- A Model of Destruction (4:1-2)
- A Pan of Separation (4:3)
- A Bed of Iniquity (4:4-8)
- A Diet of Famine (4:9-17)
- A Sword of Wrath (5:1-17)
Now let me welcome you this evening to our Bible Reading here in the Iron Hall, it's good to see you with us especially if this is your first time with us on a Monday night. We're glad to see you and we trust that the Lord blesses us together around His word.
Ezekiel chapter 4 is our reading tonight, 4 and 5 indeed - and it would be a good exercise in the weeks that lie ahead if you could possibly read the passage that we're going to study on a Monday night, because as you've found out, I'm sure, there's a great deal of intricate detail within these chapters. It's hard to take in in one evening, so if you read whatever chapters we're dealing with - they will be announced - so that you get a head start.
Chapter 4: "Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and portray upon it the city, even Jerusalem: And lay siege against it, and build a fort against it, and cast a mount against it; set the camp also against it, and set battering rams against it round about. Moreover take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city: and set thy face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel. Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity. For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year. Therefore thou shalt set thy face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it. And, behold, I will lay bands upon thee, and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another, till thou hast ended the days of thy siege. Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and fitches, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof, according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon thy side, three hundred and ninety days shalt thou eat thereof. And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it. Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin: from time to time shalt thou drink. And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight. And the Lord said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them. Then said I, Ah Lord God! Behold, my soul hath not been polluted: for from my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself, or is torn in pieces; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth. Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow's dung for man's dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith. Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment: That they may want bread and water, and be astonished one with another, and consume away for their iniquity.
"And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber's razor, and cause it to pass upon thine head and upon thy beard: then take thee balances to weigh, and divide the hair. Thou shalt burn with fire a third part in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled: and thou shalt take a third part, and smite about it with a knife: and a third part thou shalt scatter in the wind; and I will draw out a sword after them. Thou shalt also take thereof a few in number, and bind them in thy skirts. Then take of them again, and cast them into the midst of the fire, and burn them in the fire; for thereof shall a fire come forth into all the house of Israel. Thus saith the Lord God; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her. And she hath changed my judgments into wickedness more than the nations, and my statutes more than the countries that are round about her: for they have refused my judgments and my statutes, they have not walked in them. Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Because ye multiplied more than the nations that are round about you, and have not walked in my statutes, neither have kept my judgments, neither have done according to the judgments of the nations that are round about you; Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations. And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like, because of all thine abominations. Therefore the fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of thee, and the sons shall eat their fathers; and I will execute judgments in thee, and the whole remnant of thee will I scatter into all the winds. Wherefore, as I live, saith the Lord God; Surely, because thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations, therefore will I also diminish thee; neither shall mine eye spare, neither will I have any pity.
"A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee: and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee; and I will scatter a third part into all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them. Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted: and they shall know that I the Lord have spoken it in my zeal, when I have accomplished my fury in them. Moreover I will make thee waste, and a reproach among the nations that are round about thee, in the sight of all that pass by. So it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment unto the nations that are round about thee, when I shall execute judgments in thee in anger and in fury and in furious rebukes. I the Lord have spoken it. When I shall send upon them the evil arrows of famine, which shall be for their destruction, and which I will send to destroy you: and I will increase the famine upon you, and will break your staff of bread: So will I send upon you famine and evil beasts, and they shall bereave thee; and pestilence and blood shall pass through thee; and I will bring the sword upon thee. I the Lord have spoken it".
In chapters 4 and 5 we have 'Signs of Judgement'. G.K. Chesterton, in the early twentieth century, said this: 'This is the age of pacifism, but it is not the age of peace' - it is the age of pacifism, but it is not the age of peace. History testifies to that, because there have been approximately 15,000 wars, men have signed some 8,000 peace treaties - yet over a span of history, spanning five or six thousand years, we have only enjoyed as human beings, perhaps at the most, two to three hundred years of true peace. By that we see that man is not a peaceful creature, and with that backdrop we realise how futile it was for even the prophets of God to be running around this concentration camp in Babylon shouting: 'Peace! Peace!' - that these children of Judah one day would get back to Jerusalem, indeed very soon would be delivered and an army would come from Jerusalem and take them away from Babylon and set them up in all their affluence and riches again in their home.
