National Criminal History

Posted: August 18, 2016 in Ezekiel, Uncategorized

Ezekiel 19-20, “National Criminal History”

In talking about the US Constitution & the Bill of Rights, most people are readily familiar with the 1st and 2nd amendments.  For the 1st, we know that we have (or are supposed to have) freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble & the right to petition the government.  For the 2nd, we know that the people’s right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.  Past that point, our memories get a bit sketchy.  We might remember part of the 5th amendment in that we cannot be forced to testify against ourselves, and that we are owed due process of law – but that’s about it.  The Bill of Rights guarantees American citizens much more.  Did you know that we are also guaranteed the right to not only a speedy trial, but to be informed of the accusations against us?  That’s the 6th amendment.  Without it, Americans might be put on trial & never know if they had ever broken the law or not (and such is the case in other countries around the world).

What is guaranteed to us by our national constitution is what was freely offered by Almighty God to His people.  They had broken His law innumerable times, repeatedly violating the covenant they had with the Lord.  No doubt they knew what they had done, but the always-just God made sure to tell them.  Throughout the prophets, He laid out the criminal charges against the nation – and He does so specifically here through the prophet Ezekiel.

Remember that God’s intent for Israel was for the people to repent.  He wanted them to have a new heart & a new spirit (18:31).  He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but much preferred them to repent & live (18:32).  That begs a question: if someone never understands his sin, how can he turn from it?  We have to first know our crime if we are ever to properly answer for it.  Obviously when it comes to sin, we know it.  Our hearts convict us thoroughly, long before we ever read of it in the Scripture.  Yet God is a faithful and just God.  He ensures that we DO know our sin against Him, and makes it clear that we need to repent and entrust ourselves to His mercy and grace. 

That’s what we find Him doing with Israel here.  God made it clear that He wanted them to repent – now He makes it clear why the repentance was necessary in the first place.

Ezekiel 19 – Sad song for the final kings
1 “Moreover take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel,

  1. This seems to pick up from the same oracle as the previous chapter (and perhaps the last several chapters), and although it’s a different timeframe than that of Ch. 20, the general theme is the same.  Israel/Judah had sinned against the Lord, and God was going to express that to the people by recounting to them their national history.  Yet He does it in different ways.  Whereas Ch. 20 is going to be a straightforward listing of their sins, Ch. 19 is much more symbolic, being a song of lament.  The “princes of Israel” had a sad history, and it was about to get even sadder.  Although God would be glorified through Israel’s punishment (just as all of God’s acts glorify Him), He took no pleasure in it.  God could mourn over Israel’s loss even as He personally brought in the Babylonians to punish them.

2 and say: ‘What is your mother? A lioness: She lay down among the lions; Among the young lions she nourished her cubs. 3 She brought up one of her cubs, And he became a young lion; He learned to catch prey, And he devoured men. 4 The nations also heard of him; He was trapped in their pit, And they brought him with chains to the land of Egypt.

  1. There are different thoughts among scholars regarding the interpretations of the “mother / lioness” and “her cubs,” but the most likely theory is that this is a symbolic picture of the nation of Israel and her final kings.  Although the final kings of Judah shared a common bloodline, it’s highly unlikely that their physical mother could be described as a lioness with this much power.  It seems far more plausible that the nation itself is the mother-lion, giving birth to the various cubs that become kings.  The kings were products of their nation, after all, even as they continued to lead the people in idolatry and sin.
  2. As for this first cub, this seems to be a reference to Jehoahaz. He was the 3rd to last king of Judah, who was eventually deposed by Pharaoh Necho and taken as prisoner back to Egypt.  The Lord God describes him well as a cub who “devoured men,” in that Jehoahaz was one who did evil in the sight of the Lord.  Although his father Josiah had been a godly man, Jehoahaz was the first in a string of descendants who would choose to depart from the one true God.  His judgment was Egyptian imprisonment & eventual death. (2 Kings 23:31-34)
    1. BTW – for a king to be deposed & imprisoned the way he was ought to have been a wake-up call for the rest of the nation.  Something was terribly wrong for God to have allowed this to happen.  Yet they went on in their self-imposed blindness and continued along the same path.  A similar thing can happen to any nation that chooses to depart from the Lord.  Warning after warning can be ignored, until God finally gives that nation over to the results of their sin.

