The chronological note here suggests a date for this prophecy of July or August 591 B.C. This is the start of a new section and series of messages. The political context of this prophecy was Zedekiah’s foolish and sinful alignment with Egypt against Babylon in hopes of deliverance from Nebuchadnezzar’s attacks. The social context was that of exiled elders coming to Ezekiel to obtain a divine explanation of current events. They wanted to know if Egypt would save Judah from the Babylonians. Normally seeking a message from the Lord is a good thing. But these leaders had already been condemned for their mixed motives, and the Lord would not receive their requests. Nowhere do we see the question they asked Ezekiel, but it is possible they never even were allowed to ask their question. And, just because the Lord would not answer their question did not mean He had nothing to say to them. From verses 4-26 Ezekiel paraded the detestable character of their ancestors before their eyes. Each generation of the Israelites rebelled against the Lord and refused to obey the commandments He gave them. Each time, the Lord threatened to pour out His fury on them, but He relented for the honor of HIS name lest the surrounding nations would think His power was insufficient to bring His people into the promised land. Because of the people’s disobedience and their refusal to keep His laws, statutes, and commandments, God determined to scatter them among all the nations.
Over and over God warned His people to return and repent, to leave their idols behind, and obey His laws…but they refused. Worse yet, they passed their detestable habits down to the following generations. Occasionally there was a judge or later a faithful king who would bring the people back to worshiping the Lord, but that lasted only as long as that king lived, and then the people went right back to their idol worship. Eventually God allowed the people of Israel to exercise their depravity in the rituals of pagan and idol worship, and to suffer all of the consequences that came for their disobedience. It was so horrible that many of the Israelites were giving their firstborn children as offerings to the pagan god Molech. This exactly reversed the exodus which freed the Israelites, the Lord’s first born son to offer pure worship in the Promised Land. However, God took them to the Promised Land, defeated their enemies and gave them the best of everything. In return the people gave the Lord indifference, hollow worship, and disobedience. Their idolatry and wickedness continued to blaspheme the Lord even to Ezekiel’s day. These people would receive no answer from the Lord. God had imposed limited judgement before, but His people did not repent or return to Him. That would not be the end of the story though. The honor of God’s name required that He fulfill His promises despite His people’s sin. Israel could never be like the nations all around who served idols of wood and stone. God had chosen them to be His and He would bring them back into the wilderness in a new exodus. But remember, an entire generation died in the wilderness after the first exodus because of their sins. God would judge and purge this generation in the wilderness and that wilderness would be their final resting place.
The people might continue to worship idols but in the end they would worship God in spirit and in truth on His holy mountain when the temple is restored. God’s purpose in choosing Israel to be a holy nation would ultimately stand. The people would be a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord. The result of the second exodus would be pure worship offered by a pure people who were saved by sovereign Grace. This parable was like a prophecy that both reveals and conceals its message. The people complained that Ezekiel spoke in riddles. He revealed the coming of an all consuming judgement, the fire that would burn up every tree, but he also concealed who is being judged. The fire of judgement would be so intense that it would burn everything, dry trees and green alike.
Chapter 21 is called a sword song, or Babylon, the sword of God. There are six references to a sword, which in each case depicts God’s judgement in His people. The sword refers to Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon…and the judgement would be complete. No one would escape its devastating effect, not even the righteous in the land. In reality, the Lord was the fundamental enemy Israel had to fear because He was about to unleash an all encompassing judgement against it. You would think only the wicked would be punished and the righteous would escape disaster but this is the picture of the green tree and the dry tree, both of whom would be consumed in the fire. Ezekiel’s groaning showed that in the coming judgement the boldest hearts would melt and the strongest knees would become weak. What had already been prophesied would now become a bitter reality. The sword, Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, are pictured as ready and moving swiftly. Sharpening and polishing a sword prepared for deadly effectiveness. By crying out, wailing, and striking his thigh Ezekiel added physical gestures to his message. Israel had failed a test and the sword would strike God’s people, specifically the rulers, and because of their failure to lead the people to the Lord, they would rule no more.
As the representative of the Lord, Ezekiel was to clap his hands in a threatening gesture and take the sword and brandish it…three times…to represent the completeness of the coming massacre. There would be nowhere to hide from God’s judgement, and He was ready to satisfy His fury by destroying His people. Their hearts would melt at the terror. The sword of the Lord was not a metaphor. It would take shape as the sword of king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Ezekiel drew a map showing Nebuchadnezzar’s two possible campaign objectives; Rabbah the capital of Ammon, and Jerusalem capital of Judah. Rabbah was called Philadelphia in the New Testament era and today it is known as Amman, the capital of Jordan. Omens were supposedly signs from the gods that were obtained by divination. It seems that arrows were labeled, put into a quiver, and then drawn out, one with each hand. The right hand selection was seen as the good omen. This was another way of casting lots. And, inspecting the color and configurations of sheep livers to foretell the future was a common practice in both Babylon and Rome. Their treaty with the Babylonians would not save Judah or Jerusalem because they rebelled against Babylon. If there were consequences because of this, how much more would there be when they rebelled against the Lord. The judgement would end with Zedekiah, the wicked and corrupt prince of Israel, as well as the people. The fact that Ezekiel identifies Zedekiah by title and not by name indicates that his office was also under judgement. He would be stripped of the emblems of royalty and brought low, while the Lord exalted the truly lowly.