Indeed we are reminded of the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 when he says: 'For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape'. In the backdrop of all these false prophets prophesying: 'Peace, peace!', when there was no peace, here comes Ezekiel into the horizon. Now in chapters 4 and 5 he begins to use signs and acts and parables before the people to depict the judgement of God that was inevitable for them. Now, you will remember that at this time Jerusalem was not yet destroyed - yet the false prophets were still saying that it would never be destroyed - but the judgement was still up ahead, the destruction of the temple, the destruction of the whole of Jerusalem.
This ought not to have been any surprise, and indeed it was no surprise to Ezekiel, because if you cast your mind back to chapter 1, if you care to look at it, you remember the great vision of God - the vision of God's glory, the Shekinah that Ezekiel saw. You will remember that in that vision God was portrayed as the divine warrior. God is seen as ready to deliver judgement unto His people, and we can see that because He was coming out of the North - the whirlwind was coming out of the North, which was the traditional direction of Jerusalem's historical enemies. So here is God seen as coming from a place where Jerusalem's enemies usually came from, in other words He was coming against His own people, coming as the God of judgement.
In the face of this impending danger Ezekiel is appointed, you remember last week in chapter 3, as a watchman over the people of Judah. He is a watchman to warn them of the judgement that is to come, to cry out to them of the wrath that is their due, and to flee from it, repent of their sin. It is never a popular thing to be a preacher of judgement, and if you care to take a brief scanning of the history of the Old Testament as well as the New, you will see the plight of the prophets - and that will confirm it for you, how they were mistreated. We saw a little bit last week of the humiliation, specifically, of the prophet Ezekiel. To preach judgement to God's people was never a comfortable thing, and when you were called as a prophet you didn't expect everyone to love you, everyone to bow down to you, and scrape to you and respect you.
Things haven't changed much today, and perhaps that is why judgement is seldom heard within the church in the West at this very moment of history. Indeed, as one writer I was reading last evening - a book on apologetics with regard to why we believe in hell - he said this of the doctrine of hell: 'Of all the doctrines in Christianity, hell is probably the most difficult to defend, the most burdensome to believe, and the first to be abandoned'. 'Perhaps', listen again, 'the most difficult to defend, the most burdensome to believe, and the first to be abandoned'. Hence we have increasing numbers of so-called evangelicals disposing of the doctrines of judgement and of hell - why? Because it is not palatable in a postmodern tolerant society that we live in today.
That is what is happening now, but the question in the light of chapters 4 and 5 of Ezekiel is: how much more would the preaching of judgement be abandoned if we were, in reality, to act out that message as Ezekiel did? For Ezekiel was not just asked to preach a message of judgement, but he was literally asked to incarnate, to live out in the flesh, the message of God's judgement upon His people. He was asked by God, called by God, to embody this message of God's wrath.
Now that can be seen in the signs that we have before us, and on your sheet tonight. The first we have - and we'll see how this will be made clear as we go down them - the first sign of judgement is: a model of destruction, in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 4. What Ezekiel is asked by God to do is to take a tile, or what was in those days a brick, it was the writing material of Babylon - indeed archaeologists have found many of these with much writing upon them. This is the writing plate. He was asked to take one of these and, instead of writing on it, he took this 14 by 12 inch square piece of tile and was to draw the city of Jerusalem on the brick.
