We are entering a portion of the Book of Ezekiel, chapters 12-24, that is a collection of diverse prophecies, oracles of judgement, parables, and sign acts that are united in their condemnation of Jerusalem and her leaders. Chapter 12 gives us signs of the coming exile. Ezekiel tells us that the inhabitants of Judah were not the only ones who had hearts of stone and were reluctant to hear his message. The exiles in Babylon among whom Ezekiel lived were also rebellious people who would refuse to see that their ways were evil. They too would refuse to listen to Ezekiel. Their hardness of heart would last over a year. As God had done with Ezekiel before, He gave him another visual demonstration, warning the captives already in exile that they should not expect a quick return to Jerusalem. He had already shown them that the city would fall and those not killed would be led into exile. Ezekiel was to dig a hole through the wall of his house as though he was trying to sneak out of the city without being noticed, something Zedekiah tried to do later. When Zedekiah did leave Jerusalem he covered his face so that he would not be able to see, or be seen and identified. This did not work and he along with the others of his family were not successful in escaping. He was forced to watch as his sons were murdered and then Zedekiah’s eyes were gouged out and he was led to Babylon in chains. Ezekiel was a sign to his audience in Babylon as he both verbally and symbolically foretold the fate of the Jews still living in Jerusalem. Keep in mind that what happened to Zedekiah was not just due to the Babylonians. The Lord wanted to capture Zedekiah in His trap. Ezekiel explained to the exiles that their difficult situation did have a purpose. God would use it to demonstrate that He was a personal, caring Lord. The purpose of the exile was corrective and instructive with the Lord saying, then they will know that He is the Lord…the one and only and they didn’t need idols or foreign gods. The few that God did spare would confess all of their detestable sins to their captors, not necessarily in repentance but in recognition that the Lord had acted justly against them. Through all of this God’s people would learn He is both holy and loving. Sin offended Him, but He was still willing to reach out to restore the sinner.
Ezekiel was to demonstrate and declare God’s warning about the devastating conditions that would befall the people in Judah and Jerusalem. Trembling and shaking while eating and drinking was a sign that reflected the terrible anxiety of the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem as they saw their inevitable doom approaching. When the exiles realized that their former homeland had been destroyed, they would see they were not just castoffs from God’s plan. Instead, they were the fortunate ones who had escaped God’s comprehensive judgement. The rest of chapter 12 and all of chapter 13 deals with the issue of true and false prophets. Those Ezekiel prophesied to were so reluctant to open their ears to his message they made their own proverb to express their skepticism. In response, God made a new proverb for the people. He used similar words but with an opposite meaning. The people countered with a second proverb which the Lord also countered. Ezekiel was instructed to assure these people that there would be no more waiting. Judgement would begin.
The fundamental difference between true and false prophets was that false prophets were inventing their own prophecies, while true prophets spoke the Word of the Lord. Now, these false prophets would receive a word from the Lord about their own destruction. Great sorrow awaited these deceived and deceiving messengers. The false prophets are compared to jackals digging in the ruins to prey on the small animals living there. The false prophets did not repair the breaks in the walls by calling the people who were suffering at the hands of the Babylonians to repent, live holy lives, and fight evil. Instead they gained prestige and maybe money by telling lies that encouraged the people to continue to rebel. These false prophets were actually breaking down more walls rather than building them up. These false prophets knew their words were lies and false predictions but they confidently expected God to fulfill them. This brought false hope to the people of Judah and Jerusalem that there would be no more suffering or judgement. These false prophets desire for personal safety would end up being counter productive because they would be banished from the community and would never again set foot in their own land. They predicted peace when there would be none and they would whitewash their lies. The people’s righteousness was a flimsy wall in danger of collapse. This was nothing more than an external touch up, but God would send a heavy rainstorm that would wash away the whitewash and expose their lies. This would be the great flood of God’s anger. And, there would be no peace in sight.
