Time to Flatten Tyre

Posted: September 22, 2016 in Ezekiel, Uncategorized

Ezekiel 26-27, “Time to Flatten Tyre”

Never say never.  There are some things we believe can never happen, and the moment we become absolutely firm in our certainty seems to usually become the moment we are proven wrong.  By & large, Americans believed that we could never be attacked on our own soil, until Pearl Harbor occurred.  We believed it again, and then experienced 9/11.  Britons who once experienced a time when the sun never set on its empire eventually found the United Kingdom shrinking dramatically, with a vastly reduced influence in the world.  Never say never, because eventually the “never” arrives.

Such was the case with the ancient city of Tyre.  Today we think very little of Tyre, perhaps knowing it from David’s  & Solomon’s interaction with the city in regards to building the Jerusalem temple.  When we think of ancient cities of influence, we most likely remember places like Babylon, Alexandria, or Rome, etc.  Within that list ought to be the ancient city of Tyre.  It had wealth and influence that was unrivaled at one point, and yet is no more.  Those who thought that Tyre would never fade found the “never” coming to pass.

What happened?  In short, they boasted against Jerusalem.  They rejoiced in Jerusalem’s fall to Babylon, and that did not go unnoticed by the Lord.  He acted in defense of His people, and when God acts, things happen.  The Bible makes it clear that God resists the proud, while He gives grace to the humble.  Tyre is a supreme case example of what happens to those who are proud: they get flattened by the righteous judgment of God.

Remember the context: Ezekiel had received numerous prophecies from God regarding his own people of the Jews.  God knew their sins, detailed them out (particularly that of idolatry), and declared His coming judgment upon them.  By the time Ch. 24 began, Babylon had begun its final siege against Jerusalem, and the people would feel the heat of His wrath.  Yet just because God was judging Judah didn’t mean that He ignored the sins of other nations – particularly those nations that surrounded Judah and gloated over their downfall.  Four of those neighboring nations were addressed in Ch. 25, but God takes an extended look at Tyre starting in Ch. 26.

Ezekiel 26 – The Proclamation
1 And it came to pass in the eleventh year, on the first day of the month, that the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, because Tyre has said against Jerusalem, ‘Aha! She is broken who was the gateway of the peoples; now she is turned over to me; I shall be filled; she is laid waste.’

  • Although Ezekiel gives us a bit of a timeframe here, it’s not nearly as specific as what was given in 24:1.  The last timestamp showed the prophecy given on the precise starting date of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem – this one is a bit more vague.  It seems to be the following year, and although it came on the first day of the month, Ezekiel never identifies which month it was.  Considering Jerusalem fell in July of 586BC, perhaps it was the first day of the month following the conquest.
  • Whenever it was, that’s when God’s attention turned to the city-state of Tyre.  Tyre was a city-state north of Israel on the Mediterranean coast (within modern-day Lebanon).  It was comprised of two basic cities: one on the mainland itself, and another on an island about a ½ mile from shore.  It was there a fortress was built, and over time, a permanent bridge was built connecting the two.  Today it basically appears as a small peninsula jutting out from the Lebanese coastland.  It was inhabited by seafaring people, and that turned Tyre into commercial giant.  Although it didn’t rule over massive empires the size of Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon, it did become extremely powerful & colonized many areas in the ancient world.  By some accounts, it was the most important of all the cities in Phoenicia, and there was virtually no corner of the ancient world surrounding the Mediterranean where Tyre did not have commercial relations.
  • What happened?  As earlier generations might say, “they got too big for their britches.” Although they already had plenty of wealth, Tyre gloated over Jerusalem’s fall, believing that Jerusalem’s trial would turn to Tyre’s benefit.  They didn’t see the suffering of their former trade partners; they saw a new business opportunity.  If Jerusalem suffered, all the better for them – after all, there was profit to be made.  Although they worshipped other gods, the true God took notice, and He took action.
  • As was seen in Ch. 25, this goes back to the ancient covenant God made with Abraham: Genesis 12:2–3, "(2) I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."  If Tyre had blessed Israel, mourned over her & prayed for her, no doubt the response of God would have been vastly different.  As it was, Tyre rejoiced over Jerusalem’s brokenness, and God would act in response.
    • It behooves nations to bless Israel!  Just yesterday at his farewell address to the United Nations, President Obama said regarding the warfare between Israel and its enemies that the conflict is basically inevitable until “Israel recognizes it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.”  Regardless where you stand politically, this statement is absolutely unbiblical.  The land was given by God to Israel, and to dismiss Israel from her right to defend herself is to invite upon our nation the judgment of God.  The United States has historically been Israel’s greatest ally – it would do us well do be an ally once again.
  • Message #1 (3-6)

3 “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will cause many nations to come up against you, as the sea causes its waves to come up. 4 And they shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. 5 It shall be a place for spreading nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken,’ says the Lord GOD; ‘it shall become plunder for the nations. 6 Also her daughter villages which are in the fields shall be slain by the sword. Then they shall know that I am the LORD.’

  • Tyre was against Jerusalem; now God is against Tyre.  He promised to act, and to act violently.  There are two basic pictures here.  The first is that of drowning in the waves.  Waves coming up over an island city is pretty descriptive & frightening – but that is how God describes the nations that will attack it.  The other picture is that of dust-scraping & being that of being “like the top of a rock,” which would be recognized by a fishing community as something that is only useful for drying nets.  What makes that significant for Tyre is that the word “Tyre” (צֹר ) also means flint, rock, or pebble.  The city that once considered itself so strong would be scraped barren, and left as nothing.  All of her prosperity would be stripped away – all of her “daughter villages” (colonies) would be conquered.  Everything mighty about this city of Tyre would be lost.
  • The result?  The same as God so often said of Israel regarding His judgment: “Then they shall know that I am the LORD.”  This would be a witness unto God.
  • Message #2 (7-14)

7 “For thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses, with chariots, and with horsemen, and an army with many people. 8 He will slay with the sword your daughter villages in the fields; he will heap up a siege mound against you, build a wall against you, and raise a defense against you. 9 He will direct his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers.

  • God so aptly prophesies the siege that was to come from Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  Remember that Babylon did not conquer only Jerusalem – it conquered almost the entirety of the Middle East!  In regards to Tyre, history tells us that Nebuchadnezzar engaged in a 13 year long siege of the city, which ended in Tyre’s surrender, basically becoming a vassal state to Babylon.
  • Biblically, what we see is God’s incredible omniscience at work.  Ezekiel most likely wrote this just shortly after the end of Babylon’s siege of Jerusalem, and already he is able to write with astounding accuracy concerning the (then) future siege of Tyre.  God knows the beginning & the end, and His predictions always come true to the letter!
  • That said, God’s predictions don’t always come true in the way we might expect.  God goes on with the prophecy of Tyre’s fall, but there is a minor change which might imply a major difference.  Vs. 10…

10 Because of the abundance of his horses, their dust will cover you; your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen, the wagons, and the chariots, when he enters your gates, as men enter a city that has been breached. 11 With the hooves of his horses he will trample all your streets; he will slay your people by the sword, and your strong pillars will fall to the ground. 12 They will plunder your riches and pillage your merchandise; they will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses; they will lay your stones, your timber, and your soil in the midst of the water.

  • Did you notice the change in the 3rd person of the entity that conquered Tyre?  In vss. 7-9, it is “he,” i.e., Nebuchadnezzar.  In vss. 10-12, it is “they” – 3rd person plural.  Although we cannot draw a hard & fast line here (the 3rd person singular is used as well: “he enters your gates…he will trample…he will slay”), it does introduce the possibility of a change in person.  Historically speaking, that would fit extremely well.  How so?  Although Nebuchadnezzar did defeat Tyre, he did not utterly destroy it.  They entered into an agreement with Tyre being a servant of Babylon.  However, in 332BC, Alexander the Great did destroy Tyre, coming against it so hard that the language in vss. 10-12 fits perfectly.
    • When looking at Bible prophecy, it’s important to keep in mind near & future fulfillment, which is sometimes illustrated as “the mountain peaks of prophecy.”  When looking at a mountain range from a distance, all the peaks look close together although the reality may have them separated by many miles each.  A similar thing can happen in Bible prophecy.  Several future events might be described in one prophetic statement – all looking to be close together from the viewpoint of the prophet, but separated by many years in the viewpoint of history.
  • Even if this is a reference to only Babylon, it could still be explained by the loss of Tyre’s influence and prosperity.  Either way, the description is that of the people of the city being completely overwhelmed & overrun.  What would be the result?  Tyre would fall – it would come to the harshest of ends.  Vs. 13…

13 I will put an end to the sound of your songs, and the sound of your harps shall be heard no more. 14 I will make you like the top of a rock; you shall be a place for spreading nets, and you shall never be rebuilt, for I the LORD have spoken,’ says the Lord GOD.

  • God reiterates their destruction, again describing them as being scraped bare.  He also prophesies that the city would never again “be rebuilt.”  Objection: “How can this be true?  There was a city of Tyre in the days of Jesus (Mt 15:21), and there is a city of Tyre today!”  True.  So God was wrong?  False.  The empire was gone – the influence was gone – and more importantly, the original city was never rebuilt.  Yes, there is a city in the same area bearing the same name, but the city that was destroyed was left in ruins, and it can be seen to this day.  The modern city might be in the background, but the foundations of the original city were left barren – exactly as the Lord God proclaimed.
  • Again, God’s promises might not come true in the ways we initially expect, but they always come true.  God always keeps His word, without exception.
  • Message #3 (15-18)

15 “Thus says the Lord GOD to Tyre: ‘Will the coastlands not shake at the sound of your fall, when the wounded cry, when slaughter is made in the midst of you? 16 Then all the princes of the sea will come down from their thrones, lay aside their robes, and take off their embroidered garments; they will clothe themselves with trembling; they will sit on the ground, tremble every moment, and be astonished at you. 17 And they will take up a lamentation for you, and say to you: “How you have perished, O one inhabited by seafaring men, O renowned city, Who was strong at sea, She and her inhabitants, Who caused their terror to be on all her inhabitants! 18 Now the coastlands tremble on the day of your fall; Yes, the coastlands by the sea are troubled at your departure.” ’

  • Everyone will notices the fall of Tyre & be astonished.  The fallen city will serve as an example to the nations of what happens to a people who curse the people of God.  This is a theme that will be repeated in the next chapter.
  • What makes this so bad?  Why would the nations tremble in this way?  Because if it could happen to Tyre, it could happen to any of them.  If Tyre could fall, any nation could fall.
  • Message #4 (19-21)

19 “For thus says the Lord GOD: ‘When I make you a desolate city, like cities that are not inhabited, when I bring the deep upon you, and great waters cover you, 20 then I will bring you down with those who descend into the Pit, to the people of old, and I will make you dwell in the lowest part of the earth, in places desolate from antiquity, with those who go down to the Pit, so that you may never be inhabited; and I shall establish glory in the land of the living. 21 I will make you a terror, and you shall be no more; though you are sought for, you will never be found again,’ says the Lord GOD.”

  • The picture here is frightening – especially to a nation that was as seafaring as that of Tyre.  Not only did God promise to personally come against the city in violence (emphasizing that this was God’s work; not Babylon’s), but the idea is that God would drown the island city, dragging them into the Mediterranean Sea & ultimately down to Hell. …
  • Is it violent? Yes.  Terrifying?  Without question.  Does it glorify God?  Without a doubt, yes.  The destruction of Tyre will be used by God to “establish glory in the land of the living.”  Tyre’s destruction will glorify God.  Although we tremble to think upon it, it is true.  God is glorified in His judgment.  God is glorified in His wrath.  How else would His wrath be satisfied, unless He is glorified in it?  When we praise God for the cross of Jesus, are we not acknowledging that God is glorified in His wrath?  After all, it was His wrath He poured out on Jesus, for our sake.  He was because Jesus suffered and died that you & I can be forgiven.  And that glorifies God!  Everything God does serves to give Him glory, and that surely includes His judgment of those who have sinned against Him & end up going to hell because of their refusal to receive Christ.  God is glorified, even in that.
    • That’s not to say we take joy in the concept & reality of Hell – but we can certainly rejoice in God’s ultimate justice.  We can praise Him for His perfect purity & righteousness.  We can thank Him that all sin will one day find its answer.  And most personally, we can thank Him that for us, the answer has already been given in Christ Jesus!  If Jesus had not glorified God by suffering His wrath, none of us would be saved.

Ezekiel 27 – The Lamentation
1 The word of the LORD came again to me, saying, 2 “Now, son of man, take up a lamentation for Tyre, 3 and say to Tyre, ‘You who are situated at the entrance of the sea, merchant of the peoples on many coastlands, thus says the Lord GOD: “O Tyre, you have said, ‘I am perfect in beauty.’

  • Question: “Why sing a song of lamentation?  Isn’t God glorified in Tyre’s destruction?”  Absolutely He is.  But that doesn’t mean He enjoyed doling out their punishment.  They had to be punished, but it would have been so much better to see them forgiven!  In regards to Israel, Ezekiel 18:23, "Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?"  What God desired with Israel, He desires for the whole world.  As Peter writes, God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pt 3:9)  God is glorified in the outpouring of His justice, but He is also glorified in the outpouring of His love.  He would have rather seen Tyre repent & be saved.  (Just like for any of us!)  But because they weren’t willing to do so, they would be punished.  And for that, God had Ezekiel lift up a song of lament for them.
  • Structurally, there’s a song – a break – and a song again.  There is a poetic picture of a beautiful ship – a break where the symbolism ceases and God describes the commercial success of Tyre among the nations – and finally a renewal of the song where the ship is seen sinking.  There are a multitude of cities and regions listed, underscoring how vast the influence of Tyre was.  There isn’t a corner of the ancient world where they were not known.  Although the contexts surrounding those cities can be rather vague to the modern reader, they were certainly known to Ezekiel’s original audience.  It was Who’s Who of the ancient world, and it showed how big of a player Tyre actually was. 
  • The lament begins with Tyre’s boasting.  They had built themselves up in pride (no one more so than their king, and that’s the subject of Ch. 28).  Instead of humbling themselves before God as the ultimate Beautiful One, they saw themselves as beautiful, and did everything they could to build up their own prosperity and reputation.  In the end, all of it would come to nothing.
  • The Ship (4 – 11)

4 Your borders are in the midst of the seas. Your builders have perfected your beauty. 5 They made all your planks of fir trees from Senir; They took a cedar from Lebanon to make you a mast. 6 Of oaks from Bashan they made your oars; The company of Ashurites have inlaid your planks With ivory from the coasts of Cyprus. 7 Fine embroidered linen from Egypt was what you spread for your sail; Blue and purple from the coasts of Elishah was what covered you.

  • Senir is perhaps another name for Mount Hermon, which itself was in the region of Bashan in Lebanon.  From there came the timber.  The beautification of the lumber (the inlay) was performed by men from the heart of the Babylonian empire (the Ashurites), and the ivory they used was imported from Cyprus.  Their sails were made from the finest of Egyptian linens & expensive dyed fabrics came from Elishah/Cyprus as well.  The whole idea is the best of the best.  Like the common refrain in “Jurassic Park,” “they spared no expense” in the symbolic ship of Tyre.  It was beautiful vessel almost beyond compare.
  • But it wasn’t just pretty to look at – it actually worked.  Vs. 8…

8 “Inhabitants of Sidon and Arvad were your oarsmen; Your wise men, O Tyre, were in you; They became your pilots. 9 Elders of Gebal and its wise men Were in you to caulk your seams; All the ships of the sea And their oarsmen were in you To market your merchandise.

  • This was a seaworthy ship!  Those who propelled them forward came from cities in the surrounding region, while those in Tyre herself guided the vessel.  Others from Lebanon ensured the seaworthiness of the vessel, caulking it well & doing whatever maintenance was required along the way.  Everything they needed to go forth & sell their wares, they had.  Nothing stopped them from acquiring incredible wealth.
  • They were even protected along the way.  Vs. 10…

10 “Those from Persia, Lydia, and Libya Were in your army as men of war; They hung shield and helmet in you; They gave splendor to you. 11 Men of Arvad with your army were on your walls all around, And the men of Gammad were in your towers; They hung their shields on your walls all around; They made your beauty perfect.

  • Their soldiers were the best that money could buy, as they hired mercenaries from the furthest reaches of the world.  But they weren’t all far-off strangers – some came from nearby Syria as well. 
  • The whole idea is Tyre was protected by men of every nation – yet even then it wasn’t enough.  No matter who came to the defense of Tyre, they were not enough to stand against the will of God.  The city may have been beautiful, wealthy, prosperous, and powerful – but is wasn’t powerful enough to take on God and prevail.

At this point, the symbolism takes a break & the bare facts begin.  This almost reads like an entry out of a financial encyclopedia.  If someone wanted to know what economic partnerships Tyre had, all they needed to do was to look here.  Their fingers were all over the world in all kinds of merchandise.  If it seems a bit overwhelming as we look at it, that’s because it is probably intended to be that way.  God wanted Ezekiel’s readers to know exactly who this economic powerhouse was that He took down, and it just serves to remind us of how great our God actually is, in that He could do it.

  • The Commercial Center (12-24)

12 “Tarshish was your merchant because of your many luxury goods. They gave you silver, iron, tin, and lead for your goods. 13 Javan, Tubal, and Meshech were your traders. They bartered human lives and vessels of bronze for your merchandise. 14 Those from the house of Togarmah traded for your wares with horses, steeds, and mules.

  • One thing that becomes plain is that Tyre traded in the best of the best.  They seemed to deal primarily in “luxury goods,” although they were wealthy in raw materials as well (i.e. “iron, tin, and lead”).  Whatever you could imagine, it was for sale – be it livestock or “human lives.
    • This is not an affirmation of slavery; it’s just an acknowledgement of it.  Slavery was wrong then just as it is today, and it is sadly far too common around the world & here in the US as well in the form of human sex trafficking.

15 The men of Dedan were your traders; many isles were the market of your hand. They brought you ivory tusks and ebony as payment. 16 Syria was your merchant because of the abundance of goods you made. They gave you for your wares emeralds, purple, embroidery, fine linen, corals, and rubies.

  • Emphasizes the wealth and exotic payments that Tyre received.  Be it jewels or ivory, if it had value, it could be traded.

17 Judah and the land of Israel were your traders. They traded for your merchandise wheat of Minnith, millet, honey, oil, and balm.

  • Please note the inclusion of Judah and Israel among Tyre’s trading partners.  They had a history that stretched back many generations (back to David & Solomon), and although their relationship had their ups & downs, they still maintained some form of trade through it all.  One would think that Tyre would have grieved Jerusalem’s fall simply due to the loss of a customer!  Yet even that didn’t matter.  They showed no regard for the fall of the Jews, and that made their boast all the more callous.

18 Damascus was your merchant because of the abundance of goods you made, because of your many luxury items, with the wine of Helbon and with white wool. 19 Dan and Javan paid for your wares, traversing back and forth. Wrought iron, cassia, and cane were among your merchandise.

  • Again, more variety of merchandise is seen.  Everything from wine to iron to perfume and more – all of it for sale in Tyre.
  • How far did their customer base extend?  Even into Arabia in the south.  Vs. 20…

20 Dedan was your merchant in saddlecloths for riding. 21 Arabia and all the princes of Kedar were your regular merchants. They traded with you in lambs, rams, and goats. 22 The merchants of Sheba and Raamah were your merchants. They traded for your wares the choicest spices, all kinds of precious stones, and gold. 23 Haran, Canneh, Eden, the merchants of Sheba, Assyria, and Chilmad were your merchants. 24 These were your merchants in choice items—in purple clothes, in embroidered garments, in chests of multicolored apparel, in sturdy woven cords, which were in your marketplace.

  • After reading a list like that, there can be little doubt that Tyre was rich – influential – powerful!  It was an incredibly important city in its day.  Surely a city like that would last forever!  Wrong.  It may have had everything going for it, but it lacked one important ingredient: reverent fear of the one true God, along with any respect for His people.  Thus God acted against them, and when He brought them down, He brought them down hard.
  • Don’t make the mistake of thinking any nation is too big to be brought down by the Lord – not even ours!  If God was willing to judge His own covenant people, how can any nation on earth think they are exempt from the judgment of God?  It doesn’t matter what kind of military might or materialistic wealth a nation has – none of it can stand against His almighty will.  The United States might be the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but any nation can be brought to its knees.  Tyre was – so can we be.

The fall of Tyre is what is described next as God returns Ezekiel to the song of lamentation…

  • The Shipwreck (25-36)

25 “The ships of Tarshish were carriers of your merchandise. You were filled and very glorious in the midst of the seas. 26 Your oarsmen brought you into many waters, But the east wind broke you in the midst of the seas.

  • As already seen, Tyre had everything that they needed.  Their ship of state was beautiful, strong, and already on the move.  But then they were broken.  They ran into the one thing they couldn’t control: the weather.  They were broken by “the east wind.”  And who is it that controls the wind?  Almighty God.  As He promised in 26:19, He Himself would bring the deep waters upon them.  He brought the storm that would drown them & send them to the pit.  God would break them.
  • It’s been often observed that we can either be molded by God or broken by Him.  In terms of a clay pot, we can remain soft in His hands, or else when we are hard He will break us when necessary.  In terms of a ship, we can either be directed by God or overwhelmed by God.  Tyre chose the latter.  At any point they could have humbled themselves before the Lord in repentance – instead they chose to go it alone, and they failed. 

27 “Your riches, wares, and merchandise, Your mariners and pilots, Your caulkers and merchandisers, All your men of war who are in you, And the entire company which is in your midst, Will fall into the midst of the seas on the day of your ruin. 28 The common-land will shake at the sound of the cry of your pilots.

  • Everything was lost.  In terms of the song, every item on board the ship & every sailor was lost at sea.  In terms of history, all of the power, riches, and influence of Tyre was gone.  It was all taken away, and the world bore witness to the fact. 

