Over recent studies we have been looking at the first ‘official’ tasks of the prophet’s ministry, which were all about the rebellion of Israel over 390 years and the siege of Jerusalem.
Now, we begin to look at chapter 7, the last part of this prophecy. Our reading: Ezekiel 7:1-4:
The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to the land of Israel:
The end! The end has come
upon the four corners of the land!
The end is now upon you,
and I will unleash my anger against you.
I will judge you according to your conduct
and repay you for all your detestable practices.
I will not look on you with pity;
I will not spare you.
I will surely repay you for your conduct
and for the detestable practices among you.
Then you will know that I am the Lord.’
You can see that the prophecy has moved from talking only about those in Jerusalem to now addressing the whole land. The time for it’s existence has come to an end, and indeed it did not exist at all for a generation.
There are a few things that I want to point out from this scripture, and how it relates to the context.
The first thing is, once again, to remind ourselves that the Lord is very patient and very loving. He is a Father to his people, and a true and good father does not punish every little thing that his child does wrong. He sometimes does not even speak out, because some things are just mistakes, or a temporary phase in the process of childhood. Not every sin is a ‘big deal’ and so a good father leads through love and teaches by example.
One of the most important examples to show is that of patience and unconditional love. It is now recognised that impatience in many people is as a result of impatience demonstrated during childhood by one or other of the parents. It certainly is not only the father that can be impatient! This is not a word only for men!
But now, what if the child starts wanting to spend more time in a neighbour’s house than his or her own home? And what if that child begins to call the neighbour ‘father’ instead of the real father. And what if the neighbour asks the child to do bad things? Don’t you think that some intervention is in order?
God did not burst in all angry, steam bursting from his ears and nostrils, red in the face, shouting and violent. He knocked on the door and asked his children when they were coming home. He reminded them that there was good food on the table waiting for them at home, that their beds were comfortable and warm. He was not going to curse his own children, but wanted to bring them home to himself. How different this is to the way some preachers teach us about God, as though he is an angry god waiting for the first opportunity to squash us like bugs.
No, God is not like that. He is a truly loving Father. He is patient and his desire is to care for his family and to restore those who stray. It took many generations, many lifetimes, before the Lord intervened physically. Before touching his own people, he would judge the false prophets and priests of the false gods (read of the slaughter at Mount Carmel in the time of Elijah). But his own people who were misguided, he sought to restore to himself.
To unleash his anger on his own people, on his own children, was not his first thought. It was his last resort. But he was very clear about how his anger was directed and why. Even the way that he revealed his anger is very different from human anger. When a man becomes very angry, often he also begins to lose control of the things he says and then of the things he does. He may regret his words and his actions afterwards, and sadly he can’t unsay the words or undo the deeds. Friendships have been lost this way, and marriages broken this way. The ‘sins’ that brought on the anger are then overshadowed by the anger itself, and you realise too late that there should have been another way to deal with the problem…
And that is because men and women are not like God. They will not wait 390 years before finally allowing some anger to be released. They are not in control the way God controls his anger. They are not patient the way that God is patient. And they do not clearly describe the very thing that is making them angry and why, with love and patience, to the person who is offending them, and all the time holding back the anger.
God had already told the Israelites many times about the way He felt about the things that were happening.
- He had judged against the false prophets before the Israelites, and they would not listen.
- He destroyed the priests of the false gods more than once, and the Israelites would not listen.
- He judged their kings and queens, princes and princesses, in the sight of the people when they chose evil for Israel, but the people would not listen.
- He sent his prophets to warn of times of famine because of the sin, and he fulfilled his promises, and yet the people did not listen.
- He brought war against them, with disastrous consequences sometimes, and still they did not listen.
- He brought sickness, financial ruin, and many other things, and yet they still did not turn back to Him.
Finally he had only one thing left to do: to release his anger. Nothing can stand before God and His anger. This destroys. It is finished for the nation, because the anger of God destroys. God is very specific here in the reasons for his anger, and the fact that these reasons have continued for many years and many generations. His anger was against their conduct, their rebellion, their detestable practices (which included self mutilation and the sacrifice of children). He was bringing an end to the idolatry and the false gods. If it means to cleanse the land of the people so that there would be no-one left to honour the false gods, then so be it. But there was to be a remnant…
This remnant would recognise why all this happened. They would recognise that it is God and that it was because of rebellion and sin over a very long period that he did this.
From this also, it should be seen that if things do not go right in your life, it is not automatically a sign that ‘god is not with you.’ Neither is it automatically a sign that you or anyone else is ‘in sin.’ God is patient, and it is people that are not. This is the basic misunderstanding.
Another is this feeling, inherited from the pagan belief in fate, that God micro-controls absolutely everything. He does not. The world is a system in itself, and God created it that way. And this system has volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, lightning, and so on. None of these things should be thought of, automatically, as God’s judgement.
Also God created the living things on earth with freedom of choice and their own reasoning. Sometimes people just get it very wrong, and this causes problems and even suffering for many other people. This does not mean God’s judgement or that the devil is after you.
We are too quick to turn God into something that he is not. We are too quick to give the devil glory.
God can use these things if he wishes to. But there tends to be a lot of warning given first. Israel had 390 years of warnings, and not only through the prophets. So if he was thinking of zapping your home with lightning or a tornado or a flood because you deserve judgement, don’t you think that maybe he will tell you first that you deserve his judgement for what you have been doing? It is not a good enough answer to say that he already told us, because of the words in the bible. Even devout Christians often miss what god is saying to them in the bible. We still have prophecy today, and signs, and indications and warnings.
This is a whole huge area that is a mess in the minds of some believers, and maybe I should write a book… It is an area so open to abuse by heavy leadership, bringing condemnation and legalism instead of joy and freedom and love.
Love is too often the missing element in the church today. Love is also too often the missing element in the interpretation of scripture. Yes, today’s scripture is about judgement. But the context and the timing still reveals that we have a god who is a good father to his children, and who dearly loves them. Let us never lose sight of that beautiful fact.