So you can see Ezekiel taking this brick, drawing the city of Jerusalem, and then God says to him: 'Now what else I want you to do is: I want you to put battlements, the walls around Jerusalem. I want you to put ramps' - in other words, the protection of the city around it. 'Then I want you to depict the enemy, I want you to put soldiers and I want you to make sure that they have battering rams'. So there you have the city of Jerusalem depicted on this pottery tile. There are the soldiers of Babylon round about with their battering rams. Ezekiel is told by God to take that tile and to break it, to destroy it into pieces to depict the destruction that was inevitable upon the city of Jerusalem. In other words, it doesn't matter what the false prophets teach, or what the contemporary mood of the day is, God must and God will judge sin! That's God's message through this first sign: it is inevitable! It doesn't matter what men say, it doesn't matter what theologians are pontificating, or the emotional mood of the day - if it's not popular it matters not: God is going to do it!
So, the first sign of judgement you had is the model of destruction. The second sign is: the pan of separation. If you look at verse 3 of chapter 4, you will see there that after Ezekiel depicts the city on this pottery tile he is asked to take unto him: 'an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city: and set thy face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel'. So there he is with the pottery tile that is Jerusalem, and he's asked now by God to take this iron pan, and to put it between himself and the model of the city of Jerusalem. All that God is saying here is this: 'You have been separated from Me. There is the destruction of the city, but there's much more than that, My people Israel have been separated from Me' - and with their separation it is inevitable that they will be judged. It cannot be stopped - if they are separated from the covenant God that looks after them, that seeks to care for them, destruction is inevitable.
As the tile portrays the siege of Jerusalem, this iron pan shows the hardships of divine judgement. In other words, when this destruction comes upon the city God will not be there to bail them out! They are separated from their God! The hardships of divine judgement, and the terrible suffering which the people were to go through, is absolutely inevitable.
Now what is the point of all this? It seems rather theatrical and maybe quite humorous in a way. Do you know what the point is? Ezekiel, in verse 3, is actually asked to be God himself in this dramatisation. He is asked to face against Jerusalem, and he is to be the one between whom that iron pan goes from the city. So Ezekiel, as the prophet, actually becomes the invisible aggressor of God's people. Ezekiel is standing as the Babylonians coming to break down this tile depiction, the model of Jerusalem. But it's more than that: Ezekiel is asked to be the invisible aggressor behind the visible. The visible aggressors are the Babylonians coming from the North to judge God's people, but Ezekiel is asked not only to depict the visible but to be seen as the invisible. In other words, he is to show that it is God, it is God who is judging His own people.
Ezekiel is acting out the part of the Lord. In other words, there is this separation between the Lord and His people, and there are now no channels of communication, there is no call that's able to go up for salvation and deliverance from their enemies. Even if anyone wanted to do it, even the prophet of God - the one who could, and would if he could, stand in the gap - you remember was made dumb! He wasn't allowed to plead, he wasn't allowed to intercede for God's people - all the appeals process had been exhausted! God has spoken and spoken again to His people, and they refused Him. They are rebellious, they are stiff-necked, hardhearted!
It seems, as far as you can read, that God's patience had run out. What an awful thought! The patience of the long-suffering, gracious God running out! Ezekiel is asked to visually depict this, and the prophet is told - look at verse 3 - to turn his face toward them. He's adopting the position of God, that implacable attitude toward the city: 'I've had enough! I'm facing you, I'm going to deal with you!'. The iron wall and Ezekiel's expression communicate God's absolute abandonment of the city of Jerusalem, and later in chapters 8 to 11 we're going to see how that peters out. It shows the dual agency of both human judgement and God's divine judgement upon them. What I mean is this: the human agency are the Babylonians - men who are seeming to come in and destroy the city. But what Ezekiel wants the people to see is that behind all that is happening on a human level, there is an Almighty God besieging His children! In other words, He is saying to them: 'This event will not be simply a political event in human history, this city will be under siege but it is the result of divine action. Ezekiel, I want you to make the invisible aggressor - Me - visible. I want My people to say that it is I that is judging them, that it is I that is behind the Babylonians'. All that is going on, the judgement in the city, it is God!
