On August 14, 591 BC, some of the elders in exile came to Ezekiel’s house to inquire of the Lord. They were claiming that they wanted insight as to how they should behave in the future. In effect, they were asking, “Show us the way to walk in, and we will walk there.”
Once again, “the word of the Lord came to” Ezekiel as these men sat before him. The picture is reminiscent of what we read in Chapter 14.
The Lord told Ezekiel to let the elders know that He knows what is in their hearts. Why do they pretend to want to know the way to walk in when their hearts refuse to do so? They are asking amiss, as double-minded men. They listen but are doubters when it comes to implementing the revealed will of God (James 1:6-8).
Ezekiel 20:3 3 “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Do you come to inquire of Me? As I live,” declares the Lord GOD, “I will not be inquired of by you.”
Once again, the Lord asks Ezekiel to confront these men with their sins. Their sins are as detestable as the sins of their fathers.
Ezekiel 20:31 31 “When you offer your gifts, when you cause your sons to pass through the fire, you are defiling yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live,” declares the Lord GOD, “I will not be inquired of by you.”
The Lord gives a full account of Israel’s history in which the works and the ways of the Lord were made known to them, and yet the people refused to honor those works and those ways. Therefore, the time of judgment has already arrived.
In this prophecy, the Lord discloses both His anger against sin and His desire to show Himself holy among them and in the sight of the nations (20:41). He also intends to show His faithfulness to His Word. He will not leave the guilty unpunished, but He will honor His covenant promise given to Abraham. He will restore His people to the land when they repent (20:43).
Chapter 20 begins the final section of judgments concerning the fall of Judah and Jerusalem (20:1-24:27). As we have read repeatedly in the earlier chapters, the Lord says He is sending these judgments “that they may know that I am who I say I am (the Lord God).”
The Lord recounts the history of the Jews from the Exodus (20:5-9). He makes known His ways and His works from their wilderness days up until Sinai (20:10-14) ‘yet the people of Israel rebelled’ against the Lord (20:13). He makes known His ways and His works in their years of wandering (20:15-22), swearing with uplifted hand that they would not enter the Promised Land due to their unbelief. He promised to hold them to account. “But the children rebelled against me” (Ezek 20:21). Only Joshua and Caleb and those twenty years and under were allowed to enter the land.
The Lord recalls their desecration of the Sabbaths and their failure to honor His decrees. Why should He answer their request to know His ways when they have no intention of following His laws or keeping His decrees? (20:13-26)
He promises to disperse them among the nations if they continue to rebel.
The Lord expressed his anger towards their blasphemous idol worship:
Ezekiel 20:29 29 “Then I said to them, ‘What is the high place to which you go?’ So, its name is called Bamah to this day.”‘
(The name Bamah means high places and refers to the cultic pagan altars that the people of Judah built instead of worshiping the Lord in spirit and in truth.)
There are multiple references to the Sabbath in this chapter. The people had failed to keep the Sabbath. Israel and Judah owed God at least seventy sabbatical years up until the exile (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10). So the Lord would extract them by giving them seventy years of captivity in Babylon.
Jeremiah 25:11-12 11 ‘This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 ‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the LORD, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation.’
Jeremiah 29:10 10 “For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.”
2 Chronicles 36:20-21 20 Those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept the sabbath until seventy years were complete.
The Babylonian Empire lasted only 70 years as a world power. Babylon’s reign over Judah began in 609 BC with the death of Josiah. Babylon ended its reign as a world power when the kingdom was defeated by the Medo-Persians in 539 B. During those 70 years, the land back home in Judah received its sabbaticals!
God was using Babylon as His instrument to discipline Judah. God’s activity as the One Who Provides Discipline shows that He is no idol of stone!
As the Lord promises to execute judgment, He uses the analogy of His people passing under His Shepherd’s Rod. At the end of the day, when the sheep are coming back into the fold from the pasture, they pass under the shepherd’s rod for inspection. The shepherd can seize and scrutinize the sheep for infestation or bodily damage before it goes in with the rest. It speaks of special discipline and Shepherdly care.
Ezekiel 20:37-38 37 “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; 38 and I will purge from you the rebels and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they will not enter the land of Israel. Thus, you will know that I am the LORD.
Verse 39 reminds us of ‘the judgment of abandonment’ that we read about in the Book of Romans (Romans 1:24-28) when the Lord gives people up to their own appetites. He gives them up to their desires for immorality. Here the Lord says: “Go and serve your idols!” (Ezek 20:39).
Ezekiel 20:39-40 “but later you will surely listen to Me, and My holy name you will profane no longer with your gifts and with your idols. 40 “For on My holy mountain, on the high mountain of Israel,” declares the Lord GOD, “there the whole house of Israel, all of them, will serve Me in the land; there I will accept them and there I will seek your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your holy things.”