29 “All who handle the oar, The mariners, All the pilots of the sea Will come down from their ships and stand on the shore. 30 They will make their voice heard because of you; They will cry bitterly and cast dust on their heads; They will roll about in ashes; 31 They will shave themselves completely bald because of you, Gird themselves with sackcloth, And weep for you With bitterness of heart and bitter wailing. 32 In their wailing for you They will take up a lamentation, And lament for you: ‘What city is like Tyre, Destroyed in the midst of the sea?

  • Imagine how fast the news of Tyre’s fate spread.  The picture is of all the people still on shore came out to the coast to mourn the sunken ship.  Their own prosperity was wrapped up in Tyre – it was their own place of market, and they would feel the financial effects as well.  They wept not only for Tyre, but for what they themselves had lost.  They didn’t care about the injustice that took place because of Tyre; they just cared about the benefits they would have received through Tyre.  Thus they mourned.
  • Interestingly, there is another Biblical (and prophetic) event in which the nations of the world gather to mourn the destruction of a city that was financially important to them: the fall of future Babylon near the end of the Great Tribulation.  In fact, it is described in much of the same kind of terminology: Revelation 18:15–19, "(15) The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, (16) and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! (17) For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.’ Every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance (18) and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What is like this great city?’ (19) “They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.’"  Is Tyre the same thing as future-Babylon?  No.  But does one prefigure the other?  Perhaps.  It just goes to show that the world doesn’t change.  It has & will always care more about itself than the righteousness of God.  Tyre boasted against God’s people; future Babylon will persecute them.  What does the world mourn?  Its loss of stuff – its loss of wealth.
    • Thankfully during the days of the Great Tribulation, we will be with the Lord Jesus, having been taken by Him in the rapture.  That said, we can still find ourselves getting caught up with the temptations of Babylon today.  Be careful!  Keep your priorities in perspective.  Love God & love others – seek first His kingdom, and then let Him provide for you everything else you need.  Be careful about getting sucked up into materialism & riches.  Every bit of it will eventually come to an end.

33 ‘When your wares went out by sea, You satisfied many people; You enriched the kings of the earth With your many luxury goods and your merchandise. 34 But you are broken by the seas in the depths of the waters; Your merchandise and the entire company will fall in your midst.

  • There’s a dramatic contrast here.  In 26:2 God knew how Tyre had boasted that Jerusalem “was broken” – now the same word is used of them.  They were the broken ones.  No longer was it possible for Tyre to satisfy others – they themselves would remain unsatisfied & broken.  They were sunken & brought down to the depths.  And everyone knew it…

35 All the inhabitants of the isles will be astonished at you; Their kings will be greatly afraid, And their countenance will be troubled. 36 The merchants among the peoples will hiss at you; You will become a horror, and be no more forever.’ ” ’ ”

  • Why would the nations tremble?  Again, because Tyre was an example.  If Tyre could be brought down & broken, any of them could.  None were exempt.  And none ever will be.

Conclusion:
Tyre had boasted; they would be broken.  They had it all; soon they would have nothing.  No nation, not even Tyre was “too big to fail.”  Any nation could be cut down to pieces by God & reduced to nothing, and Tyre serves as case example #1.  It didn’t matter how much wealth and influence they carried in the world – it was nothing in comparison with God.

Tyre was rich in gold, but they were poor in mercy.  They ought to have looked upon Jerusalem with compassion, but instead they gloated in themselves and let their greed shine forth.  May we heed their warning & take it to heart!  Thankfully, as Christians we are God’s own people & not Tyre – Jesus already took the wrath of God in our place, so that we will never experience it for ourselves.  Yet we live in a culture & nation that is very similar to Tyre in many ways.  Tyre was once a staunch ally of Israel, but it didn’t last forever…and neither did God’s blessing upon them.  Our own nation needs to be careful not to make a similar mistake!

That said, what else can a Christian see from this?

  • We see the love of God for His people.  Sure, God needed to discipline the Jews, but that didn’t give the rest of the world the right to gloat over them.  He loves His people & He is jealous for them, & He rose in their defense.  We can trust God to do the same with us.  He loves us & will defend us.  Of that, we can be sure.
  • We see the certainty of the judgment of God.  We have been forgiven because of our faith in Jesus Christ, but not everyone has faith.  One day they will face a judgment of their own, and it will be terrifyingly thorough.  God does not want them to perish, but apart from their repentance, they will.  So let us be the ones to warn them!  Now is our opportunity to tell them the gospel so that they may be saved, so let us take it!
  • We see God’s sovereign control over the world.  He is our God, but He is not limited to one group of people.  God is sovereign over every nation of the world – even those that reject Him.  No matter what we see going on in our culture (and new tragedies fill the headlines every single day), we can trust that God is still on His throne.  He is working His will, and He has an answer for every injustice that takes place.

God Over the Nations

Posted: September 21, 2016 in Ezekiel, Uncategorized

Ezekiel 24-25, “God Over the Nations”

The Bible contains the story of God’s workings among Israel, but is God the God of only Israel?  Absolutely not.  That is clear from the very first words in Genesis.  God created the entire universe – all peoples, all nations, all things everywhere owe its very existence to God.  That means God had the right to judge every nation, even those who do not have any covenant relationship with Him.  That is what is shown in these next several chapters in Ezekiel.

This is a new series of visions/oracles, as indicated by the date stamp given in 24:1.  To this point, all of God’s judgments have been directed at Israel, more specifically, at Judah & Jerusalem.  Samaria was briefly mentioned, but considering its history as originally being part of Israel, its inclusion is expected.  God had said much about Israel’s crimes against Him & His just judgment against them.  Of course He still loved Israel & had a glorious plan for their future, but its more immediate future included suffering.  And that suffering would be the very thing that helped Israel finally acknowledge the Lord as God.

With all of that said, God is not only God over Israel.  He is God over the entire world.  He still has a word for His own people (Ch 24), but He also has words for Israel’s neighbors (Ch 25).  These two chapters serve as a transition into the next major section of the book of Ezekiel: God’s judgment of the Gentiles.  These other nations (specifically those that neighbored Israel) had sins of their own that needed to be addressed.  Israel’s neighbors all had something in common in that they despised Israel, gloating over the Jews in the time of their distressed.  It did not escape God’s notice.  The God who judged Israel is still the God who protects Israel.  Judgment may begin with the house of God, but it certainly does not end there.  The God of Israel will judge the entire world.

Ezekiel 24 – Israel judged

  • Parable of the dirty pot (1-14)

1 Again, in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, write down the name of the day, this very day—the king of Babylon started his siege against Jerusalem this very day.

  • As FDR noted about Pearl Harbor, it was a day that would live in infamy.  This particular oracle came to Ezekiel on January 15, 588BC – the exact day that Babylon began its final siege of Jerusalem.  This is about 2½ years after the previous date given (20:1), though it’s uncertain if all of the prophecies between Ch 20-24 were all given on the same day.  In any case, it certainly was a day that the Jews would long remember.  We have 9/11 burned into our memories – the ancient Jews had the 10th day of the 10th month of the 9th year of Zedekiah.  That was the day the Babylonian armies arrived, surrounded the city walls, and starved the Jews into submission.
  • And it was on that “very day” God spoke to His prophet.  Already far off in the heart of the Babylonian empire, Ezekiel was not in any position to be able to physically help the Jews back home – but God still gave him a word.  The things that were taking place on the grounds surrounding Jerusalem were not the chance circumstances of history.  They were not world events spinning out of control.  The Babylonians were there by design – God’s design…and He wanted His people to know it.
    • It was 15 years ago to the day that our nation mourned the fallen from the 9/11 attacks.  People were grieving & searching for answers.  At that moment, much was still unknown, but one thing was clear: God was still in control.  Something horrible had happened to us as a nation, but God had not stepped off His throne.  He had not changed who He was.  That’s something we needed to be reminded of…it’s a reminder we still need.  God is still God.  He still loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son so that we might be saved.  He still desires that all people everyone repent and come to faith in Jesus Christ.  As Billy Graham said at the September 14, 2001 memorial service: “This event reminds us of the brevity and the uncertainty of life. We never know when we too will be called into eternity. I doubt if those people who got on those planes or who walked into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon on Tuesday thought that it would be the last day of their lives. And that’s why we each must face our own spiritual need and commit ourselves to God and His will.”  God is sovereign, and one day all of us will see Him with our own eyes.  We need to be ready for that day, and it is only faith in Jesus that prepares us.
  • As for Ezekiel, God had a specific lesson for His people on that day.  He wanted them to know what had happened took place by God’s design as a judgment upon their sin.  As was so often the case, God taught the lesson through a word picture – a parable.  Vs. 3…

3 And utter a parable to the rebellious house, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Put on a pot, set it on, And also pour water into it. 4 Gather pieces of meat in it, Every good piece, The thigh and the shoulder. Fill it with choice cuts; 5 Take the choice of the flock. Also pile fuel bones under it, Make it boil well, And let the cuts simmer in it.”

  • Everyone likes a good pot of stew, and that would seem to be the picture here, but it won’t be what the people expect.  This won’t be a gently simmering dinner welcoming people home; it would be a fiery trial from which none would escape.  The pot represented the city – the meat represented the people – and the fuel & fire represented the Babylonians brought by God.  God’s “choice cuts” – His favored people would be included in the stew, and all of His people would suffer as they were cooked by the fires of judgment.
    • There’s no small irony in the picture considering that the Babylonians began a siege of Jerusalem that day to starve the people.  They would not be able to gain food; they were the food!
  • Interestingly, this is similar (and at first glance the opposite) to the word God gave Ezekiel in Ch. 11. At that time, false prophets had arisen in Jerusalem claiming that the city was a cauldron, protecting the meat inside from the forces against it.  God told them clearly that the walls of Jerusalem would provide no such protection.  He would bring the people outside of the city to be slain (11:7-10).  The reason Ch 24 does not contradict Ch 11 is that the overall picture is still one of judgment; not protection.  At this time, the city is indeed the pot, but the city becomes the very thing used by the Babylonians to bring misery and suffering to the residents of Jerusalem.  The same walls that protected them from arrows & wild beasts also kept them imprisoned inside, unable to restock their supplies.
    • What we trust, matters.  The Jews of Jerusalem trusted their city walls – they trusted their own ingenuity – they even trusted the false words of the false prophets.  All of these things failed.  Their trust should have been in the Lord.  If it had, they would have listened to Him, repented at the words of Jeremiah & other prophets among them, and perhaps lived in relative peace during the years of the Babylonian empire.  Instead, they trusted in anything but God, and found themselves in a terrible trial.  Trust God!  Even when God leads us into tough times, we know that as long as we’re following the Lord Jesus, He’ll take us through – He’ll give us what we need – He’ll provide for us the entire time.  Sure, we can choose to do things our own way & fail – or we trust God and survive!
    • They didn’t, and they suffered.  Vs. 6…

6 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Woe to the bloody city, To the pot whose scum is in it, And whose scum is not gone from it! Bring it out piece by piece, On which no lot has fallen.

  • The problem wasn’t the fire or the fuel; it was the scummy pot.  Imagine a pot that hasn’t been cleaned, and attempting to cook dinner in it.  All of the filthy residue ends up contaminating everything else that is inside.  That’s the picture here.  All of the filth from the sins of the people (the meat) ended up baked onto the pot itself (the city), and nothing inside was salvageable.  The whole city (inside & outside) was rotten, filthy, and unclean – and the whole mess needed to be dealt with by God.
  • The word “scum” could also be translated as “rust,” but that doesn’t make the description less disgusting.  The pot is still filthy.  If cookware like that was found in restaurants today, the restaurant would be shut down by the health department pretty quick! 
  • The whole idea is that the sin of the people had an effect on the city itself.  Obviously a wall is just a wall – a building just a building.  People sin; not construction projects.  But Israel’s sin had become so bad that the two could not be separated.  Remember that part of God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham was for a physical land.  God promised him a nation, a homeland, and a Messiah (blessing to the entire world).  Thus there was a connection between the blessing of God and the physical land given by God.  When the people sinned, the land itself was affected.  Thus the city was full of rust or scum, left there by the sin of its people.
    • Unconfessed sin always has consequences.  There are always lasting effects.  There are always victims.  It may not be evident at the moment, but it builds up like scum or rust.  At some point, it’s going to be obvious & drastic measures will be needed to deal with it.  Don’t let it get to that point!  As soon as sin rears its head in your life, that’s the time to deal with it through confession & repentance.  And what is the promise of Jesus?  Cleansing & forgiveness.  Want to scrub out the scum from your spiritual life?  Engage in regular cleansing through confession & faith.

7 For her blood is in her midst; She set it on top of a rock; She did not pour it on the ground, To cover it with dust. 8 That it may raise up fury and take vengeance, I have set her blood on top of a rock, That it may not be covered.”

  • This seems to be some of the sin of the people of Jerusalem.  Their hands had shed blood, and left it lying out in the open.  Whether this is a reference to idolatry, pagan practices, or the actual shedding of innocent blood is unknown.  The Jews had regularly engaged in all of these things, so any or all might be in mind.  Whatever the case, the sin was open & left unrepentant.  Nothing had been done to humble themselves before the Lord to handle things the right way.  Since Jerusalem had left the blood out in the open, so would God do with them.  He would leave them bloody and humiliated.
  • What was it that Jerusalem needed?  A covering.  They originally needed to cover the blood they had shed, but they rebelliously neglected to do so.  Thus God would not cover them.  We need a covering – and that’s what Jesus provides for us at the cross!  His blood covers over our sin, making us righteous in the sight of God.  Yet without His covering, we are left bloody and subject to judgment.

9 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Woe to the bloody city! I too will make the pyre great. 10 Heap on the wood, Kindle the fire; Cook the meat well, Mix in the spices, And let the cuts be burned up. 11 “Then set the pot empty on the coals, That it may become hot and its bronze may burn, That its filthiness may be melted in it, That its scum may be consumed. 12 She has grown weary with lies, And her great scum has not gone from her. Let her scum be in the fire!

  • God promises to kindle His wrath – not just upon the meat, but upon the pot itself.  The pot needed to be purified because its rust/scum was so ingrained upon it.  How did the cleansing come?  Through fire.  Our God IS a consuming fire!  If fire is what was needed to burn off the scum & rust, then so be it.  God is holy enough to do it.

13 In your filthiness is lewdness. Because I have cleansed you, and you were not cleansed, You will not be cleansed of your filthiness anymore, Till I have caused My fury to rest upon you. 14 I, the LORD, have spoken it; It shall come to pass, and I will do it; I will not hold back, Nor will I spare, Nor will I relent; According to your ways And according to your deeds They will judge you,” Says the Lord GOD.’ ”

  • The rust/scum was the picture of blood earlier – but there was more to Jerusalem’s sin than violence (as bad as that was).  There was also “lewdness.”  The word could refer to idolatry or adultery, but it could go as far as other perversions such as prostitutions and/or incest.  Again, the specifics are not listed here, but they don’t need to be.  There are over 20 other previous chapters that detail the specifics.  The point here is that Jerusalem was corrupt from the inside-out.  Her sins were numerous & varied, and the day had finally arrived for her judgment.
  • Keep in mind that it wasn’t as if God hadn’t tried reaching out to them in the past.  As God says, “I have cleansed you, and you were not cleansed.”  Like scrubbing a pot only to find that it’s still dirty, that was God’s experience with the ancient Jews.  God had sent them prophets to give them His word, to show them to repent, etc.  God had sent previous seasons of discipline to Jerusalem, all the while allowing Jerusalem to remain relatively independent.  No more.  God had given them enough chances.  The Jews had not received His cleansing, and so God would now send His “fury.”  The word used for “fury” is appropriate in that it speaks of a burning wrath.  It would be the fire of God’s holiness that would chastise them, and they would experience it to the full.  God’s fury would be unrestrained.  He would not “hold back…spare, nor…relent.”  God’s fury would be deserved.  All of this occurred “according to [their] ways and…deeds.”  They had earned it for themselves, and despised the many opportunities God gave them to repent & be cleansed.
    • Don’t despise the many chances God gives you!  When the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, deal with it immediately.

With this, the first picture comes to a close, but the oracles do not.  That very day, Babylon was in the process of starting the siege of Jerusalem, and this was the fiery wrath of God upon His people.  One would think it to be a day of mourning, and it was…but they wouldn’t grieve in the way they might expect.  God also grieved for His people, and in this was another picture He needed to share with them.  Sadly, Ezekiel would share in this & it would affect him in a most personal way.

  • Command for silent suffering (15-27)

15 Also the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 16 “Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep, nor shall your tears run down. 17 Sigh in silence, make no mourning for the dead; bind your turban on your head, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your lips, and do not eat man’s bread of sorrow.”

  • To this point Ezekiel has not written much about his personal life.  Initially we were told that he was a priest, the son of Buzi (1:3).  We know that he had already gone into Babylonian captivity & was somewhere by the River Chebar when he received his initial visions (1:3).  Other than that, we don’t know much.  Yet here, we learn that Ezekiel had a wife whom he loved.  She was “the desire of [his] eyes,” and the one thing we know about her is that God took her away.  There is no indication that she was struck down by God for any sort of sin, nor that she was sick and that her death was expected.  Instead, God in His sovereignty simply took her away from Ezekiel, and it would surely break the prophet’s heart.
  • That was bad enough, but what made it worse is that God forbade Ezekiel from the normal public expressions of grieving.  Keep in mind that God never commanded Ezekiel to smile & pretend nothing had happened.  He was still terribly upset & God allowed him to mourn quietly (“sigh in silence”) – but nothing else was aloud.  No hired mourners wailing in the streets – no open weeping – no rending of garments nor walking around with uncovered head or feet – no sitting in ashes, etc.  All of these things that were normally expected of Jewish mourners were to be avoided by Ezekiel.
  • Why?  Because the absence of these things would speak louder than anything else Ezekiel could have done.  Vs. 18…

18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died; and the next morning I did as I was commanded. 19 And the people said to me, “Will you not tell us what these things signify to us, that you behave so?”

  • That people died unexpectedly was not unusual then (nor today); but for Ezekiel to behave this way was truly unusual.  They knew his wife had died, but yet he acted (relatively) normal.  That got a lot of attention, and they couldn’t help but ask him about it.
  • Before we get to Ezekiel’s answer, we’ve got to ask the question of why God would do this in the first place.  It seems so cruel – so unnecessary.  Why should Ezekiel’s wife die & Ezekiel suffer in this way?
    • First, remember that God doesn’t change.  God was good then, just like He is good today.  God is good, all the time.  Just because we don’t understand certain actions of God doesn’t mean that He is any less good than He’s always been.  We have to trust His basic character, just as Ezekiel did.  Death will always be tragic to us, as well it should.  It is, after all, the direct result of our sinful condition.  But this is something directly dealt with by Jesus.  The very reason Jesus came was to reverse the curse of death.  We may experience it now, but our experience with it is temporary – all due to the sheer goodness of God.
    • Secondly, Ezekiel suffered loss & grief, but so would his countrymen.  All of those currently in Jerusalem would suffer terrible hardship at the hands of the Babylonians, and all of those currently in captivity would suffer heartbreak when they heard of the destruction of their beloved city.  God’s representative shared in the suffering of His people.  What was experienced by Ezekiel is what would later be experienced by Jesus when He put on human flesh and shared in our sufferings as well.  He experienced all of our hardships & personally experienced the result of all of our sins.  God took these things upon Himself, so that we could experience His grace & power in return.
  • The Jews may have grown weary of Ezekiel’s prophecies in the past, but now they were asking him directly what had happened.  The prophet had an open invitation to speak, and he took it.  Vs. 20…

20 Then I answered them, “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 21 ‘Speak to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I will profane My sanctuary, your arrogant boast, the desire of your eyes, the delight of your soul; and your sons and daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword.

  • What had happened to Ezekiel would happen to Israel.  The prophet had lost the desire of his eyes; so would the nation.  They would experience the loss of Jerusalem, the temple, and countless lives of those within.
  • Who would do it?  God!  “I will profane My sanctuary.”  The holy temple had been set apart by God & at one point even indwelled by the Spirit of God, but now this place would be turned over to the Gentiles.  God personally brought the Babylonians to the gate of Jerusalem & He would allow them to come in & burn the temple to the ground.  Truly it would be profaned.  The Jews may have boasted in the beauty of this place in the past – but it would be ripped from them, to the point that future generations would have to re-lay a foundation before any rebuilding could begin.
  • What would the Jews do when this desecration finally came?  The siege had begun, but the destruction of the temple wouldn’t take place for months yet to come.  But when it did, the people would be left in shock and grief.  Vs. 22…

22 And you shall do as I have done; you shall not cover your lips nor eat man’s bread of sorrow. 23 Your turbans shall be on your heads and your sandals on your feet; you shall neither mourn nor weep, but you shall pine away in your iniquities and mourn with one another. 24 Thus Ezekiel is a sign to you; according to all that he has done you shall do; and when this comes, you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.’ ”

  • As Ezekiel grieved, so would the people: silently.  Why?  Because ultimately the Jews would know that their grief was deserved.  Yes, their hearts would be broken, but they wouldn’t get the opportunity to grieve openly & wail.  Instead, the inhabitants of Jerusalem would be sent on a POW march by the Babylonians, and the Jews who were already outside of the city would understand this as the fulfillment of prophecy.
  • What God acts, we know it!  When it comes to His discipline, we might not always like it, but we can always recognize it.
  • That was the word God gave Ezekiel to deliver to the Jews in captivity, but God wasn’t done speaking to Ezekiel himself.  Vs. 25…

25 ‘And you, son of man—will it not be in the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and their glory, the desire of their eyes, and that on which they set their minds, their sons and their daughters: 26 on that day one who escapes will come to you to let you hear it with your ears; 27 on that day your mouth will be opened to him who has escaped; you shall speak and no longer be mute. Thus you will be a sign to them, and they shall know that I am the LORD.’ ”

  • God reassures Ezekiel that he would not be alone in his suffering & grief.  His people would go through the same pain.  Not that Ezekiel’s grief would be easy to handle, but at least he could know that God had a plan for it all.  The sovereignty of God is a firm foundation to cling in times of trial!
  • Ezekiel would suffer in silence now, but he wouldn’t always be silent.  He would not always grieve.  Yes, his wife would always be gone & Jerusalem would indeed be destroyed, but his nation would not be exterminated.  Eventually, fugitives would join Ezekiel & the others in captivity, and that’s when the prophet’s message would change from judgment to hope.  To this point, the main focus of the oracles had been judgment & the wrath of God, preparing the Jewish people for what was about to happen with the Babylonians.  Now that day had arrived, and those prophecies would be fulfilled.  But God wasn’t done with His people.  There were more prophecies to be given, and those would have to do with restoration.  Ezekiel would then be able to speak forth words of hope, continually pointing his neighbors back to their covenant-keeping God.