Some look at the coming judge as the Messiah, but it’s most likely that this is a reference to the Babylonians. God temporarily took away the scepter from Judah because Israel’s rulers had sinned, but He would eventually give it back. While the Ammonites may have rejoiced when Babylon went after Judah and Jerusalem, they too were among the wicked for whom the final day of reckoning had come. Eventually the sword would come to rest but God would use it against Babylon as well.
Ezekiel then turned his attention to Jerusalem, the holy city where God had placed His name, the spiritual heart of Judah. It had been corrupted and defiled and instead of being filled with God it was filled with bloodshed. God’s wrath would fall on the city. Chapter 22 is like a court scene with Ezekiel playing the role of the prosecutor. He read the indictment against Jerusalem that would bring about its judgement. The charges include the blood they had shed, and the making of idols. These made the city guilty, liable to judgement , and unfit to appear in the presence of the holy God. All of the charges were drawn on God’s laws, especially Leviticus 18-20, and 25:1-55. Israel’s many sins represented a wider failure to honor and trust the Lord and His commands. Now they would experience the covenant curses found in Deuteronomy 8:19-29 and 28:15-68. All of the sins mentioned in verse 11 were specifically forbidden in Mosaic low. First God clapped His hands and then He poured out judgement. He would scatter the people of Judah among the nations to purge them of their wickedness. This would dishonor Him because it looked like He was unable to give them what He had promised. But in the end God was willing to endure this dishonor so that His forgetful people could learn to remember Him. However, scattering the people wasn’t the only part of judgement. God would gather the people in Jerusalem for judgement as metal is gathered into a smelters furnace. This refining fire would not yield a purified remnant. Since only worthless slag or dross would go into the furnace, only molten, useless dross would come out. This judgement would not cleanse the people but would destroy everything in its path. Jerusalem would remain polluted. Jerusalem’s leaders did not escape judgement. The princes had abused their power by killing innocent people and seizing their wealth. The priests had sinned by not teaching the people the law so that they could distinguish between the holy and the profane, clean and unclean. The prophets had announced false visions instead of a true word from the Lord. This resulted in the rest of the people going astray for lack of guidance. In response to the sins of the leaders the Lord looked for someone to stand in the gap as a true prophet, someone who would intercede for the people like Moses did after the people sinned with the golden calf. But He found no one to deflect His wrath so His fury would now be poured out on the people in full strength.
Chapter 23 is much like chapter 16 in that it describes the history of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the form of an extended metaphor. This chapter graphically depicts Samaria and Jerusalem as two immoral women and emphasizes that their judgement was inevitable and well deserved. They were daughters of the same mother, descendants of the same nation, their lives basically parallel. They became prostitutes by worshiping false gods. Samaria is the older, Jerusalem the younger. The northern kingdom was fascinated by the Assyrians and their power. Alliances with them were part of Israel’s political strategy from the 800’s BC. In the end this did not keep Israel safe. In fact the opposite happened and Assyria over ran Israel in 722 B.C., and its people were dispersed throughout the Assyrian empire. What Samaria did was well known, especially in Jerusalem. But Jerusalem followed in her sisters footsteps, and worse. Jerusalem made alliances with both Assyria and Babylon. And there was a consistent and ever deepening spiritual adultery.
When Jerusalem thought about Egypt they didn’t remember the Lord’s deliverance but the pleasures they enjoyed there. Jerusalem’s depravity made God’s judgement inevitable. The very nations she courted would abuse and finally destroy her. And because her sins were worse, her judgement would be as well. Stripping an adulterous wife, exposing in public what she had done in private, was a common punishment for adultery. The Babylonians would strip Jerusalem and Judah of everything valuable and expose them to their own shame. Jerusalem would drink from their own cup of judgement just as Samaria had. In verses 37-43 Ezekiel once again took on the role of prosecutor whose task was to confront Jerusalem with her sins which were detailed in chapter 22. No longer were Samaria and Jerusalem holy cities. They had become like worn out prostitutes whose only attractiveness was their availability. The sisters enemies would stone them like adulteresses and kill them with swords. Those who rebelled against the Lord and pursued idolatry would suffer the full penalty of death.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W