Keep in mind: Ezekiel is writing and speaking to his people who are exiled with him in Babylon. Those people believe they have been sent there because of their sins, and they are right. But they also believe that those left behind in Jerusalem are more righteous than they – otherwise, why wouldn’t they too be in exile?
What we are seeing, however, is God’s abandonment of Jerusalem, signifying the loss of God’s presence and God’s rejection of His people and their land. You begin to see it in chapter nine. There, the glory of the Lord moves from His dwelling place between the cherubim to the doorway of the temple. The cherubim, unaccustomed to leaving their appointed place, appear to stay behind (9:3). Perhaps they could not believe God was really leaving. As you get to chapter ten, the cherubim begin to move and they, along with the glory of the Lord, move to the entrance to the east gate of the temple. By the end of chapter 11, the cherubim and the glory of the Lord have left not only the temple, but the city. God’s presence is no longer there.
On the other hand, the Spirit of the Lord is operating in Babylon, and especially on Ezekiel. The point for the exiles is that those they admire the most, their relatives and countrymen in Jerusalem, are the very ones they should admire the least, and what seems like a curse – exile – is really a blessing, for God is working among them.
It is not always possible to know the difference between a church and a blessing, but if you determine to live under the authority of God, it will not matter. God will deliver.
Beginning in Ezekiel 6 is a phrase that will recur some fifty-six times throughout the rest of the book. Each time, God promises to act in some grand way – though not always in a pleasing way – and the result of God’s actions is that His people come to “know that I am the Lord.”
There are at least three ways you can take it, and all will be right:
First, that this God is the only God there is. It will become obvious in chapter eight that Israel does not seem to know this.
Second, that this God is supremely powerful.
Third, in comparison with all pretenders, He alone has power.
Have you noticed the enormity of God’s planned retribution against His own people? He will withdraw His favor, kill two-thirds of them, and scatter the rest. Plague and bloodshed will be their lot and they will watch their children die before their eyes. The bodies of the dead will pile up around the idols and in their centers of worship as a testament to the inability of those gods to save or bless.
And all that is just in chapters five and six.
In chapter seven, another concept occurs that appears more in Ezekiel than any other Bible book, and more in chapter seven than in any other. It is the concept of justifiable retribution. Israel deserves the punishment she receives. It’s all due to her “conduct.”
The God we worship is truly the only God there is. Denial of Him does not make Him irrelevant. And one way or another, He has determined that He will be recognized and honored, one way or another, sooner or later. For Israel, and for us, it is “do or die.” We are all in God’s hands. It is a serious place to be, and there’s no place else to go.
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, “You will surely die,” and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness . . . he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself” (Ezekiel 3:17-19).
Ezekiel was given an impossible and hopeless mission: to preach to his fellow exiles and get them to change their faith. They are trusting in their countrymen for rescue. They are not trusting in God.
The task was hopeless because Ezekiel’s hearers were not only not likely to listen to the message, but they will attack the messenger. At least five times in chapters two and three God calls His people a “rebellious house.”
How did Ezekiel feel about such a ministry?
He describes himself as bitter and angry.
At who? God? Israel?
Perhaps both. God had, after all, not just laid this hopeless task on him, but had added that failure to engage in this hopeless and arduous task (not failure to get people to listen) would make Ezekiel culpable for the very deserved condemnation of his countrymen.
Who watches over God’s people today? Who are the Church’s “watchmen?”
Certainly Elders. But equally responsible are the preachers.
It doesn’t end there, however. We are all responsible for one another, to pray for and encourage, and hold one another accountable for our faith and lives. It’s why connection with a local church is so important. Those who choose to separate themselves from the local church and go their own way are not walking in the call of God, and by their separation will fall into the same condemnation as those they’ve abandoned.
One way or another, we are all in this together.
There were three Babylonian invasions of Judah.
In 605 B.C., Babylon went to war with Egypt and God’s people were caught in the middle. Judah had sided with Egypt, and for that transgression, the King of Babylon defeated Judah as well, taking some of her princes as hostage back to Babylon. It wasn’t just unfortunate happenstance. God had planned it. Among the hostages was Daniel, who wrote the book which bears his name. He wrote in Babylon, and his book is a reminder of how God rules over the nations of men and can bless His people no matter where they live.
