This sermon is number 1 in a series of 24
Ezekiel - Part 1
"The Man And The Message"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2001 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Ezekiel and chapter 1, Ezekiel chapter 1, and what I want to do for you this evening is lay a foundation that I believe will be essential for the weeks that lie ahead. So do bear with me. We'll be looking at verse 1 specifically this evening, but we won't be looking at too much of chapter 1 tonight. I want to lay the foundation and the context of this great book that we hope to study in the weeks that lie ahead.
Verse 1 of chapter 1: "Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity, The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was there upon him".
I think you would agree with me that false assurances are awful things. To be under a delusion or to be under a false assurance, on occasions, humanly speaking, can be fatal. But if we broaden that concept of a false illusion and assurance into the spiritual sphere, we find that false assurances can lose men and women their eternal immortal souls. As we go through the Old Testament scriptures, and specifically the minor and major prophets, we find that the Old Testament people of God - more often than not - were under false assurances. They had deluded themselves. In many occasions, and we've seen it in recent days in the book of Habakkuk and Haggai, when the prophets of God - the men of God - came unto the people of God with the message of God, all they did was protest. It seemed to go against their lifestyle, everything they held dear. The prophets of God that came to them were a threat.
So we hear protests, and we hear them within the book of Ezekiel also, where the people of God say: 'Can God judge His chosen people?'. Prophets of judgement come. Prophets of righteousness come and declare God's judgement: God's wrath will be poured out upon the people of God - and the people of God object and say: 'But we are God's chosen people, we are God's elect. God cannot judge us. Some say God's holy city cannot be destroyed. We dwell in Jerusalem, and you as a prophet come and tell us that enemies of God - Babylon - will come and sack the city and burn it? That can never happen! The temple of God dwells within Jerusalem, and the temple of God is the symbol of God's presence with His own people. Are you telling me that God would let our enemies come into the chosen city of God and destroy it?'.
The objection is: are God's promises toward us sure, no matter what? I mean, if God has said that we are secure, if God has said we can be assured of His protection and His safety, is that not enough? To have the word of God, to be the chosen people of God, to have the covenants of God, to have the law of God and the testimonies of God, to have the Ark of God, the Ten Commandments, to have Aaron's rod, to have the Holy of Holies where God's Shekinah glory dwells - is that enough?
The message of the prophet Ezekiel is the message of all the prophets. That is what Israel failed to recognise toward their God. Oh, they could recognise that they were God's chosen. They could recognise that they, out of all the races of the earth, were most blessed, and all the other races of the earth would be blessed through them. They recognised they had all the promises of God, but what they could not bring themselves to recognise was their own sin. In failure to recognise their sin, they failed to recognise the holy God that they were called to serve. They continued sinning, and as they continued to sin they assumed that God's smile would always be upon them no matter what they did because they were God's people, because they were in the covenant of promise, because God had shone on them in days gone by. They felt that they were secure, that they couldn't be moved from the firm foundation of Zion. That false assurance was further cemented in their mind by the false prophets who came along too. They simply agreed with that mindset. They preached: 'Peace, peace', when there was no peace.
In the first deportation of the children of Israel to Babylon you find that, in the little concentration camps all around the nation of Babylon, that these false prophets were going around and prophesying falsely, telling the people: 'Don't worry, you're out of the land of promise now but God's promises are still toward you. You are still God's people. God loves you. God is still smiling upon you. And just in a few days, a few weeks, perhaps even at the most a few months, God will send an army from Jerusalem and He will defeat your enemies and He will bring you all back home to the land of Zion'. Then the second deportation took place. Then the third deportation, and with the third deportation of Jews from the city of Jerusalem, the Babylonian empire burnt it to the ground. Jeremiah, a contemporary of Ezekiel, is heard to say in response to the messages of the false prophets who speak: 'Peace peace', when there is no peace, the cry of God's people goes up: 'The harvest is past, the summer is ended and we are not saved'.