5 ‘When she saw that she waited, that her hope was lost, She took another of her cubs and made him a young lion. 6 He roved among the lions, And became a young lion; He learned to catch prey; He devoured men. 7 He knew their desolate places, And laid waste their cities; The land with its fullness was desolated By the noise of his roaring. 8 Then the nations set against him from the provinces on every side, And spread their net over him; He was trapped in their pit. 9 They put him in a cage with chains, And brought him to the king of Babylon; They brought him in nets, That his voice should no longer be heard on the mountains of Israel.

  1. God seems to skip ahead directly to the story of Jehoiachin, who was eventually taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar & forced to return to Babylon as a prisoner.  His father, Jehoiakim was actually the successor to Jehoahaz, but Jehoiakim’s evil was such that God allowed him to be killed by raiding bands that God Himself actually brought out against him. (2 Kings 24:4)  As for Jehoiachin, he was another king who did evil in the sight of the Lord, and it could be said of him that he was the last “full” king of Judah.  After imprisoned by Nebuchadnezzar, the next king was one personally chosen & installed by Nebuchadnezzar: King Zedekiah.  Essentially, he was a puppet ruler, though he eventually rebelled against Babylon, which was the reason for the final siege against Jerusalem, of which God (through Ezekiel) repeatedly warned the people.
  2. Although the accounts of Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin are very similar, there is an important difference between them.  Both of them would die in foreign lands, but Jehoiachin actually seems to have submitted himself to God, and was eventually brought out of prison.  He was never allowed to return to Jerusalem, but he did serve as an advisor to the king of Babylon (2 Kings 25:27-30).  It goes to illustrate a couple of things: (1) As long as we have breath in our lungs, we still have an opportunity to humble ourselves before God and repent.  (2) God’s mercy to Jehoiachin foreshadowed God’s promise of mercy for His people.  The Jews would go into Babylonian captivity, but they would not be completely destroyed.  God had a plan for their future – they just needed to trust Him for it.

10 ‘Your mother was like a vine in your bloodline, Planted by the waters, Fruitful and full of branches Because of many waters. 11 She had strong branches for scepters of rulers. She towered in stature above the thick branches, And was seen in her height amid the dense foliage. 12 But she was plucked up in fury, She was cast down to the ground, And the east wind dried her fruit. Her strong branches were broken and withered; The fire consumed them. 13 And now she is planted in the wilderness, In a dry and thirsty land. 14 Fire has come out from a rod of her branches And devoured her fruit, So that she has no strong branch—a scepter for ruling.’ ” This is a lamentation, and has become a lamentation.

  1. The nation had been referred to as a lioness; now it was a “vine.”  This has been a standard picture of the nation, most recently in Ch. 15 as a barren vine unfit for anything but the fire & Ch. 17 as a rebellious vine transplanted & later uprooted by the eagle (Babylon).  Here again the idea is one of fruitlessness.  That had not always been the case – God’s original intent for the nation was strength & prosperity.  Indeed, that was exactly what Israel experienced under the leadership of David & Solomon.  These were “strong branches for scepters of rulers,” as were later kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah.  Sadly, they were the exceptions to the rule, and though the Kingdom of Israel/Judah once “towered” among the nations, it would be “cast down to the ground.”  The “east wind” pictured something terrible to the Jews, in that it signified times of trouble.  Winds blowing from the west would bring in Mediterranean moisture for their crops; winds blowing from the east brought desert dryness.  Here, the east wind brought the Babylonians and the “fire” of God’s judgment.  The whole nation/vine would be affected – so much so that there would no longer be a “strong branch / scepter for ruling.”  IOW, there would be no king.  Once Babylon fully conquered Jerusalem, all independent sovereignty would be stripped away.
  2. All of Ch. 19 refers to the recent history of Judah, with the sin of its most recent kings.  Yet this wasn’t something new for the Jews – this is how they had always acted.  God goes on to recount their older national sins in Ch. 20…

Ezekiel 20 – The charges are read
1 It came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and sat before me. 2 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 3 “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Have you come to inquire of Me? As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “I will not be inquired of by you.” ’ 4 Will you judge them, son of man, will you judge them? Then make known to them the abominations of their fathers.