Now there's a great lesson for us as we look at this second sign, because we need to ask ourselves in the light of this sign: do we, as believers, see God behind the movements in our world? Indeed that was the picture that was given in the vision - you know that the vision in chapter 1 was a vision of movement, and those wheels within wheels, that picture movement, were touching the earth. In other words, God's continual movement and involvement is always in the human level. Do we recognise it? Well, one test that we could put on it is the Foot and Mouth scare that has come upon our nation recently. If we were to say that it's a judgement from God, I believe that there are even some believers that would say - whether audibly or inaudibly - 'Come on! How do you really know it's a judgement from God? I mean, is it really a judgement from God? Who are you to say that?'.
Now I know that we have to be very careful of becoming God's interpreter, and as the hymn says: 'God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain'. But at the same time we must not miss what the Israelites were missing, they were failing to see that there was a sovereign God who was behind all of the actions of humanity, there was a God who is controlling the world - and that God would reign and would rule! Indeed Amos tells us: 'Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?'. The Lord is involved in our humanity, the Lord is here within society, the Lord is moving according to His own will - and just as Ezekiel's contemporary, Daniel, said - His will is: 'to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men'. Do we recognise that? Do we see the invisible aggressor behind the visible?
There it is: the sign of a model of destruction, the sign of a pan of separation. Thirdly there is the bed of iniquity in verses 4 to 8, and at this point the sign changes because Ezekiel ceases to be the God who is judging the people, and he becomes now the victim. He takes on the role of the children of Judah. He becomes the siege victim, and because of that it's more complex to interpret it - but if you look at it for a moment you will see that Ezekiel is asked to lie on his side. He's asked to lie there for 390 days, it literally says: 'bearing the sin of the house of Israel'. Then he is asked to lie on his other side, the right side, for a further 40 days - and that 40 days were to be bearing the sin of the house of Judah, verses 4 to 6.
Now what is the difference between the house of Israel and the house of Judah? Well, there are other differences within the Scriptures, but I believe what Ezekiel is pointing to here is: the house of Israel is speaking of the covenant people of God - all of Israel, the North Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom, all of the people who were called by God and chosen, the elect nation, to follow after God and who had entered into the covenant there at Sinai. He is to lie, bearing the sins of Israel, for 390 days! God tells him: 'Those 390 days are equal to the 390 years - the history of your sin before God'. If you look back in the Old Testament history you will find, right from the building of the first temple right until now, there are 390 years of Israel's combined sin against God.
So if that is the history of the house of Israel and their sin that he had to bear on his left side for 390 days, what is the sin he had to bear of Judah on his right side for 40 days? Well, I believe that it's not speaking specifically of the kingdom of Judah, but it's speaking of the Judeans that were in this concentration camp at this particular moment. They were from Judah, they were from Jerusalem the capital, and there they are - and God is first of all saying: 'Now I want you to lie on your left side for 390 days to symbolise the 390 years of absolute sin and abomination of the whole covenant people of Israel, North and South Kingdoms. Then I want you to turn on your right-hand side, and I want you to lie there for 40 days to depict the 40 years of the sin of the remnant that have gone into Babylon'.
Now when you combine the dual significance of this phrase: 'bear their sin', we see all the iniquity in the community, and where is it being placed? Verse 4, it is being placed upon Ezekiel. All of the sin of Israel and of Judah is all combined and is all laid upon the great prophet! All their long history of accumulated sin, which consummates later in the siege of Jerusalem that Ezekiel is prophesying to come, all of this is just piled upon God's prophet! Just as Israel's ancestors were in the desert 40 years for their sin, so those exiles of Judah would be 40 years there in Babylon because of their long history of sin.