What was Israel's mistake? Their mistake was they failed to grasp the abominable nature of sin, and the terrible holiness of God almighty. We are saved, and I believe very strongly in the eternal security of the believer, but do you know something? If any doctrine that we have and believe and hold onto dearly becomes a cloak of false security, of a false assurance that will make us numb to sin and numb to the holiness of God, we must beware! If anything in our lives makes us numb to the awfulness of sin, and to the goodness and the righteousness of God, there may be something wrong with the balance in our doctrine. For the consequence, as we look at the prophet Ezekiel, is this: that if we do not realise the awfulness of our sin and the holiness of our God, we will cause the glory of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, His fullness - if you want to say, the candlestick of the Lord Jesus Christ within His church - there is the danger that we cause the glory to depart. Along with the departing of that glory there is a forfeit of reward.
Ezekiel was a prophet of judgement but, you know, Ezekiel was more than a prophet of judgement because he brought hope to God's people. First of all, he brought judgement to them, but at the end of all the judgements that he pronounces upon the people of God, and then upon the Gentile nations round about them, there is a message of great hope. There is a message of reconciliation, a message of reconstruction of the nation of Israel, of the temple of Israel, of the city of Jerusalem. But the reason why Ezekiel's message was so unpopular was that he brought a message of hope that rested upon the completion of Israel's repentance.
All the prophets were preachers of repentance. That probably accounts for why most of them were martyred, including the last great prophet, John the Baptist, who lost his head because he was a preacher who stood in the wilderness - no one else was doing it - and said: 'Repent!'. What often happens is, when the people of God do not repent, in order that God drives them to that holy act of repentance He must discipline them. That is what is happening here within Ezekiel: He is disciplining His own people, and in order that Israel would be cured from the sin of idolatry they had to actually enter into the city of idolatry, and be sickened with it all under the judgement of God.
So we find Judah in Babylon. We find them singing the Psalm, Psalm 137: "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?". Away from Jerusalem, away from God's physical, visible presence upon the earth, Israel are separated from all that they know to be a closeness and a nearness to God - here they are in Babylon! But isn't it amazing that, while this remnant of Judah sits by the rivers singing depressing songs, that in verse 1 of Ezekiel chapter 1 you find a man, and while all around is despairing - what a contrast! While these people have already put up their harps on a willow tree and sat down to weep and to mourn and to cry for the loss of Jerusalem, this man Ezekiel is seeing visions of God. Ezekiel sits by the river Chebar and he sees the Shekinah glory of God leave the temple of Jerusalem. He sees that glory follow the people of Judah throughout their pilgrimage, right down to the land of captivity in Babylon. There they are - God's people and God's prophet in the midst of captivity and bondage - he is seeing that very Shekinah glory of God.
As we go through this book we will see that Ezekiel sees the glory of God in so many visions, so many pictures and allegories throughout this book, and then God takes him to the middle of the book and shows him how that glory, that Shekinah, has departed from the people of Judah. But then - what a message of hope - as we find him coming to the end of this book, in the final chapters, and how he points to a day that is yet to come when that Shekinah glory will return to the people of God.
'And Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
Doth its successive journey's run'.
We must, as we look at this book, realise that everything within it is for Israel. We do not confuse the church of Jesus Christ with Israel, but as we look at Israel in this book, surely we must, as Thomas Watson says: 'Think in every line you read that God is speaking to you'. Specifically this message is only to the nation of Israel, but there are spiritual principles within this book that we need to apply to our everyday lives.
As we seek to do that we look first of all, this evening, at the man Ezekiel. It's very interesting to note that there is nothing at all known about Ezekiel in the whole of the word of God, but that which we find in the book of Ezekiel. We find out that he was born just a year or so before the law book was discovered in the temple, as part of Josiah's reforms. In order to turn the tide, good King Josiah decided that he was going to bring the law of God back to the centre of Jewish faith and politics. He sent servants into the temple to dig deep and to look for the Torah of God. When they found that law it was read out to the whole nation, and a measure of reform and godliness was brought back to Judah.