Ezekiel 25 – Israel’s neighbors are judged
All of that was God’s word to His own people – but they were not the only people in the world.  Other nations had sinned, and would likewise face their own judgments.  That’s where the prophetic attention turns in the next several chapters.  Obviously God does not address every nation in the world – He concentrates His attention on the nations with whom the Jews would be most familiar: their neighbors.  After all, these are still the Hebrew Scriptures, which would be primarily read by Hebrews.  Initially the prophecies focus on the nations most closely related to the Hebrews, all of which shared borders with Israel.  With these first few prophecies, a certain pattern can be seen: the nation is identified – the crime is detailed – the judgment is declared.  The Almighty Judge cast His verdict upon the nations, and it was all declared through Ezekiel.

  • Against Ammon (1-7)

1 The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, set your face against the Ammonites, and prophesy against them. 3 Say to the Ammonites, ‘Hear the word of the Lord GOD! Thus says the Lord GOD: “Because you said, ‘Aha!’ against My sanctuary when it was profaned, and against the land of Israel when it was desolate, and against the house of Judah when they went into captivity, 4 indeed, therefore, I will deliver you as a possession to the men of the East, and they shall set their encampments among you and make their dwellings among you; they shall eat your fruit, and they shall drink your milk. 5 And I will make Rabbah a stable for camels and Ammon a resting place for flocks. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”

  • Ammon was a son of Lot, the nephew of Abraham.  Historically, they had always caused problems for the Hebrews, and all of that would now come home to roost.
  • The crime?  Gloating.  They celebrated over Israel’s misery.  Speaking in the prophetic past-tense, God declares how the Ammonites would laugh when Babylon desecrated the temple.  Yes, this was God’s righteous judgment upon His people, but that was no excuse for other nations to enjoy Israel’s misery.
  • The judgment?  God would give them misery of their own.  Just like Israel was overrun by foreigners, so would Ammon.  Other nations would come from the east (the various empires of the Babylonians, the Medes & Persians, the Nabateans, etc.), and Ammon would themselves suffer the same fate.  Just as all of the Jewish possessions were taken, so would those of Ammon.
  • All of this is reiterated in vss. 6-7…

6 ‘For thus says the Lord GOD: “Because you clapped your hands, stamped your feet, and rejoiced in heart with all your disdain for the land of Israel, 7 indeed, therefore, I will stretch out My hand against you, and give you as plunder to the nations; I will cut you off from the peoples, and I will cause you to perish from the countries; I will destroy you, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

  • When Ammon celebrated at Jerusalem’s downfall, they basically threw themselves a party.  They hated God’s people, and cursed them…and that was the problem.  This goes back to the initial covenant that God gave to Abraham: Genesis 12:1–3, "(1) Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. (2) I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”"  With all of the physical blessing promised by God to Abraham came also the promise of protection.  He would bless those who blessed Abraham & curse those who cursed him.  What had Ammon done?  They cursed the covenant descendants of Abraham, the Hebrews.  Thus God brought His mighty wrath against them, allowing them to feel the full onslaught of the curse.
    • What was in force then is still in force today.  God’s covenant promise to Abraham has not abated.  The blessing given to all the world has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but God still promised a nation (Israel), a land, and His protection.  Governments ought to think twice before cursing the modern state of Israel, and they certainly ought to be generous in their blessings towards it.
  • Did you notice what the result is of God’s judgment of Ammon?  The same as God’s judgment of Israel: “then you shall know that I am the LORD.”  Would the Ammonites know Him in faith?  Not likely.  The Ammonites (like many other ancient nationalities) would perish from history.  But when their destruction came, they would certainly know it was the God of Israel who brought it.
    • Whether people die in faith or still fighting against God, all peoples everywhere will one day know Him as the Lord!  When we see Jesus at the judgment, His identity will be unmistakable.
  • Against Moab (8-11)

8 ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Because Moab and Seir say, ‘Look! The house of Judah is like all the nations,’ 9 therefore, behold, I will clear the territory of Moab of cities, of the cities on its frontier, the glory of the country, Beth Jeshimoth, Baal Meon, and Kirjathaim. 10 To the men of the East I will give it as a possession, together with the Ammonites, that the Ammonites may not be remembered among the nations. 11 And I will execute judgments upon Moab, and they shall know that I am the LORD.”

  • Moab was the other son of Lot, also a perpetual pain in Israel’s side.
  • The crime?  Boasting.  Ammon celebrated Jerusalem’s downfall; Moab boasted that Jerusalem had been cut down to size.  They weren’t the privileged people that they thought they were – the Jews had gotten what was coming to them, and their God had not protected them.  Obviously, that wasn’t the case at all!  It was true that God had removed His hand of protection, but they were still His covenant people.  The Jews may have violated the covenant & thus God had cast them off for a while, but ultimately, God would bring them to a place of restoration.  God’s covenant promises are inviolable & irrevocable.
  • The judgment: like Ammon, the Moabites would be wiped from the earth.  Their land was to be given over completely to other people, and their culture would barely be remembered.  Likewise, it would be through God’s judgment that the Moabites finally saw the God of Israel for who He is.
  • Against Edom (12-14)

12 ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Because of what Edom did against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and has greatly offended by avenging itself on them,” 13 therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “I will also stretch out My hand against Edom, cut off man and beast from it, and make it desolate from Teman; Dedan shall fall by the sword. 14 I will lay My vengeance on Edom by the hand of My people Israel, that they may do in Edom according to My anger and according to My fury; and they shall know My vengeance,” says the Lord GOD.

  • The family line gets closer to Israel here.  Edom was descended from Esau, the twin brother of Jacob/Israel.  But again, like the other family clans, Edom had clashed with Israel for generations on end.
  • The crime: Unjust vengeance.  Unlike some of the other nations, Edom actually had legitimate reason to be upset with the Israelites.  Different Judean kings had extended their influence over Edom, and the Edomites were able to throw them off from time to time.  Nevertheless, the judgment of Israel was up to God; not Edom.  When Edom acted against Israel, apparently they acted in an unjust way & God promised to judge them for it.
  • The judgment: God’s vengeance.  Edom had acted vengefully against Israel; God would act vengefully against Edom.  Again, His covenant promise to curse those who cursed Israel was in full effect.
  • Against the Philistines (15-17)

15 ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Because the Philistines dealt vengefully and took vengeance with a spiteful heart, to destroy because of the old hatred,” 16 therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “I will stretch out My hand against the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethites and destroy the remnant of the seacoast. 17 I will execute great vengeance on them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I lay My vengeance upon them.” ’ ”

  • The Philistines had no ancestral tie to Israel, but they certainly had a long history of enmity against them.  The Philistines serve as the primary enemy of Israel throughout the book of Judges, and will into the reign of Saul & David.
    • FYI, this is where the name “Palestine” comes from.  The Romans wanted a way to subjugate the Jews even in terminology, so they gave the land the name of the historical enemy of the Jews.  The Palestinians of today have zero ancestral ties to the Philistines of old; the Arabic people who migrated into the land simply took the name to themselves when it suited them.
  • The crime: Vengeance & spite.  Like the Edomites, the Philistines acted in vengeance against Israel, taking advantage of Jerusalem’s weakened condition.  Yet unlike Edom, they had no reason for doing so.  The only reason the Philistines acted was because that was what they always did.  They had an old grudge, and saw an opportunity to exercise it.
  • The judgment: God’s vengeance.  The Philistines were seafaring people, and God promised to strike them wherever He found them.  He would cut them off, and let them feel His wrath, which itself would be a testimony unto Him.

Conclusion:
Whether Jew or Gentile, the wrath of God is fierce to behold!  For His own people, God promised that the Jews would experience His fiery purifying anger & that they would grieve immensely, though silently in awe at what God had done.  At the same time, there was hope.  God’s wrath, though terrible, was not the end.  There was a future yet in store for them.

For the enemies of God’s people, the future wasn’t so bright.  They would also experience the fierce anger of God, but for them, it would mean the end.  They had cursed the people God had declared as blessed, and they brought the curse of God down upon their own heads.  They would still know the Lord as God, but at that point it was too late.

Does God discipline His own people?  Yes.  But if He does that, how much more ought we expect God to judge those who don’t belong to Him? Again, judgment rightly begins at the house of God, but it doesn’t end there.  All people everywhere will one day stand before God for judgment, and they will have to give account to Him.  At that point, there will be only one question that matters: do you belong to Him as one of His people?  In other words, are you a Christian?  Do you belong to God through Jesus Christ?  If so, there is glorious hope!  There is a marvelous future!  If not – then you will still know the Lord as God, but it will be too late.  (Don’t wait until that point!)

As uncomfortable as the message of God’s judgment can be (even as a Christian), there is still some wonderful news here for us.  (1) No matter what we do, God is still jealous for us.  He was in the very process of judging His own people, but that didn’t stop Him from taking furious vengeance upon the enemies of the Jews.  God may have been angry with the Jews, but He still loved them.  Likewise with us.  There are times that we sin & rightly earn God’s just discipline, but He never stops loving us.  He never stops rising in our defense.  He is still our God, and will always act as such.

(2) Although we face the discipline of God, we never face the wrath of God!  The wrath of God is something that Jesus took upon Himself when He went to the cross.  All of the fiery anger of God that should have been poured out on us to burn off our scum & rust went on Jesus instead.  Did God hold back His wrath?  Absolutely not – it went on Jesus to the full.  And now it’s done.  Completely done – forever.  Praise the Lord!  Every time we read of God’s judgment, it should always take our mind to the cross, because it was there that our judgment was fulfilled.  And that is a reason to praise Him.

Kingdom Attitude

Posted: September 18, 2016 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 6:37-42, “Kingdom Attitude”

Ever get a bad attitude?  Sometimes it’s easy to wake up that way.  Until we get one cup of coffee we’re not in any ways prepared to deal with other people.  Someone might ask an innocent question only to get his/her head bitten off.  Guess what we’ve become at that point?  Hypocrites.  We may have woken up as a Christian, but we sure weren’t acting like it at the time.  Nobody likes a hypocrite.  For good reason: we say we’re going to do one thing, and then we end up doing something else.  A lot of that comes down to the attitude of our hearts.  If we have a right attitude, then our actions will likely reflect the things we say we are as believers; if not, then we’re headed down the road of hypocrisy.  Attitude matters.  And what’s the attitude of a believer supposed to be?  Mercy.

Last week, we looked at the ethic of the kingdom: that of mercy.  Jesus had been teaching the Sermon on the Plain (which is very similar to the Sermon on the Mount, found in the gospel of Matthew), and He had already turned common expectations upside down.  The first thing Jesus did was to proclaim those who suffered as being blessed.  Whenever someone was poor, hungry, weeping, or persecuted, they could consider themselves extraordinarily happy – not because of their circumstance, but because on Whom their circumstances were centered.  When these things happened to them for Jesus’ sake, it was a blessed thing.  Why?  Because for the Christian, this world is as bad as it’s ever going to get.  Heaven will be infinitely better as we live in the physical presence of our Lord Jesus!  Of course, the opposite is true as well: for the non-Christian, this world is as good as it’s ever going to get.  For those who reject Jesus, then the pleasures of this present world are the most they will ever receive.  They’ve already experienced their reward.

But that introduction brought up the subject of mercy.  How are Christians to respond when they are hated & persecuted for Jesus’ sake?  With mercy.  With the same love & mercy we have received from God, that is what we are to extend towards others.  That sort of mercy is exactly what is needed in times of injustice & suffering.  After all, it’s easy to love those who love us.  It’s easy to be forgiving with those who have forgiven us.  But that’s the bare minimum – even sinners do that.  What’s far more difficult is to be merciful with those who don’t deserve mercy.  That’s what Jesus expects of us – but of course, that’s what Jesus did with us.  We were hateful and cruel towards God in rebellion, yet God gave us mercy.  He demonstrated His own love towards us in that while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us (Rom 5:8).  Our God is merciful, so His children ought to be merciful as well.

That’s the ethic of a Christian: merciful love.  That’s the core principle behind whatever it is that we do.  To this point, Jesus had spoken very practically, and it has been easy to see the ethic of mercy in it all.  But what about our minds?  What about our hearts?  Does God care what goes on with our attitudes?  Absolutely He does!  A person might be able to force themselves to act a certain way on the outside while still muttering curses and judgments on the inside.  That’s what Jesus deals with next.  If the ethic of the kingdom is mercy, then the attitude of the kingdom is mercy as well.  We not only need right theory, we need clean hearts.  And that’s something that only comes through the grace of Christ!

Luke 6:37–42

  • The instruction

37 “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. …

  • This is probably the most quoted command of Jesus among our current generation.  They don’t necessarily remember John 3:16, nor necessarily His exclusive statement about being the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) – but they remember His command to His disciples not to judge.  And they don’t hesitate to throw it in our faces when they think that we’re doing it.  And you know what?  Sometimes they’re right.  Sometimes we’re a bit too quick to jump to the common explanations of this command & find loopholes to fit our own situation, rather than simply take Jesus at His word.  We shouldn’t make it that complicated.  In Luke’s Greek, the statement is only barely as long as it is in English.  He apparently didn’t think Jesus needed much commentary.  Do we still need to explain it?  Yes – but let’s not be too quick to give ourselves an “out.”  Remember that Jesus is speaking to His disciples here, and if He’s telling them not to judge, then He’s telling us not to judge.  Let’s be sure to look for Jesus’ heart & intent before we look for our own escape hatches.
  • That said, what does Jesus mean when He says not to judge? The word is κρίνω (~ critic, criticize).  In a positive sense, the word could refer to simply making a selection or distinction between a variety of things.  Negatively (which seems to be Jesus’ context) this would refer to critical judgmentalism.  If you’ve ever found yourself in the position of having someone look down their nose at you because they found you distasteful for whatever reason, you know what it’s like to be judged in this way.  Keep in mind, context is key.  Again, the idea of judgment itself could be used positively – it isn’t always a bad thing.  In Chapter 12, Jesus questions the crowd as to why they could not “judge what is right,” & settle their own disagreements without getting dragged into court. (12:57)  To the apostles, Jesus told them that one day they would “sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (22:30)  In each of these cases, the same word (κρίνω) was used.  Obviously, Jesus did not believe that all judgment was wrong.  The problem comes when we’re judging wrongly, which was the point Jesus made with the people of Jerusalem when they were upset with Him for healing a man on the Sabbath.  John 7:24, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."  There’s the rub.  Judgment itself isn’t bad – it can even be good and necessary.  Superficial judgment is the problem.  If someone has the wrong standard by which to judge, their judgment is always going to be wrong.  Thus we need to make sure we’re judging by the right standard.
  • That takes more than knowledge – it takes the right heart.  Think about it: even courtroom judges have to recuse themselves from time to time, because they have some sort of personal tie or previous interaction with the case.  Legally, their opinion would be compromised & they would not be able to hear both sides of the evidence without bias.  Something similar can happen with us as Christians.  We might have all the right theological knowledge about an issue, thus having the right intellectual standard by which to judge an act, but our flesh gets in the way & we start judging the person instead, looking down our noses at him/her.  If our hearts aren’t right, then our judgment won’t be either.  This is the difference between judgment & judgmentalism.  This is the difference between judging actions vs. individuals.  Actions need to be evaluated, and it takes godly people with good discernment to identify what is or is not Biblical.  Individuals, however, don’t.  Judge actions; not people.
  • Question: how can we know that Jesus is making a difference between the two?  Remember the very last thing Jesus said in vs. 36: “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”  You cannot be merciful towards an action – you can only show mercy to a person.  Again, there are too many other places in Scripture (several being statements from Jesus Himself) about the need for us to judge.  But those situations refer to judging actions (or even ourselves) with the right standard of God’s truth.  When it comes to judging other people AS people – when it comes to judging someone else’s heart or simply judging them as an individual, that is something Jesus warns us not to do.
  • Why the warning?  Because those who judge shall be judged themselves.  This is a pattern picked up throughout this section.  What we extend to others, we receive in return.  When we judge others, we will find ourselves on the receiving end of judgment.  This isn’t necessarily speaking of the judgment we receive from other people – after all, others might judge us wrongly even if we are the most gracious, least-judgmental people around.  Just because you are without prejudice doesn’t mean that others are.  No, the judgment referred to by Jesus is the judgment that every person will face: that of God.  One day, every single person will stand before God and give account.  The question is: what kind of judgment do you want to receive?  Remember that even born-again believers will stand for judgment, though it is a different judgment than that of non-Christians (2 Cor 5:10).  How we live today as Christians has an effect on our reward as we enter the kingdom, and that will be determined at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:12-15).  Thus, we need to be careful how we judge others, for we face a judgment of our own.

… Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. …

  • What’s the difference between judgment & condemnation?  At first glance, not much.  Perhaps the main difference is that the Greek word used for “condemn” refers more to legal settings.  If someone is condemned, they are pronounced guilty.  Is Jesus forbidding Christians to serve in criminal court settings?  Obviously not.  We need godly people with good discernment serving throughout our judicial system in order to see right judgments handed out – and that includes correct legal condemnation of the guilty.  No, Jesus isn’t talking about condemnation by the courts; He’s referring to condemnation by the crowds.  In Jesus’ context, the underlying idea is mercy, so condemnation would be the withholding of mercy & the pronouncement of guilt.  It’s us looking at others, judging their heart, and declaring they are beyond help.  We make ourselves their accuser, their judge, and their jury all in one, and sentence them to hell.
  • Some of the most obvious examples of this are the abhorrent practices of the so-called “Westboro Baptist Church.”  These are the people who show up at military funerals with hateful signs declaring “God hates f*gs,” “”thank God for dead soldiers,” & more.  It needs to be emphasized that the group (despite its name) has nothing to do with any recognized Baptist organization & it fits the definition of a cult, being comprised basically of one single family & having a twisted view of the Scriptures, holding such an extreme form of Calvinism that not even true Calvinists affirm.  They want people to die and go to hell, and regularly condemn them there.  Here is an instance in which right judgment ought to be applied: what WBC does is absolutely wrong.  It is flat-out unbiblical & has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  What they engage in is hatred & condemnation of the worst kind.
  • WBC might be extreme, but unjust condemnation can be found in the hearts of all kinds of otherwise normal, born-again Christian individuals.  We might find ourselves lapsing into a mindset of condemnation when we look at a group & declare them impossible to be saved – or we look at the way a person is dressed or how many tattoos he/she has & automatically believe him/her to be dangerous – or anytime we exercise unjust prejudice without taking time to get to know someone.  Only God knows who someone truly is on the inside – only God knows a person’s heart.  And, only God knows if someone is or is not going to heaven.  We cannot look inside someone’s heart and determine if he/she truly has faith.  A person might attend a heretical church, yet still be saved in spite of the church’s official teaching.  We’ve got to be very careful looking upon a person and declaring his/her eternal fate in condemnation, because at the end of the day, only God knows & God alone has the right to condemn.
    • BTW, God does indeed know the state of our hearts, and we can, too.  We cannot condemn others to hell, but we can know where we ourselves will spend eternity.  Make no mistake, there are only two options: (1) heaven, with all of its glories in the presence of our Creator God, or (2) hell, where there is weeping & gnashing of teeth, eternally separated from God.  We will go to either one of those two places – where you go is determined today, in this life.  The good news is that you can know you will go to heaven – you can have 100% assurance that you will be there, when you receive Jesus Christ as your Lord & Savior.  When a person turns away from sin, places his/her faith/trust in Jesus, believing Him to be the Son of God who died upon the cross & rose from the grave, that person is saved.  That person has total assurance of eternity in heaven, free from the eternal condemnation of God.  (You can have it too!)
  • Those were two negative commands, but Jesus takes it around to the positive too…

… Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

  • Forgiveness often gets misunderstood.  For some, they think that forgiveness means that they need to put a fake smile on their face & pretend that something never happened.  Even though they were hurt in a terrible way, they just need to buck it up & forget about it.  That’s not forgiveness.  That’s not even the way God forgives us!  When God forgives us of our sins, it’s not because He pretends that nothing happened.  No, something DID happen, and Jesus had to suffer and die upon the cross because that thing happened.  There was a tremendous price to be paid for our forgiveness, but it was paid, and now it is done.  Now, when we come to faith in Christ, God can release us from our sin & offenses & truly forgive us.  And that’s also the general idea here.  The word used for “forgive” refers to a release.  To let something be gone from a person – we might even think of setting something free.  In the case of an offense against us, we let it go – we release it.  We don’t hold the grudge closely to us, nursing it, feeding it with our fury as we think on it time & time again.  Instead, we let it go free.  It’s not a pretense that we were never offended; it’s a choice not to remain offended.
  • Is it easy?  No.  It certainly didn’t come easy for God – it came at a great price!  But the price was paid.  And because it was paid for us, it was paid for others, too.  Legally, people might be required to pay restitution to us for any wrong they may have done.  Spiritually, that restitution has already been paid.  What right do we have to hold someone’s spiritual debts against us when we’ve already been forgiven of so much spiritual debt of our own?  Jesus told the parable of the unforgiving servant that explains this very point.  A servant who owed his king many millions of dollars begged his master for forgiveness, and the king released him from his debt.  Yet once the servant left, he found a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars, and the first servant threw him into debtors’ prison.  Word got back to the king, who wasn’t at all happy.  Matthew 18:32–35, "(32) Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. (33) Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ (34) And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. (35) “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”"  Jesus ends the parable with a warning, much like He gives here in the Sermon on the Plain: if we want to be forgiven, we need to extend forgiveness.  That’s a sobering thought, and not one to take lightly.
    • Question: Does our salvation hang on whether or not we forgive others?  No – our salvation is 100% dependent on what we do with Jesus, whether or not we believe upon Him as our Lord & Savior.  But one way the fruit of our faith shows itself is through our forgiveness of others.  That’s when the love of God is put into action.  Have we really been transformed by the gospel?  Are we really born-again?  Whether or not we’re willing to forgive others goes a long way to demonstrate that.

