Last week we were encouraged from Ezekiel that God is a sovereign God, that He is the Lord of all the earth, the Lord of nations and the Lord of our lives. One of the implications of that understanding is that we believe that God acts. Remember last week when we mentioned that God promised and then carried through on His promise to punish Tyre for their wickedness?
One of the difficult things about the understanding that God is sovereign and acts is that we don’t always understand how God works. I don’t know about your experience, but sometimes the acts of God confuse me. For example, I don’t understand why I and my children did not have a grandfather. I do not know why did two generations of men in my family died young? I don’t understand why some relationships with people go so very wrong. Why couldn’t God help those people get together and work things out? I don’t understand why we have had two bad farming years in a row. It seems that in farming there are always challenges, but I don’t understand why God allowed the crop failure of last year on top of a poor year previous to that.
When God acts, are you confused or consoled? The questions are many and I have to admit that sometimes I am confused about what God is doing in the world and even in my life.
I can understand that there is a sense in which that is OK because God is bigger than we are. Isaiah 55:9 says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” I can accept that there is mystery about who God is, but sometimes the mystery is just too much and God’s actions don’t seem to make sense.
What do we do when we find God confusing? How do we respond? Ezekiel 14:23 says, “You will be consoled, for you will know that I have done nothing in it without cause.” This statement of consolation was made at a time when God’s actions were very confusing and so this passage gives us some direction for such times.
I. Confusion and Consolation
There are two stories in Ezekiel 14. They both have something to say about God’s confusing actions and about His consolation.
A. The Story of Ezekiel 14:1-11
We had previously noted that there are times when the elders of the exiles in Babylon came to Ezekiel to listen to him and to see what the word of God was for them. If you turn back to Ezekiel 8, you will see one occasion on which the elders came to him and you will notice that God spoke to them about what was going on in Jerusalem.
In Ezekiel 14:1 we read that these elders came to Ezekiel again, but this time the word of the Lord to these elders was quite different. It was very disturbing. God told Ezekiel that he was not going to talk to these men. Since God had previously spoken to them, this seems to be a rather confusing response and we don’t quite understand what God is doing.
But immediately God explains His actions to Ezekiel. He indicates that these very elders who have come to listen to a word from God have a serious spiritual problem. As verse 3 says, “they have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces.” It wasn’t that they had set up Asherah poles or carved Baal gods. The idols were in their hearts. One writer says, “their idolatry is a matter of their inner commitment rather than of cultic practice in worshipping idols.” Although they came to Ezekiel for a word from God, they were hypocrites because in their hearts they were not interested in God, they were not worshipping God above all.
When God then warns that he will answer them in keeping with their great idolatry, which means that the word of God will be a word of judgement, we understand that. We can accept that God is not going to speak instruction or comfort to those whose heart is not wholly directed toward Him. We can understand that God judges those who are hypocrites. The word of judgement is repeated in verses 7-8 and is even more explicit. What will God do to a person who has sin in his heart and yet goes to a prophet of God to inquire of him? God says, “I will set my face against that man and make him an example and a byword. I will cut him off from my people.” God will not tolerate such wickedness and hypocrisy.
We understand such actions of God, but the actions of God spoken about in the next section are much more difficult to understand. We read in verses 9, 10 that if such a person goes to a prophet, God is going to speak false words through that prophet and then punish both the prophet and the person who listened to the prophet. Now that is confusing! Does it really mean that God is going to send a lying prophet and still hold the prophet and the inquirer guilty? That is exactly what it says and we have to admit that we don’t understand that. What is God doing? This seems so out of character! God does not lie and does not tempt people, but here it seems that this is exactly what he is doing! How do we understand this? We have to admit that here God’s actions are confusing.
In spite of this confusing action, there is something important that is communicated throughout this whole passage. In all of these actions, whether we understand them or not, God has a purpose.
Please take note of the purpose statements throughout this passage. In verse 5 we read, “I will do this to…” That is a statement of purpose. It tells us that God acts for a reason. In verse 6 we read, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says…” Once again we see purpose. Even the word “then” in verses 8 and 11 indicate that God has a purpose.
