We knew a girl who had been told by her parents that she could not use the truck. Her parents had taken the car and were gone for a few days. She decided to disobey her parents and went to her boyfriends place. When they were driving on a country road, she lost control of the truck, rolled a few times and was severely injured. They took her to the hospital and she was in a coma for a few weeks before she died.
Ananias and Sapphira came to Peter and offered a gift to God. They pretended that it was the whole amount of the gift, but they had kept some of it back for themselves. They didn’t need to offer the whole amount, but they were posturing as if they were more generous than they were. They both died on the spot for ignoring the Holy Spirit.
These are two instances in which the consequences of sin were immediate and severe. All of us have sinned. We have deceived others, we have taken something that wasn’t ours and we have gotten away with it. We did not immediately die for our wrongdoing. Because this has happened, not just once but numerous times, we may get the idea that sin isn’t that serious and we will not have to suffer the consequences of our sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible says in Numbers 23:23, “you may be sure that your sin will find you out.”
Last week I indicated that we would be looking at Ezekiel 4-24. If you took the time to read these chapters, you will have read some very disturbing stuff. These chapters contain vivid images, explicit sexual images and deeply disturbing events. Israel had gone many years in which they had ignored God. Prophet after prophet had warned them. God often intervened with gracious redemption, but still they ignored the sin in their midst. Until now. These chapters portray an event so difficult that they can no longer ignore their sin. They are being severely punished for their sin. Ezekiel explains what is happening to them and invites the appropriate response.
I would rather not preach this stuff, because it is difficult, but it is important. Romans 15:4 says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Therefore there are important lessons for us in these chapters as well. As we discover these lessons, we will also learn about that time in history and the context in which Ezekiel was writing, which is important for understanding what God is saying in whole book of Ezekiel.
In Ezekiel 1:2 we read that Ezekiel began his prophecy in “the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin.” Then in Ezekiel 24:1 we read that this chapter was written “In the ninth year, in the tenth month on the tenth day.” So what we find is that these things were written over a 5 year period. What was happening and what was Ezekiel writing about?
I would like to give you a little outline of the history of God’s people which brings us to this point in that history. The people of Israel left Egypt and came into the promised land. After they had been there for a while, they wanted a king and God appointed Saul as king, but he was not a man after God’s heart. David, the second king, was and in his reign, the golden era of Israel began. His son Solomon inherited the largest extent of the kingdom of Israel that there had ever been and was also very wealthy. It was during this time that God’s people prospered and things were going very well. But Solomon married women of other nations and they began to influence him negatively and after he died, the kingdom of Israel was divided because of his sin. The ten northern tribes, which from this time on were known as Israel, broke away from the two southern tribes, known as Judah. Throughout the books of Kings and Chronicles, these two nations are described in parallel histories and the stories are somewhat similar. One king is a wicked king and leads the people away from God. Another king is righteous and leads the people back to God. The people descend in a spiral away from God and the Northern tribes, or Israel are worse than the southern tribes. God sent many prophets to warn them of their evil, but they did not change. Finally, the sin of the northern ten tribes was so bad that God sent the Assyrian armies to destroy them and take the kingdom away from them. This happened in 722 BC.
Although not without sin, Jerusalem and Judah were not as bad and so they continued as God’s people. They were not faithful to God and although once again God sent many prophets to them, they did not change. Their wickedness increased and God warned that what had happened to Israel would also happen to Judah. In 597 BC it began to happen. By this time, Assyria was no longer the world power it had been. The Babylonians had become the world power and Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon. He came to Jerusalem, attacked it, defeated it and took the king, Jehoiachin captive (1:2). Many others were also taken captive at the time, among them, Daniel and Ezekiel. Those who were captured were taken to Babylon and lived there. This is where Ezekiel was writing from as we read in Ezekiel 1:3 – “by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians.”
Many other Jews remained in Jerusalem and Nebuchadnezzar appointed kings to rule for him in Jerusalem. The last of those kings was Zedekiah. He was not a king who wanted what God wanted. He rebelled against God, and he also rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. In 587 BC, ten years after the first time, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem. This time he took Zedekiah captive and destroyed the city, knocking down the walls and taking apart the temple. He also killed many of the people in the region.
Ezekiel 1-24 are written in this period of time from Babylon. The Jewish people who were in Babylon were wondering what was going on. They were asking questions and God, through Ezekiel, was answering those questions. They were asking: How should we view our captivity? Should we seek to get back to Jerusalem – the promised land, God’s favoured place? Should we revolt here in Babylon against the king of Babylon? One writer explains, “although Ezekiel speaks mainly of Jerusalem, he addresses the concerns of the elders and the exiled community. The elders once were leaders of that city and are presently wondering how they might act now for the best interests of Jerusalem and of their Lord.”