In 597 B.C., Babylon once again went to war with Egypt, and once again, Judah sided with Egypt. This time, in defeating Egypt and Judah, the king of Babylon took hostage the King of Judah (Jehoiachin), replaced him Zedekiah, and took more hostages. Those in captivity did not believe they would stay long. They earnestly believed they would be delivered, and the source of deliverance would be their kinsmen back home in Jerusalem. The captives believed their sins had separated them from God and His people and the Promised Land. Those left behind in Jerusalem must be the truly righteous, they thought, because they were not in captivity! In time, they would come rescue their brethren.
Five years after the second captivity (and six years before the third). Ezekiel began his ministry. He offers his listeners/readers in Babylon insight into what was truly going on in Jerusalem. If they were expecting deliverance from that quarter, they will be disappointed. The sins of Jerusalem’s inhabitants are every bit as bad, and more so, than any they have committed. There will be no deliverance by them.
Chapter one of Zephaniah takes us a few steps closer to the destruction of God’s people, Judah, to the days of king Josiah. Josiah will attempt a spiritual reform among God’s people, but it is too little too late. The “day of the Lord” is a repeated theme as Zephaniah begins. Judgment is coming.
Judgment is not coming, however, just for Judah, but for all those nations surrounding her who for far too long tempted her with ways not of the Lord, and oppressed Judah repeatedly. Zephaniah has four parts:
1) The coming punishment of the people of God (1:1-2:3).
2) The coming punishment of other nations (2:4-15).
3) The coming punishment of the people of God (3:1-8)
4) The restoration of the remnant of God’s people (3:9-20).
Note that both the people of God and other nations stand condemned for precisely the same sins. God does not have two standards of expected behavior. The world may not acknowledge God, but God expects them none-the-less to follow His rules.
The final three chapters of Daniel go together and the story within that section is the result of a vision Daniel received in the third year of Cyrus. Chapter 10 pulls back the curtain for us a bit and we see that the struggles of earthly kingdoms, and the suffering of God’s people, is not just to political forces. These are but symptomatic of a greater struggle that is cosmic involving the angels of heaven themselves.
You will notice in these last chapters some repetitions:
* First, the discussion of four empires occurs in chapters 2,7,8, and 11.
* A ruler arises, characterized by pride, and his rule adversely affects the people of God (7:21; 8:12, 24; 9:26; 11:28 – 41).
* His rule will not last long (7:9-11; 8:25; 11:45)
* God and His people will ultimately triumph (7:26-27; 12:2-3)
* The end of all things will come (7:25; 8:14; 12:6)
Daniel gives us, in ever increasing detail – but never too much detail – the story of the world’s future.
Remember that Daniel is writing all this two years after the first return of the Jews Jerusalem from captivity. The Lord has spoken through His prophets of the great days to come for His people, but Daniel holds all of that in check, telling them that bad times are not over – not for a very long time.
The literature in our reading is often called “apocalyptic,” the revealing of the future. It has much in common with drama, for the reader is called upon to envision the images as if it were a play or (in our own day, a movie), and the result is really awesome – depending on the creativity of your imagination.
But a danger exists: the danger of getting lost in the details of the vision and trying to give each part of the vision a meaning. For example: what does it mean that the lion had its wings torn off?
The answer is, it may have little meaning at all beyond the loss of its power. This is one of the characteristics of “dramatic” literature in the Bible. It is filled with color, but much of it is just that: color. The intended point(s) is always explained and should be the area of focus. The four creatures represent four world empires that will arise.
The message for God’s people is that the days of glory, promised by the prophets, are sill a way off, coming in the days of the last empire amid great persecution. God’s people should remember that God is in control of all these events, trust Him and obey Him. They should not take refuge in the power of any earthly kingdom, for they all will fall.
You’ve already been introduced to the idea of four coming empires in chapter two. As you read this section, the other empires (except for Rome) will all be named. You will also notice commonalities (time, times and half a time can be 3 ½ times, 2300 evenings and mornings equals 1150 days, or 3 ½ years, middle of seven is 3 ½). These all simply serve as threads to hold the visions together.