Ezekiel was born into that atmosphere, but we find as we read the historical records of the Old Testament, that when he was barely a teenager, he would have heard the news of Josiah's death at Megiddo. There good King Josiah went to stop Pharaoh Neco coming in and invading God's nation. Here is a king of Judah willing to stand for God, willing to stand for what is right, but he is killed. That message of his death must have been devastating to the nation. Then as that teenager grew, it's most likely that he heard the preaching of Jeremiah. He may even have known the ministries of Habakkuk and Zephaniah. But one thing is absolutely sure: that he witnessed within his society a period of political instability following good King Josiah's death. He witnessed Judah's fortunes shifting from godliness, shifting from righteousness to the evil, wicked alliance and allegiance of Egypt. Then as we come to these matters within the book of Ezekiel, we find it moving from the wicked nation of Egypt to great captivity in the land of Babylon.
Now, we know from this book, as we scour through it, that Ezekiel was a contemporary of Jeremiah and Daniel. By this time Jeremiah was an old man. If you can picture this in your mind as we read this book, Jeremiah was ministering to a remnant of Jews in Egypt. Daniel was taken to the court of the king of Babylon and had become the Prime Minister of the whole of that empire. And here is Ezekiel with the captives in the second deportation from Jerusalem, and he is brought down to the river Chebar - the rivers of Babylon. In fact, if you go to Iraq today there is a tomb there which is identified as the tomb of Ezekiel. It probably is because it's round about the same area that Ezekiel ministered.
What do we know about this man Ezekiel? There are three things that I want you to note from these verses that we have down before us. The first: Ezekiel is a priest. The second: he is a prisoner. The third: he was a prophet. Now, as you read verse 1 you find that Ezekiel was a priest. It says it very clearly - and for him to be a priest in Old Testament times it would mean that he came from the upper crust, the upper class of society. His father would have been a priest. Like Jeremiah, his contemporary, who was a priest and a prophet, so Ezekiel would be a priest and a prophet. Every eligible man from this upper class would begin his service in the temple. It would be a great honour to come for your first sacrifice, for your first offering at the age of 30 years of age. However, Ezekiel, when he was 30, was in captivity in Babylon. He was unable to fulfil his calling as a priest while living in exile far from Jerusalem. He's away from the temple. He's away from everything that they know of, as Jews, that means 'God' and 'the environment of God'. But we read that at the age of 30, instead of beginning a priestly ministry, he begins the ministry of a prophet. So he is a priest who ministers as a prophet.
But the second thing that we see is that he is a prisoner, and if you know your Old Testament history you'll know that in the year 606BC the Babylonians came into Jerusalem and they took the first deportation of Jews off to Babylon. We know that in that first deportation Daniel went with that group. Then a few years later there was the second deportation in 597BC, and this time young Ezekiel was taken at about 24 or 25 years of age. If you turn to chapter 3 and verse 15 you will see that Ezekiel's home in Babylonia was a place called Tel-Abib. It was to the north of Babylon on the river Chebar, near the river Euphrates. There he settled in a kind of concentration camp of deportee Jews. This young man Ezekiel settles down in the mud huts of exile's Judaism. In chapter 8 and verse 1 you find that Ezekiel had his own house. This concentration camp was nothing like Nazi concentration camps, or concentration camps that we've seen in recent days on our television from Kosovo and places like that. This was a place where they were looked after rather well, but yet they were away from Jerusalem. It seems that they had their own homes, that they could do their own thing, they could worship their own God.
We find as we read the book that not only had Ezekiel his own home, but he was married. We find that, as we read through the rest of the book, that his wife eventually died in the very year of the final siege that began in Jerusalem. The exiles among whom Ezekiel lived, like him, had come from the upper crust of Judean society. We believe that they were privileged folk, that they had everything they needed. As Dickens says, in some measure: 'For them it was the best of times but it was the worst of times'. They had all the affluence they needed. They had all the bread they needed. They had all the wealth they needed. They had all the health they needed, but they were out of Jerusalem, they were separated from God - and there was this dichotomy, this contradiction in terms: being well off, but being separated from their God. This group of privileged people was the people that were renowned for not listening to God's prophets in the past, for not heeding the warnings of exiles that would come. These people were the people who were sitting crying: 'The harvest is ended, the summer is over and we are not saved'. These were the people who were listening to the false prophets, who were waiting every single day for deliverance from Babylon, and be brought back to their riches, the wealth and their prestige in Jerusalem.