The style with which Ezekiel often writes is street theatre. Some of you may remember the time when Nikita Krushchev was Prime Minister of the Soviet Union. At a meeting of the UN, he took off his shoe and banged it on the table in protest. He was using a graphic image, which we have not forgotten, to make a point. Ezekiel does much the same thing. He does drama and acts things out in order to make a point. He also has discussions with the elders, who are in exile, in order to explain God’s truth to them.
Please turn to 4:1- 3. Read this text. One commentator says, “One may imagine that the exiles expected Ezekiel to preach his first sermon on the Lord’s war against Babylon. Instead, as the first stage in this drama, he is to portray the Lord’s war against Jerusalem.” The iron plate is a flat griddle used in baking. Placed between Ezekiel and the map, it signifies that the Lord is blockaded from the city. It is a sign of judgement to come.
Now please turn to Ezekiel 5:8. Read this verse. Once again, we find that God is against Jerusalem.
In Ezekiel 8-11 another disturbing message is given. Please follow along in your Bibles as we discover this terrible thing that is happening. Please look at Ezekiel 9:3, “Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been and moved to the threshold of the temple.” Then look at Ezekiel 10:18,19. First of all in 18a we read, “Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple…” Further on in 19b we continue, “They stopped at the entrance to the east gate of the Lord’s house…” Then in 11:23 we read, “The glory of the Lord went up from within the city and stopped above the mountains east of it…”
Ever since the exodus out of Egypt, God had been with his people. He had appeared at Mount Sinai to make a covenant with them. He was present in the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud during the wilderness wanderings. He was with them in the tent of meeting. He was with them and had entered this very temple when it was built during the days of Solomon. God had always promised to be with his people, but now he was leaving the temple and he was leaving Jerusalem. The consequence was that he would no longer protect them and in Ezekiel 11:9 God, through Ezekiel, explains to the exiles in Babylon what would happen to Jerusalem when he says, “I will drive you out of the city and hand you over to foreigners and inflict punishment on you.” It was a devastating time!
But wait, it gets worse. We could go on looking at all of the following chapters and get a similar message, but let us move over to Ezekiel 24:15. There God says to Ezekiel, “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes.” Then in verse 18 and 19 we read, “in the evening my wife died. Then the people asked me, ‘Won’t you tell us what these things have to do with us?” Ezekiel explains when he says to them, “I am about to desecrate my sanctuary…the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection.” Ezekiel’s wife died and was a sign to the people that Jerusalem and the temple were to be destroyed. Because they were in exile in Babylon, they didn’t know that this had already begun to happen, but because Ezekiel had received God’s word, he did know. In Ezekiel 24:1,2 God had told him, “In the ninth year, in the tenth month on the tenth day, the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, record this date, this very date, because the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day.’”
The exiles in Babylon had always hoped that they would be able to go back to Jerusalem. They were confident that Jerusalem would stand strong and their children and families back in Jerusalem would be OK. But it was not to be. God had left Jerusalem and the city and temple were destroyed. It was a time of devastation!
What brought Jerusalem to this point? Why were these things happening? Why was God abandoning his place? Why was destruction coming upon Jerusalem and they were not to oppose it or even pray about it?
Throughout these 20 chapters, Ezekiel makes very plain why God was dealing so harshly with his people. Simply put, they were filled with sin and would not abandon their sin and God was going to act against all their wickedness.
If you read these chapters, you will notice many of the sins for which God’s people are being punished. Let us examine just a few of them.
We know that Jesus identified the great commandment to be “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbour as yourself.” Some have noticed that the ten commandments follow a similar pattern. The first four commandments relate to love for God and the last 6 relate to love for neighbour. We can find these two categories of sin in this chapter as well.
At the root of all of their sins is their sins against God. Please turn to Ezekiel 14:3. There we read, “these men have set up idols in their hearts.” Instead of seeking God or listening to the voice of God, they were worshipping idols. They were looking for help from other gods.
Do we not also do the same thing sometimes? Do we put our hope in God or do we put our hope elsewhere? Do we inquire of God if we do not know where to turn or do we look at all kinds of other places first?
Another way in which they sinned against God is revealed in Ezekiel 22:8 where he says, “You have despised my holy things and desecrated my Sabbaths.” God had established the way in which they were to come to him. They were to make sacrifice for their sins and then through the priest, they were able to come into God’s presence. Instead, they offered sacrifices at idol temples and sacrificed to the fertility gods. They accommodated to the culture around them and did what made sense to everyone else, but was a sin against God. The Sabbath was God’s gift which was a day of rest and was intended as a day in which they focused on God. Instead they had ignored their relationship with God and made no effort to seek God and relate to Him.