  1. The day was August 14, 591BC (just over 2607 years ago to the day!) that the next oracle was given to Ezekiel.  The final siege and conquest of Jerusalem was still 5 years away, and God was doing everything possible to prepare the Jews for what was awaiting them.  They still refused to repent, even though God was giving them every opportunity to do so.
  2. What makes their refusal so interesting is that the “elders of Israel” still came to Ezekiel in order “to inquire of the LORD.”  Obviously, these were elders who were with the prophet, already in captivity, far away from the borders of Jerusalem – but they represented a people who were unrepentant in sin.  Thus on one hand they claimed to want to know the mind and will of God, while on the other hand they continued in pagan idolatry & gross sin.  It’s no wonder God didn’t want to hear from them!  Why would He entertain their questions & inquiries if they didn’t worship Him?  They did not need to inquire of the Lord; they needed to listen to the Lord & obey Him.  They needed to know the “abominations of their fathers” – all of the various ways they had sinned against the Lord in past years, in order for them to repent from those things and change their ways.
    1. It brings up a good point for us today.  How often do people seek God with no plans to actually worship God?  How many people pray to God in the hospital, but give no thought to Him at all when healthy?  This is no different than how the Jews acted with the Lord.  In times of crisis they fell to their knees, but in times of calm they worshipped whatever.  If we want God to be our God in times of trial, then He needs to be our God at all times!  God has no reason to hear the prayers of people in rebellion against Him.  At that point, the only prayer God wants to hear from us is one of confession & repentance.  God wants our relationship with Him addressed first before He has any reason to turn His attention to our circumstances.  In fact, He may have allowed those very circumstances precisely to cause us to seek His face in confession & repentance!

5 “Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “On the day when I chose Israel and raised My hand in an oath to the descendants of the house of Jacob, and made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt, I raised My hand in an oath to them, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God.’

  1. At this point, God is going to recount the national history of Israel.  He begins way back in the days of Egyptian slavery.  Obviously God’s promises to Israel began back with Abraham the patriarch, but at that point, the nation did not yet exist.  70+ people went down to Egypt with Jacob/Israel, and it was while they were in Egypt that they grew into a nation.  Thus 400 years later, God “chose Israel” and made Himself “known to them in the land of Egypt.”  It was there that He revealed Himself as their God through the proclamations of Moses & the signs & wonders God did through Moses.
  2. One would think that during the days of the Egyptian plagues, as God repeatedly demonstrated His power & repeatedly demonstrated His grace & preference for the Jews living in Goshen, that the Jews would consistently worship Him – that there would be no way for the Jews to fall into idolatry.  Wrong.  They did it even in Egypt.  Vs. 6…

6 On that day I raised My hand in an oath to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, ‘flowing with milk and honey,’ the glory of all lands. 7 Then I said to them, ‘Each of you, throw away the abominations which are before his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’ 8 But they rebelled against Me and would not obey Me. They did not all cast away the abominations which were before their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I said, ‘I will pour out My fury on them and fulfill My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.’ 9 But I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles among whom they were, in whose sight I had made Myself known to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt.

  1. It’s amazing to think that the Hebrews would be engaging in idolatry even while God was in the process of delivering them out of Egypt, but apparently that was the case.  The book of Exodus doesn’t give details about what kind of paganism took place, but no doubt it did.  How can we know?  Because while the Hebrews were waiting for Moses at the base of Mt. Sinai, they had Aaron (and others) fashion for them a golden calf.  That was the image with which they were accustomed to worshipping God, though it was a false image (and in spite of the fact they had just received a commandment never to even make a graven image of the Lord).  The Egyptians worshipped pagan gods shaped like all kinds of animals, and apparently the Hebrews picked up the practice in regards to God.
  2. Considering how long the Hebrews were in Egypt, their confusion is understandable, but what ought they have done after receiving true revelation of God through Moses?  Simple: they should have forsaken the rest.  They had the truth right in front of their eyes, and yet they still chose idols.
    1. Before we start pointing fingers, how often do we do something similar?  We have the truth right in front of us, and yet we still choose the stuff of the world.  We choose idols of entertainment over Jesus, or we choose hedonism over holiness, etc.  And we have even less excuse for it than did Israel.  Israel had the miracles of God taking place right before their eyes; we have the presence of God the Holy Spirit right within our bodies.  We have personally experienced the truth of God, and yet we still easily go back to the old idols of the world.  Be careful!  God has called us out of those things – may we be sure to forsake them and follow Jesus alone.
  3. Of course God was merciful to the nation – “for [His] name’s sake,” wanting a witness among the Gentile nations for the goodness He showed towards Israel.  So what did He do?  He delivered them out of Egypt, and gave them the gift of His law.  Vs. 10…

