In the previous study we began to look at the prophesy against the false prophets of Israel. I shared how this spoke to me in relation with the teaching of Jesus about false prophets, and also how we are to treat each other as children of the Father. Not judging one another, but encouraging one another.
Continuing our reading from this prophecy:
‘Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace”, when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?”
‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: in my wrath I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. I will tear down the wall you have covered with whitewash and will level it to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you will be destroyed in it; and you will know that I am the Lord. So I will pour out my wrath against the wall and against those who covered it with whitewash. I will say to you, “The wall is gone and so are those who whitewashed it, those prophets of Israel who prophesied to Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her when there was no peace, declares the Sovereign Lord.’
I don’t know about you, but to me this prophecy brings to mind a lot of the teaching of Jesus. Many ask questions about the differences between the way that God is presented in the old and new testaments, but there is actually a lot to show that this is the same God in the old testament as we can see in the new testament.
This prophecy, although specifically against false prophets, is part of a series of prophecies against Jerusalem and about the judgement of God that was about to come. As I have said before, it is too easy to focus on the judgement and to forget that the Lord was patient with Israel for 390 years. So, in balance, can we truly say that this is a god who is angry and quick to judge? Of course not. Our Lord is not quick to anger, and he wants to give you and to give me every possible opportunity to put things right and walk with him.
I don’t want to get into the argument about whether the wall spoken of is a real one or a picture to help the understanding of the listener, but it is the latter that affected and spoke to me. We have mention, in this passage, of the flimsy wall, of foundations, and of the whitewash to cover the wall. Much of this seems familiar, especially compared to some familiar words of Jesus at the end of the Sermon of the Mount.
So, firstly, what are you building on? What are your foundations? With the situation of Jerusalem, you have rock not far below the surface. Something good on which to build and in which to place your foundations. So it is noticeable in this prophecy how it speaks of the foundations laid bare without criticism of those foundations. The criticism was reserved for the flimsy wall and the whitewash.
To me this speaks of those who have some understanding of the gospel and the scriptures, who consider themselves to be a part of god’s people. The Christian life is indeed founded on Jesus and the scriptures, but that brings the next question: what do you build on those foundations?
Ezekiel brought the criticism from god that the wall which was built on these foundations was a flimsy wall. So I think it is OK to stop and look and consider what you are doing with your life. You gave your life to Jesus? Great! You consider yourself to be a Christian? Check yourself against the gospel, and if all this speaks of steps you have already taken, then great! But when did that step of faith to enter the Kingdom happen? Last month? Last year? 10 years ago? 20 0r 30 years? More? What have you done since? How have you built on the foundation that was laid? What kind of wall, if any, have you produced?
One thing I would think about right here is, are the decisions I made in life as a result of my love of the Lord, or only for my own benefit? Did I place things before God in making decisions?
Many people would say that you should place your family first in everything. I would say that you need to live in faith about that and to put the Lord first. The promises of blessing, should you put the Lord first, are not for you alone, but for your entire household. This is true in both the old and the new testaments.
So many are stopped from this important step of faith by their own family, even Christian believers within their family. But I would urge you to change your thinking. See it this way: you see your husband/wife/child/parent thinking of god and working for him ahead of any other kind of wage earning or housekeeping? Then praise god! It means that a blessing is coming to you soon! You will not miss out, rather you will have more.
But with this a word of warning! Don’t let this be an excuse for avoiding a day’s work so that you can rush into the ‘ministry’ to ‘live by faith.’ Honestly, this is not the pattern for the church in the new testament. For sure, the tribe of Levi in the old covenant were not granted land and so could not grow or produce increase, or keep animals for meat and milk, and so they were dependent on the tithe from the rest of the people to be able to live and to do their work. But in the new testament we have leaders in the church who kept their day job. The apostle Paul, for example, was a tent maker who continued to practise his skills in order not to be a burden on the churches that he visited. Only after he was imprisoned and unable to earn did he have need of assistance from the churches.
I am not saying that being a pastor and living on a stipend is wrong. I am saying that avoiding work and expecting everyone else to care for you and pay your bills is wrong. I hope you can understand the difference.
So to build the wall, you need to put the Lord first.
For me, the Lord is the wall! He is the one who surrounds me and protects me. He is the one who cares for me and guides me. He is the one to give strength to face good times and bad. And he is the one to let me face good times and bad so that my faith can be proven in something real, and so my testimony will be on something real – a personal experience of how I was surrounded in the Lord’s love and protected in real life.
“…everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
It is easy to see similarities between this and the words of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel we at least have the right foundations, but the question is over what is built on those foundations. And I would say that some of the answer is in these words of Jesus. Because how you build the house depends on some of the same things.
Are you hearing the words of Jesus, or reading them, and not putting them into practise? The wall will be pretty flimsy! And of course we know what Jesus was specifically referring to, because these words are the last words of the Sermon on the Mount. So, are you trusting god for food and drink and clothing? Are you loving your enemies and even helping them to meet their needs? Are you loving your neighbours? Are you refraining from judging others? Have you learnt from the bad example of the Pharisees that legalism and literalism will lead into error? And so much more…
It seems that I keep learning from scripture and my walk with the Lord. There has never been a time when I ‘know it all’ or even understand all. But the more I learn and understand of our Lord and the salvation he has provided, the more I see and understand his love, and so respond with love.
It is easy to attend church for years, and every week to hear good and worthy preaching. But if these things do not change your life, if you do not put into practice what you have learned, what good is it all? You will have built a flimsy wall.
And then, of course, none of use would like to admit that the wall is a flimsy wall and easily defeated. So we rush to cover it with whitewash (and the political use of the word ‘whitewash’ comes from this passage of scripture). Once the whitewash is painted on, people will not know what is underneath.
What is beneath this veneer that you present to the world? Do you have a wall with the strength of solid rock and reinforced with steel? Or is it a pile of popcorn and marshmallows, because you could not resist the things in life that seemed sweet to you and so ignored the things that you should have been doing?
As ridiculous as it sounds, I think the analogy stands. People are often self-pleasers instead of doing what is pleasing to god. So you did not give the time in fellowship after the meeting that would have helped the other person to feel less lonely. Why? Oh – there was that TV serial that you just could not miss or delay. You could not help with the genuine financial need that the Lord spoke to your heart about. Why? Because you had to buy that pair of shoes or that computer games console.
I am not saying that watching TV is bad. I am not saying that an extra pair of shoes is bad. I am not saying that it is bad to have fun occasionally with computer gaming. What is bad is when you allow these things that you like to stop you from doing what is right and what is good.
It can seem a little thing to rush home instead of talking to the lonely person. But over a lifetime it adds up to a big difference. Each one of these acts is like a brick in the wall. There are those bricks from God, and then there are those bricks from selfishness. Other bricks from placing other things and other people temporarily in the place of god. Other bricks still when you allowed rebellion in your life. And there can be even other kinds of bricks. But out of this list of bricks, there is only one kind that is strong.
And so life goes on and the wall is being built. When it is a little wall and close to the ground, it is less noticeable whether you are building with the wrong kind of bricks, and more easy to put things right – to replace the weak bricks with the strong. But now you have a wall of years, and how many strong bricks are there and how many weak? And how many cracks in the wall, because a strong brick placed high above a lot of weak bricks can even sometimes reveal the weakness by itself being too heavy for the weak bricks to support.
This wall can be an embarrassment – so it is no surprise to want to cover it in whitewash.
It is no wonder that the gospel is weakened. People so often only see whitewash and not the rock – Jesus.