In Ezekiel 23, he uses graphic and disturbing language. He calls the people prostitutes, confronting them with the fact that they had relied on the military powers of other nations instead of putting their hope in God.
The summary, God makes several times, for example in 22:12 and 23:35, is “you have forgotten me.”
As we think about what happened to these people and what God was doing to them, we need to ask, ourselves, “have we forgotten God?” Do we inquire of him? Do we seek Him? It was because of a failure to do so that God severely punished his children.
It is often the case that when people forget God, they soon begin to treat each other poorly. Ezekiel also confronts the people with the many sins they have committed against each other.
Let us look at just one of the many passages which speak about this. Let us read from Ezekiel 22 beginning at verse 6. I will be reading portions of this passage. Read 22:6, 7, 9, 11,12.
What are the sins? They are violence, disobedience to parents, sexual sins and greed. In all of these sins, the people have forgotten God. You cannot remember God and follow Him and do these terrible things against others.
What about us? Are we taking a light attitude towards sin? Have we allowed sin to creep in through subtle ways so that we barely notice anymore? Are we guilty of violence – physical, sexual, monetary violence – against others? Have we forgotten the Lord?
In chapter 8, he graphically depicts the awfulness of their sin. In a vision, God takes Ezekiel to the temple. This was the place where God lived, where the people were to meet with God and come to know God. God invites Ezekiel to dig through the wall and peek in to see what was really going on in there. In 8:10 we read, “so I went in and looked and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and detestable animals…” This is a picture of how gross the sin of the people had gotten. As we read on we see that the people were ignorant of how things really were. They say, “the Lord does not see…” But the truth is, the Lord does see and this was the reason why God was going to destroy the temple and the city.
The imagery is meant to shock. The coming judgement is meant to frighten. Things have gotten that bad. In Ezekiel 6:11 we have the verse from which I got the title for this message. In a visual way Ezekiel communicates. He strikes his hands together and stamps his feet and then cries out, “Alas, because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the house of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine and plague.”
What is the point? God takes sin seriously!
How seriously does God take sin? In the history of Israel, there had been many times when God had warned them about their sin. He had allowed them to experience defeat at the hands of an enemy. But always, they had cried out to the Lord and God had delivered them. Now things are going to be different. Please turn to Ezekiel 7. Notice how the cycles of sin, repentance and restoration are now broken. In this chapter the words that appear repeatedly are “The end! The end has come” and “The day is here! It has come! Doom has burst forth.”
One writer says, “Ezekiel here brings together two important prophetic emphases the day of the Lord and the end. The day and end is a time of God’s judgement, especially for social evils; for violence and oppression, for materialism. There is little in this chapter to suggest a positive outcome.”
Ezekiel 24 also tells us how seriously God hates sin. When Ezekiel’s wife dies, he is told not to engage in the normal grieving rituals, but simply to “groan quietly.” His unusual behaviour is notice by the people and they ask why he is doing this. He explains that it is a picture of what will happen to all of them. We read in Ezekiel 24:21, “I am about to desecrate my sanctuary…the object of your affection. The sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword.” This is a time of utter devastation and as Ezekiel’s wife becomes a symbol of it and the people realize how it will personally impact them, they are brought face to face with the truth that God hates sin and has had enough.
Because God has been so gracious and so very patient with us, we sometimes forget that sin is still sin and God still hates it as much as he did back then. What would it take for us to realize that “the wages of sin is death?” What would it take for us to understand that God will one day return and judge sin?
Is there any hope here or are we all doomed to die eternally?
Even in these chapters there is hope.
Ezekiel 11:19,20 speaks of a time when God’s people will return and God will give them an undivided heart, a heart of flesh. It speaks of a time when people will follow God’s decrees and “they will be my people and I will be their God.”
Ezekiel 21:27, after referring to the destruction, nevertheless promises, “It will not be restored until he comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to him I will give it.” This is a messianic prophecy and refers to Jesus who has inherited God’s kingdom and is establishing it.
We, as people who know about Jesus coming, know that He will establish God’s eternal kingdom. We as people who have received the Spirit of God know the power we have to obey God’s truth. We are recipients of these promises. But as Hebrews 4:7 warns “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” We also need to be reminded that God still hates sin. He is coming again and will finally judge sin. If we persist in sin, we will suffer the consequences, even here on earth. Let us learn this hard lesson from the story of the people of God in the Old Testament and determine, by the power of God’s Spirit to walk in holiness and righteousness and not to allow sin to creep in and destroy.