38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

  • Here’s the last instruction, though we might wonder what this has to do with the context.  After all, the issue of generous giving seems so much different than judgmentalism or forgiveness.  Well, it all depends on what is being given.  If this has to do with money, then it may be somewhat unrelated.  But if it has to do with mercy, then it’s totally related.  Think about it: Jesus never once says what it is that is being given – we just typically assume that He’s speaking financially.  And this principle is indeed taught elsewhere in the Bible in regards to finances.  If we sow sparingly, we will reap sparingly, while God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:6-7). Yet is that really the idea here?  Remember the primary guideline for interpretation is to look to the immediate context, and the whole thought here is mercy.  Withholding judgment – withholding condemnation – freely forgiving – what would most naturally come next other than being generous with mercy?  It certainly provides a nice balance to Jesus’ teaching: two negative commands + two positive commands.  It also fits in well with the similar teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus talks about the measure being used in regards to judgment (not giving).  Of course, part of our merciful giving might practically show itself as giving generously to someone in dire financial need (per vs. 30), but the most immediate context is that of mercy in general.  How might we extend kindness to someone we might otherwise judge?  That’s what we’re to do, and do it abundantly.
  • Regardless of what it is you give, what is it you receive?  That which you gave out.  Jesus goes into great detail here describing what is given back.  There was a common practice in the day of measuring out grain to ensure that a buyer received the full amount that he purchased, and that’s the picture upon which Jesus draws.  It’s like when a baker is measuring a full cup of packed flour – it’s going to be pressed down & shaken together to ensure no room is left.  To Jesus’ point, that’s where the measure comes in.  Did you use a cup – a quart – a gallon?  We receive what we give.  From a financial viewpoint, we can easily affirm that we won’t ever out-give God, but contextually that doesn’t quite fit.  If we give God a cup’s worth of whatever, He frequently gives us a gallon’s worth in return.  It isn’t unusual at all for God to give us far more than what we gave Him.  Thus again, the idea is something different.  What we give out to others is what is measured back to us – and that’s the measure that God uses with us at our own judgment.  Did we give out a cup’s worth of mercy, or did it flow abundantly from us towards others?
  • The bottom line: how much mercy do you wish to receive?  Give out the same!  So how much do you want to receive?  Before you answer too quickly, think for a moment how much mercy you require.  It may be easy for us to think, “Well, I certainly don’t mind taking my lumps for the mistakes I’ve made.  Certainly someone else can do it, too!”  But in the process, we probably don’t account for all of our responsibilities.  It’s one thing to take our punishment from other people; it’s another thing to take it from God.  Our sin against Him is unfathomable, and thus our need for mercy is infinite.  That makes the mercy we give to others all the more important.  Again, this goes back to the parable of the unforgiving servant.  He owed his king many millions of dollars (in today’s terms) – he owed his king a debt that he had no hope of paying in his own lifetime.  That’s us, in light of the sin we’ve committed against God.  To sin just one time a day accumulates a debt of 25,550 sins by the time a person is 70 years old.  (And who sins only once per day!?)  Each and every sin carries with it a wage of death – not to mention that we were born with a sinful nature, so we’re left in a pretty bad position just from the start.  With all of that in mind, think again on how much mercy you require.  A lot!  The mind cannot comprehend how much mercy we need.  If God doesn’t bathe us in an ocean of it, we have no hope!  That is exactly what He does when we come to faith in Christ.  We are completely cleansed & forgiven in Jesus, all because of Jesus.  That’s the mercy we’ve received.  Thus when it comes to the mercy we extend, the choice should be easy: give it.  Give it freely, abundantly, by the gallon – by the tanker load!  However much mercy someone requires, give it.  Give it from the heart, with an attitude of joyful mercy because you have already received the same.

That’s all the instruction.  Now Jesus is going to illustrate it for them.  Why should the attitude of kingdom citizens be that of mercy?  Because that is what we ourselves require.

  • The illustration

39 And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?

  • It’s interesting that Luke says that Jesus spoke “a parable” to them, as if there is only one.  We might count three altogether – but perhaps Luke is either thinking of the whole illustration section as “a parable,” or maybe he sees each of these illustrations related.  Although scholars have struggled with some of the contextual relationships here, there does seem to be some indication that one situation builds upon the other, leading to a common conclusion.
  • It all begins with common blindness.  When it comes to events that require mercy, it’s easy to be caught in a situation where no one knows what to do.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be complex; the main problem could be with the people.  If two people run into an argument, and neither of them are following the Lord, then they’re headed for trouble.  Maybe one (or both) of them are saved, but neither one is actively looking to honor Jesus at that particular time.  Each one is seeking his/her own will & his/her own benefit, regardless of what is going on with the other person.  There’s only one possible outcome in that situation: disaster.  Both are blind, and both are going to stumble into the ditch.  Even if one person is actively trying to help the other, but doesn’t know the truth of God’s word of how to help, then that situation isn’t going to turn out very good.  It would be like you inviting me over to your house to do basic electrical repairs.  It’s not going to be good for anyone involved! If you need help, you need someone qualified to help you.  If you have a blindfold over your eyes (or have your eyes dilated by the doctor), then you need someone who can actually see and is willing to help.  You need someone who knows what to do and is willing to be merciful.
    • This is one area in which Bible study and basic discipleship becomes so important for the Christian.  There are times we are willing to help, but we might find ourselves ignorant on how to help.  The more mature we are in the Lord, and the better we ourselves know God’s word, the more we’re actually able to help others when the need arises.  At the very least, we need to be able to point someone in the right direction.  If we don’t know what to do, we need to be able to take them to someone who can.
    • BTW – more often than not, that Someone is Jesus!  Every born-again Christian ought to be able to lead someone else to Christ.  The ultimate blindness is spiritual blindness, and we have no excuse not to be able to help someone else open their eyes to Jesus.

40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.

  • If in the first scenario, no one knew what to do or where to go, in this next scenario, people are learning.  Yet with learning comes a limit.  A disciple cannot go beyond what his teacher has taught.  We cannot do what we have not yet learned.  We need to pay careful attention to our teacher, so we can do the things that He does.
  • And again, what has He done for us?  He’s shown us mercy.  If you want to know how to extend mercy to others, look at how Jesus had extended mercy to you.  Has Jesus judged you?  Not wrongly.  Has Jesus condemned you?  He didn’t come to condemn you, but to save you.  Has He forgiven you?  Abundantly so!  Has He given you mercy and other kindnesses?  In too many ways to count!  Have you seen it?  Good – now go and do likewise.  If you are a born-again Christian, you are a disciple of your Master, Jesus.  Go and do the things that He has done for you.  Walk in His footsteps.  That is what it is like to “be like” our teacher.
  • The word used for “perfectly trained” is interesting in that it speaks of something that has been put in order, or repaired – perhaps like a fishing net that has been sewn up.  When something has been put into the proper condition, it’s ready for use.  Like a person who has healed from a surgery, or an athlete that is trained for the contest.  Jesus wants us as His disciples to be ready for use.  You can’t be ready without mercy.  You’re not ready if you’re lacking in love.  We can have all kinds of Scripture memorized – we can be trained in all manner of apologetics & evangelistic strategies – we can even have all the money & resources we need – but if we head out without the mercy of Christ in our hearts towards others, we’re going to fail every time.  Without mercy, we’re not ready.  Do you want to be perfectly trained & ready for use?  Spend time praying through and meditating upon the mercy and grace you’ve received from Jesus.  The more grateful you are for Him, the more merciful you’ll be towards others – and thus, the more suited you’ll be to be used by Jesus for His glory.

41 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

  • Jesus uses a bit of humor & exaggeration here, but it’s easy to see the point (pun intended).   Everyone at some point has gotten a bit of dust in our eyes.  It’s irritating, perhaps painful, and we want it out.  Who’s best qualified to help us: a caring ophthalmologist with nothing in his eyes apart from magnifying glasses – or the guy walking out of Lowe’s or Home Depot with an armful of lumber in his face?  If we’re the one with the speck, the choice is clear!  If we’re the guy with the lumber, we’ve got to ask ourselves what the heck we’re trying to do!  How are we supposed to help someone else with their minor eye issue when we’ve got a major vision problem of our own?
  • Jesus has a specific label for the lumber-guy: “hypocrite.”  The word is English is directly taken from the Greek (ὑποκριτής), and is actually related to the earlier word used for judge (κρίνω).  Originally, the word meant “to answer or interpret,” and eventually was used to refer to actors on stage who would interpret their role by putting on a mask, changing their voice, changing their dress, etc., to be someone who they were not.  From there, it’s easy to see how the word came to be used of a deceiver or inauthentic person – someone who pretends to be one thing, but are really something else.  The hypocrite is the two-faced person – the one of whom you never know what to trust.  This is what Jesus calls the plank-eyed person.  Why?  Because he’s got bigger problems of his own.  He pretends to be the doctor when in actuality, he’s the one that’s sick.
  • Interestingly, in the parable Jesus shows the hypocrite as the one seemingly willing to extend mercy, by offering to remove the speck from his brother’s eye.  Obviously he needed far more help than his brother!  The problem arises in his lack of self-awareness.  He himself needed mercy, but didn’t admit it.  What was obvious to everyone else was oblivious to him.  Thus the question becomes: was he really trying to be merciful, or was he hypercritical of someone else?  Pretended mercy isn’t mercy at all.  Lumber-eye was judging himself better than speck-eye, not really showing mercy so much as his own supposed superiority.
  • So what does this have to do with the earlier illustrations in the parable? (1) He was blind, (2) he wasn’t following his master.  This is a person in the worst of the prior two situations, unable to help, believing himself in no need of help, judging other unjustly.  He was headed for disaster.
  • With all of that in mind, don’t miss the last part of vs. 42.  There was still help that could be done.  There was true judgment and mercy that could be shown.  Once the plank was removed, then lumber-guy could help the man with the speck.  The speck was still an issue – it was still an irritation that needed to be addressed.  It’s just that something else needed to be done first before the brother could help him.  Sin is still sin, in whomever it’s found.  We certainly need to humble ourselves before God & have our own sin dealt with first, but once we do, that’s when we lovingly go to others and guide them to the same God who helped us.  That’s not done in harsh critical judgment or condemnation – that’s done in merciful compassion, freely giving them the same gospel by which we were saved.

Conclusion:
Attitudes matter.  What are your attitudes towards others?  Have you found yourself judging individuals, rather than actions?  Have you condemned others in your heart, writing them off as lost & bound for hell?  Be careful!  What we give out to others, we can expect to receive ourselves.  Not in a reciprocal karma sort of way – the Bible teaches nothing of the sort.  The judgment we receive will come at the only judgment that truly matters: when we’re standing before Jesus Christ in eternity.  How much mercy do you want to receive in that day?  How much mercy have you already received?  Give out the same.

Keep in mind that nowhere here does Jesus give instructions as to how to earn our salvation.  He never says that if we refrain from judging others or condemning others that we’ll earn our spot in heaven.  He never says that if we die having the slightest amount of unforgiveness in our hearts that we’ve lost out on heaven.  That’s not the idea at all.  The salvation of God is received by His grace – it comes because we have faith in who Jesus is & what He has done for us at the cross…period.  We cannot make ourselves any “more” saved or “less” saved through our attitudes.  What we can do is (1) demonstrate our salvation, whether or not we have it in the first place, and (2) affect the reward we will receive in heaven, as we appear before the judgment seat of Christ.  That’s what Jesus is getting at here in this passage. 

The bottom line is easy: Jesus has given us mercy, so we need to do the same & we need to do it from the heart.  Don’t just say you aren’t judging a person; don’t do it.  Don’t just say “I forgive you,” (like we so often force kids to do after fighting); actually forgive them from your heart.  Release their debt & let it go.  Whatever the example, let your attitude reflect that of Jesus’ attitude towards you: mercy.

For some here today, you may need to spend a few moments getting your attitude right with God.  Maybe there’s a person in your life whom you’ve judged harshly, or over whom you’ve been holding a grudge.  It’s time to deal with that.  It’s time to be rid of it.  Think again on the mercy you’ve received, and truly give it out.  We’ve had enough days playing the hypocrite.  Let us be those who follow our Teacher in sincerity, being perfectly trained & fit for His use.

Kingdom Ethics

Posted: September 11, 2016 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 6:27-36, “Kingdom Ethics”

Today is the 15th anniversary of 9/11.  If you’re like most Americans, you can recall exactly where you were and what you were doing at the moment you heard the news.  For us, we were driving into our work office when we heard a news break on the radio about a plane that had flown into the Twin Towers.  The initial report was that the plane was small, and it sounded like little more than a tragic accident.  When we entered our office building & saw the TV footage, we soon realized we were wrong.  Smoke billowed up from the building, and news cameras were fixed to it when all of a sudden a second plane flew into the second tower.  To say that we were “stunned” is a terrible understatement – just one of many emotions that started coming up.  Like most Americans we learned more throughout the day (and little to no actual work was accomplished in the office), and it became clear that our nation had been under attack, and we were at war.

What does any of this have to do with our text this morning?  Everything.  The words that Jesus spoke during this section of the Sermon on the Plain are simple.  In regards to doctrinal theology, it is relatively easy to grasp.  The challenge comes with application.  These words, as simple as they are, become some of the most convicting words in the New Testament for the Christian in that they force us to come to grips with putting our Christian ethic into practice.  If we say we love God & love our neighbor, then that means we better find actual physical ways of doing so.  There’s got to be some way to see Christian love at work.  That’s the core of what Jesus teaches here.  The knowledge is easy, but the practical truth is difficult.  To be merciful as God is merciful, it means we need to be merciful to those who hate us.

If nothing else, 9/11 made it clear that we have enemies, and those enemies hate us, revile us, and desire to see us dead.  How do we respond to that as Christians?  That’s what Jesus teaches.  Before we get too far, we need to keep one crucial difference in mind: here, Jesus is speaking to individuals; not governments.  Government has one primary responsibility – one that is important above all others: the protection of its citizens.  Our current political debate gets this mistaken, often thinking that government has the responsibility to provide for its citizens, but it doesn’t.  It exists to protect us; not to provide for us.  This is Biblical, and Paul writes to the Romans (of all people!) that the civic government is there to “bear the sword,” being “God’s minister” of wrath upon those who “practice evil.” (Rom 13:4)  They have a Biblical responsibility to protect us, rise up in our defense, maintain justice, etc.  Thus the right & Biblical response for our government was to avenge the nearly 3000 people who were killed on 9/11, and ensure that no additional attack occurred.  That’s why we can (and do) Biblically honor those who serve in our military, our police forces, fire departments, and other first-responders.  (Thank you for your service!)

That said, how do we respond as individuals?  If we were to walk up on the street and stand face-to-face with someone from Al-Qaeda, or ISIS, what would Jesus have us to do?  That’s where the rubber meets the road in our Christian faith, and that’s when things become rather difficult.  Christian ethics aren’t complex, but they certainly aren’t easy.  Yet because Jesus taught them, it’s something we need to grapple with.

Of course the incredible thing is that Jesus didn’t just teach this; He exampled it.  There is not a single exhortation here that He did not personally apply.  Our Teacher is not an academic speaking from some ivory tower – our King is not some hypocrite forcing us to do something He would never do Himself.  On the contrary – Jesus is the ultimate example in all of this.  There is no one more Christian in his/her ethics than Christ.  He has given us the standard, but He has also shown us how to keep it.

How do we follow through on the ethical teaching here?  It may be as simple as the old slogan: what would Jesus do?  Go and do likewise.

Luke 6:27–36

  • The standard of the kingdom: mercy

27 “But I say to you who hear: …

  • We can’t get too far without stopping because this is a great place to remind ourselves of the context.  Jesus is introducing the next section of His message, transitioning out of the blessings & woes of the Beatitudes.  Specifically, He just spoke a woe in regards to persecution.  When men speak well of you, watch out, because it might be an indication you don’t belong to God.  The cultural Jews of the past spoke well of the false prophets, just like many cultural Christians speak well of false teachers today.  They don’t care about the truth of God; they just want their ears tickled with messages that makes them feel good.  But of course the opposite of that is the blessing to those who are hated, abused, & cast out for the sake of Jesus.  True Christians who hold to the truth about Jesus are often persecuted, and we can consider ourselves blessed during those times.  What do we do with those times?  That’s what Jesus is about to teach.
  • What’s so important about this brief introduction?  Jesus identifies His audience.  He isn’t speaking to the people of the world – He isn’t even really speaking to the majority of the multitude who are present.  Most of them had come to hear Jesus & witness miracles, but they didn’t necessarily have faith.  Jesus spoke to His disciples (6:20) – He spoke to all of those who followed Him, wanting to walk in His same footsteps.  And as Jesus says in vs. 27, He spoke to those who actually heard Him.  Similar language is given by Jesus to the apostle John in each of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation: “He who has an ear, let him hear.”  Many people were present to physically hear the words of Jesus, but only a certain few followed Jesus in faith and desired to hear His heart.  There were some who truly came to hear & to do what they heard – and it was to those whom Jesus now spoke.
    • A similar thing could be said of church congregations today.  Church sanctuaries are full of people on Sunday morning, but not everyone who is present has truly come to hear from the Lord.  Some are there for an emotional “high” – some are there to “get their blessing” (whatever it may be) – some are there because they were forced to come – some are there just because that’s what they do every Sunday.  How many are there to actually hear from the Lord God – to worship Him in spirit & truth – to truly follow in the footsteps of Jesus?  Hopefully it is the majority, though only the Lord knows for sure.  That is, the Lord & you.  You cannot speak for the motivation for anyone else, but you can speak for your own.  Why did you attend church this morning?  (Or any morning, for that matter?)  Do you have ears to hear what Jesus is saying?
    • If so, then listen up!  Every time the word of God is proclaimed, it requires careful attention be paid – but when Jesus specifically calls out to us as He does here, then it’s worth double the amount.  As you listen & as you read, be sure to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to your own heart of what He is saying about all of this to you as an individual.  How does He want you to respond?  What does He want you to do?  Pay attention & listen up!

…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.

  • Jesus begins with four exhortations – short pithy teachings that seem upside-down in regards to what people might normally expect.  The same sort of thing was seen in the Beatitudes, with the paradox of the Kingdom making all of our cultural expectations topsy-turvy.  Just like we don’t normally consider ourselves happily blessed & fortunate when we are poor, hungry, weeping, and persecuted, we don’t normally think about acting in the way that Jesus instructs us here.
  • Exhortation #1: “love your enemies.”  We’re well familiar with the Biblical command to love your neighbor.  What we’re not always familiar with is how the Bible defines our “neighbor.”  Jesus actually does this very thing in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-37), in which the kindest person around is part of one of the groups most hated by the Jews.  At one point, the apostles James & John ask Jesus for permission to call fire down on Samaria (Lk 9:54 – which makes Jesus’ telling of the parable pretty good timing!), which illustrates how much the Jews hated the Samaritans.  These were true enemies, yet Jesus defined them as neighbors & showing of the pagan Samaritans acting more like a citizen of the kingdom of God than several religious Jews.  To the point, Jesus said we are to love these people.  Not just grit our teeth as we live side-by-side, but to love them – to sacrificially put our own needs aside and love them as Christ loves us.  Sound impossible?  The same disciple who wanted to exterminate a Samaritan village has through the centuries become known as the “Apostle of Love.”  The more we experience the love of Christ, the more we cannot help but be transformed by Him ourselves – and that will naturally spill over to the way we treat our enemies.
  • Exhortation #2: “do good to those who hate you.”  The lines tend to blur a bit between these four teachings, in that those who hate us are likely our enemies, who also have probably cursed us at some point.  Doing good is going to look like love & could easily be identified as a blessing, etc.  Jesus may have been saying something similar in different ways just to make the point clear.  At the same time, this puts a bit of flesh on the bones (so to speak).  An act of love doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with an act of our emotions – many (most!) times it has to do with a physical act.  What are the physical ways we can actually do good to someone else?  Thinking again on 9/11, we are well aware that there are Islamists in other lands who truly hate us and wish to see us dead.  What is one of the very best things we can do for them in “doing good” to them?  Take them the gospel.  When you support missionaries among radical Muslims in the Middle East, you are taking part in this very command.  Or perhaps there is something closer to home – perhaps someone who hates you has gone through a terrible tragedy or crisis of some sort.  There may be a chance to serve them by giving them food, helping fix up their home, etc.  There are all kinds of ways to put this kingdom ethic into practice.
  • Exhortation #3: “bless those who curse you.”  If the first two were mainly practical, this seems to be mainly verbal.  Not that our idea of blessing always has to do with speaking a blessing over someone (i.e. the Beatitudes), but the immediate context shows it in that light.  The word here for “bless” is different than the word used in vss. 20-22 & actually refers to “good speech.”  If someone speaks curses over us, we are to speak blessings over them.  When someone insults us, we do not respond in kind.  Instead, we respond with blessing.  For those on Facebook, how many times have you gotten into a war of words?  In our modern culture of social media, it is easy to find ourselves in situations in which we are cursed (especially in a political election year!).  The way we respond speaks volumes of our identity as Christians.  We could try to let the words pass away (which is fine), what is so much better is when we find ways to speak good things back to the people who spew venom back at us.
  • Exhortation #4: “pray for those who spitefully use you.”  What is it to be “spitefully used”?  NASB translates this as “mistreat” & ESV says “abuse” & all of that is included in this idea.  For those who threaten us, try to intimidate us, try to manipulate us, insult us, revile us etc., we intercede to God on their behalf.  We pray for them.  Keep in mind Jesus isn’t talking about the imprecatory prayers of David (“break their teeth in their mouth, O God!” – Ps 58:6).  There is a time & place for that as we vent our honest emotions to God, but that’s not likely the general idea here.  Here, Jesus seems to refer to compassionate, honest intercession on behalf of our enemies.  Want an example?  How about when Jesus was hanging from the cross, enduring the abuse and scorn of people who passed Him by, and He responds by praying to God asking for their forgiveness? (Lk 23:34)  It can be difficult to pray for our enemies, but it is a necessary thing to do.  Not for them, but for us.  One of the best ways to guard our own hearts against hatred is to sincerely pray for our enemies.  A heart that remains humble doesn’t harden with hate.  Prayer keeps us humble, because prayer reminds us that we are just as much in need of the grace of God as the person to whom we need to extend grace.
  • What do each of these exhortations have in common?  They are all proactive.  The individual words Jesus uses for love, do good, bless, and pray are all imperative verbs.  Each of them are actions that we are to initiate.  IOW, it isn’t a matter of waiting around to be offended or abused and then seeking for some way to respond in the heat of the moment (not that that is a bad thing; it’s not!).  The context here is looking for some way of taking the first step.  When we have enemies & others that we know that constantly hate us, what is a way that we can reach out to them with good works & blessing?  Take the initiative – take the first step.
    • That can take a bit of effort on our part.  This might mean searching out our enemies, or at the very least, spending serious time in prayer over those whom we might normally hate.  We’ve got to think about the people we normally do our best to avoid thinking about.  That takes work, but it’s worth it.  After all, how powerful of a witness is it to the transforming grace of Christ when a victim approaches his/her enemy in proactive love?  Combined with evangelism, that is the gospel in both word & deed.
    • Keep in mind that effort isn’t legalism.  None of what Jesus says here is any instruction for someone attempting to earn his/her way into heaven.  Remember that Jesus isn’t speaking to that person; He’s speaking to His disciples – to those who had ears to hear Him.  This is for the person who is already part of the kingdom of God – who already have faith in Jesus.  This isn’t how we become Christian; this is how we walk now that we are Christian.  So yes, now we take the effort in walking like Christ.  We just need to remember that we don’t do so alone.  We have the Holy Spirit available to us, and we can (and should) always ask Him to empower us for whatever lies before us.