10 “Therefore I made them go out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. 11 And I gave them My statutes and showed them My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them.’ 12 Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them.

  1. Question: Is God declaring that a person is justified by works?  I.e. if someone keeps the statutes & judgments of God, that he/she will be righteous in God’s sight & live eternally?  No.  Eternal life is not in view here; life in fellowship with God is.  How were the Hebrews supposed to maintain their ongoing relationship with God?  By abiding by the covenant they had with God, which meant abiding by the laws, statutes, and judgments.  Obviously it is impossible for anyone to keep the law perfectly, but that is exactly why God included so many statutes and judgments about sacrifices & the need for atonement.  God knew His people would need to be forgiven, so He gave them ways of seeking His forgiveness – ultimately with the idea that the people would see the need for eternal forgiveness that comes only through a true, perfect sacrifice: that of Jesus Christ.  But if a man or woman would live humbly with God, submitting to the law of God, routinely offering true sacrifices and worship to God, that person would “live” – their habits would demonstrate their ongoing trust upon the Lord.  Only God can grant eternal life through His grace (Eph 2:8-9), but their physical lives would need to demonstrate their dependence upon Him as well.  That was simply part of their covenant.
    1. Of course, we are in a new, different covenant with God through Jesus Christ, but we have a similar idea.  We are not eternally saved by anything other than the undeserved grace of God, but our ongoing relationship with God is shown in our humble obedience to Him.  We do not obey to earn God’s favor; we obey out of gratefulness for the favor we have already received.  If there is a person claiming to be a Christian, yet not living obediently unto the Lord, there is good reason for that person to examine his/her salvation in the first place.
  2. That’s the “statutes,” but what about the “Sabbaths”?  Remember that the nation of Israel had two signs of their covenant with God: (1) Circumcision for males, which was internal, demonstrating how their flesh was cut away in order for them to serve God alone. (2) Sabbaths for all, which was external, demonstrating their restful dependence upon God for His provision & ultimately for His blessing.  When the Hebrews kept the Sabbath rightly, they had a testimony to all the nations around them of how they rested in their relationship with God.  He had set them apart (sanctified them) from the rest of the world, having put them in a special relationship with Himself.
  3. What did they do with this gift of the Sabbath?  They despised it.  Vs. 13…

13 Yet the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness; they did not walk in My statutes; they despised My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them’; and they greatly defiled My Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My fury on them in the wilderness, to consume them. 14 But I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles, in whose sight I had brought them out. 15 So I also raised My hand in an oath to them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, ‘flowing with milk and honey,’ the glory of all lands, 16 because they despised My judgments and did not walk in My statutes, but profaned My Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols.

