbornly disregards righteousness and persists in following a God-ignoring road that nation is in serious jeopardy. We’re not talking about such a nation getting a slap on the wrist for being “bad.” This is a life and death situation. The Lord says that when he sees a nation on this road he desperately seeks people who’ll stand up for what’s right. He doesn’t want to destroy that nation. Instead, he wants to redeem it and make its people into a people his very own. With that in mind, he looks everywhere for some key person in some key situation who’ll declare their loyalty to him and his ways. In Ezekiel’s day that person is never found. I may not be able to influence nations for righteousness, but maybe I can influence someone. With that in mind I step into the gap to stand for God even as I pray that that “big player” will step up to stand in the gap for my nation.
Take Away: “Here I am, send me.”
The Lord is much more than a Friend
Ezekiel 22: They can’t tell the difference between sacred and secular.
It’s a horrible time for the people of Jerusalem. There’s threatening war, a devastating drought, and a collapse of civil authority. Down at the Temple the priests continue in a God-ignoring pattern, treating sacred things as common. The Almighty complains that they profane him by trying to “pull me down to their level.” I like to sing “What a Friend we have in Jesus” and feel humbled and honored at the thought that the Lord is willing to be my Friend. However, I can’t help but think that the “friendship” model only works at one level. This Friend is the King of Kings. He’s holy and eternal. My relationship with him starts with my bowing before him. It’s he who takes my hand and gives me permission to stand in his presence. If I call him “Friend” it’s only because he allows me to. The priests of Ezekiel’s day treat the holy as common. Today, in my blessings and comfort, I don’t want to make the same mistake.
Take Away: I call the Lord my friend only because he has graciously allowed me to.
God’s agenda isn’t a secret
Ezekiel 20: I, God, am in the business of making them holy.
Through Ezekiel, the Lord recounts the history of his dealings with the people of Israel. We’re reminded of the Exodus from Egypt and Moses going up on the mountain for an encounter with the Almighty. A result of that meeting is the Law. They now have Ten Commandments to live by and soon there’s an entire body of Law to go with them. In the passage before me today the Lord tells their descendants his purpose in all of that. He did it as a part of his project to make them holy. From the beginning and down through the centuries the Lord has continued to work to that end. As he speaks through Ezekiel we find that God’s purpose has not been watered down or diverted. In this passage, the Lord tells them that the whole “Sabbath day” approach was for this purpose, part of his grand plan. This message is addressed to another generation that insists on resisting the Lord and the result is his rejecting them, erasing many lines that have been drawn, and nearly erasing them from the face of the earth. What’s next? The answer is obvious: it’s God’s purpose. Their failure doesn’t change his purpose for them. In new ways and with a new generation the Lord will return to the “business of making them holy.” As he said to their ancestors, “Be holy because I am holy.” I’m reminded today of just how committed God is to this business of holiness. As one of his people, I want to cooperate with his purposes for me and for the entire human race.
Take Away: The Lord is in the business of making people holy.
Accepting fault, doing something about it
Ezekiel 18: The soul that sins is the soul that dies.
A common saying in Ezekiel’s day is that “the parents ate green apples and the children got a stomachache.” That saying describes the current plight of the people of Judah. Their nation has been defeated and many have been exiled far from home. They blame it all on their parents and consider themselves to be victims of the failure of others. Ezekiel says that isn’t so. While it’s true that their ancestors failed God, the current generation has plenty of failure of its own. Ezekiel wants them to understand that when a wicked person turns from his or her wicked ways that God is gracious and rich in forgiveness. God, he tells them, doesn’t hold a grudge. On the other hand, if a righteous person abandons that righteousness he or she stands guilty before God. Past righteousness doesn’t make a person immune from current failure and judgment. The bottom line is that the Lord will “judge each of you according to the way you live.” The spiritual principle here is that it’s our current relationship with God that really matters. Ezekiel’s advice is still good today. He says since it’s “right now” that counts, those who are living apart from God and blaming their parents (or someone else) for it need to “turn around…make a clean break” and “live!”
Take Away: It’s our current relationship with the Lord that really matters.
Looking upward, seeing hope
Ezekiel 17: I, God, made the great tree small and the small tree great.