Now as you look at this, I'm sure that it's beginning to conjure up in your mind the doctrine of substitution. Is it? Do you see it? Do you see the prophet of God who is bearing the sins of Israel, bearing the sins of Judah? You could possibly look at that and say: 'Well, isn't that a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ? Isn't that showing the substitutionary nature of His death?' - No! It's not! Do you know why? Because the judgement was not averted. The judgement was going to come, and the judgement - as we read later - did come. Jerusalem was still destroyed, and the purpose of this action may appear to be substitutionary, but what it was for was to illustrate to the people the accumulation of their own sin. It wasn't effective in removing sin, it wasn't to be so - it was just to show them the awfulness of their sin! That is what the Old Testament sacrifices were about. They did not take away sin. Indeed if you go to Hebrews chapter 10 verses 3 and 4, we read there: 'But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year' - do you see that? A remembrance of sins every year. He goes on: 'For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins'. All of those sacrifices, the law of God, all of the temple ceremony, all it did - like this bearing of the sin of Israel by Ezekiel - was to remind God's people of their sin!
What a striking picture and reminder it was: the prophet of God used as an instrument to bear the sin of the people, yet the judgement was still impending. I'll tell you what it is, it's not a picture of substitution, but it's an awful striking picture of the need of a redeemer - of the need of one who could actually come, and by bearing the sins of the children of Israel actually take it away and divert it! It's wonderful, isn't it, to be children of the new covenant? It's wonderful to be at this side of Christmas, and to look back and to see one perfect spotless Lamb who was able to say to His Father: 'I have finished the work that Thou gavest Me to do'. We see Him expiring there at the cross, and saying: 'Tetelestai! It is finished!'. Ezekiel couldn't say that, but praise God we can say it. Praise Him that that judgement is averted.
But don't think it's all doom and gloom for the children of Israel, because there is a glimmer of hope within it. If you combine the 390 with the 40, that whole time that Ezekiel was to lie on his side for those sins, you get 430 - and 430 parallels with the years that the children of Israel spent in sojourn in Egypt. Now that might seem awful, but the parallel that God is saying here is: 'I'm going to judge you, and the combined judgement for Israel and Judah together are going to make 430 - that's the same that you spent in Egypt', but there is a light of hope! Because when a man who really knew the word of God heard that, he would've realised that God was saying: 'You're going to go through an awful judgement, but at the end of it there's going to be a new Exodus!'. Oh, it's going to be a long tunnel, but at the end of it you're going to get out - there's going to be a new entry into the land. If you read Ezra chapter 1 you will find that the Jews again are back into Jerusalem. The message - although it is primarily doom and gloom for the people, and it wouldn't be deliverance for this particular generation - but there would be a day when God's abandonment would lift from the people, it would not be forever, and that rainbow that we saw in the first vision in chapter 1 would become a reality through all of the clouds of judgement.
There's a model of destruction, a pan of separation, a bed of iniquity - and then we find, perhaps, one of the most gruesome of these signs of judgement: a diet of famine, chapter 4 and verses 9 to 17. Additional punishments were to come to Jerusalem, that is what God was saying - and it is a sign of defiled bread. It's perhaps difficult for us to even read of this, let alone a priest who never was to eat anything that was defiled or unclean, to even go through with this sign. But here we find, in verse 14, that the sign was to depict what the people were to experience after the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. It was a diet of famine. Despite the promises of the false prophets, the city and the people were going to be lost, and these various signs described the horrors that they were to experience after that event.
So Ezekiel is asked to depict it, and continuing to lie down on his side he is to live on siege rations. He was asked to eat food which was a near-starvation diet, a mere 8 ounces per day, of unpalatable mixture of grains and legumes - and legumes are just like the pods for peas. You can imagine eating that mixed up with grain into a kind of porridge and then baked. Starvation diet! He was only allowed two-thirds of a quart of water to drink day by day. What God was showing was the scarcity that there would be after the judgement had fallen on Jerusalem - there wouldn't be even one particular kind of grain to make a loaf of bread from. Indeed in the third century AD it was said that somebody actually made up a cake like this, and tried out an experiment - and even the dog wouldn't eat Ezekiel's bread. That's how horrible it was, and not only were the rations small and unappetising, but this priest of God who was never to touch or eat anything unclean was actually asked by God to cook this bread over the dung of a man! After cooking it over human excrement, this man Ezekiel would be deemed ceremonially unclean.