Why was the book of Daniel written?
If the book was actually written by Daniel, it was written very late in life, when the prophet was in his late 80’s. The book covers a period of time from 605 B.C., when Daniel was taken captive, to 539 B.C., when Cyrus overcame the Babylonian empire – sixty-six years. It does not appear to be a chronicle about Daniel. Daniel is just the main human figure in the story. But that brings us back to where we started: why was the book written?
Written about the time of the return of the Jews to Babylon, the intent of the book is to encourage the Jews, and give them a glimpse into their future. God has not abandoned them. His people, though captives in a foreign land, have unexpected positions of power. Through their influence, even pagan rulers, while not embracing the God of the Jews exclusively, recognize and admit His sovereignty over their lives and kingdoms.
Who are these people who rise from the obscurity of defeat and captivity to positions of leadership and influence among the nations? They are those who do not embrace the ways of those who have oppressed them (1:8). They are those who will not worship any God but the Lord – regardless of the penalty (chapters 3 and 6), and whose trust is supremely in the God of the Jews.
As Daniel draws to a close, it will not be long before the Jewish people will be allowed to return and rebuild their homeland. They will need these lessons to preserve their national identity, and encourage them in difficult days ahead to be true to the Lord who is in control of all things, and who favors them above all peoples. That is why the book was written.
Today’s reading takes us into Daniel, but the story of Daniel does not really occur until 2 Kings 24 during the reign of Jehoiakim. It will involve the first exile to Babylon. There were three in all. Daniel is taken on the first one which takes place in 605 B.C. (2 Kings 24:1-4) and Ezekiel is taken on the second one in 597 (2 Kings 24:8-17). Jeremiah does his work during the time that begins with today’s reading about Josiah and continues nearly to the end of 2 Kings 25. While Jeremiah is working in Judah, Daniel and Ezekiel are working in Babylon.
In 2 Kings 23, you get a feel for how far from God His people had wandered: idols set up in God’s temple, widespread worship of the stars, images in the temple set up to honor the planets (sun). The chapter is a compendium of the different ways Judah had found to enhance, modify, alter, and, in essence, leave the way of the Lord. Jerusalem itself had become a veritable capital of ecumenism – the effort to unite people of all religious faiths by making them all equally acceptable.
God, however, is not a fan of ecumenism.
Christian people can read this chapter with some horror that God’s people would be so embracing toward paganism. But Christianity has its own paganism. When people rearrange, modify, or even ignore God’s plain statements about what He wants regarding our worship, faithfulness and lifestyle in an effort to make all branches of the Christian faith equally viable and acceptable, it’s the same thing Judah was doing. It only looks different because the whole process is cloaked in a ragged garment called Christianity but bearing only a token resemblance to real Christianity at all. Christian people do this in order to promote “peace.” This way of peace may calm conflict between Christian people, but it only stirs up conflict with God. God’s plain way is knowable, and must be followed to the exclusion of all others.
If today’s reading seems familiar, it’s because it is – most of it a repeat of what we saw in Isaiah 37 – 39. Remember, we are attempting to read the Bible chronologically. The prophets we have looked at – Isaiah, Micah, Nahum – were all contemporaries of one another and of the kings, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. We left Hezekiah in the middle of his story to look at the prophets, and now we are back to continue the story.
What did Hezekiah do wrong in 2 Kings 20? Why does God find his actions so reprehensible?
We might well ask: “Why did Hezekiah, miraculously recovered from a terminal illness, feel the need to show the “congratulations and best wishes” committee from Babylon “all his treasures?”
It surely was not in praise to God who provided the healing. The focus was not on the Lord, but on Hezekiah. I believe Hezekiah wanted at least to show how great he was. Perhaps, and I think this is just as credible, Hezekiah wanted the respect of Babylon. And therein lay the problem. Hezekiah sought the favor and admiration of the world. It was the very thing that had caused Israel to embrace gods and ways of conduct that were reprehensible to the Lord. The result was, the Lord said, in essence, “If you want to appeal to the Babylonians, you might as well live among them.”
And Judah would.