29 To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.

  • In vss. 27-28, Jesus gave the exhortation/instruction.  Now He tells us what it looks like with four examples.  These examples are extreme, but they certainly get the point across!
  • Example #1: injury.  When someone slaps you, don’t retaliate in kind.  Scholarly opinion varies here whether this was an open-palmed slap, a back-handed strike, a square punch to the jaw, or just a metaphor about an insult, but all of the debate tends to miss the forest for the trees.  The idea is clear & simple: don’t fight back.  If someone hits you, don’t respond with an MMA takedown.  Go even to the point of offering your other cheek to your opponent.  Let God be your avenger & leave it in His more-than-capable hands.
    • Question: “What does this say about self-defense?”  Good Christians have solid disagreements here.  Some Christians take a powerful stand on pacifism, basing their position on solid Biblical arguments.  Others do the same in regards to self-defense.  Both positions can still follow this command from Jesus.  Obviously the pacifist will always turn his cheek, but so can the one who believes in self-defense.  There doesn’t always need to be an immediate overwhelming response to every situation.  The best defense isn’t done in a fit of anger or with an out-of-control temper.  Turning the other cheek gives a way to maintain control of yourself & ensure your response is measured & appropriate.
    • Keep in mind that Jesus does not justify physical abuse.  He never once commands someone to get hit over & over & over again (after all, we only have two cheeks to offer!).  Nor does He forbid any form of protective measures.  Parents are charged with protecting their children, for example.  Should an attacker break into your home, appropriate response is needed to protect someone from harm.  The key is that whatever you do needs to be done in a way that honors the Lord.  When it comes to a mere personal insult, then that’s something that should be able to be handled without retaliation.
  • Example #2: theft.  For this example, we need to put our mindset into that of a 1st century Jew or Gentile in this geographic area.  The typical dress was some form of loincloth/undergarment, a long shirt or tunic over that, and then a cloak that was worn over the tunic.  In this case, Jesus basically describes a street robbery or mugging.  Someone runs past you on the street (or even corners you), and rips your cloak from your shoulders.  Instead of running him down demanding the return of your cloak, you catch up to him & offer your tunic as well.  Again, it’s another extreme example, but it makes a powerful point.  A Christian doesn’t need to take vengeance on someone who has stolen from him/her; we can find ways of showing compassion to even those who have wronged us.  It doesn’t mean we need to sleep with unlocked doors inviting theft, but we do keep a compassionate heart, knowing that God is our ultimate provider & we can trust Him to compensate us for anything we might give up for His sake.

30 Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.

  • Example #3: begging.  This can be tough in our day & age, especially when so many news stories exist about professional panhandlers who take in hundreds of dollars every day just by standing on the street corners.  Neither do we want to enable someone’s addiction, and there is always a fear that whatever money is given will be used for drugs or alcohol.  Yet there were beggars in Jesus’ day, just like there are in ours.  Jesus said to give, and so we give, trusting that whatever we give is ultimately a gift unto the Lord.  Proverbs 19:17, "He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, And He will pay back what he has given."  When we see someone in need, we need to remember that only the Lord ultimately knows why they are in need.  It isn’t up to us to judge them; we just need to follow the Lord as He leads us in regards to giving.
    • Please note that Jesus never once specifies what to give the person.  Obviously you cannot give money you do not have, and sometimes the situation dictates that you cannot give the person exactly what they’re asking for.  But you still can give something.  Maybe that’s some food, or some bus tokens, or a bottle of water, etc.  In the case of Peter & John with the disabled man at the temple, they had no silver or gold, but they could give him the healing of Jesus (Acts 3:6).  We can always find some way to share & demonstrate the gospel.
  • Example #4: confiscation.  The actual situation described here is somewhat unclear.  Is this another theft?  Is this the Roman government seizing property?  Or perhaps is this something that has been lent out, yet never returned?  (The last scenario seems likely due to Jesus bringing this up in later context.)  Whatever the case, the principle is evident: don’t harass the person to give it back.  What’s gone is gone.  If some stuff can be given as a sacrifice unto the Lord & the mercy of Christ can be demonstrated in the process, then the loss is worth it.

31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

  • Want to sum it up?  It all goes back to the Golden Rule.  Treat others how you want to be treated.  How much grace do you want to receive?  After all, it isn’t as if we’re perfect…far from it!  We have offended others – we have acted wretchedly ourselves.  Have we desired mercy in those times?  That’s the same mercy we ought to extend to others.
  • This is where Jesus comes and turns conventional wisdom on its head.  The idea of doing no harm towards others wasn’t all that unusual.  Other moral teachers had said something similar in the past.  Among Jewish teachers, Rabbi Hillel had taught that people should not do unto others whatever it was they didn’t want done to them.  But Jesus took the negative command & made it positive.  Don’t just try to avoid the bad being returned to you; go and do the good.  Extend the mercy you want to receive.  Show the grace you want to be shown.  Go and set the example of the kingdom of God.
  • Keep in mind that as kingdom citizens (as Christians), we have already received grace & mercy.  That’s how we became Christians in the first place!  We have already experienced what it is like to be freely forgiven, to be blessed, loved, etc., and we experienced all of those things when we least deserved it.  That’s what we received from God, so that is what we can now give to the world.  (Which is something that comes out later in vss. 35-36.)
  • The standard of the world: retribution

32 “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back.

  • Retribution can either be for good or bad.  We normally tend to think of it in terms of punishment (an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, etc.), but it can also be in terms of reward as Jesus here points out.  Someone acts loving towards us, so we act loving towards them.  Someone does us a favor, so we respond with a gift of our own.  Someone gives us a guarantee for a loan, so we don’t hesitate to give them what they ask.  All of this is well & good, and we can engage in any of this with a smile on our face & a clear conscience.  However, it’s not exactly unusual.  There is nothing about any of that which could be identified as “Christian” behavior.  How so?  Because it’s no different from worldly behavior.  Doing good to someone who has done something good for you doesn’t make you a godly person; it just means you’ve got basic manners.
  • All of this is the minimum – it is the very least that can be done.  The world seeks the minimum.  As Jesus notes, this is something that even “sinners” do.  Sometimes the argument is presented that only Christians can be truly moral & good citizens in a society, and that simply isn’t the case.  I’ve met some atheists who act more ethically than many professed Christians.  They still give to humanitarian causes, volunteer at hospitals, etc.  They may not attribute their ultimate motivation rightly (unwilling to acknowledge the imprint of God upon their own conscience), but they still act out towards the common (even altruistic) good.  That said, it’s still the minimum.  The world loves those who love them, and finds “good” and “worthy” people to whom to show kindness.  It doesn’t reach out to the rotten & seek to bless them. 
  • And it’s not just the secular world that does this.  Religion seeks the minimum.  Someone who is consumed with the law & various ways of earning his/her own way into heaven isn’t looking for the most he/she can do; that person is looking for the least.  They just want to cross that threshold & know that they’ve done it, so they can check it off the list.  Did they visit the sick & imprisoned?  Check.  Did they give food to widows & orphans?  Check.  Did they attend church according to expectations & give the “right” amount of money every week?  Check.  What (if any) of that sounds like the gospel of grace?  Those might be good things, but there’s nothing truly good in that kind of motivation because it leaves Christ completely out of the picture.  All of that is just someone trying to do the bare minimum to slide through the Pearly Gates with their seats still smoking.  That isn’t God’s desire for us, and it’s not what Jesus teaches.
  • Kingdom ethics (Christian ethics) doesn’t seek for the minimum; it seeks for grace.  That’s why Jesus can contrast all of what He said in vss. 32-34 for what He goes on to say in vs. 35…

35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, …

  • All of those minimum standard examples find their maximum answer in grace.  Interestingly, the word Jesus used for “credit” in vss. 32-34 is χάρις (~charismatic) – a word frequently translated elsewhere as “grace.”  None of the minimum standard of the world gives any grace to the Christian.  It certainly doesn’t demonstrate any grace on the part of the Christian!  But even when that grace is seen as the gracious favor & gift of God, there is none of that bestowed upon anyone who just does the bare minimum.  The “reward” comes to those who go up & above the minimum.  Loving our enemies is to go up & above – lending without hope of return is to go up & above.  That is to go beyond the minimum & reach for the standard of grace.
  • What is the reward?  Sonship…

…and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.

  • Those who act according to the ethics of the kingdom show themselves to be sons & daughters of the King.  Our ultimate reward is our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  It needs to be emphasized that this isn’t earned; it’s demonstrated.  Grace (by definition) is not earned – otherwise it would be a wage & not grace.  It is because we have received grace that we are able to show grace.  And as wonderful as it is to receive grace, it is even better to share it with someone else.  That’s our reward.  As we extend the same mercy that we have received, we show that we have indeed received it in the first place.  We even get to participate in the same thing for others as God did for us.  That’s is true reward!
  • Theology break!  Who is God?  He is the “Most High.”  This a common OT term for God, referring to His glory & exaltation.  It isn’t that God is highest among all other gods (because there aren’t any other gods) – it’s that He is higher than everything.  God is infinitely more glorious than anything else in creation, for He is the One who created it.  And through Christ, we have been made His children.  Amazing!
  • How does God act?  According to His merciful lovingkindness: “for He is kind.”  He is truly good, compassionate, merciful, and benevolent.  God doesn’t love according to minimum standards; He goes infinitely beyond the minimum.  God goes so far as to love His enemies: “the unthankful and evil.”  Who are they?  They are us.  WE were the unthankful & evil ones!  Every day when we awoke in our unbelief & sin, we thought only of ourselves & not our Creator.  We gave Him no thanks for the day, nor the blood flowing through our veins which He alone gave.  We actively sinned against Him, desiring our own will to be done & not His.  And yet He was kind towards us.  He still allowed us to wake again & again, enduring day-in and day-out of our evil, until the point that we finally came to faith in Christ.  And of course some people never come to faith, and yet God still shows them kindness.  He still allows His rain to fall upon the just & the wicked.  God is truly kind in infinite ways.
    • But the very best way is through Christ.  The mercy and love of God is shown abundantly through Jesus!  Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  We did not deserve the love of God – to the contrary, we deserved His judgment & wrath!  But God showed us mercy & grace.  God gave us Jesus, and thus the gift of His salvation.  That is love in action.  That is Christian love, by definition.
  • The bottom line here?  If we act like Jesus, we show ourselves to be sons of God like Jesus.  Jesus is THE Son of God, but we are also invited to be sons & daughters of God, even to the point that we share in the eternal inheritance of Christ.  Chew on that for a moment…THAT is grace!  That is what we have received through Jesus, undeserving as we are.  If we’ve received that kind of grace, then surely we ought to be able to extend it to others.
  • The standard bearer: God

36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

  • Jesus does not command us to something He Himself does not do.  And not only is Jesus infinitely merciful, so is His (and our) Father.  The mercy of our God is limitless, and therefore so ought to be ours.  We tend to give ourselves excuses out of mercy.  “It’s too hard…  She was too hurtful…  But it was wrong what happened…”  All of that may be true, but is it any less true what we did unto the Lord?  Yet He showed mercy with us.  We spit in His face countless times (metaphorically speaking), and yet He still gave us Jesus & the opportunity to be made His children.  With us, God’s mercy was without limits & without excuses.  That is how we are to act with others.
  • Interestingly, there is a summary command in the Old Testament (particularly in the book of Leviticus) that was given to the Hebrews: to be holy as the Lord God is holy. (Lev 19:2)  That isn’t unique to God’s people of the old covenant, but it is also given to the church (1 Pt 1:16).  We are still to be holy (completely set apart, dedicated unto God), because our Lord God is supremely holy.  His people ought to act like Him.  That being said, it’s interesting that Jesus uses very similar phrasing here in regards to mercy.  Remember that the whole of the OT law is summed up in two commandments: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength – and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  If the first command is perhaps summed up by holiness, the second is summed up by mercy.

Conclusion:
The ethic of the kingdom?  Mercy!  That is what God the Father has shown us, and that is what we are to show others.  Is it the standard of the world?  No, and thank goodness!  The world gives out retribution, both good & evil.  But even when worldly response is good, it’s still just the bare minimum.  God goes beyond the minimum to mercy – God goes all the way to grace.

And again, this is what Jesus has done for us.  He doesn’t command a single thing here that He Himself did not demonstrate.  Jesus loved His enemies when He died for them upon the cross.  Jesus did good for those who hated Him when He suffered on their behalf.  Jesus spoke well of those who spoke curses to His face when He gave them the gospel, and He literally prayed for those who abused Him when He asked God for their forgiveness as He hung from the nails on the cross.  He was freely compassionate to those who were ungrateful, to the point of even granting physical healings to people who never even said “thank you.”  Jesus is the epitome of someone demonstrating the mercy of God, and He set the example for the rest of us.

How much mercy has God showered upon you?  Go and do likewise.  Identify your enemy, and sacrifice yourself for him/her, loving that person with the same love you received from Christ.  Find ways of being proactive with them, keeping your heart humble, seeking ways to demonstrate the gospel through both word and deed.

The Scandalous Sisters

Posted: September 8, 2016 in Ezekiel, Uncategorized

Ezekiel 23, “The Scandalous Sisters”

Never say never.  There are never allegories found in Scripture…until there are. :)  Generally speaking, allegories are far fewer in the Bible than what many people commonly believe.  For some ancient theologians, virtually everything in the Bible was an allegory or literary “type” of some sort, and thus nothing that was written meant what was actually written.  There was a constant search for a deeper, more spiritual meaning, and thus no one (except the truly spiritual class of clergy) could interpret the Bible for themselves.

Thankfully, we have a word to describe that today: bunk. :)  The vast majority of the written word of God means exactly what it seems to say on the page, and although there are indeed types and other symbols within the text, it is clear as to what those symbols point.

Actually, that is still somewhat the case here.  Ezekiel 23 is comprised of a long allegory, but it is plain that it is an allegory.  God goes so far as to even give the interpretive keys along the way, showing that He wants the reader to know and interpret this as an allegorical tale of the sins of Samaria & Jerusalem (the capital cities of the northern & southern kingdoms).  What we read is outrageous – even scandalous – and that’s the point.  The sin that Samaria and Jerusalem had committed against God was so bad that the truth was almost stranger than fiction.  By re-telling their rebellion against Him as sexual perversion, it paints a picture that is so bad & awful that the truth of it starts to sink in.  The allegory puts idolatrous sin in terms that humans understand.  If a picture is worth 1000 words, God has given us a dictionary’s worth of words in Ezekiel 23!

The best way to handle it is just to jump in…

Ezekiel 23

  • Introduction to the allegory (1-4)

1 The word of the LORD came again to me, saying: 2 “Son of man, there were two women, The daughters of one mother. 3 They committed harlotry in Egypt, They committed harlotry in their youth; Their breasts were there embraced, Their virgin bosom was there pressed.

  • If the theme sounds familiar, it’s because Ezekiel wrote along much the same lines in Ch. 16.  There, the focus was specifically upon one woman who had been raised by God to be a pure bride, yet this woman became a harlot through her idolatry.  God comes back to this picture again with Ezekiel, this time with two women, though related as sisters.  Their background was anything but pure, as they had always engaged in harlotry & fornication, specifically mentioning Egypt as their starting point.
  • Historically speaking, Egypt is where Israel truly became a nation.  God had called Abraham to Himself over 400 years prior to the Exodus, but though Abraham became rich, his children & grandchildren became little more than a single tribe of people while in the land of Canaan.  It was when God sovereignly took Israel to Egypt in order to save their lives that the people grew into a large nation of Hebrews.  Because of who they were, the Egyptians kept them separated from their own nation, ultimately keeping the Hebrews as slaves.  The Hebrews survived with their own distinct nationality, but they unfortunately picked up some of the idolatry of Egypt along the way.  Even after God fully revealed Himself to them through the plagues, the Passover, the Red Sea, and at Mt. Sinai, the Hebrews still showed themselves to be fully indoctrinated in Egyptian idolatry.  How so?  When they made their golden idol, what did they make?  A calf – one of the images they learned from the Egyptian false gods (perhaps Hathor? Apis?). 
  • In any case, these sisters shared the same background & the same proclivity to sin.  Who were they?  If their Egyptian harlotry did not give it away, God gives Ezekiel the specific interpretive key in vs. 4…

4 Their names: Oholah the elder and Oholibah her sister; They were Mine, And they bore sons and daughters. As for their names, Samaria is Oholah, and Jerusalem is Oholibah.

  • The two sisters are the two capital cities of the two nations.  Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, and Jerusalem of the southern kingdom of Judah.  The names God gives them in this allegory are interesting, in that they are each founded in the root word for tent (‘ohel).  “Oholah” = “she has a tent”; “Oholibah” = “my tent is in her.”  Considering that the tabernacle was referred to as the tent of meeting, it’s possible that God referred to the presence of His temple.  Samaria had a tent/tabernacle where she was supposed to worship God (though she didn’t), and Jerusalem was the city in which the tent/tabernacle of God was actually located.
  • The whole point is that these sister cities had once belonged to God.  They were supposed to be for His purposes, and He had named them for His glory.  At least that was His intent.  What they did in their own free will & sin was something completely different.
    • This is what we’ll find to be one of the underlying lessons for us in the tales of Oholah & Oholibah.  God has His purposes for us – He has a plan to glorify Himself through us – but we so often choose to go our own way.  In our free will, we choose to follow our lusts rather than our love for God.  The result?  He’ll allow us to experience the full impact of our consequences, just like He did for Samaria and Jerusalem.
  • The tale of Samaria (5-10)

5 “Oholah played the harlot even though she was Mine; And she lusted for her lovers, the neighboring Assyrians, 6 Who were clothed in purple, Captains and rulers, All of them desirable young men, Horsemen riding on horses.

  • The phrase of God saying of Samaria, “she was Mine,” is interesting because literally it is, “she was under Me.”  She was under God’s authority, even under His care, yet she still longed and “lusted” for others.  She looked to the “Assyrians” and saw them as “desirable.”  Historically, Menahem was the first of the northern kingdom to give tribute to the Assyrians, and that was the beginning of the end (2 Kings 15:19-20).  As to the allegory, the Samaritans saw these Assyrians as handsome warriors, surely able to satisfy the desire of the wandering heart of the promiscuous woman.  They looked good, though they would eventually enslave her.  Originally, she had so much better in the Lord God, but she never looked to Him in worship.
  • What happens when we look away from God?  Our eyes eventually end up on other temptations. It seems that the very moment we get our eyes off Christ is when we get into trouble.  Perhaps that’s because so often the very reason we look away from Jesus is so that we can look upon other sin & temptation.  Be careful as to what you place in front of your eyes & heart – that may end up being your downfall.

7 Thus she committed her harlotry with them, All of them choice men of Assyria; And with all for whom she lusted, With all their idols, she defiled herself. 8 She has never given up her harlotry brought from Egypt, For in her youth they had lain with her, Pressed her virgin bosom, And poured out their immorality upon her.