  1. The Hebrews’ trouble with the Sabbath is well documented.  First, they disregarded the Sabbath when God first gave them manna to eat in the wilderness.  They were supposed to gather up enough for a daily portion for their families, with the exception of Friday.  That day, they were supposed to gather two days’ worth, in preparation for the Sabbath.  Instead, they first tried to stockpile the bread, only to find that it gathered worms overnight (Exo 16:20), then they tried to go out on Saturday morning to find bread only to see the ground empty (Exo 16:27).  If that wasn’t bad enough (and surely it wasn’t the only event), the Israelites despised the spirit of the Sabbath gift when they stood on the edge of the Promised Land and refused to enter.  Not only was that the sin of rebellion, but it was a defiling of the Sabbath.  That’s the point the author of Hebrews makes: Hebrews 3:16–4:1, "(16) For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? (17) Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? (18) And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? (19) So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. (1) Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it."  The nation fell short, because they did not trust the rest/Sabbath of God.  Because they did not trust God, they did not walk into the land God provided for them – they did not rest in the Lord by trusting in Him.  Thus they defiled His Sabbath.
    1. Ultimately, the rest of God speaks of something greater than a piece of real estate.  Not even when they entered the Promised Land with Joshua did they enter into God’s rest (Heb 4:8) – the true rest is the rest that Jesus gives when we rest in Him for the forgiveness of sin.  Jesus IS our Sabbath rest!  And yes, people profane that Sabbath rest every day when they despise the sacrifice of Christ, and attempt to earn their own salvation.  Rest in Jesus!  Enjoy the blessed gift of God!
  2. When the Hebrews balked at the edge of the Promised Land, that should have been it.  God had every right to destroy them in His righteous wrath.  Yet He didn’t.  Vs. 17…

17 Nevertheless My eye spared them from destruction. I did not make an end of them in the wilderness. 18 “But I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols. 19 I am the LORD your God: Walk in My statutes, keep My judgments, and do them; 20 hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.’

  1. Again, God appealed to His people.  Do you see the pattern that has developed here?  God reveals His goodness to the Hebrews – they know it, but despise it – they continue in sin & idolatry – God has the right to judge, yet He shows mercy.  And this happens over & over & over again throughout Israel’s history.  Their criminal rap sheet is long, and God’s record of mercy is ever longer!
  2. Even when God judged His people, He was merciful.  Vs. 21…

21 “Notwithstanding, the children rebelled against Me; they did not walk in My statutes, and were not careful to observe My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them’; but they profaned My Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My fury on them and fulfill My anger against them in the wilderness. 22 Nevertheless I withdrew My hand and acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the Gentiles, in whose sight I had brought them out. 23 Also I raised My hand in an oath to those in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the Gentiles and disperse them throughout the countries, 24 because they had not executed My judgments, but had despised My statutes, profaned My Sabbaths, and their eyes were fixed on their fathers’ idols.

  1. God did indeed pour out His fury upon the nation as He sentenced them to a 40 year death march through the desert.  An entire generation would die off before God allowed the Hebrews to enter the Promised Land.  And how could God not punish them?  They had profaned His name in the sight of all the world.  If the Gentiles were to know that God is a righteous God, then they would have to see Him apply His justice equally, even among His chosen people – and that is what He did.  (And it is what He still does today!  Christians are often judged more harshly for our sins.  Why?  Because we’re held to a higher standard, and it ought to be so.  We represent the Most High God!)
  2. So 40 years in, and again, we would think the people would be humbled.  That they would have learned their lesson not to sin against the Lord & commit such gross abominations.  Alas, no.  Like a dog returning to its vomit, so did the Hebrews return to their sin over & over again through the times of the judges & the kings.  Vs. 25…

25 “Therefore I also gave them up to statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live; 26 and I pronounced them unclean because of their ritual gifts, in that they caused all their firstborn to pass through the fire, that I might make them desolate and that they might know that I am the LORD.” ’ 27 “Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “In this too your fathers have blasphemed Me, by being unfaithful to Me. 28 When I brought them into the land concerning which I had raised My hand in an oath to give them, and they saw all the high hills and all the thick trees, there they offered their sacrifices and provoked Me with their offerings. There they also sent up their sweet aroma and poured out their drink offerings. 29 Then I said to them, ‘What is this high place to which you go?’ So its name is called Bamah to this day.” ’