He cried to God and he protested, and from his protest God said: 'Well, do it with animal dung' - which is done today in some parts of the world, India and Africa. But what God was wanting to depict to the people is: 'This famine is coming to you because of another famine. This famine is coming because of a famine of the word of God, because My people are defiled, because My people are ceremonially unclean'. We are meant to be turned off by this whole escapade. As we read this, and God tells him to cook his bread - and look at the bread! - he's asked to cook it over human dung, we're meant to feel nauseated! Why? God is trying to communicate to His people the awful sinfulness of sin! It is disgusting! It does turn us to nausea, because I believe that is the disposition of the Almighty with His people's sin. It makes Him sick! In fact, when you go into the book of Leviticus, Israel is told there that if they defile the land with their sin that the land would spew them out. We are not children of the land, our citizenship is in heaven, yet that promise is still there for us - to the church of Laodicea. If we become lukewarm, if we become defiled in our sin, the Lord will spew us out! Do you see it? A diet of famine.
Then you have, fifthly, a sword of wrath. The fifth and final that you find in all of chapter 5 verses 1 to 17. In verses 1 to 3 you find what's very unusual - to find a priest shaving off all of his hair. Ezekiel seems to be doing everything that a priest ought not to do! In fact we find in 2 Samuel 10 and verse 4 that it was a shame for a priest to shave his head, because we read there that: 'Hanun took David's servants, and shaved off one half of their beards', and it was an awful shame to the house of David. I believe that the people, as they watched Ezekiel shave all the hair off his head and his beard, they would have all gathered round to see this spectacle as he acts out the imagery of what God was going to do to His people. He's acting out the imagery that you find in Isaiah 7 and verse 20 where God says: 'I am going to hire a razor. I'm not going to use my own'. In other words: 'I'm going to borrow someone else to do this job' - and here God is, borrowing the Babylonians to take judgement upon His own people. He is hiring the razor.
Here is the prophet, he shaves all this hair off his face - and then what he does is: he takes a set of scales and he carefully divides the hair, it says, into three parts. Do you know what that is saying? That this is not done haphazardly, that God never judges the world or never judges His people haphazardly, but it is done meticulously - it is all measured and meted out. In verse 12 you find that one-third of that hair he took and he burned it inside the city, and he was depicting how there'll be one-third of the children of Judah that would be destroyed, burnt in the city in the siege. Then we read that he takes a second third of hair and he moves outside the city, and he throws up in the air and he smites it with a sword - he cuts it into pieces - and he is telling that the second third of the group of people would be those outside the city who would be killed later in exile. Then the last third of the hair, he lifts it up and he throws it into the wind and he let it go to the four corners of the earth. He is saying that there is a group of people, and they will go down to Egypt - and that's the group of people that took Jeremiah to Egypt eventually - but there will be another group that will be scattered all over the world.
Then you read that not only was there a bit of hair that he burnt inside the city, and there was hair that he went out of the city and cut up into bits, and there was a third part that he threw up in the air and went to the four corners of the world - but we also read that there was a little smittering of hair in his skirt. God is saying: 'There will be a remnant. There will be a people that I will take back with Me. It is a small remnant, but there will be those who eventually will come back in My skirts'. Now we don't have time to look at this, but if you go home and read chapter 5 of Ezekiel and go then to Leviticus, and read chapter 26 of Leviticus, you will find there that these are not Ezekiel's words, but it is exactly the same words that you find in Leviticus - because Leviticus is a chapter of the law where God is laying down for Israel the blessings and the cursings of the covenant. You will find within Leviticus 26 the sins that are mentioned within this chapter, and indeed the sins that Israel are guilty of here. You find that God, in Ezekiel chapter 5, is interpreting the sins of Israel as a breach of the covenant that you find in Leviticus chapter 26. Do you see it? God is saying here, through this great visual experiment and illustration: 'My people have broken My covenant'!
