We have been looking at the last part of Ezekiel’s first prophetic messages, the prophecies against the besieged city of Jerusalem. The siege that was not going to end well. It is not comfortable or easy reading, and there seems a lot of repetition of the same negative and frightening aspects. And yet, within these words are many positive things to learn about our God and about ourselves.
For this study we continue to look at chapter 7, and so our reading is Ezekiel 7:23-27:
For the land is full of bloodshed,
and the city is full of violence.
I will bring the most wicked of nations
to take possession of their houses.
I will put an end to the pride of the mighty,
and their sanctuaries will be desecrated.
When terror comes,
they will seek peace in vain.
Calamity upon calamity will come,
and rumour upon rumour.
They will go searching for a vision from the prophet,
priestly instruction in the law will cease,
the counsel of the elders will come to an end.
The king will mourn,
the prince will be clothed with despair,
and the hands of the people of the land will tremble.
I will deal with them according to their conduct,
and by their own standards I will judge them.
Then they will know that I am the Lord.
With these words we have the final part of this prophecy against Jerusalem. As is Ezekiel’s style, there are many things that are repeated from before, and more in the same vein. Terror, bloodshed, fear and violence. God saying that he will have no mercy or pity. And of course this is the kind of writing in the scriptures that encourages the kind of preaching by some of an angry god that we need to be frightened of. The sort of words to bring us to obedience through fear.
But, of course, we have the scriptural instruction regarding fear: that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. And from this scripture we have a multitude of people proudly declaring themselves to be god-fearing people.
I will not compromise from my standpoint on this, one that has come through a life of increasing knowledge of the Lord my Father: that it is better to be able to declare yourself a God-loving and God-loved person. Too often, in some Christian circles, a word from the text in Proverbs is either ignored or not understood. So let’s see it again: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
What does the word ‘beginning’ mean? Are you meant to stay at the beginning or to move onwards? A baby’s crying is the beginning of communication, but if that was still the prominent feature 20 years later everyone would understand that there was something seriously wrong. And to proudly scream like a newborn and show the world as though you are the best communicator…? And so it is equally silly to declare that you have great wisdom simply because you have fear of God. There is much more to wisdom than that!
A baby’s crying is the beginning of communication, but it is not proper 2-way meaningful communication. In fact, you have to guess sometimes what is going on. Full nappy or wet? Hungry? Stomach aches? Scared? Just need a hug? And so there is the need to check and find out. But development means that the child can begin to tell the parent what the problem is, and communication becomes 2-way. You expect things to move on, and the crying even gets left behind.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I would suggest that the same fate should be expected with fear as we expect with the baby crying communication – that it becomes a thing of the past, and to return to it indicates a problem that needs dealing with.
The real message, through the whole of this very harsh prophecy, is that judgement arrived in this way as a last resort. The Lord has been patient and sending his prophets and smaller consequences for 390 years. He did not want to destroy his chosen people, but rather to care for them as a Father cares for his children. The real message is of the Lord’s distress, the broken heart of one who truly loves. And if the Israelites had stayed in that love, there would never have been a reason to fear. We are told in the New Testament that in love there is no fear, that perfect love casts out fear.
So again, I would say, that if your main statement about yourself is that you are a god-fearing person, then there is something not right about your relationship with the Lord. Maybe you need to re-examine the love, that great love that led Jesus to accept being made human, and to accept being put to death, and to take upon himself the price for our sins.
Having done a set of studies recently on the Sermon on the Mount, I was interested in how a part of our text reflects something that Jesus said himself: that the Lord will judge according to the people’s own standards. He will deal with them according to their conduct and judge them by their own standards.
Their standards had not been merciful. Those who were godly were treated badly, and those who led the people astray and encouraged evil practices were treated well. There were reports of cruelty without mercy, torture, and taking delight in the suffering of others.
Read through the later parts of the books of Kings or Chronicles, and also read the books of the prophets who were sent at that time. You will find numerous reports of the kinds of ways that people behaved, with cruelty and with selfish hearts. They cared only for their own pleasure and comfort, and some of their pleasure was in the suffering of others. They were also quick and harsh in their judgements of others, not showing mercy. So our text tells us that all of this will fall back on their own heads. They will become victim to the same standards that they were treating others. Their own harshness in judgement will be poured out on them.
It reminds me of the words of Paul in Romans, where he talks about how foolish it is for you to point the finger of judgement at others, because you reveal your own guilt in that, in God’s eyes, you are guilty of doing the same things. Romans 2:1 “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgement on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same things.”
So, as soon as I saw the words in our text that reminded me of the words of Jesus, I was also reminded of these words of Paul. From these things, I feel that we have a clear choice between two paths. We can either walk in judgement, or we can walk in love. We can either walk in the ‘fear of God’ and put the fear of God into everyone else – which of course will enforce the chains of legalism and restriction (notice the mention of chains at the beginning of today’s text). Or we can walk in the love of the Lord, which casts out fear and helps to grow within us a deep love for everyone.
This love should be practical, not just emotional, and be meeting people’s needs. Love, as we are told, in 1 Corinthians 13, covers a multitude of sins – and therefore in love there is no room for pointing the finger or judging others. Love leaves you free to be who you are, and to reveal, without fear, the person who God is making you to be.
Does that mean sin continues? No, it is not a licence to sin. But as soon as you focus on the sin that you see in others, you have crossed over the line that separates these two paths, these two choices. By a focus on sin, the eyes are cast down on the earthly and the carnal. How much better to have the focus on the one who loves us, gave himself for us, and who wants to love the world through us today. As Paul said elsewhere: as he was, so are we in the world.
What a privilege and what love!