  1. That God would give anyone over to their sin is a terrifying thought, yet He did it with His people.  (He does it with people today, as well – Romans 1.)  The history of the judges is downright depressing as the people sin against God, God delivers them to their enemies, the people cry out for mercy, God grants a deliverer, and then the people begin all over again though sinking to an even deeper level of depravity.  By this point in the history of Israel, they were not just worshipping the gods of Egypt, but they were worshipping the gods of the Canaanites (of whom they ought to have destroyed).  This false worship was so depraved that it called for child sacrifice (“firstborn to pass through the fire”), and the Hebrews were so given over to their sin that they actually did it!  (Sin makes us stupid!)  Everywhere you looked, the people erected places of idolatry.  At a certain point the whole land became known as “Bamah,” or “high place of false worship.”
  2. Keep in mind that this was the Promised Land!  This was God’s own chosen nation – and yet they were more famous for their idolatry than for their worship of the True God.  God had repeatedly revealed Himself to His people, and they repeatedly rejected Him.  What option was left to God, other than judgment?
  3. At this point, God turns His attention back to the elders of Israel sitting there with Ezekiel.  They had come to inquire of God, and that’s when God detailed their national criminal history.  But the most galling part of it all was that the nation wasn’t yet done with their crimes.  Even at that moment, while the elders were inquiring of the Lord, the people were continuing in their sinful idolatry and depravity.  Vs. 30…

30 Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Are you defiling yourselves in the manner of your fathers, and committing harlotry according to their abominations? 31 For when you offer your gifts and make your sons pass through the fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols, even to this day. So shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “I will not be inquired of by you. 32 What you have in your mind shall never be, when you say, ‘We will be like the Gentiles, like the families in other countries, serving wood and stone.’

  1. What reason did God have to answer a rebellious people?  What reason does the Lord have to answer prayer from an unrepentant nation?  None.  They plainly wanted to be like the “Gentiles,” to serve their chosen idols of “wood and stone.”  If that’s what they wanted, why should God answer them?
  2. Again, there is only one prayer that needed to be prayed at this point: one of confession & repentance.  Sometimes we get this idea that we can throw Bible promises around like some kind of holy credit card, thinking that God has to honor them no matter what we ourselves might be doing.  How foolish that is!  Think about it: if that is our mindset, then our view of God is not that of a King, but of a servant.  We have given Him a command, believe we have some reason to force Him into it, and expect Him to obey us.  May it never be!  God will not be mocked.  God is God, and we’re not.  God will always honor His word, but God will never be manipulated by it.  We cannot box God in or try to “loophole” Him with a promise that He might have forgotten.  If that’s our mindset, then we ought to remember one other promise that is absolutely clear in the Scripture: James 4:6b, "(6)… God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."  A proud heart is guaranteed to be resisted by the Lord, and thus prayers offered from a prideful person ought to be expected to remain unanswered.
  3. To this proud & rebellious people, God promised judgment.  But He also promised something truly good – He promised them a glorious future.  Vs. 33…

33 “As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you. 34 I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out. 35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face. 36 Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,” says the Lord GOD. 37 “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; 38 I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

  1. Would the Jews experience the judgment of God?  No doubt!  God promised to pour out His “fury” upon them.  The Jews had already experienced a bit of this with the initial waves of Babylonian captivity, but there was another one arriving in a mere 5 years that would truly leave the people “scattered.”  They would be spread among the nations, dispersed among the Gentiles.  But they wouldn’t stay there.  God promised to bring them back!  As much as God would stretch out His arm to scatter the Jews, He would stretch out His arm to regather them.  And more than being reunited as a nation, God promised to be reunited with them as their God.  He said “I will rule over you.”  Finally at long last, God would have the relationship with His people that He had intended from the first.  He promised to rule over them as their King & God.
    1. When will it happen?  The Millennium.  As with many other prophecies, there are parts of this prophecy with a near & future fulfillment.  In the near-term, God would bring them out of Babylon.  Yet we know that historically, the nation of the Jews still did not have true independence.  Their only taste of it would be the Maccabean kingdom, and that was short-lived.  In addition, the nation of the Jews by & large still rejects God as their King today, in that they reject Jesus as their Messiah.  The promise of His rule is yet to be fulfilled, but it will be fulfilled.  Every promise of God is true, including every promise of a future kingdom of Israel with God as the King.
  2. Notice that during the Millennial Kingdom, God will “plead [His] case” with Israel, and they will acknowledge their sin.  The Bible tells us that upon Jesus’ return, the Jews will see Him & mourn over the Messiah they pierced (Zech 12:10).  God will not need to say much for Israel to recognize their sin – all He will need to do is show up!

39 “As for you, O house of Israel,” thus says the Lord GOD: “Go, serve every one of you his idols—and hereafter—if you will not obey Me; but profane My holy name no more with your gifts and your idols.

