Ezekiel 33: You, son of man, are the watchman.
Ezekiel’s job, the Lord says, is that of a watchman. He’s to cry out, warning people of impending danger. If he does that, he’s done his job. If he fails, then part of the blame for the loss is his own. Ezekiel has done his job. The book bearing his name contains page after page of his warnings which are given, sometimes, at considerable personal cost. Had he failed in doing his part the story would be considerably different, in fact, I doubt we would have a book of Ezekiel at all. God would have sought out another spokesman and it would be his name that would appear as the title of a book of the Bible. It could be that Ezekiel wasn’t God’s first choice, that he started by calling someone who’s unknown to us today. Also, there’s the record of massive failure here that we do know about. The failure is that of those who heard the warning and rejected it. Ezekiel is God’s watchman for Israel and his faithfulness to that task is impressive. I pray not only that the Lord will send a faithful watchman for my nation but that his or her message will be heard and heeded.
Take Away: All a person can do is be faithful to do what the Lord directs.
Splintered reeds don’t make good crutches
Ezekiel 31: Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt, that pompous old goat….
This portion of Ezekiel contains page after page of condemning prophecies concerning Egypt. Ezekiel says that just as a world power of previous generations, Assyria, fell like a big tree so will Egypt. This is a double edged prophecy because Israel has looked to their previous enslavers for help against Babylon. Therefore, the prophecy is not only directed to Egypt but to Israel as well. The nation Israel turns to (rather than turning to God in repentance) will shatter before them. Ezekiel calls the Pharaoh a “pompous old goat,” acting as though he’s important and powerful but is, in reality, reigning over a dying, powerless country that won’t be able to protect itself much less protect Israel. My devotional thought from all of this is a simple one. I need to be careful that I don’t lean on a “splintered reed” in my life either. My hope isn’t in the U.S. economy or some political figure or in anything else. I hope for better things for this nation, but I know that all these “securities” can all come crashing down at any time. Christ is my hope, my strong rock and in him I find security.
Take Away: Only in the Lord do I find real security.
A good word from the Lord
Ezekiel 29: I’ll give you, Ezekiel, bold and confident words to speak.
A turnaround is coming. For some time now Israel had heard nothing but condemnation from God’s prophet, Ezekiel. According to him things are going to get worse before they get better. Now, we see that things will, indeed, get better. The same man who’s condemned their sin and the sins of the nations associated with them is going to be given a different word from the Lord. His words will bring hope and deliverance. His messages will reconnect them with God, himself. What powerful words they’re going to be! These aren’t the empty promises of a politician. This is God’s man speaking God’s word to them. When the Lord gets involved words take on an additional element of power. As a preacher I’m both encouraged and challenged here. I’m encouraged that, as old fashioned as it might seem, that God can communicate to people through a weak vessel like me and that as I preach God can “stir up fresh hope” and usher in “deliverance” in people’s lives. I’m challenged to live close enough to the Lord that he can direct me in that endeavor; to trust him and cooperate with him in what he wants to say to those who are listening.
Take Away: Words directed by the Lord are powerful and can be life changing.
A speck of light in an otherwise dark sky
Ezekiel 28: They’ll live in safety. They’ll build houses.
For the next year or so after the unmourned death of his wife, the prophet Ezekiel turns his attention to the nations associated with Israel. God is displeased with them too and therefore judgment is coming to the whole region. The nation of Tyre, especially, is a target of Ezekiel’s condemnation. As Ezekiel finishes up with Tyre and Sidon, and just before he turns his attention to the juggernaut that’s Egypt, there’s a short paragraph concerning Israel. In an almost off hand way the Lord describes a renewed Israel that shines like a jewel among the nations, living in safety even as all the nations around are in turmoil. I think that if this paragraph was elsewhere that it wouldn’t get my attention. However, being here, surrounded by words of condemnation and judgment I find it very uplifting; something to hold on to. I also think this is a reflection of life. We know that each life has its share of trouble: days of pain and hurt and betrayal. In the darkness a tiny light shines like a beacon. This passage may not shine like John 3:16, but in this setting its light seems brighter than it would otherwise. And in the darkness of life, I want to keep my eyes open for that small light shining in the dark place giving me something to hold on to. Take Away: Even in the hardship of life God’s people have hope.
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.
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.