The Lord speaks of the purification that will have taken place when the Hebrews would return to the land (20:40-44). The ‘time out’ in Babylon seems to have cured them of their pagan idolatry.
The Lord pictures a future day of restoration through repentance. Salvation is coming for Israel.
Ezekiel 20:43 43 “There you will remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for all the evil things that you have done.”
The Chapter closes with a call for judgment (20:45-49). As a sign of the coming purge, Ezekiel was to turn to the south toward Teman and prophesy against it. He is speaking of fire coming to Jerusalem.
Ezekiel 20:45-48 45 Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 46 “Son of man, set your face toward Teman, and speak out against the south and prophesy against the forest land of the Negev, 47 and say to the forest of the Negev, ‘Hear the word of the LORD: thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am about to kindle a fire in you, and it will consume every green tree in you, as well as every dry tree; the blazing flame will not be quenched and the whole surface from south to north will be burned by it. 48 “All flesh will see that I, the LORD, have kindled it; it shall not be quenched.”
In this section of Chapter 9, we see Jesus, the High Priest, fulfilling everything that was foreshadowed in the earthly sanctuary. He serves a ‘greater’ and ‘more perfect’ sanctuary than the tabernacle in the wilderness. He entered into the true innermost chamber, the Holiest of all, in the presence of God the Father, once and for all, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood. In doing so, He provided a perfect once-and-for-all sacrifice.
The writer explains that the last will and testament is only put into action when the testator dies. Now that Jesus has died, all that was left to his beneficiaries is made available. Gentiles become indirect, or joint-, beneficiaries of this covenant that is made with Israel through faith in the Promised Seed of Abraham.
What wonderful benefits! Our consciences are cleansed, and we can rest in the finished work of Christ that secures our forgiveness and acceptance by God. The covenant promises are ratified and released by the blood of Christ.
Hebrews 9:22 22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
All of that which was prefigured in the sacrifices in the earthly tabernacle has come to pass in Christ’s finished work of redemption. The New Covenant is a reality established forever.
The writer reminds us that Jesus wants to make His present ministry known to us. He also wants us to be ready for His coming.
Hebrews 9:27-28 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
The Psalmist has a story of being redeemed, and he is about to tell us about the redemption of His people in song.
The Psalmist proceeds to recount the many mercies that have been shown to God’s redeemed people throughout their history. In their wandering, in their hunger, in their thirst, in their trouble and distress, the Lord came through!
Even when the Lord had to discipline them for their transgressions, He answered when they called out to Him and brought them out of their deepest gloom!
Psalm 107:15 15 Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men!
Even when they became fools and suffered affliction due to their foolish rebellion, the Lord saved them from their distress when they cried out to Him in their trouble.
Psalm 107:20-21 20 He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. 21 Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men!
Whether on land or at sea (107:23-30), God has proven Himself to be faithful to answer when His people cry out to Him, even when they are at their ‘wit’s end’ (v.27).
Psalm 107:31 31 Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men!
The Psalmist recounts the power of the Lord to dry up or provide water to the land, to cause famine or fruitfulness. The wise recognize the goodness of the Lord.
Psalm 107:43 43 Who is wise? Let him give heed to these things, and consider the lovingkindnesses of the LORD.
TODAY’S READING FROM THE BOOK OF PROVERBS – PROVERBS 27:11
Proverbs 27:11 11 Be wise, my son, and make my heart glad, that I may reply to him who reproaches me.
Every father takes joy in a son who walks in wisdom. We can rejoice in the fact that we are ‘in Christ’, the Son who brings joy to the Father on our behalf.
(from “Operation World Prayer Guide” p. 788-789)
The population in the North is largely Sunni Muslim, though among them are 200,00 or more Coptic Christians.
Increasing numbers of Muslims are turning to Jesus, in some cases, even entire villages. They are often disillusioned by Islam and attracted to Jesus. The openness among many is remarkable, and believers from Muslim backgrounds number in the tens of thousands. But millions remain virtually unreached by the gospel.
Khartoum is a booming conurbation of approximately seven million inhabitants, including the vast shantytowns on the outskirts, which consist mostly of displaced Nuba Mountain, Darfurian and southern populations. Poverty and deprivation are widespread, and Christians are often subjected to harassment, destruction of church buildings, and discriminatory taxes and laws. Khartoum actually has a higher Christian presence than any other northern city but remains dominated by Islam.
PRAYER: Gracious Father, in Your Holy Word, we see that You know us through and through. Those whom You love, You discipline. In Your faithfulness, You afflict us and teach us, treating us as your sons and daughters. You do this out of Your goodness and for Your glory. We thank You for the perfect mediator, our great High Priest, and representative, the Lord Jesus Christ. We can enjoy the benefits of the New Covenant because of His perfect work of redemption. Give us an ear to hear our Shepherd’s voice today and follow through with acts of obedience. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.