Summary: Ezekiel explains why God will judge Judah.
Today, we’re moving on to Ezekiel in our whistle-stop tour of Old Testament prophecy.
Just to keep our goal in mind, our purpose in this series of Reflections is to look at passages of scripture which tell us about how and why God judges, and about ‘End Times’, so we can see if coronavirus and/or other current events fit with them. We’re approaching scripture – presently, the Old Testament prophets – with specific questions. But the prophets’ messages of judgement are set in a larger picture. For example, the prophets also tell us about their personal battles, and the glory that is to come. Ideally, we would want to take in that bigger picture, but there is only so much we can look at!
I need to give a little background to Ezekiel.
605 B.C. - Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, defeats Assyria in a historic battle. Judah had been under the rule of Assyria for more than a century, so when Babylon defeated Assyria, Judah became part of the Babylonian empire.
597 B.C. - Nebuchadnezzar attempts to conquer Egypt but was unsuccessful. Judah sees an opportunity and revolts. Nebuchadnezzar comes to Jerusalem, lays siege to it, captures it and deports many Jews to Babylon. Ezekiel is one of them.
595 B.C. - Ezekiel, in captivity in Babylon, starts writing at about this time.
587 B.C. - The Jews in Jerusalem revolt again. Nebuchadnezzar returns to Jerusalem and this time, he razes the city.
Bible commentators are usually dry, academic and restrained. So, this description by commentator Iain Duguid is remarkable:
If you imagine the kind of doomsday scenario painted in movies like The War of the Worlds or Terminator, in which society as we know it has been reduced to rubble and ash and a few shell-shocked human beings remain, desperately trying to keep themselves alive among the ruins, then you won’t be too far off the mark of what life must have been like for those who remained in Judah.
God really confirms this picture of terrible destruction when he tells Jerusalem, ‘And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again’ (5:9).
What led God to do such a thing? In Isaiah God accused his people of rebelling against him and breaking ‘the everlasting covenant’. In Jeremiah, God said his people had forsaken him and gone after other gods. But in Ezekiel, God is sharper, angrier, more impassioned. In Ezekiel, Israel, the beautiful, cared-for, cherished bride, has become a whore, a brazen prostitute, and an adulterous wife. Read chapter 16 at your peril.
Although Ezekiel mentions other forms of sin, sexual immorality and adultery, for example, by far his greatest emphasis is on idolatry and abominations. Israel had lots of idols and they took their idols into their hearts (14:3-7 is a good example). Some of the abominations are the idols (see ch.8 for example) and they are, among other places, in the temple.
A specific area that God strongly condemns was the failure of the Jews to keep the Sabbath. This is Ezekiel’s focus in chapter 20. Keeping the Sabbath isn’t simply one command among many. Twice in this chapter God says, ‘I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them.’ Maybe it’s a bit like the fruit in the Garden of Eden. Eating a piece of fruit was not hugely significant, but it was a very clear indicator of whether Adam and Eve were trying to follow God. (This was something of a wake-up call to me. After I started as a minister, I often neglected to have a Sabbath rest.)
When we started on this journey, I imagined we would think – in a rather detached way – whether any of the things we observe today could be signs of God’s judgement on the world. Ezekiel makes it very personal. Paul tells us that God’s judgement will start with the household of God. So, I have to ask, are we, God’s people today, like those ancient Israelites? Have we surrendered to the ideologies of our day? Have we taken the world’s idols into our hearts?
Have a good day!