What is that purpose? The purpose of God indicated in all of these verses is that God is doing these things so that the people who have idols in their heart, the people who are filled with sin will repent. Verse 5 says, “I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people.” God wants to draw people back to himself and his silence is intended to get people to realize what they are missing and long to come back to God. Verse 6 gives God’s invitation to “Repent! Turn from your idols…” God wants people to come back to him. In verse 8 the purpose of God’s judgement is so that the people will know that God is the Sovereign Lord. Even the confusing matter of God using lying prophets in verses 9,10 has the purpose of bringing them back to Him. In verse 11 God says, “Then the people of Israel will no longer stray from me…they will be my people…”
So even though we are confused by the actions of God in this passage, yet we are consoled when we see that God has a purpose in all of His actions. We are consoled when we see how deeply the heart of God longs for His people to return. We are comforted when we understand that God will allow His people to go through some hard stuff if it will only bring them back to Him. We see the compassion of God for His people. Confusion exists, but consolation is not far behind as we understand the purposes of God.
B. The Story of Ezekiel 14:12-23
The second story in Ezekiel 14 follows closely upon the first because it also speaks of God’s judgement on evil, which is, of course, the context of the whole first 33 chapters of Ezekiel.
In verses 12-20, Ezekiel states a general principle. There is a literary rhythm in this passage. There are four paragraphs in this section. In the first one and in the last one the names of Noah, Daniel and Job are specifically mentioned. In each paragraph, a new kind of judgement is mentioned. In the first one it is famine, in the second wild beasts, in the third a sword and in the fourth a plague. The four disasters are a common list in the ancient near east. These literary variations, reinforce the same point throughout. The word of warning is that if people sin and are unfaithful against God and God acts to bring judgement against them, even the prayers of righteous men will not prevent the judgement of God. The connection with the previous section is that once again we are talking about the silence of God. In the first place, God would not speak to those who were sinning. In the second section, we find that God will not listen to the prayers of the righteous because of the wickedness of the people. This is a little confusing in light of the story of Abraham in Genesis where he prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah. He prayed that the righteousness of a few people – ten people – would allow God to spare the city and God listened to the prayer of righteous Abraham and agreed that for the sake of 10 righteous people he would spare the city. Now he is saying something quite different. God will not listen to the prayers of righteous men in order to spare the people. That is confusing but only a little because we know that God is just to destroy the wicked.
For the Jews in exile who were listening to this, they were quite in agreement with this general principle. It was a little more difficult for them to hear Ezekiel’s message in 14:21 as that general principle was given specific application to the city of Jerusalem. The connection to 14:12-20 is seen in verse 21 in that the same four disasters are mentioned – sword, famine, wild beasts and plague. It is these four judgements that will come against Jerusalem. As difficult as it would have been for them to accept this judgement, it was, nevertheless, understandable that God would punish the wicked.
The confusing thing about this passage comes in the next verse when God says, “There will be some survivors.” How is God’s judgement consistent when there are survivors? Once again we are confused by the actions of God. What is going on?
However, once again, consolation is mentioned. In fact, this is the context in which we find the key verse we are looking at today. God says to the exiles, “You will be consoled for you will know that I have done nothing in it without cause.” The consolation comes because God acts with a purpose. Why does God let some people escape the judgement, after so carefully indicating that there would be no escape from judgement? Those who would escape the judgement of God on Jerusalem would come to the exiles in Babylon and the verse indicates that the exiles in Babylon would “see their conduct and their actions.” What does this mean? Although there are different interpretations, I believe that the best is that they will see how wicked the people who came from Jerusalem were and they will know that the destruction of Jerusalem was necessary. This confusing act of God, this act that was so hard to accept will make sense when they see the wicked hearts of those who escape. Then they will know that God knows what He is doing, that He is a just God who does what is right and they will be consoled that in fact God has a purpose in everything He does. Although some of God’s actions are confusing, the lesson is that He is the Sovereign God who is also the all knowing God who does what is right and just. As one writer says, “Comfort is imparted by bringing good news or by giving adequate reasons to explain what would otherwise be disturbing…”
II. God’s Comfort
These stories tell us something important. Although we don’t always understand God’s actions, we can be comforted that God has His purposes and that they are consistent with His righteousness and compassion.
The purposes of God mentioned in this passage are specific to the situation of Israel, but the principle of God’s purposes being a comfort to us is not specific to Israel. The Bible has many words of consolation for us when we don’t understand God.