As far as they were concerned, Ezekiel's message was a load of rubbish. He was very entertaining in the dramatisations of God's message that he did. In fact, as far as they were concerned all he did was divulge entertaining prattle that was meaningless. But no matter how much they laughed, the message of Ezekiel is this: God would vindicate His prophet, and God would vindicate His truth. If you turn with me to chapter 33 and verse 33 you see that - chapter 33 and verse 33 - and out of all the crying of the ridicule of pagan Judaism there comes this voice from God: 'And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them'.
Opposed to the message of the false prophets, the exile would not be short. They would not be delivered very soon. They would not be spared. In fact, many of them would be slaughtered in exile, or would die in exile. But the miracle of this man Ezekiel, as a priest and as a prisoner is this: that in distant Babylon, away from the temple, away from Jerusalem, away from the visible Shekinah glory of God, he is inspired by the Spirit of God to proclaim the message of God to God's people. Not only that, but this prophet of God is inspired to live the message before them.
That brings us to how he was a prophet. At 30 years old he begins his prophetic ministry. He continues it for just over 20 years. He preaches this message - a message that no one will listen to, a message that no one seems to take heed to. His prophetic ministry began in the 5th year after the arrival in the land of exile - verse 2 shows us that. He becomes a preacher in the midst of this concentration camp. He becomes a missionary to his own people, telling them to repent, telling them to turn back to God, that the Shekinah glory might return to His people.
Like his New Testament equivalent, John the Revelator in the book of Revelation who also was a prisoner on the isle of Patmos, this man like John, in prison, saw the heavens opened. They were given visions of God. What often happens when that happens is that such visions put men on their faces. Ezekiel was called in his ministry to much personal and painful suffering. He was called to live out his message. He was called to demonstrate it in his very life and, I don't know about you, whether you've read this book or not, but as I read it, it brings home to me the words of the apostle in Hebrews 11: 'Others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth'.
You know, as you read this book you find out that for some time this man Ezekiel was made dumb. He couldn't speak - and God did that! God ordered him on one occasion to lie on his side as a demonstration to the people of what they were like and who they were facing, and who they were turning to for help. He lived on loathsome food and God, again and again and again, commanded him to do these symbolic acts in order to get the attention of his own people. He was told to shave his head (that's a picture of him, by the way, on your study sheet), to shave his head and shave his beard - humiliation. He was told to act like someone fleeing from war. He was told on one occasion to sit and just sigh to himself. Then when his dear wife died that he loved so well, and as it coincided with the final demolishing of the city of Jerusalem that it was meant to illustrate, that man of God was told: 'Today you're wife has died, and today you shall not shed a tear'.
It wasn't easy being a prophet of God. I hope you can see the parallel of the age that Ezekiel lived in and preached in, and the age that we live and we seek to preach in. The message has not changed - the message is that they that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. The message is that it is a hard thing to be a holy man, to be a holy woman, to be a holy teenager. It's hard. It's difficult. Everything is against you. This world system opposes you in every way that it can, and if you seek to follow God with all your heart and preach the message that God has delivered, you will suffer for it. In fact the only thing, perhaps, that we are promised is persecution. But isn't it wonderful to hear from the lovely lips of our Lord: 'Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake'.
What a man! What was his message? In 1 Samuel and chapter 4 and verse 21 you find a word that is very descriptive of the nation of Israel at this particular time. The word is 'Ichabod'. Of course, it refers in the original context to an entirely different situation but we could aptly apply it to the situation in Judah politically, religiously, morally and culturally, in the time of Ezekiel. Ichabod: the glory has departed. It summarises the whole of this book, Ezekiel - the Shekinah glory has disappeared from God's people. That's what chapters 1 to 3 tell us: 'The glory that you're seeing now Ezekiel', these great visions of God - chapters 1,2 and 3 - 'they have gone from my people!'. In chapters 4 to 24 we read that specifically: the departing glory from God's nation. Then in chapters 25 to 48 you find Ezekiel turns the tide and gives a message of hope: that God's glory will return to Israel one day, and there will be a temple rebuilt. In chapter 48, if you wish to turn to it for a moment, you see that great climax - the message of the prophet begins with Ichabod: the glory has departed, the Shekinah glory has disappeared, the only one that seems to be seeing it is the prophet Ezekiel, but God pronounces a message of hope. If they repent, God says in chapter 48 and verse 35: 'The Lord is there' - future - 'Prophet: the Lord will be there'.