  • Who defiled Oholah/Samaria?  Herself.  She was self-destructive.  She lusted after the Assyrians, but this couldn’t be blamed upon the Assyrians.  This is what she did to herself – just as all people do in their sins.  We want to blame others (our stress, our parents, our enemies, etc.), but ultimately our sin is our fault.  If we are ever to turn away from it, we must first take responsibility for it.
  • As for Samaria, when did this pattern of self-destruction begin?  Egypt.  Her heart never truly belonged to God – she was never surrendered to Him.  The very first king the northern kingdom ever had took the kingdom into idolatry, and it never recovered.  Why?  Because they never really worshipped God in the first place.

9 “Therefore I have delivered her Into the hand of her lovers, Into the hand of the Assyrians, For whom she lusted. 10 They uncovered her nakedness, Took away her sons and daughters, And slew her with the sword; She became a byword among women, For they had executed judgment on her.

  • The end result was that God gave Samaria over to her sin.  She wanted the Assyrians, so God gave her the Assyrians.  Yet the results were (predictably) awful.  Notice what happened with these choice horsemen & captains – the ones once described as “desirable young men.”  Now they were violent warriors against her.  She was humiliated, defiled, and slaughtered.
    • Sin always turns against us.  It looks good, but it will never be tame.  It will never be fully under our control.  We could not keep a pet rattlesnake & expect it to curl up in our arms – neither can we curl up next to sin and expect safety.  At some point, it will turn, and there will be consequences to face.
  • That was Samaria, but we might expect that sort of description of the northern kingdom.  After all, they had a long history of idolatry.  Surely the southern kingdom (the other sister) would be better.  Right?  Wrong.
  • The tale of Jerusalem (11-21)

11 “Now although her sister Oholibah saw this, she became more corrupt in her lust than she, and in her harlotry more corrupt than her sister’s harlotry.

  • Jerusalem was a full witness to what happened to Samaria, but she didn’t learn the lesson.  She witnessed it, but didn’t see the problem.  In fact, she actually did worse.  She became more ruinous & spoiled than Samaria ever was.  It’s as if God is painting the sins of Jerusalem as the worst imaginable.
  • And it was!  After all, it’s one thing for Samaria to go after other gods – that’s what they had always done.  But Jerusalem was the place of God’s own temple!  Her idolatry was far worse to begin with – but for her to double down & become even more defiled?  That’s truly terrible.
    • Likewise, it’s one thing for the people of the world to engage in their lusts – why wouldn’t they?  If they don’t know Jesus as Lord, then they haven’t been given the Holy Spirit, and we ought to expect sinners to act like sinners.  What is truly awful is when saints act like sinners.  When those born of the Holy Spirit act like His presence is not in us, that is truly tragic.  In a sense, it makes us more corrupt than what we were apart from faith.  As the writer of Hebrews said (though in a different context), it is as if we trample the blood of Jesus underfoot (Heb 10:29).  Sin is bad for all, but it is most egregious for the Christian.

12 “She lusted for the neighboring Assyrians, Captains and rulers, Clothed most gorgeously, Horsemen riding on horses, All of them desirable young men. 13 Then I saw that she was defiled; Both took the same way.

  • Notice Jerusalem started off with the same sin as Samaria.  This was the same lusting after the same Assyrians.  Historically speaking, it was Ahaz of Judah who made an alliance with the Assyrians & even brought back its idolatrous worship practices to Jerusalem (2 Kings 16).  Truly Jerusalem did as Samaria did, and even worse.
  • God saw what Jerusalem was doing, knew that “she was defiled,” & He knew what the end result would be.  God had not ignored the situation (not one bit!).  He was fully involved, even if Jerusalem did not recognize Him at the time.
    • God is always sovereign, even at the times we ignore Him!

14 But she increased her harlotry; She looked at men portrayed on the wall, Images of Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, 15 Girded with belts around their waists, Flowing turbans on their heads, All of them looking like captains, In the manner of the Babylonians of Chaldea, The land of their nativity. 16 As soon as her eyes saw them, She lusted for them And sent messengers to them in Chaldea.

  • Jerusalem didn’t stop with Assyrian lusts; she added the Chaldeans/Babylonians to it.  Like Assyria, they looked good, even though they would eventually mean her downfall.
    • That’s always the way sin starts.  It looks good – it looks pleasing & like it could be fun.  It sure seems like it will meet our need.  Be careful…looks can be deceiving!  If sin didn’t look good, no one would do it.  The key is to keep looking back to Christ.  When our eyes go to something questionable, go back to Jesus and do a comparison.  If it takes us to Him, or exalts Him, it’s good.  If it takes us away from Him, then we have our answer.
  • Question: did Jerusalem actually send for Babylon?  Yes.  This might be a reference to the event with King Hezekiah, after God graciously extended his life.  Faced with death, Hezekiah pleaded with the Lord, and God gave him 15 years.  What did he do with it?  In part, Hezekiah entertained emissaries from Babylon & proceeded to show them all of the treasures of the temple (2 Kings 20).  In just a few short generations, Babylon would be back…with a vengeance.

17 “Then the Babylonians came to her, into the bed of love, And they defiled her with their immorality; So she was defiled by them, and alienated herself from them. 18 She revealed her harlotry and uncovered her nakedness. Then I alienated Myself from her, As I had alienated Myself from her sister.

  • The Babylonians came & defiled her.  When the empire came in, they quickly came against Jerusalem & Jerusalem resisted, though to no avail.  She tried to “alienate herself from them,” but couldn’t do it.  Other translations refer to this as Jerusalem turning away in disgust (which is a good translation), and the general idea is that she tried, but it was too late.  She may have been disgusted with the Babylonians, but not disgusted enough with herself to turn back to God in repentance.
  • The response from God is rather ironic.  Jerusalem had been revealed in her sin, and God hid Himself from her.  Though she needed to be rescued, she did not appeal to God for rescue in true repentance, thus He disassociated Himself, just as He had done with Samaria.  He gave Jerusalem over to her sin.
  • One would think that once left to the consequences of sin, Jerusalem might come to her senses & repent.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case.  Instead, she thought back to the old days, lying to herself & believing they were far better than they really were.  Vs. 19…

19 “Yet she multiplied her harlotry In calling to remembrance the days of her youth, When she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt. 20 For she lusted for her paramours, Whose flesh is like the flesh of donkeys, And whose issue is like the issue of horses. 21 Thus you called to remembrance the lewdness of your youth, When the Egyptians pressed your bosom Because of your youthful breasts.

  • Looking back upon Egypt, Jerusalem did not remember how the Hebrews were oppressed & suffering.  Instead, she once more engaged in lustful desire, obsessively longing for other gods & nations to deliver her from the Babylonians (shown by how Jerusalem turned to Egypt for help).
  • Is the language crass?  Undoubtedly.  But that’s what it looks like when someone is completely given over to sin.
  • This is our state apart from Christ!  Whether we realize it or not, apart from the love, grace, and power of Jesus & His redemption, we become base creatures roaming from lust to lust.  We seek our own self-gratification, whatever the cost – even looking back to former things as satisfying, even though they never truly satisfied us in the past. …  The only solution?  Humble reliant faith upon the Lord Jesus!
  • God’s judgment upon Jerusalem (22-35)

22 “Therefore, Oholibah, thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I will stir up your lovers against you, From whom you have alienated yourself, And I will bring them against you from every side: 23 The Babylonians, All the Chaldeans, Pekod, Shoa, Koa, All the Assyrians with them, All of them desirable young men, Governors and rulers, Captains and men of renown, All of them riding on horses. 24 And they shall come against you With chariots, wagons, and war-horses, With a horde of people. They shall array against you Buckler, shield, and helmet all around. ‘I will delegate judgment to them, And they shall judge you according to their judgments.

  • Just as God did with Samaria & the Assyrians, God promised to do with Jerusalem & the Babylonians.  If this is what she desired, then this is what she would receive…but it would be far different than what she imagined.  Instead of these various tribes and Gentiles satisfying her lusts, they would come in violence and bring destruction & judgment.
  • God actually delegates His judgment to them, allowing them free reign over His people, to do with them as they wished.  That’s not to say God gave up His sovereignty, but it does mean that whatever the Babylonians did to Jerusalem were actions that God allowed.  Eventually, Babylon would have to answer for their own crimes, but everything that they did to Jerusalem was allowed by God to be done when He delegated their judgment into the army of Babylon.
  • Why?  Because God was as a jealous husband.  Not evil-jealous, but jealous in a good way.  He was jealous for them, wanting them to experience the relationship with God that He had always desired for them.  When they turned away from God, His jealousy was set against them.  Vs. 25…

25 I will set My jealousy against you, And they shall deal furiously with you; They shall remove your nose and your ears, And your remnant shall fall by the sword; They shall take your sons and your daughters, And your remnant shall be devoured by fire. 26 They shall also strip you of your clothes And take away your beautiful jewelry. 27 ‘Thus I will make you cease your lewdness and your harlotry Brought from the land of Egypt, So that you will not lift your eyes to them, Nor remember Egypt anymore.’

  • How furious would the Babylonian onslaught be?  God promised true terrors of every sort.  Mutilation – death – enslavement – plunder, and more.  The wages of sin is death, and the people Jerusalem would feel the full force of it.  We talk about “shock and awe” with some of our military strategy – no doubt that is what the people of Jerusalem experienced when the onslaught of Babylon came.
  • Why would it be so bad?  Because this is what it took for them to stop sinning & stop looking to Egypt & other false gods.  The true God was willing to do whatever it took to bring His people back to Him.
    • God is still willing to do whatever it takes!  Be careful not to force Him to take extreme measures!

28 “For thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Surely I will deliver you into the hand of those you hate, into the hand of those from whom you alienated yourself. 29 They will deal hatefully with you, take away all you have worked for, and leave you naked and bare. The nakedness of your harlotry shall be uncovered, both your lewdness and your harlotry.

  • The promise of God’s deliverance of Jerusalem into the hands of the Babylonians.  Notice that although the Jews once lusted after the Chaldeans, now they hated them.  Jerusalem had turned away in disgust, but that didn’t matter.  The choice to have Babylon rule over them was no longer up to them.  Now Babylon would “deal hatefully” with them and humiliate them.
  • Why?  God tells them in vs. 30…

30 I will do these things to you because you have gone as a harlot after the Gentiles, because you have become defiled by their idols. 31 You have walked in the way of your sister; therefore I will put her cup in your hand.’

  • God specifically sent this punishment because of their harlotry.  They could not ask “Why, God?” because they knew the answer.  This was their own fault and the result was that Jerusalem would have to drink of the same cup of suffering her sister did.  Vs. 32…

32 “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘You shall drink of your sister’s cup, The deep and wide one; You shall be laughed to scorn And held in derision; It contains much. 33 You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, The cup of horror and desolation, The cup of your sister Samaria. 34 You shall drink and drain it, You shall break its shards, And tear at your own breasts; For I have spoken,’ Says the Lord GOD.

  • This was the cup of God’s wrath, and there was no escape from it.  Not only would they taste it, but they would drink it to the full.  They would drain it empty, to where even the goblet itself would be broken upon them.  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31), and that is exactly where Jerusalem found herself.
  • Praise God that Jesus drank this cup on our behalf!  We don’t drink it, because Jesus did.  This is part of what we remember when we partake of communion.  This was part of Jesus’ prayer when in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He prayed the cup might pass from Him, because He knew what the cup of God’s wrath involved.  Yet Jesus did it anyway.  He gave Himself for us, and suffered the full cup of horror, drinking it down until it was completely dry.  How we praise God for our Jesus!

35 “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Because you have forgotten Me and cast Me behind your back, Therefore you shall bear the penalty Of your lewdness and your harlotry.’ ”

  • Notice the clear purpose statement here.  Their disregard for God was the specific reason for their suffering.  Thus they would bear upon themselves everything that came with their lewd idolatry.
  • There are terrible consequences for sin!  Again, it looks good, but it always consumes us in the end.  God would spare us from that!  Will we listen to His warnings?
  • God’s judgment upon both (36-49)

36 The LORD also said to me: “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then declare to them their abominations.

  • Both sisters had sinned, so both will be judged.  At this point, God seems to give a bit of review.  Chronologically speaking, Samaria had long ago been conquered by the Assyrians, and the Babylonian conquest was well underway.  Thus this wouldn’t seem to be new territory, but a review of what they had already done.
  • And just to underscore the point, God takes a brief break from the allegory & symbolism, and details the “abominations” of Samaria & Jerusalem outright.  Vs. 37…

37 For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. They have committed adultery with their idols, and even sacrificed their sons whom they bore to Me, passing them through the fire, to devour them. 38 Moreover they have done this to Me: They have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and profaned My Sabbaths. 39 For after they had slain their children for their idols, on the same day they came into My sanctuary to profane it; and indeed thus they have done in the midst of My house.

  • Idolatry / adultery.  Although God has spoken of harlotry throughout the chapter, He specifically defines it as idolatry here.  The worship of false gods is spiritual prostitution.
  • Child sacrifice. Although it seems inconceivable, the people of God participated in vile child sacrifice, just as the pagans around them did.  They even did so on the same days they entered the sanctuary of God.  (Bible Knowledge Commentary) “The people were so hardened by sin that on the very day they sacrificed their children to their idols, they entered the temple with their children’s blood on their hands and the smoky smell of burning flesh embedded in their clothes. Their very presence profaned and desecrated the house of God!”
  • Temple defilement. Even beyond child sacrifice, there were other defilements of the temple as in the aforementioned case of Ahaz, who brought in a different altar, or when Manasseh set up a false image directly in the temple itself.
  • Profaned Sabbath.  This was a sin that extended beyond the monarchy & into the whole kingdom.  Instead of honoring God & resting in His provision on the 7th day, they cast aside the Sabbath demonstrating their trust in themselves.
  • Were there other sins?  Yes.  Much has already been detailed by God to the prophet Ezekiel throughout the rest of the book.  But this is what stood out as harlotry & symbolic sexual perversion.  They had taken the gift of worship and twisted it into something vile, vulgar, and violent.
    • The invitation to worship God is a gift!  We ought to honor Him with it!

40 “Furthermore you sent for men to come from afar, to whom a messenger was sent; and there they came. And you washed yourself for them, painted your eyes, and adorned yourself with ornaments. 41 You sat on a stately couch, with a table prepared before it, on which you had set My incense and My oil. 42 The sound of a carefree multitude was with her, and Sabeans were brought from the wilderness with men of the common sort, who put bracelets on their wrists and beautiful crowns on their heads. 43 Then I said concerning her who had grown old in adulteries, ‘Will they commit harlotry with her now, and she with them?’ 44 Yet they went in to her, as men go in to a woman who plays the harlot; thus they went in to Oholah and Oholibah, the lewd women.

  • The allegory begins again, with God once more showing the prostitution of the two sisters.  She had prepared herself to receive other lovers, and was willing to take anyone who came by.  Whether it was the Assyrians, the Babylonians, or the Sabeans (possibly just a description of the drunken multitude), anyone who offered a temptation to God’s cities was received.  No matter how decrepit and defiled Samaria & Jerusalem had become, they were always willing to entertain more…anyone & anything but the Lord their God.  Even God was amazed at how bad they had become.
  • This is why God had to do something, and He did.  Vs. 45…

45 But righteous men will judge them after the manner of adulteresses, and after the manner of women who shed blood, because they are adulteresses, and blood is on their hands. 46 “For thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Bring up an assembly against them, give them up to trouble and plunder. 47 The assembly shall stone them with stones and execute them with their swords; they shall slay their sons and their daughters, and burn their houses with fire.

  •  Both sisters were charged with the crime of adultery & prostitution, and God put them on trial knowing that they would be found guilty.  The “righteous men” of the prophets had declared their crimes, and the “assembly” of the Gentile nations would be who God used to bring terrible judgment upon them.
  • What would be the result?  Rest!  Vs. 48…

48 Thus I will cause lewdness to cease from the land, that all women may be taught not to practice your lewdness. 49 They shall repay you for your lewdness, and you shall pay for your idolatrous sins. Then you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.’ ”

  • The word used for “cause to…cease” is interesting in that it comes from the same word translated “Sabbath.”  The land set apart to God would finally be given its rest by God – rest away from lewdness & idolatrous sins.  The people would pay the price, but the land would rest, and other cities (women) would have an example of what NOT to do in regards to the Lord.  Jerusalem would serve as a terrible example to the rest of the world of what God thought of sin. 
  • Not only would the nations see, but so would Israel.  Finally, they would know Him as the Lord God.

Conclusion:
It’s a terrible picture.  If it had been a movie, it would be a tragedy.  How can our hearts not be torn to see two wretched women willingly give their lives over to gross prostitution time and time again?  They had a Protector more than willing to be their God, but they were not willing to receive Him.  Thus they suffered…and it was awful.

Is there at all a thread of hope?  Yes!  Even as God proclaims His judgment upon Jerusalem by painting this picture of the city as the harlot Oholibah, they yet have the opportunity to repent.  The final desolation from Babylon had not yet come (though it was coming soon).  At any moment, Jerusalem could have surrendered herself to the Lord in repentance – the choice was fully up to her.

Sadly, she waited until it was too late – but we can choose differently!  Those who are given over in their sin can still drop to their needs in sobriety.  Those who have chosen to say “no” to God can still choose to say “yes.”  People can look away from the enticements of the world & instead look to the glorious Lord Jesus.

That’s not only true in regards to someone’s initial salvation, but also true for those who are already saved.  Just because we are born-again does not mean that we are free of temptation.  To the contrary!  We battle against various temptations every day, and indeed sometimes we give ourselves over to them.  God graciously gives us opportunities to repent (sometimes multiple ones!), but we’ve got to choose to take them.  He will not force anyone to fall to his/her knees in humility & faith; that is a choice we need to make.  Make it!  At the first twinge of your conscience, confess your sins to God, trusting the forgiveness of our Lord Jesus.  Sooner or later, we will be confronted with that sin…don’t wait for the consequences to be severe.

Happy or Horrified?

Posted: September 4, 2016 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 6:20-26, “Happy or Horrified?”

Call it #PreacherProblems.  Coming up with sermon introductions might come easily to some, but not so much to others.  Sometimes humor helps, but only if you can do it well. 

Sermon introductions were not a problem for the Master Preacher, the Lord Jesus.  He gave a doozy of an introduction with the Sermon on the Plain as He gave a list we know as the Beatitudes.  In it, He provides His listeners with a stark contrast of what it is like to live as a citizen of the kingdom of God, or that as citizen of the world.  Someone could either experience happiness or horror, and it might not be in the situations we would normally expect.

In the end, it comes down to goals.  What is it that you seek: the world, or Christ?  For those who seek the world, this life is as good as it’s ever going to get (and that’s not saying much!).  For those who live for Christ, this life is as bad as it’s ever going to get…and that’s truly good news!  For the Christian, we look forward to an eternity with Jesus, and that ought to make us happy indeed!

Luke 6:20–26
20 Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: …

  • Just the briefest of backgrounds is presented before Jesus begins.  Actually, much of the background was presented in the previous verses, where Jesus is shown teaching and healing multitudes of both Jews and Gentiles.  All of that brings up the question whether or not this is the Sermon on the Mount, or the Sermon on the Plain.  Good scholars disagree.  Many believe that Matthew and Luke share this material from a common source (or even that Matthew used Luke as a source for his gospel), and that Matthew rearranged the material to make it fit into one main teaching section.  Others disagree.  Although Luke and Matthew share some common material not found in Mark, it seems more likely that Matthew was written prior to Luke, thus Luke would have used Matthew and supplemented what he read there with his own independent research.  In regards to this particular section, although there is much in common between Matthew & Luke, there are also enough differences to think of these sermons as different teachings.  As mentioned last week, Luke notes that Jesus taught this while on “a level place” (6:17), as opposed to on a mountain (Mt 5:1).  The sermon in Luke is considerably shorter, and there is major variation even among the common sections…the beatitudes being the primary example.  There are a different number of beatitudes – they are in a different order – their individual descriptions are different – there are accompanying woes in Luke not even hinted at in Matthew.  The probable conclusion: these are similar, but separate events.
  • So what?  So Jesus was a teacher.  Scripture, as incredibly valuable as it is, contains just a fraction of the teaching content of our Savior.  But what it does include is representative.  We cannot know everything that Jesus taught, but we can be certain we have a thorough sampling of it.  What He taught, He taught several times to many audiences.  This is the message He wanted them to hear, thus this is the message preserved for us in the Scripture.  The core message of Jesus was about the Kingdom of God: what is it – who is included – how to live it out – how to be sure of entering it, etc.  If we can receive this message of Jesus, we too can participate in His earthly ministry & benefit from His teaching.
  • Wherever one falls on the debate of the Sermon of the Mount vs. the Plain, there is no question as to whom Jesus spoke: “His disciples.”  Although the multitudes were present at the time, no doubt listening as well, they were not necessarily Jesus’ primary audience.  His sermon concerned the kingdom of God & its citizens, so it only makes sense to teach those heading into it.  I.e., the disciples of Jesus.  Keep in mind this was a far greater number than only 12 men.  Jesus named 12 apostles, but these were men that He took from His larger number of disciples (6:13).  Anyone at all who followed Jesus in faith would be considered His disciple, so that’s who Jesus addressed at the time.
    • This means that Jesus was talking to you & me, too!  We are disciples of Jesus just as much as Peter, John, and the many “Mary’s” who followed Him.  To be sure, Jesus was speaking to ancient Jews in the context of the Roman Empire, but that’s just who these specific people were.  That was their culture, so Jesus’ teaching is specific to that time & place.  Otherwise, this sermon is just as much for us as it was for them.  The moral standards in this sermon apply to all New Testament Christians everywhere.  What Jesus said to them, He said to us – so pay attention!
  • The Blessings (vss. 20b-23)

Each of the beatitudes is set off with a declaration: “Blessed (are you)…”  The word “blessed” speaks of an inner happiness – a privileged state.  The ancient Greek poets used the term to refer to a transcendent happiness given by their gods.  The LXX & other Jewish writings used it similarly, to describe inner happiness & blessing.  The whole idea is that this is something good.  This is the good of the good, the best of the best.  If you have experienced this special type of blessedness / happiness, you are fortunate indeed!  That’s the word, but Jesus does something unexpected with it: He uses it with situations that few (if any) would describe as happy times.  Overall, people say they are blessed when they are not poor, hungry, sad, or persecuted.  When we are free of those things, that’s when we consider ourselves blessed.  Not so, according to Jesus.  He turns everything upside-down, in His paradox of the Kingdom.