It is not a sin to be confused about God’s actions. In fact, I would suggest that anyone who claims to understand all that God has done is not being realistic. They are either denying what is present before their eyes or they are seriously conflicted within or they are not telling the truth. I believe that it is OK, perhaps even right to sometimes be confused about God who is so much bigger than we are.
What don’t you understand about what God has done or is doing in your life? Where, in your life, is God confusing?
However, in the midst of our confusion, that does not mean that we need to doubt God or dismiss God or reject God. In the midst of our confusion there is consolation. I think the lesson of Isaiah 14 is that even though some acts of God are confusing, consolation comes when we understand the purposes of God and when we understand that God is always consistent with His character. What are the purposes of God which Scripture speaks about which pertain to us? What is there about the character of God that consoles us when we don’t understand God?
Actually the purpose of God to call people to repentance which we saw in Ezekiel 14 is still a purpose of God that pertains to us. God does not want people to perish. In all of God’s actions, this principle stands out. He is working, He is acting to draw people to Himself and to invite them to repent of their wicked ways. II Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
The patience of God to bring the last day, the struggle some people have to go through are all acts of God which are intended to help people realize their sin and the consequences of sin and to turn from that sin and find life.
Sometimes when we are confused about what God is doing, we can understand that He is inviting people to repent.
In a similar way, God leads His people through struggles in order to discipline them. Hebrews 12:4-11 is quite clear about this. In verse 6 of that passage, it says, “the Lord disciplines those he loves.” In verse 10, the purpose of that discipline is revealed, “that we may share in His holiness.” I believe that when we are not perceptive to the voice of the Spirit, God will use difficulty to force us to listen to His guidance in our lives.
In I Peter 1:3, Peter expresses the joy of what we have inherited in Christ. However, in I Peter 1:4,5, he acknowledges that now “we may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” He goes on to indicate the purpose of that grief, “so that your faith may be proved genuine.” In the midst of difficulty, we don’t always understand God. We may be confused about how hard things are in our life. But God may well be expressing His purposes in our life by allowing us to go through these things so that our faith may be deepened.
Even as we approach the end of life God’s discipline may be at work in us. God has created us to live on this earth and to enjoy life. But as we get older, our bodies deteriorate, we lose more and more. I think that the natural losses of life especially those which come with increasing intensity in our later years are intended to bring us to the place where we are willing to let go of this life so that we can share in His holiness in heaven. Many people on their death bed are so tired of this life that their hearts truly long for the blessings of eternity and when the day of their death comes, they are ready to say farewell to this world and hello to heaven. I believe that this also is part of God’s discipline drawing us to Himself and to true life.
The reality of the decay of our body is expressed in II Corinthians 4:16 which says, “outwardly we are wasting away.” As I have suggested, the “outward wasting away” is so that we will come to desire that eternal home. But there is another comfort in the midst of the confusion that we are all dying. It is mentioned in II Corinthians 4:17 which says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” What tremendous consolation we have in this! God is preparing an eternal home for us that can’t be compared to our present struggles. In one article I read, the writer illustrated by using a balance beam scale. (bring balance beam scale) On one side are “our light and momentary troubles.” They don’t seem light and momentary when they are all we see. They loom large and weigh us down, but on the other side of the scale is the “glory that outweighs them all.” What tremendous consolation for us when we are confused about God and what is happening in our life today to know that what is coming is so much better that the present suffering is as nothing.
The final consolation I would mention as we struggle with the confusion of God’s actions is the promise that God’s love is amazing! There are dozens of passages which remind us that, no matter what is happening to us, God’s love is always present and directed towards us. Not only can we point to the passages which promise the love of God, we can also point to the act of God which has demonstrated that love in the most powerful way possible. In a few weeks we will be celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus. At that time, we will be reminded of the great sacrifice Jesus made for us in order that we could have life. The promises of God and the act of God are consistent and pervasive and powerful. Romans 8:38,39 tells it so well, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So when God is confusing, just remember these things. Perhaps He is seeking to draw you or someone near you to repentance. Perhaps His discipline is operating in your life to purify your faith. Whatever the trial in your life, even if it is just happening because we live in a broken world, the glory that will be revealed can’t be compared with what you are going through now and above all, God loves you!
What will our response be to these comforts?
Hebrews 12:9 invites us to submit to God. Proverbs 3:5,6 invites us to trust in God. Psalm 130:7 invites us to put our hope in the Lord. Psalm 27:14 encourages us to “wait for the Lord.”