To make matters even worse, there weren’t just male false prophets. Women were false prophets too. Just like the men, they prophesied from their own imaginations. While the men used conventional methods of prophecy, the women used magical techniques involving charms and veils. They were motivated by personal gain, seeking a few handfuls of grain or a piece of bread. Those still in Judah and Jerusalem were slowly starving to death. These women promised life and death, but to the wrong people. The false women prophets did not define who qualified for life or death in the way God did, so their ministry discouraged the righteous by making them feel that their obedience was in vain. It also encouraged the wicked to believe that they could continue in theirs sins without penalty. Ultimately, both the wicked and the righteous were caught in a snare. That meant both groups had false ideas about God.
Once again the leaders of the exiled community came to visit Ezekiel, most likely looking for encouragement. But the exiles were tainted with the same sins as those still in Judah and Jerusalem. The exiles were still just going through the motions when they worshiped the Lord. When they looked at the Babylonians, the temptation was to look at all their military victories and believe their true power lay in their false gods and idols instead of with the Lord. Ezekiel reminded them that when seeking advice from the Lord their only action should be to repent. The Lord would not answer the people through a false prophet with a word of divine guidance. The Lord would answer them directly with a terrible act of judgement. He would eliminate them from among His people. No longer would they have the benefit of the true covenant community, the only place where true life is to be found. Both the false prophets and the rebellious people would be punished for their sins. In truth, the goal of God’s judgement was not the total destruction of the exiles, but their salvation. God wanted His people to learn not to stray from the Him.
It isn’t like Israel had been unjustly singled out for punishment and judgement. Any country sinning against the Lord would be judged and punished. It was worse for Israel because the covenant with the Lord was broken. The covenant curses, the result of breaking covenant promises are listed in Leviticus 26: famine, wild animals, war, and disease. Jerusalem’s persistent unfaithfulness was so offensive to God that not even the presence of spiritual giants could stay the consequences of their disobedience. Compare this to Jeremiah 15:1 where the names of Moses and Samuel were invoked in a similar manner. Noah, Daniel, and Job were each known for standing firm in the midst of a wicked generation. If anyone could hold God’s judgement at bay, they could. However, God assured the people even these giants of faith could not help them. God had made up His mind. Judgement would happen and punishment was coming. Jerusalem was worse off than the hypothetical country in verses 12-20 in two ways. Jerusalem did not have Noah, Daniel, or Job. Instead they had a city filled with unrighteous people. And second, the city would not be hit with one of the four plagues, the consequences of breaking the covenant. They would suffer all four curses. It is not surprising that all her people and animals would be destroyed. There would be some survivors and they would join the other people already in exile. They would survive not because of their righteousness but simply as an object lesson for those in exile. When the exiles saw the depravity of this remnant they would feel better about what God had done to Jerusalem. The people would know that God is the Lord.
Lastly comes the parable of the outcast vine. The wood of a tree can be used to make all kinds of useful objects, pegs being the simplest and most basic. But a vines wood has no strength, size, or beauty. It is useless even for pegs and it is not even good for fuel because it burns too quickly. Vines are completely useless. Vines have but line use..to bear grapes. God had designed the people of Israel for a specific purpose, to bring glory to His name by living faithfully to His covenant and by bringing the nations to the knowledge of the Lord. Instead, Israel had become like the nations around them. They had been unfaithful and they failed to trust God’s promises. The people of Jerusalem were like grapevines. If they grow among the trees of the forest, they do not bear fruit because they lack sufficient sunlight. Now they faced the fire of destruction and anyone who had escaped from one fire of God’s judgement, most likely a reference to the defeat of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C., would simply fall into a different fire of judgement. This was a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Jerusalem and Judah had worshiped idols instead of faithfully serving the Lord and this behavior broke the covenant between the Lord and His people. The result was that the land would become desolate. This was the news Ezekiel had to share with God’s people.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W