We need to understand that the ways of God are not the ways of men.  He doesn’t think like we think, and praise the Lord for it!  His thoughts are higher than our thoughts & His ways are higher than our ways (Isa 55:9).  Again – praise God!  If God thought as we do, none of us would be saved.  If God thought as we do, He would seek vengeance upon us at our very first sin against Him, with no opportunity to repent.  He would withhold every physical blessing from those who do not worship Him.  Things like sunlight and oxygen would be stricken from the world, and all of us would die.  But God is not like us.  He is merciful & gracious.  He gives all men & women everywhere the opportunity to repent & to put his/her faith in Jesus for salvation.  He thinks differently, and our salvation is the proof of it!

So yes, what Jesus presents in the beatitudes (and in this sermon as a whole) is unusual & may not make sense at first.  That’s when we need to stop looking at it from the perspective of earth & start looking at it from the perspective of the Kingdom.  We need spiritual eyes to see these things, and that is what we’ve been given as Jesus’ disciples.

  • Blessing #1: Poverty

“Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God.

  • You might notice there are 4 blessings & 4 woes, each of them paralleling one another.  The first 2 blessings/woes are physical descriptions, whereas the second 2 are spiritual/emotional ones.  Obviously there is a spiritual dimension to everything Jesus says here, but we need to be careful not to discount the physical entirely.
  • To be poor is normally fare from the idea of blessing, but not for Jesus.  Those who are physically / financially poor are blessed, according to Jesus.  In Matthew’s account, this is a spiritual condition, as Jesus refers to the poor in spirit (Mt 5:3).  Although that application is true here as well, that’s not what Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Plain.  He refers to the simple poor – people without wealth.  The word in Greek means exactly as we would imagine: poor, destitute, without possessions, etc.  The person who has nothing is happily blessed.  Why?  Because they are part of the kingdom!  Notice the present tense: “for yours is the kingdom of God.”  The kingdom is not something for which they wait; it’s something they are already in.  They may be poor in the world, but they are rich in the kingdom.  They are wealthy in the currency that truly matters, in that they already belong to God as His kingdom citizens.
  • Question: “Is Jesus saying that every poor person has automatic entry into heaven?  Are even homeless atheists saved?”  No.  (1) Remember Jesus’ audience: His disciples.  These were men & women who already believed.  Many of them had left homes, careers, and other finances in order to follow Jesus in the first place.  Jesus is assuring them that though they are earthly-poor, they are heavenly-rich.  (2) Although this becomes clearer in vss. 22-23, each of the beatitudes center on our faith in Jesus.  These things are for His sake – something that is central to the theme of both blessings & woes.  Thus it is not simply being poor that is blessed; it is being poor & living your life for the sake of Christ.
  • Blessing #2: Hunger

21 Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled.

  • Hand-in-hand with poverty is hunger.  Generally speaking, those without much money don’t have much food, either.  And again, Luke’s description is that of physical hunger, rather than a hunger & thirst for righteousness (Mt 5:6).  No doubt, those who have a true hunger for the righteousness of God find satisfaction in Jesus & His gospel – but as we look at the text in front of us, we need to be true to its own context.  Here, Jesus did not only address spiritual matters, but physical ones.  The Lord is well aware of people who physically suffer on His behalf, and He promises to care for them.  Those who “hunger now” – who currently have a lack of food because of their faith in Christ, they can be assured that will not always be the case.  There is coming a day in which they “shall be filled.”  They will be able to eat & drink to their satisfaction in the kingdom.
  • Lest this sound like a small comfort, consider what it would have been like to be a 1st century Christian.  Many times, they were thought to be heretics or trouble makers.  It may have been difficult for some to find income.  Even today in countries in which Christians are a minority, many believers barely survive, sometimes going hungry from day-to-day.  Their association with Jesus keeps others from hiring them, or they are left with the lowest-paying positions.  They now go hungry, but that won’t always be the case.  Jesus knows His own, and He will provide for them.  Especially in the millennial kingdom, they will have food to the full.
    • We belong to the Lord – do we trust Him as our caring Master?  Do we believe that He will provide for us?  Do we look forward to the fulfillment of the kingdom in the way He spoke of it?  It’s not about being rich & ‘getting our blessing’ now; it’s about trusting our Lord & knowing He is the ultimate blessing we receive..
  • Blessing #3: Weeping

…Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh.

  • It seems more than a bit ironic for Jesus to proclaim our true fortunate happiness during our times of weeping, yet that is exactly what He does.  When we weep, cry, lament, and wail, this is our time of blessing.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed blessing to “those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” (Mt 5:4).  Here, Jesus goes a different direction – almost to emotional extremes.  Those who bewail in sobs shall “laugh” later.  Times of weeping do not remain for the Christian.  They do come, but they do not last.  And one day, they will cease altogether.  That is one of the glorious promises of heaven! (Rev 21:4)  That seems to be Jesus’ point here.  Those who weep as believers won’t always weep.  One day we will laugh!
  • There may be another aspect of this specific to the disciples & apostles who were with Jesus at the time.  There was coming a day very soon in the future in which they would sob like never before.  They would weep great mournful tears when Jesus died on the cross and was buried in the grave.  Yet three days later they would have reason to laugh!  The resurrection gives everyone who believes in Christ great reason to laugh.  Not just in celebration of His victory over His grave, but of His victory over every grave!  We will all rise from the dead (apart from rapture) and no doubt there will be gales of joyous laughter as we physically regather in the presence of Jesus!
  • Blessing #4: Persecution

22 Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.

  • This blessing is longer than the rest, and the subject matter is most unusual.  None of the other beatitudes described situations that an earthly perspective would call “blessed,” but certainly not persecution.  As believers, we regularly pray for those who experience it, and our fervent hope is that we will not experience it ourselves.  Indeed, it is not something to wish for, but we can consider it a blessing when it comes.
  • But first, what does it look like?  Jesus gives four descriptions.
    • When men hate you.”  Notice He says “when” and not “if.”  This is specific in the Greek.  Jesus assumes men will hate His followers…and they do.  Some cultures experience this to a greater extent than others, but the principle is true worldwide.  Those who hate Jesus hate His followers.  Those who rebel against God hate those who have received Him and seek to please Him.  Persecution is something promised by Jesus & Paul to every New Testament believer (Jn 15:18-19, 2 Tim 3:12) – it is simply a reality we need to expect.
    • When they exclude you.”  How might a Christian be excluded for the sake of Christ?  In the ancient culture of the Jews (and nearly all of the initial church was Jewish), they might be excluded from the synagogue, cast out of the local community.  Something similar happens today when family members are disowned, or friends are disavowed once faith in Christ is discovered.
    • Revile you.”  The idea here is mockery, as the NASB brings out be translating this as “insult.”  Christians are regularly denounced, mocked, and treated with general disdain & reproach.  No further evidence is required than to simply watch the news or movies out of Hollywood.  Evangelical Christians are commonly depicted as ignorant bigots, and we are abundantly mocked & reviled by our own culture.
    • Cast out your name as evil.”  Has your name ever become a curse word? (Jesus’ has!)  When people scowl upon hearing mention of you, that’s the idea here.  When they attribute to you the worst possible motives because of your faith in Christ, that is them casting out your name as evil.
  • The key to all of this is the qualifier added by Jesus: “for the Son of Man’s sake.”  In regards specifically to persecution, there is no proclamation of blessing to someone who is hated and reviled for being a jerk.  A person who is rude or hateful might rightly expect that treatment.  The blessing for him/her would be if the hateful treatment did not come, for it is deserved!  That’s not who Jesus was speaking to  He was speaking to His disciples – to those who believed – and He was speaking about the treatment they would receive because they believed.  It was those people who could expect blessing.  Not because of what they did or did not do, but because of their faith in Christ.  When their suffering came as a direct result of their association with Jesus, that’s when they could consider themselves truly blessed.
  • Question: “Is persecution the only beatitude where this qualifier applies?” No.  (At least, not in my personal opinion.)  Notice the perfect balance & symmetry between the blessings & woes…all except for this one section.  Even this section seems parenthetical in that it comes before the statement of how the Jewish fathers treated the Jewish prophets (which is echoed in the woes).  There is a Jewish literary structure called a “chiasm” which arranges text in such a way that the reader’s attention is purposefully brought to the middle, making it (literally) the central most important thought of the passage.  Strictly speaking, the structure here is not that of a chiasm (otherwise, the woes would have to be listed in reverse order), but there is no doubt that our attention is drawn to the center.  It is as if Luke (and thus Jesus) is highlighting this as the central thought – the key quality behind the entire teaching.  And it is.  The general poor aren’t blessed; it is those who believe in Jesus.  Likewise with the hungry & the weeping.  Those traits don’t save them, gain them entrance into the Kingdom of God, or guarantee them any future reversal.  It is only their faith in Jesus that does that.  When it is for Jesus’ sake, everything changes.  Jesus makes all of the difference.
  • What is the promise to those who suffer persecution, hatred, and much more for the sake of Christ (the Son of Man)?  Reward!  Heavenly reward in the Kingdom of God – so much so that those who currently suffer ought to now “rejoice…and leap for joy.”  Instead of having  a pity party, they ought to throw for themselves a real party.  If that’s you, you’ve got great reason to be glad: you’re going to be with Jesus in heaven!  Keeping that fact in mind helps keep everything else in perspective.  Are you poor in the present?  You’ve got a current relationship with Jesus!  Have you lost out on present day opportunities because of your faith?  You’re going to be with Jesus for all eternity!  You & I might suffer now – we might even suffer severely (Jesus never downplays it as anything less), but our eternal outlook is far better.  We have tremendous reward in heaven because we will be with Jesus.  Will the reward be gold, silver, or precious stones?  The Bible describes crowns & other things, but all of that pales in comparison with Christ Himself.  He is our great reward!
    • It needs to be emphasized that heaven is only assured for those who have believed upon Christ.  If you haven’t, your only guarantee is not seeing heaven.  Heaven is restricted from those who do not believe – but the invitation to believe is unrestrictedly given to the entire world!  You can be assured of seeing Jesus in heaven if you place your faith & trust in Him today.
  • Of course vs. 23 doesn’t end with reward, but a remembrance.  Jesus recalls how the ancient Jewish forefathers treated the prophets of God.  This is one indication that Jesus’ qualifying statement of faith in Him is parenthetical, because here, it is as if Jesus picks up right where He left off regarding blessed persecution.  The point He makes is that the things Jesus’ disciples will experience was not unusual.  The majority of God’s true prophets faced the same thing.  The Hebrews grumbled against Moses – kings tried to arrest Elijah – kings did arrest Jeremiah, etc.  Those who truly followed God in faith were always hated by the world.  The hatred of the world might even be viewed as confirmation of our faith.
  • The Woes (vss. 24-26)

There were four beatitudes – four statements of blessing for those who suffer in the present world for Jesus’ sake.  Things may be bad, but the good news for Christians is that this world is as bad as it’s ever going to get.  The kingdom of heaven will be far better.  Yet the flip side is true, too.  For those who do not believe in Jesus, they have no promise of heaven, thus this world is as good as it’s ever going to get.  This is the point Jesus makes as He launches into the woes.

What is a woe?  Linguistically speaking, the word is what’s called an onomatopoeia: a word that sounds like the thing it describes.  It sounds in Greek almost exactly the same as it does in English: ουαι.  You can almost hear the groaning that accompanies deep suffering.  It speaks of disaster, horror, or even a state of pain.  It is the last thing anyone would want to experience – the total opposite of happy blessing.  Jesus announced four blessings – now He gave four opposite woes.

  • Woe #1: Wealth

24 “But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation.

  • If it is blessed to be poor, it is a woe to be rich.  Don’t get the wrong idea – riches themselves are not the problem.  There were many wealthy people who loved God & are counted among the Old Testament saints.  Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David – all were extremely rich.  Surely Jesus was not pronouncing woes upon them.  Remember the central qualifier: “for the Son of Man’s sake.”  The key issue is the person’s faith in Jesus.  What did they believe?  If a rich person has faith in Christ, he/she is still part of the kingdom.  If not…then that’s the problem.
  • What Jesus describes here is the wicked rich – the faith-less rich.  That person has much abundance today, but nothing in eternity.  What he/she has now is all he/she will ever have.  As Jesus says, “You have received your consolation.”  They have already received their comfort – their reward.  Later in Luke, Jesus will tell the story of the rich man & Lazarus (Lk 16), which illustrates this very principle.  In his life, the unnamed rich man had all the comfort he would ever receive, for in the afterlife he suffered tremendous torment.  It was the beggar Lazarus who enjoyed the comforts of Paradise.  The rich man had nothing.
    • Gut check: where is your wealth?  Where is your treasure?  If your sole focus is on the stuff of the earth, then that is what you will receive.  Yet there is vastly more than this world…don’t be shortsighted!  Don’t miss out on Jesus just because of temporary earthly comforts.  What good is it to gain the whole world & lose your soul?
  • Woe #2: Satisfaction

25 Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger.

  • As with the first two blessings, the second two woes are closely related.  Those who are filled to the full now – who never experience a day of hunger (much less a week or a month) – Jesus promises them a future of hunger.  They won’t always be full – they won’t always be satiated.  One day they will know what it is like to truly be in need, yet not be able to have that need satisfied.
  • Again, there is a literal fulfillment of this in regards to the kingdom & eternity.  Jesus repeatedly described hell as a place of outer darkness where there is weeping & gnashing of teeth.  The once-rich man who ignored Lazarus when to hades, and was so thirsty that he longed for even a single drop of water on his tongue.  The hunger and thirst of those in hell is unfathomable.  That said, that isn’t necessarily the only application.  People can lose their satisfaction in this life, too.  Sure, they are satiated for a time on the sinful pleasures of the world, but they’ve always got to go back for more.  One sexual partner no longer satisfies – wine (or beer, or object of choice) is no longer enough – whatever the thrill is, it needs to be continually increased.  Instead of finding satisfaction in Christ, people turn to the world, but eventually & inevitably, the world leaves them hungry.
  • Woe #3: Laughter

Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep.

  • Can someone truly have a woe while they are laughing?  If they don’t know Jesus as Lord & Savior, yes.  One of the false gods of our age is entertainment, yet that god cannot grant eternal life.  Few people in hell think of their favorite earthly comedies and pleasures – and if they do, surely it is with disdain.  All they experience in the present is weeping.  Today, all kinds of people laugh at God in mockery – they won’t be laughing at the judgment seat.
  • Notice that with these latest two woes, there is a promise of suffering.  For those who believe in Christ, we have a promise of peace, joy, love, and provision.  For those who do not, their promise is the opposite.  Their guaranteed future is one of horrible, gut-wrenching suffering.
    • Objection: “Come on, preacher!  Enough with the turn or burn message.  No one wants to hear it!”  No kidding.  No one likes preaching it, either.  But it’s the truth.  This is what Jesus said about it.  He is the one promising comfort to those who have faith & warning others not to turn away.  You may not want to hear a preacher say it, but at least listen to Jesus.  He invites you to respond to Him in faith – He wants you to believe & be saved.  So do it!
  • Woe #4: Reputation

26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets.

  • What’s the problem when men of the world speak well of Christians?  It means that they probably cannot see Christ within us.  Obviously some will see – not everyone in the world speaks evil of Christ & Christians.  In fact, we hope that they see Jesus in us & are impressed by Him.  Jesus consistently taught that we are to live in such a way that people will see our good works & glorify God (Mt 5:16), or that our love for one another would be a testimony to our faith in Christ (Jn 13:34-35).  That said, the usual experience is for the world to reject Christians, and the only people they receive are like themselves.  Thus if the world speaks well of a person, most likely that person is of the world & not of Christ.
  • That’s the problem with the false prophets.  They weren’t of God; they were of the world.  They said the things that they believed others wanted to hear.  Thus the kings loved them & spoke well of them.  Why listen to a Jeremiah prophesy destruction, when you could listen to a Hananiah prophesy victory? (Jer 28)  If you were a king (especially a wicked king), which message would you prefer?  To Jesus’ point, if men received you well, it probably meant that they were rejecting God’s word.  Thus a good reception was confirmation of a false gospel.
    • Crowds are no guarantee of a Christian message.  Some of the largest congregations in the world are led by false teachers.  If non-Christians find no problem with your message, what does that say about the message you proclaim?  The person of Christ is a stone of stumbling & rock of offense.  If people don’t stumble at the work of Jesus in your life & words, it might mean that Jesus isn’t visible there.

Conclusion:
As the Sermon on the Plain begins, Jesus gives is a powerful introduction: the choice between blessing and woe.  Are you happy or horrified?  Kingdom citizens who suffer now can still consider themselves happy, for they are already guaranteed an eternity with Jesus.  People of the world who are comforted now will one day find those comforts removed.  This world will either be as bad as it gets, or as good as it gets, and it is our faith in Jesus that makes all of the difference.

Which is it for you?  What is it that you long for?  Physical comforts, abundance, entertainment, and a good reputation all seem like the custom-made formula for the American dream.  Yet it is missing a key element: faith in Christ.  Without Jesus, all of those things fail.  Every single piece of materialistic item is doomed to eventual rot or destruction.  If those things are what you seek, those things will be what you receive…and at some point you will inevitably be disappointed.  It will fail, and you will be left with nothing but suffering. 

But for those who have faith in Christ, we receive much more!  The present suffering of this world is as bad as it will ever get for a born-again believer.  Are you racked with bills, or struggle to get by?  You have a heavenly King who knows you, loves you, and has an eternal future set aside for you.  Are you riddled with grief, or assailed with hatred?  You have a Master who cares for you, and promises you something far better.  When your life is lived for Christ’s sake, you can be sure Christ will never forsake you.  Keep your eyes upon Him & His promises.  He is your great reward – nothing more valuable could ever be offered.

As a Christian, you may be struggling with something today.  You may be going through a terrible trial that could easily be included in the list of beatitudes.  Consider yourself blessed!  Most of all, ask Jesus to give you the joy you need to be blessed in this trial.  Go to Him in prayer, and cast those problems at His feet, trusting Him to give you the grace you need to endure.

For others, you’ve seen that you look to the world for satisfaction, but that the world falls short.  Look instead to Christ.  See Him as the God that He is – see yourself in need of the grace that He offers – then cast yourself upon Him for His mercy & forgiveness.

Ezekiel 22, “Laying in the Bed of their Making”

“You made your bed – now lie in it!”  How many of us have heard that said to us, or perhaps have even said it to our own children?  Although we sometimes say it in frustration, at its heart is a message of personal responsibility.  There are consequences for our choices, and although we might not like those consequences, they are what they are.  If we want different results, we need to have different actions.  It’s no good whining about responses to the choices that we ourselves made. (Be it a celebrity bellyaching about a public backlash to some political comments, or kids complaining about punishments received from parents or teachers.)  If we acted a certain way, we need to expect a certain response.  We made our bed; now it’s time to lie in it.

There’s a theological corollary to this idea in sowing & reaping.  If we sow to the lusts of the flesh, we’re going to reap of the lusts of the flesh.  If we engage in ongoing sin, we’re going to experience the results of ongoing sin.  Part of those results might just be the firm discipline of the hand of God.  After all, through faith in Jesus Christ we are God’s children, and the Heavenly Father who loves us is not going to let us continue in a path of destruction.  At some point He is going to intervene, and (1) allow us to experience the natural consequences of our sin, or (2) bring in some form of special discipline Himself.

It’s this idea that God made known to Israel again & again through prophets like Ezekiel.  The common thought of their day (as it is in ours) was that if they belonged to God, then God was obligated to bless them.  They did their part through ritual, so God would do His part in protection & power.  Not so!  (1) God is not anyone’s butler, acting on command, or able to be manipulated by our actions.  (2) That misses the entire point of being in a relationship with God.  If God truly is our God, then we need to expect our God to act when His people are being unfaithful to Him.  His intervention is proof of our relationship.  After all, if God didn’t care about us, He’d allow us to go our own way & perish.  No – God loves us, and thus He acts.  Ancient Israel / Judah / Jerusalem had long acted in rebellion against God, and they needed to know without a doubt not only that they had sinned, but that it was God Himself that gave them over to the consequences of their sin.  They needed to see the hand of God at work in order that they would later give glory to God.  And thus God repeatedly spoke to them through the prophets.

As for context, God was in the process of giving another series of messages to Ezekiel about Israel, and Jerusalem specifically.  God knew of their rebellions, and listed off their sins.  He had told them what to do through His commandments, yet they refused.  Thus God would send a fire – a sword of judgment to them in the form of Babylon.  His judgment would be fierce, but unquestionably deserved.  Not that all hope was lost – God held out a future promise for them of regathering & restoration, but this particular judgment was certain.

The final message given in Ch. 21 was actually not for Israel at all, but for the Ammonites.  Whereas Israel looked forward to a Messianic kingdom, Ammon did not.  God’s judgment upon them would be final, and historically, it was.  The kingdom of Ammon was destroyed, lost from history.

Now God once again turns His attention to Israel, reiterating the fact that her judgments were deserved.  Simply because they had a historic tie to God did not give them free reign to do whatever they wanted.  They had devolved into a debased people, although God had called them to holiness.  The judgment they would experience was the result of what they had done to themselves.  They had made their bed…now it was time to lie in it.

Ezekiel 22

  • Message #1: The land is defiled (1-16)

1 Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Now, son of man, will you judge, will you judge the bloody city? Yes, show her all her abominations!