This is a book of the glory of the Lord. The statement 'The Lord God' appears over 200 times. It is a book of 'Thus saith the Lord' - you read that 120 or so times. You also read that it's a book of 'The word of the Lord that came unto Ezekiel', you find that 49 times. The word 'Spirit' occurs 25 times, which is remarkable for the Old Testament scriptures. So you have here a prophet inspired by the Spirit of God, bringing the word of the Lord that came unto him, pronouncing: 'Thus saith the Lord, the Lord God over all the world, that His glory has departed from His people, but one day that glory will return'.
Now, I want you to get into the mind of the Jews at this time. It's important that you do it. It's important that you understand the context. Jerusalem has fallen, the Davidic house was cut off, the temple was about to be razed from the ground, the nation had been exiled from the land, and that brought with it a spiritual and emotional fallout. Nebuchadnezzar's victory over Jerusalem had dealt an awful blow to that false assurance that the people were under. It was as if their faith had failed them. In fact, more than that, they were emotionally and spiritually devastated and they were asking fundamental questions about their God: 'Is God impotent? Is the covenant God that we have given our lives to and sworn allegiance to - is He not all-powerful to save us? Has Jehovah betrayed us? Has He abandoned us in our greatest need?'. You know, to all intents and purposes for these children of Judah in Babylon, I'm sure that Merodach, the God of Babylon seemed to them to have prevailed over Jehovah. It seemed that he had gained the victory, and perhaps many of them were thinking: 'Well, should we not follow this god, this god who is stronger than Jehovah?'. You can imagine what it was like for God's prophet, Ezekiel, to face an audience like this - that was disillusioned, that were cynical and bitter and angry with God, and prophets of God, and all to do with God. This great house of rebellion had now collapsed, and there they were standing in Babylon, away from Jerusalem, away from God, crying: 'Is there no one to save us?'
Then for a period of about 10 years these false prophets are saying to the people: 'Don't worry, you'll return to the city. The city won't be destroyed. That's God's city'. But nevertheless, Jeremiah the prophet sends a message to Babylon, telling those people, contradicting the message of the false prophet: 'The city will be destroyed. The glory of God will depart from Judea'. Can we put Ezekiel's message and Jeremiah's message in a nutshell? Yes we can: 'The glory has departed but if - and only if - you repent, the glory will return'. This message of Ezekiel is a message of sin, a message of punishment, but a message of repentance and a message of hope of blessing in the future if the people of God repent. Ezekiel was coming, and what he was wanting to do was to destroy these false assurances, these false hopes and to awaken true hopes, true assurances from the word of God to the people of God.
Oh the parallels, at least for me, are staggering to our generation today. I think in many ways Ezekiel spoke to the darkest days of the nation of Judah. Indeed, as one writer said: 'He stood at the bottom of a valley in the darkest corner'. Do you not feel like that at times? I mean, you only have to listen to what's going on around us. You only have to hear the moral standards of this world and our leaders and our church leaders. You only have to take a glimpse into your own heart and see how the lust within you seems to, like with a magnetic power, attract everything that is without there. It just comes in, and at times without you helping it, it saturates your mind and your heart. This man Ezekiel had to meet the false hopes of this people, and the preaching of the false prophets, their indifference, their despondency that was begotten in days of sin and days of disaster.
