In the previous study we learned how worldly thinking can affect the people of God, and how some deceive themselves and others, declaring themselves to be prophets. The truth was that they were false prophets, and bad things happened as a result of their ‘ministry.’
This was the last part of a lengthy prophetic message. For this study we look at a new message. We are not given any indication when it happened, how long after the previous message. It is another prophecy about divided thinking that comes from being affected by worldly ways and thinking. It is a relevant challenge for us today.
Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling-blocks before their faces. Should I let them enquire of me at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: when any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling-block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have deserted me for their idols.”
‘Therefore say to the people of Israel, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!
When any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing in Israel separate themselves from me and set up idols in their hearts and put a wicket stumbling-block before their faces and then go to a prophet to enquire of me, I the Lord will answer them myself. I will set my face against them and make them an example and a byword. I will remove them from my people. Then you will know that I am the Lord.
And if the prophet is enticed to utter a prophecy, I the Lord have enticed that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and destroy him from among my people Israel. They will bear their guilt – the prophet will be as guilty as the one who consults him. Then the people of Israel will no longer stray from me, nor will they defile themselves any more with all their sins. They will be my people, and I will be their God, declares the sovereign Lord.”’
We know from history and the records in the bible that there was literal idolatry in Israel in these times, and that it is the record of the bible that idolatry provoked god to jealousy and to judgement. However, the judgement was slow coming because of the patience of the Lord. Our god provides every possible avenue for people to turn around and change their lives (the definition of repentance) and to follow the Lord God alone. Only after 390 years do we see the times of judgement that were happening before and during these prophecies of Ezekiel.
These idols brought with them practices that were alien to god’s people and were an affront to god himself. This is clearly understood, because with the false gods came ways of worship and expectations that are not the same expectations or practices asked by the one true and holy god. So not only was god insulted by the fact that his people were sharing their affections with an idol, but other things in contradiction to his holy laws were happening in order to ‘please’ those idols.
And so this prophecy that we read today is really no surprise. That the Lord doesn’t want to answer those who enquire of him, if they are also divided in their hearts and loyalties because of idolatry. This is something that angers the Lord – first they must put away their idols and then come to the Lord with undivided heart.
Similarly the prophets must not utter prophecies for such idolatrous inquirers. Even if they feel the Lords inspiration, they should remain silent or god will consider them to be as guilty as the one who consults them.
So far this is pretty straightforward and is like a clear re-emphasising of the Law and why it exists. But there is more here that is worth looking at and placing before our hearts and minds. I am glad that the gods of the idols are not named, and I am also glad of the first part of this prophecy where we are told, “these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling-blocks before their faces.” Now we have something that is a direct challenge to all of us, especially in this modern world with it’s cultures and traditions coming from many different sources, including many ungodly ones.
Something that has become popular is the teaching that we all have the right to riches. There is the encouragement, before all else, to seek wealth and ease. There are classes and courses, books and videos, all with the aim of ‘unlocking your blocks to success.’ They teach of ‘laws of the universe’ that can be unlocked to work in your favour. It is marketed to those who are often already struggling to make ends meet. Yet despite the target market, the costs are often those of high luxury goods. I have seen personal consultations of 30 minutes being offered for $2000 or more from such people.
Then there was, and is still, the great popularity of such films as ‘The Secret.’ In this and other places, people are taught visualisation techniques in order to achieve greater wealth and to find how to reach their dreams, especially in terms of desires for things: money and possessions.
Let me be clear here, that I am not saying at all that to be wealthy and to have possessions is evil. There is nothing wrong with that. And if we study the bible, we see often enough the promises from God to prosper his people, and in some cases to bless them with much in the earthly sense.
But here is the very important thing that we need to learn, and that is made very clear in today’s passage of scripture: that we are to seek god and him first. He is our wealth and the most precious that we can have in our lives. Put God first in our lives and our hearts, and He has promised to meet our needs, and even to give us more, if we seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness.
But for many the situation is in reverse. People seek riches and things, and expect God to bless. This is idolatry, and most people don’t even realise that they walk in the path of idolatry.
But when you look at one particular technique that is taught to those who seek wealth and possessions, you can see clearly for yourself that it is idolatry. This is something that has come under various different names, but is often referred to as visualisation. For this, people are first encouraged to write down a list of all the things that they want and the deepest desires of their hearts. They are also, often, encouraged to write down a sum of money that they may feel would make them happy should it be granted to them in their lives. This is then supposed to be put on the refrigerator or somewhere similar where it will be seen often. If the list includes a fancy car, then they are encouraged to get a picture, or several pictures, and to pin these up in various places also. Maybe even to the side of the computer screen where you do your work, or on the mirror where you comb your hair, or anywhere that will keep this thing in front of you. It could be your dream home, or photos of that place you never visited but would love to go on holiday, or that latest piece of technology, or some fine jewellery, and so on.
I could go on into more about this technique, but it is sufficient to stop here – because there is enough to see already that this is idolatrous and insulting to the Lord God.
Just think about it for a moment. What is really going on here? This is an open acceptance and declaration that you live for things, that you live for that fancy car. You live for that beautiful house, or that high wage figure, or the chance to go to those exotic places, or for that fancy piece of technology or jewellery. The first things seen by your eyes when you wake up, and the last before you sleep, are these signs of worldly success and wealth.
Is this not idolatry?
We are created to live our lives for our God. To put Him first in our hearts and our lives. But if the first thing in our hearts is that dream house, or a car, or a 6-figure salary, then where does that leave God?
Some misquote Jesus and say that money is evil. Jesus did not say that and I am not saying that. What Jesus said is that the love of money is the root of all evil. It results in allowing your life to be dominated by the love and desire for money and for the things that it can buy, rather than in love and desire for God and the blessings that He can give.
But as the idols of old resulted in detestable practises that were hated by God, and resulted in prophets speaking out about them (as Ezekiel does even in our reading today), so this modern idolatry does the same. It results in behaviour and practises that are truly evil. It is placing the love of things before the love of God, and it affects how you treat other people.
It has been said many times already, but it is very relevant in this context: that people are meant to be loved and things are meant to be used. Because of this modern idolatry everything is reversed and upside-down. So today we see all around us that people are being used and things are being loved.
If the desire for things is strong, then this not only affects your spiritual life, because of idolatry, but it also affects other aspects of your life. Friendships and family relationships are undermined because of the love of money and things. People are seen as those who can either help or hinder in the achievement of our hearts desires – and so arguments in the home and between friends can often be about money, or how a thing was broken, or not able to be bought because the other spent money on their own ‘needs’ and desires.
Here’s something new for you to try: put God as your number one desire! Instead of that dream car on your mirror or fridge, how about a picture of that person you should be praying for – and do not remove that picture until that person has seen the answer to prayer. How about, instead of thinking about money and riches last thing at night and first thing in the morning, you say some prayers and put god first.
How about you love people and try to help them if they have problems and difficulties, instead of using them or seeing them as stepping stones towards a wealthier life for you.
Has the church forgotten the doctrine of ‘dying to self’ and of taking up the cross daily, as Jesus taught?
Come to the Lord with an undivided heart. Seek God, not things or money, and put the love of the Lord first in your heart. The alternative is to be in the same position as those that Ezekiel was prophesying against in today’s reading.