The prophet pictures the monarchy of Judah as a majestic cedar; a strong, enduring fixture on the landscape. Then the imagery changes and Judah is seen as a fruitful vine, not as majestic as before, but now under the dominion of Babylon and transplanted there. Ezekiel says that in rebelling against Babylon this “fruitful vine” will also be uprooted and then allowed to die out. It seems that this is just another gloom and doom message. That’s just what it is until we reach the final paragraph of the chapter. The illustration appears to leave us with a destroyed Judah, with no leadership, rejected by God. Then Ezekiel adds a new dimension to his illustration. Once again we find ourselves looking at a mighty cedar. This time, God, personally, takes a cutting from the very crown of the tree. The great tree will be destroyed, but out of that cutting a new monarchy, a new King, will rise to lead Judah. This new cedar will be the greatest of all. Ezekiel has given us a parable of the Messiah. This Chosen One will rise out of the line of David, but will rule as none of the old line ever ruled. He’ll be King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Take Away: The Lord always keeps his promises.
A sad love story
Ezekiel 16: Your beauty went to your head.
This section of Ezekiel isn’t uplifting. It’s graphic and weighty. The sin of Israel is described as adultery. The prophet is a rough and tough guy and his language is hard and attention getting. Ezekiel describes Israel as a baby abandoned at birth, destined to die without ever having a chance at life. Instead, the Lord rescues this pitiful infant and lavishes his love on it. Then the imagery changes as he describes this rescued one as a grown woman, beautiful and loved by the Lord as a devoted husband loves his wife. Ezekiel says that Israel, who should have never even existed, has become vain and disinterested in the God to whom she owes everything. Instead of being faithful to the Lord, though, she’s become an unfaithful harlot. Anyone hearing Ezekiel’s words should be disgusted with such betrayal and sin. None of this is intended to be a pretty picture. Instead, Ezekiel wants us to recoil at what he describes. Today, I’m reminded that my nation is a blessed nation too. In the early days our chances of survival were small, yet we survived by the grace of God. Now we’re a nation many others watch, and many watch with envy. And even as Israel began to take God for granted and rebel against him, so have we. This section of Ezekiel isn’t fun to read but it needs to be allowed to speak to us in this day.
Take Away: It’s a dangerous thing to forget the blessings of the Lord and take them for granted.
A pastoral visit to the hospital
Ezekiel 13: They’ve said, “No problem, everything’s just fine,” when things are not at all fine.
Several years ago I was at the hospital visiting a friend who was having surgery the next morning. When someone came into the room to go through a pre-surgery checklist, I excused myself and was about to leave. However, my friend asked me to stay. I reluctantly did so (by the way, I still don’t recommend that the pastor be present for such an interview). As they went through the checklist I was amazed at how blunt it was. Every possible problem was explained. There was a 3% chance of this and a 5% chance of that. Really, it was enough to scare a person! As I reflected on that experience I made a decision to deal with spiritual realities with people in the hospital with the same frankness. Rather than only focusing on praying for them that everything will be okay, I decided that, when the situation was right, I’d find a way to ask them how it is between them and God and offer to help them pray. I’m not pretending that I always get that done. For one thing, so many surgeries are now outpatient surgeries and the opportunity for such a conversation isn’t there. Still, I’m reminded that we Christians aren’t to always tell people “everything’s going to be just fine” when there’s a real chance that it isn’t going to be fine. I don’t have to scare people to death to offer to pray with them about spiritual needs in their life. In fact, it may be the most comforting encounter of all.
Take Away: When the time is right Christians should be ready to have spiritual conversations with people they care about.
The cry of God’s people
Ezekiel 11: I’ll give you a new heart. I’ll put a new spirit in you.
Judah’s problem isn’t poor leadership or powerful enemies. They aren’t ignorant of God’s desires for them and they aren’t the unwitting victims of circumstance. They are where they are because they’ve rebelled against God. Through their history, time and time again, they’ve followed a cycle of failure, judgment, repentance, and restoration — only to have it all start again. Now many of them have been exiled from the land God gave them. Back in Jerusalem sin reigns and soon the result of that sin will be the total destruction of their beloved city. The Lord says he’s going to break the cycle by changing their hearts. The result will be a people who love God and love his ways. Many Christians can identify with the cycle of failure we see when we journey with these ancient Israelites. We too have been trapped in a cycle of failure, judgment, repentance, and restoration. As we read the promise of a “new heart” our spirits respond with longing for that kind of relationship with God. These words stir us and challenge us to let God have his way in our lives even if that means we need a spiritual “heart transplant.” The result is a healthy spiritual life: “You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God!”
Take Away: Only the Lord can do what must be done in us and he’ll only do it as we allow him to and cooperate with him in that work.