Do you know what Ezekiel means? 'God strengthens'. God strengthens! I mean, what else would you need if that was your task - if that is what God called you to - to face these rebellious people, to face them in the midst of their captivity and preach a message of repentance that grated and went against everything that they believed in, everything that they held dear? He needed to be strengthened by God. Look at chapter 3 and verses 8 and 9, where God strengthens him for his task. Chapter 3 and verses 8 and 9 - God says: 'Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house'. He needed his forehead strong, for this man would have to face everything that God's people threw at him.
Now, there are several themes within the book of Ezekiel that comprise and summarise the message that God was giving through the prophet. You find the four of them down on your sheet, and it really encapsulates everything that Ezekiel says. The first, and to me the most significant item, of the message of God through Ezekiel is 'The Transcendent Glory of the Sovereign God'. It's right throughout the whole of the book. Verse 1: '...by the river of Chebar...the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God'. The first three chapters are just saturated with Ezekiel's visions of God by the river of Chebar. As you read them - go home and read them - they are saturated with majesty, transcendence, dignity, royalty, divinity.
We see very clearly from it all that Ezekiel's sense of God was not that of a friendly neighbour who he might address on a first name basis. But in this book God is beyond creation, God is seen to be beyond the prophet, beyond the prophet's explanation. That's why you find that, when the prophet receives a vision of God, it is 'the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord' - verse 28 of chapter 1. It's always 'the appearance of the likeness'. He can't describe God because we can't describe God!
He doesn't even describe the appearance of God. He can only describe the likeness of the appearance of God. He uses a way of speaking of Him that carefully avoids even the hint of actually seeing God or describing God, or 'if we could get a little bit of clay and make what God looked like to Ezekiel', or paint a picture of it, or get a computer screen that shows us the likeness of God, or get the BBC to show us the likeness of Jesus. That is why the Holy Spirit in His wisdom never tells us what He was like, because 'we know no man after the flesh; neither do we know God after the flesh, but they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth'.
Do you see the transcendence? Transcendence simply means 'He is above'. He cannot be explained. Now, how do we apply this to our lives? Well, this is how we apply it: the children of Judah knew what God was. They knew what He was like. Their fathers were the ones - Moses, who saw God face to face and talked with Him as a man talks with his friend. They received the law written by the finger of God, yet at this moment the glory of God had departed. They had forgotten the transcendent glory of the sovereign God that their forefathers once knew. Now, the question that we must ask of ourselves today is: 'Have we lost the awe for God that we once had?'. Have we lost the reverence for God that our forefathers once had? How do we know? The way to know is our relationship to sin. Just like these people, if we are making a lifestyle of sin and compromise and backsliding for ourselves, if we're rebelling against God like these people, then we will know.
Look at chapter 2 and verses 3 to 8. Verse 4, he looked, he beheld in the whirlwind. He saw a vision of God, verse 5, 'out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures'. Sorry, chapter 2 - I'm in the wrong chapter! Chapter 2 and verse 8: 'But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee; Be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house: open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee'. Do you see the contrast? There was rebellious sinfulness, and the way that we can know whether we are acknowledging and whether we are in the awe of the transcendent, majestic, divine, awesome, sovereign God is: do we ignore our sin? Do we rebel against God and expect Him to smile at us? You have the sovereignty of God throughout this whole book - that He will make men and women know that He is the Lord. He will vindicate Himself, He will show that He has led His people into Babylon. God didn't let them go; God led them in! God did it. God was sovereign, bringing them through because He wanted those idolatrous children of God to go into that nation, and be sick with all their captivity and idolatry, and all the paganism, and to come out a pure people.
But secondly, the book tells us 'The Utter Sinfulness of Mankind'. Those two are always related by the way. When a man sees visions of God he always sees his own sinfulness, because his sinfulness is uncovered. You see that in Isaiah 6 and verse 5, that Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up and His greatness and glory filled the temple, and he said: 'Woe is me! For I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: but mine eyes have seen the Lord'. Do you know something? Their sin stretched throughout their history and, in fact, within this book Ezekiel says that they acted like a prostitute - the people. From the day of their birth they were like a whore and they actually, in chapter 16 (we don't have time to read it) - chapter 16 verses 46 to 48 - he says that they were worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. What does that tell us? We're going to find out in the weeks that lie ahead, that God the Holy Spirit tells us in this book, and right throughout His word, that sin cannot be swept under the carpet. It cannot be made beautiful, it cannot be ignored, it cannot be excused, it is ugly, it is dirty, it is offensive. It cannot co-exist with the presence of a holy and a righteous God.