  1. This seems like a strange command, and it is.  Occasionally, God is known to be sarcastic, and that seems to be the case here.  The nation of Israel had a wonderful future in store for them, but in the meantime, if they were going to disregard God they might as well do it honestly.  Stop riding the fence, pretending as if they were worshipping God, while bowing down to their false idols in private.  Just do it openly, and stop profaning God’s name.
  2. Obviously, God far preferred their repentance.  But repentance needs to be sincere; not a show.  Some people show up for church, put some money into the offering, and think that’s what makes them “good with God” before they go home to continue acting like the world.  That’s just them fooling themselves.  They’d be better off being honest, and acknowledging the fact that they don’t truly worship the Lord at all.  It’s at that point that they can recognize their need, and truly come to Jesus in confession & faith.
  3. Eventually, God knew that Israel would worship Him in truth, which He goes on to proclaim.  Vs. 40…

40 For on My holy mountain, on the mountain height of Israel,” says the Lord GOD, “there all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, shall serve Me; there I will accept them, and there I will require your offerings and the firstfruits of your sacrifices, together with all your holy things. 41 I will accept you as a sweet aroma when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered; and I will be hallowed in you before the Gentiles. 42 Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for which I raised My hand in an oath to give to your fathers. 43 And there you shall remember your ways and all your doings with which you were defiled; and you shall loathe yourselves in your own sight because of all the evils that you have committed. 44 Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have dealt with you for My name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel,” says the Lord GOD.’ ”

  1. To what “holy mountain” did God refer?  Mount Zion.  Ultimately, true worship is not about a physical location (per Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman – Jn 4), but in a real, literal, physical kingdom, there will also be a real, literal, physical temple of worship in Jerusalem.  During the Millennium, God’s people will bring offerings of worship – much of which will be described in greater detail in Ch. 40-48.  The best aroma, however, will not come from the offering of sacrifice, but from the nation itself.  As God says in vs. 41, “I will accept you as a sweet aroma.”  God takes pleasure in His people!  He delights in our heartfelt worship of Him.  He is greatly glorified when we rightly respond to His outpouring of mercy.  That’s what would happen with Israel.  They would see their sins, remember their ways, and “loathe” the things they had done in the past.  IOW, they would truly repent for their history of sin against God, and throw themselves upon God’s mercy and grace –and God would give it freely!  At that point, His people will finally know Him as their Lord, and He will have their sincere worship.
  2. In the end, that is what God desires from us!  He wants our sincere worship.  No more tiptoeing around sin – no more playing half with the world & half with God – no more taking the grace of God for granted.  He wants us to be sold out to Him, fully invested in grace, fully dependent upon Jesus, being filled with the Spirit.  In that, God is truly glorified!

[vss. 45-49 are a sharp change in subject that more likely belongs with Ch. 21.  Remember that chapter breaks are not inspired.  The standard Hebrew text (BHS) actually includes these 5 verses within Ch. 21.  We’ll cover them next week.]

Conclusion:
Israel had quite the history of sin against the Lord.  From their ancient beginnings as a nation coming out of Egypt, to their most recent kings, the Lord’s people repeatedly sinned against the God they claimed to worship.  They may have lost track of their sins (or perhaps wanted to forget), but God knew them…every one.  He listed them off, in order that His people would know the severity of the charges against them & realize that the judgment to come was well-deserved.

We have to know our sin if we are to repent of it.  We cannot confess that which we do not know, or do not agree.  After all, the very idea of “confession” is agreement.  It is to agree with God that our sin is truly sinful.  That’s a hard truth to admit, but it is a necessary starting point.  We cannot turn from sin, if we never acknowledge that we have sinned.

The good news is that God wants to freely forgive us of our sin!  Like Israel, our own individual histories can be described as a terrible cycle & downward spiral.  We commit ourselves to God – start giving into old temptations – fully engage in those things – experience the consequences of our sin – cry out to God – receive His forgiveness, and then start all over again.  At some point, that cycle needs to break.  Instead of returning like a dog to our vomit, let us commit ourselves fully to Christ, freely acknowledging our utter dependency upon Him for all things at all times.

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