  • Many times, God had laid out the legal case against His nation – now He calls upon Ezekiel to judge it.  Not that Ezekiel would actually dispense judgment against the land (that was something that belonged solely to God) – but that the prophet would serve as an impartial observer, confirming the judgment of God.  No one would be able to claim that God had been unfair with His people – how He chose to respond to them was absolutely just & righteous.
  • Notice the dual request to judge & dual description of defilement.  This is poetic emphasis.  The city was “bloody” & full of “abominations” – every single aspect of it would be exposed, laid bare before the people.  Thus again, they would know that their judgment was right.
    • The one thing that people will not be able to do when standing before God at His great white throne is to claim that His judgment is unfair.  There, all the books will be laid open, and people will see their sin (their bloody abominations) for what it is.  There is no doubt wailing & gnashing of teeth in hell (as Jesus so often described), but there are no accusations of injustice.  The justice of God is plainly known.

3 Then say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “The city sheds blood in her own midst, that her time may come; and she makes idols within herself to defile herself. 4 You have become guilty by the blood which you have shed, and have defiled yourself with the idols which you have made. You have caused your days to draw near, and have come to the end of your years; therefore I have made you a reproach to the nations, and a mockery to all countries. 5 Those near and those far from you will mock you as infamous and full of tumult.

  • Whose fault was this?  Jerusalem’s.  The city was fully defiled by her own hand. “you have shed…you have made…”  She made her own idols, shed blood, and more.  Their judgment was to come by the hand of God, but their suffering was one of their own making.
    • How often have we heard people cry out, “Why God?  Why me?”  (Perhaps we’ve even done it ourselves!)  There are times that our suffering is simply part of living in a fallen world.  The book of Job basically chronicles Job’s suffering & his repeated question to God asking why he went through what he did.  Although his friends tried to put the blame upon him, Job had done nothing wrong & God vindicated him in the end.  That said, there are some times that the suffering we experience is our fault.  There are some instances in which we experience the consequences of our own sin, and there are some in which God actively places His hand of discipline upon us.  Either way, God cannot be blamed.  When we sin, the question isn’t so much why God lets us suffer the way He does – but why He doesn’t let us suffer more.  After all, the wages of sin is death.  If we got what we deserved, we would drop dead at the very first sin.  It is the mercy of God that allows us to live & actually experience His discipline.  His discipline might be the very thing that leads us to repentance.
  • In regards to Jerusalem, because the city acted against God, God acted against the city.  He promised to bring it into public reproach & humiliation.  Generations earlier, the nation of Israel served as an example to the Gentiles of what it was to be a people protected by the Lord God of the Universe.  He had brought them out of slavery with a mighty hand & had destroyed the Egyptian army through the miracle of the Red Sea.  As a result, the nations trembled at Israel’s approach.  But now, Israel would be a reproach.  Once more, they would serve as an example – this time, of a nation judged by God.  Their sin & judgment would be known to all, and they would endure much mockery.
    • Sin always finds us out – and the public humiliation can be severe.  The best way to avoid it is not to engage in the sin in the first place.

6 “Look, the princes of Israel: each one has used his power to shed blood in you. 7 In you they have made light of father and mother; in your midst they have oppressed the stranger; in you they have mistreated the fatherless and the widow. 8 You have despised My holy things and profaned My Sabbaths.

  • Israel’s rulers were individually guilty.  They led the way for the rest of the nation.  They oppressed others, and became downright violent.
  • Overall, God describes the defilement of the heart.  People dishonored their parents – they despised true religion – they despised God Himself.  By profaning that which was set apart to the Lord (both in the form of temple instruments & the Sabbath day), they were in essence profaning God.  They did not value what belonged to Him, which demonstrated that they did not value God in their hearts.
  • It wasn’t only the state of their hearts, but also the state of their hands.  Vs. 9…

9 In you are men who slander to cause bloodshed; in you are those who eat on the mountains; in your midst they commit lewdness. 10 In you men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women who are set apart during their impurity. 11 One commits abomination with his neighbor’s wife; another lewdly defiles his daughter-in-law; and another in you violates his sister, his father’s daughter. 12 In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take usury and increase; you have made profit from your neighbors by extortion, and have forgotten Me,” says the Lord GOD.

  • Defilement of the hands.  God describes their violence, lewdness, bribery, and more.  They were impure in every way imaginable, to the point of committing incest, rape, and all other kinds of sexual perversion.  Keep in mind that this was the city of God.  This is where He chose to place His temple – where the ark of the covenant rested – and (until recently in the oracles shown to Ezekiel) where His glory remained.  Yet the acts of Israel were completely the opposite of what should have been the people of God.  They acted like they didn’t know God at all, and that was the problem.
  • The bottom line issue: they forgot God.  Seems to be emphatic in the Hebrew: “Me, you have forgotten, utters Adonai YHWH.”  It’s not that they weren’t around the things of God.  After all, the temple was the centerpiece of the city itself.  It’s not that they didn’t have the Scriptures & word of God.  The Jews were those who received the text, and they were receiving more at the time through the prophets.  But despite all these things, they acted as if God did not exist.  They forgot Him entirely.
    • Even today, this is the basic problem.  When is it that we give into sin & temptation?  When we forget God.  Keep in mind, we don’t have to be absent-minded to forget; forgetfulness is sometimes a purposeful choice.  When we choose to ignore the clear warnings given us by the Holy Spirit, we are choosing to forget God.  When we close our eyes to the commands of Scripture that we’ve otherwise clearly seen, we are choosing to put God out of our minds – to forget Him.  And that’s exactly when we get into trouble.  Even before we’ve engaged in the “actual sin,” we cross the line when we make the choice to forget God.
    • Be careful not to forget the Lord!  There is a reason that Moses commanded the ancient Hebrews to put the commandment of the Shema on the doorposts of their houses & to bind them as frontlets between their eyes & bind it on their hands (Dt. 6:8-9).  He wanted it to be so obviously in front of them that it would be physically impossible to forget the command to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and strength.  That’s the same mindset we ought to have.  We need to keep Jesus at the forefront of our day, rather than in the background.  We need to have our eyes fixed upon Him, His goodness, and His gospel promise – so that we purposefully remember Him.  Consciously remembering Jesus will go so much further in our fight against sin than legalism.  We remember our God, our Jesus; not our rules.  Remembering Jesus will guard us from the dangers of forgetting Him.
  • Of course ancient Israel forgot God, and because of their sin as they did, God declared their fierce judgment.  Vs. 13…

13 “Behold, therefore, I beat My fists at the dishonest profit which you have made, and at the bloodshed which has been in your midst. 14 Can your heart endure, or can your hands remain strong, in the days when I shall deal with you? I, the LORD, have spoken, and will do it.

  • God is rightly appalled at them.  Beating His fists (or as some translations say, clapping / smiting His hands), God is shown as visibly upset with Israel.  Their sin had made Him shake with anger, and thus He would rise up against them.  That ought to be a sobering thought!  They had forgotten Him in the past, but they would not be able to ignore Him in the future.  Was it possible they could stand against Him?  Absolutely not.  When Almighty God moves, the earth itself trembles!
    • Can anyone stand against God?  Not in the slightest.  So many atheists today take such an arrogant stance when they claim that “if” there is a God in heaven, then they will make Him answer their questions before they receive His judgment.  Their delusion is their downfall.  When God acts, none can stand.  How exactly does anyone demand anything of the infinitely powerful God?  It is doubtful that those receiving the judgment of God will find themselves able to utter a single word in His presence, much less demand anything of Him.  God is truly terrible in His power (using the classical sense of the word).  He is awesome in His glory.  He is the Creator God, and when He moves, all the world will know.
  • In addition, what God says, goes.  His judgment is firm & final.  As He declared, what He spoke, He would do.  What would it include?  Vs. 15…

15 I will scatter you among the nations, disperse you throughout the countries, and remove your filthiness completely from you. 16 You shall defile yourself in the sight of the nations; then you shall know that I am the LORD.” ’ ”

  • Promise of dispersion.  Although the southern kingdom of Judah had remained for quite some time after the northern kingdom of Israel was absorbed by the Assyrians, their supernatural protection from the encroaching empires would not last.  By the time of Ezekiel’s prophecies, God had already allowed Jerusalem to be conquered by Babylon & many of the people were already scattered away from the Promised Land.  One final scattering was yet to come, and the people would truly be dispersed “throughout the countries.
    • Question: would they be regathered?  Yes – and God has affirmed His merciful promise of doing so several other times to Ezekiel (and more affirmations of this was yet to come).  But for 70 years, they would certainly be scattered with God being true to His word.  (Even when they regathered, it was a portion of the nation – but that’s another topic altogether.)
  • Promise of purging.  NKJV says “remove your filthiness,” but it is more of the idea of purging / destroying uncleanness.  More of this purging will be described in the next message starting in vs. 17.
  • Promise of defilement, or rather, self-defilement.  Question: how is this reconciled with vs. 15?  After all, on one hand, God promises to remove their filthiness, but on the other hand, He promises that the Israelites would be defiled.  Answer: it goes back to the idea of the land.  By removing the Israelites from the Promised Land, the land itself would be cleansed even as the people endured the purging of the judgment of God.  But while the Jews were abroad, they would be defiled in that they would dwell outside of the Promised Land, necessarily living among Gentiles.  They would struggle to maintain kosher diets & living arrangements, and they would simply struggle in general.  The Gentile nations around them would view them as defiled, cast out by God – all part of the public reproach God promised them.
  • In the end, they would know without a doubt it was their own fault – but at the same time, they would recognize the hand of God in it all.  When these things came to pass, and they saw their consequences for what they were, they would know God had followed through on His promises.
  • Message #2: The land is dross (17-22)

17 The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 18 “Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to Me; they are all bronze, tin, iron, and lead, in the midst of a furnace; they have become dross from silver.

  • Israel had been God’s own special people.  Now He saw them as “dross” – the pollutants – the stuff to be cast off.  Because silver & gold are mined from the earth, there’s a lot of rock, dirt, and other impurities that come along with the ore.  God had wanted a pure people – a people totally devoted to Him.  What He got was the rock & dirt.  He got all of the unwanted mineral that clouded the silver rather than the pure precious metal itself.  Thus it needed to be dealt with.
  • The interesting thing about dross is that it’s not truly seen until the metal is liquid. [PPT]  The fire must first be applied, superheating the material until the dross starts to pull away from the silver or gold that is present.  It’s not that the impurities aren’t already there – they are; they just aren’t nearly as apparent until the fire comes.  A similar idea seems to be true here.  With the nation, the impurities were already there in abundance – but the people were blind to them.  They were so caught up in their sin that they didn’t see what they were doing was wrong.  But when God’s fiery judgment came, their sin would become crystal clear!  In comparison with the holy fire of God, their sin would be truly seen for what it was: dross to be cast off.
    • Isn’t that so often the case with us as well?  The impurities are there, but it’s not until we come face-to-face with the consequences of our flesh (i.e. the discipline of God) that we see our actions for the sin that it is.  A little flirting or porn is truly sexual immorality.  A few lies are truly destructive, etc.  What might otherwise seem normal is shown to be entirely sinful when we start to compare our actions with the standard of God’s holiness.
    • But when God deals with us – when He purifies & cleanses us through Christ – how beautiful we become!  The dross of our sin is burnt off, and the clarity of God’s holiness shines through.  Praise God for Jesus!  In light of our sin, the sacrifice & forgiveness of Jesus is something to be treasured!

19 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Because you have all become dross, therefore behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. 20 As men gather silver, bronze, iron, lead, and tin into the midst of a furnace, to blow fire on it, to melt it; so I will gather you in My anger and in My fury, and I will leave you there and melt you. 21 Yes, I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you shall be melted in its midst. 22 As silver is melted in the midst of a furnace, so shall you be melted in its midst; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have poured out My fury on you.’ ”

  • Just as dross is collected, so would be the ancient Jews – gathered together, not for comfort, but for wrath.  One day there would be a regathering out of the mercies & grace of God, but for now, this gathering would be one of judgment.  As the remaining Jews in the land took refuge in the city of Jerusalem, they would ultimately find no refuge within the walls.  The armies of Babylon would come, set up a terrible siege, and as the people starved, they would experience the fire of God’s wrath.
  • The description itself is terrible: melted down with the overwhelming fire of God’s judgment.  Reminiscent of the end of Ch 20 – Ezekiel 20:47b, "…Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree and every dry tree in you; the blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be scorched by it."  Everything would be consumed by the holy fire of God’s wrath – and the heat would be so intense that the figurative impurities would not merely be skimmed off, but physically burnt away.
    • How holy is our God?  We cannot fathom the extent.  He could not be any holier, if He tried.  Thus how sinful is our sin?  Again – we cannot fathom the extent.
  • The result?  The people of Jerusalem would know God had poured out His fury upon them.  There would be no mistaking it.  The things they experienced would come by the hand of Babylon, but Babylon was not capable of the extent of their suffering.  This was God, and none other.
  • Message #3: The land is dangerously dry (23-31)

23 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 24 “Son of man, say to her: ‘You are a land that is not cleansed or rained on in the day of indignation.’

  • Description of a dirty land – dry & impure.  For Israel, rain was a physical sign of God’s blessing.  In fact, it was specifically part of their covenant with God, as God’s response to the obedience of the nation (Dt 28:12).  But the opposite was true as well.  When the rain was turned to dust, it was because Israel had violated their covenant, and this was their just reward (Dt. 28:24).  Rain was a blessing because it would water the crops, refresh the land, and generally cleanse it.  The point here was that Israel did not deserve that blessing from God.  They deserved the drought & all of the impurities that came with it, for they were already impure.
  • What was the result?  Dangerous false religion.  Vs. 25…

25 The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured people; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. 26 Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. 27 Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, to shed blood, to destroy people, and to get dishonest gain.

  • Danger of false prophets.  How bad is false teaching/prophecy in the eyes of God?  It is “like a roaring lion tearing the prey” – which is, interestingly enough, basically the same description Peter gives of the devil’s attacks on Christians today (1 Pt 5:8).  What false prophets (and the likely corollary today, false teachers) do is downright satanic.  People die from false teaching…literally.  In Ezekiel’s day, false prophets kept people from the truth of God & they died at the hands of the Babylonians.  Today, false teachers keep people from the truth of the gospel & they die in their sins, believing in a false god or false Jesus.  The lying teachers lead people astray, teaching them to trust themselves, that they can be their own gods, and their lies make many miss out on the gospel of salvation.  False prophets of Ezekiel’s day stole “treasure & precious things” – false teachers of today bilk people out of their life-savings.  It’s despicable & dangerous, and God points it out for what it is.
  • Danger of defiled priests.  Whether these priests were merely ignorant of God’s commandments, or they chose to ignore the word of God, the result was the same.  Like the false prophets, they led people astray.  They themselves did not distinguish holiness from wickedness, so how could they teach others to do so?  The priests of God had a responsibility to know and act according to God’s word, and they neglected to do so, defiling themselves in the process.  Many supposed pastors (at least in name/title) do the same thing.  They throw around the word of God while on the platform without having the slightest clue as to what it says.  They do not dedicate themselves to the study of the Scripture, and cannot distinguish between the truth of God & the lies of the world.  And again, God sees it & condemns it.
  • Danger of evil princes.  The civic leaders of Jerusalem were just as bad as the religious ones.  They sought to oppress others & were described by God as “wolves tearing the prey.”  They looked out for themselves alone, and were dangers to God’s sheep, rather than acting as protectors of them.  And again, much the same could be said of today’s political leaders.  We do not live in the nation of Israel, but we do have a leadership class consumed with power & self-advancement.
  • Those are the major categories of people, but God’s not done detailing their dangerous sin.  Vs. 28…

28 Her prophets plastered them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ when the LORD had not spoken. 29 The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger.

  • The prophets had lied & tried to cover up the truth.  God had told the people many times in the past what the results & consequences of their sin would be.  But the false prophets didn’t want to hear that message, so they changed it.  They lied & made up “false visions” and other supposed prophecies that they believed the people wanted to hear.  As God pointed out in Ch. 13, they used “untampered mortar” – or whitewash – to cover over the sins that God truly condemned.  They made it look good in the eyes of the people without doing/saying anything to truly fix the problem.
    • What was true of the false prophets of Jerusalem is true of the end-times today.  Paul warned of the day in which people would heap up teachers for themselves that would merely tickle their itching ears, rather than desire sound doctrine. (2 Tim 4:3)  No doubt that time has surely come.
  • In the end, the general populace was no better, with people committing all kinds of evil themselves – much of which was stated earlier in Ch. 22 in the 1st message.  Just as their leaders oppressed them, they oppressed others.  They mistreated the poor, and engaged in their own sin.  Much blame could be placed at the feet of the civic & religious leadership, but the people were not innocent of sin.  They likewise deserved the full, unfettered judgment of God.
  • The whole picture is of a city devoid of godliness.  It was a city intended to be devoted to God & His right worship – but not a person could be found there who actually did so.  In fact, that is God’s next complaint against them.  Vs. 30…

30 So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.

  • God not only wanted a worshipper, but He wanted an intercessor!  He wanted someone to truly help the city by pleading for its people.  The prophets, priests, princes, and people had sinned & sinned a lot – where was someone who would sacrifice on their behalf?  Where was someone who might fall to their knees before God and beg Him for mercy?  When the Hebrews sinned at the base of Mount Sinai by building a golden calf of worship, God was ready to destroy them until Moses spoke up in intercession.  Moses would have rather himself been blotted out of God’s book than to have Israel destroyed (Exo 32:32).  When God revealed to Abraham that He was on His way to destroy Sodom, Abraham pleaded with God on behalf of the sinners, knowing that the Judge of all the earth would do what is right (Gen 18:25).  These were intercessors – these were men willing to make a wall & stand in the gap on the behalf of others who surely did not deserve it.  Where were the Abrahams & Moseses now?  Where were the intercessors?
  • None was found.  Question: “What about Jeremiah – or Ezekiel himself?  Surely they were righteous men who pleaded for Israel!”  Ezekiel didn’t count because he wasn’t actually in the city at the time.  God was searching for someone in Jerusalem who would “stand in the gap” on behalf of the people.  As for Jeremiah, he had been forbidden by God to pray for his people (Jer 11:14).  There’s no doubt he grieved over their sin & punishment (re: the entire book of Lamentations!) – but in the process of Jeremiah’s actual ministry, God restricted him from praying for Jerusalem.  God had decreed their punishment, and His prophet was supposed to speak forth God’s judgment to the people; not plead to God on their behalf.  That said, it’s not like Jeremiah was the only person in Jerusalem who knew how to pray.  Jeremiah was restricted by God due to Jeremiah’s role; no one else had any such restriction.  Anyone else could have sought the Lord in prayer…yet no one did.  Not a single person outside of the true prophetic ministry either (1) cared enough for his/her neighbors to pray for them, or (2) feared God enough to seek Him in prayer in the first place.  How sad!  The writing for Jerusalem’s destruction was on the wall (figuratively speaking), and yet not a single person in the city of God chose to plead to God in prayer.  Not a single intercessor could be found.
    • I wonder if we have intercessors today?  Do Christians (1) care enough about our neighbors to plead to God on their behalf, asking for their salvation?  Or (2) fear God enough in reverent worship to trust that God would actually do something if we but prayed?  We are happy to pray for our meals & for our day – we are quick to pray God’s blessing upon ourselves, even trust Him for healings – but how often do we stand in the gap for those who are lost?  How often do we stand in the gap on behalf of the Church which so often (it seems) loses its way?  How often do we plead with all our beings for those who are lost & headed for hell?  We pass them every day on the highway or in the grocery store & think nothing of them…and that’s the problem.  They need someone to think of them, and to pray on their behalf.  They don’t know what it is they face – they have no idea how lost they are (or they’ve blinded themselves to it)…but we do.  We who know ought to act.  We need to pray for them – to plead for them & with them that they might turn to God, and that God might bring them to faith in Christ.
  • We have an Intercessor!  In fact, we have two.  The Bible specifically tells us that two out of three members of the Trinity stand in the gap for us as Christians.  (1) The Spirit, who prays for us. Romans 8:26, "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."  (2) The Lord Jesus, who stands pleading for us to God.  1 Timothy 2:5, "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus," No one intercedes for us better than He!  Should we pray for one another?  Undoubtedly – but we have a wonderful Intercessor in God!  He is our ultimate Advocate!

31 Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord GOD.

  • With no intercessor, all that was left for Israel was the full wrath of God.  They had none to stand in the gap of their behalf, thus the “fire of [God’s] wrath” would consume them.  This was their own fault, due to their own deeds.  Their repeated sin against God had led them to this point, and His wrath was all they had left to face.

Conclusion:
Without Jesus as our Mediator – without the Spirit praying for us – what else would we have to face either?  We also would be consumed with the fire of God’s wrath!  Our sin is defiling – it’s dross – it’s dangerous – it leads us to a place of utter destruction.  And we should be destroyed!  The only thing that prevents this is the Person who has stood in the gap for us: the Lord Jesus Christ.  He intervened in the way that only He can, not only staving off the anger of God for a time, but fully satisfying the anger of God for all time.  Through His work of intercession, we are forever saved!

From Ezekiel’s prophecies, for a time, Israel got what it deserved.  Thankfully, it didn’t remain that way as there was (and is) still a promise of grace for Israel.  We await the day they will eventually come to faith in Christ, and we can finally rejoice with them as co-heirs in the kingdom.  But at the time, they rightly fell under God’s judgment.  They had made their bed, and it was time to lie down in it.

Do we get what we deserve?  No.  Praise God, no we do not!  Even when we experience the discipline of God, we don’t truly get all that we deserve – just a taste of the consequences of our sin.  God mercifully shields us from so much more.  But we dare not take His mercies for granted.  May we stay humble – may we keep our eyes ever on Jesus, never forgetting Him – may we remain broken hearted for the lost, praying that they may know the same mercy & love that we have received.