Thirdly, we find 'The Certainty of Divine Judgement upon Sinners'. In other words, it was the end of the road for Judah and Jerusalem. They were being cast out. If you want to liken it to the words of our Lord Jesus that we heard yesterday: 'The salt hath lost its savour and was thrown out to the road and trodden under the foot of Babylonian men'. Judah's destruction would be almost total and its people would be scattered to the four winds. Ezekiel says that they would be made 'meat for the cooking pot' and they would be cooked until they turn into a charred heap of ashes - chapter 24. No one would be able to save them. In fact, he says later in the prophecy, even if Noah, Daniel and Job were miraculously brought back from the dead, and stand between them and God, even all their righteousness accumulated in aggregate could not save God's judgement from His people. In fact, he said there wasn't a prophet able to stand within the gap. That doesn't mean no one was willing. I'll tell you what it meant: Ezekiel was probably willing but God made him dumb so that he couldn't stand in the gap. God was determined in His righteous wrath to judge sin, and He would judge it! The frightening thing that we find in chapter 9 and verse 6 is that he says: 'Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark' - that's the believing remnant - 'and begin at my sanctuary'. Begin the slaughter! Begin the judgement at the very place where the Shekinah glory has left - at the culprit! Is that not what Peter said in relation to the New Testament church: 'Judgement must begin at the house of the Lord'?
Fourthly and finally, it ends on a beautiful note because there is the message of 'The Hope of Future Restoration Through the King'. You know, there are three prophets in the word of God who wrote when they were out of the land - only three. There was Ezekiel, there was Daniel and there was John in the New Testament. All three of them wrote what we call, in theological terms, apocalypse - books that are highly symbolic in their language concerning God and judgement. But the books always end in a hopeful note for the future. You can see that very clearly because in the New Testament the book of Ezekiel is quoted at least 65 direct and indirect times, but 48 of those 65 are found in the book of the Revelation. The heart of the message of Ezekiel is this: 'The glory is gone. The glory will remain gone until you repent. But all of your idolatry and all of your wickedness and all of your sinfulness will not pervert or prevent My sovereign eternal will, and I will bring My glory back to Israel'. Isn't that wonderful? That one day there would be a Davidic Prince. One day there would be one in Judah who would rule righteously. One day God would give His people, Israel, a new heart and a new spirit. He would raise up for them a new temple. He would put His glory, His Shekinah, back. The temple in chapter 10 that is abandoned would return to glory again in chapter 43. All that we see throughout this whole book is sin, punishment, repentance, hope and glory!
As we will see next week in the vision that Ezekiel has of God in chapter 1 - that round the Throne of God there is a rainbow, and right at the beginning of this prophecy God is pronouncing judgement, but He tempers it with His mercy. Oh, there's a great hope of Israel's restoration and it's embodied in the words of their national anthem that they sing even today. Listen:
'Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of 2000 years,
To be a free people in our land:
In the land of Zion and Jerusalem'
One day in that land a remnant once again will show forth the glory of God in Jerusalem, but let me finish on this note: as we look at these studies week after week after week, would we please - in God's name - learn from Israel? 'Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come', Christ says to the church, 'unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent'.
Our Father, we thank Thee that the Lord Jesus is the light of the world. We thank Thee He is the express glory of that Shekinah that once dwelt above the mercy seat. But our Father, we also know that Israel ignored their sin and they still await the day when the glory will return. We thank Thee that it will return, but Lord help us not to be foolish enough to think that our glory will never depart, and to be under the false assumption that we are God's people, therefore all will be well. But help us daily to repent, to take up our cross and follow Him. In His precious name we pray. Amen.
Preach The Word
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the first tape in his Ezekiel series, titled "The Man And The Message" - Transcribed by Trevor Veale, Preach The Word.
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