It shows, as He metes out this judgement, that His judgement is absolutely fair. They have broken their agreement, the people have not kept their side of the covenant, of the bargain. But you know, it's worse than that, because Israel had not only failed to live up to God's standard, but if you look at verse 7 it says there that they failed even to live up to the standards of the nations around them. Imagine that, that the nations that Israel was meant to be a light unto were looking into Israel and saying: 'Look at the way they're living! They can't do anything right!'. Because of that God's people, who would be a light to the nations, their light was being put out by God!
What a testimony to the utter failure of all those men and women born into Adam from the very beginning. But what a testimony - I think this is wonderful - that even though there has never been a people, even God's people, throughout all time who has been able to keep His covenant in Leviticus 26, there was one man, the last Adam, who came and perfectly and absolutely fulfilled the covenant of Jehovah - and we, because He takes the curse, we get into the blessing! Oh, isn't it wonderful? He takes our curse, He gives us the blessing. The sword of God's wrath descends upon Him. His holy soul is burnt with judgement for us. As Paul says to the Thessalonians: 'For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him'. Hallelujah for a wonderful Saviour!
Now there are questions that come out of this passage that I think we have to deal with tonight, because of the age in which we live. It answers a little to what we introduced this subject with, the preaching of the Gospel and how we preach a message of judgement to a day and age in which we live. These actions are very odd to us today, and you can imagine how odd they were for Ezekiel's own people - they were equally as odd. But you have to remember that this was a man who swallowed the word of God! Remember, last week? He swallowed it, and that means that because he swallowed it the word of God was taking flesh before their eyes.
So how do we communicate the message of God today? Do we use visual aids like Ezekiel? How do we portray to a lost and a judged world that God is going to come and judge them if He does not save them? In the past preachers seemed to be happy with words and word pictures, and they seemed to be able to show the great wrath of God and depict it in an awful way. But that's not the age in which we live. We live in an age that is increasing in technology, it's a visual age. It has the impact of television, of videos, and we have been transformed from a generation that used to be word-centred to a generation that is now image-centred. So now you have churches that are now bringing in drama and all sorts of things to, as they see it, effectively describe and depict the message of God.
I remember, a few years back, taking a weekend youth mission - and I didn't know about this before I took it, and the first night I was asked to preach for 15 minutes. I thought that was a little bit strange, they obviously didn't know me! But 15 minutes - and when I got there, there was a drama group - and one hour later, after the meeting started, I then was allowed to preach for 15 minutes - after they had acted out for one hour! I went up to one of the actors afterwards and asked what his authority was for such a display, and guess what book he pointed to? Ezekiel. Now we must deal with this, because the church is being riddled with all this dramatisation. We must see here, and this I think is the fundamental thing, it may seem legitimate at a first glance to say that this is a way to communicate the Gospel because Ezekiel did it in his day - but that misses the whole point! The point of what Ezekiel did was that it was authorised by the divine being. God had told him to do it, God had given authority for him to carry out this dramatisation. As he was carrying it out, he was functioning as the divine word made visible and made sure. In other words, the message of Ezekiel took over the messenger - it was dominating his life.
That is the first principle when we communicate the Gospel, and it is this: we must seek in our methods, and in our communication, that we use that which is ordained of God. We read in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 1:21: 'For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe'. Now the real fulfilment of what Ezekiel was doing in all of his dramatisation acts is not that we do the same, but the whole point of it is what it actually pointed to - and we then ask the question: how does God now communicate His love and His judgement to a lost and dying world? What is His ultimate dramatic act now? What is it? Just as the word became flesh in Ezekiel, the word has become flesh in Christ. That is our message, that is our dramatisation: 'The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth'. What Christ did is real, hallelujah! What Ezekiel did was a depiction, was pointing forward, but our Lord Jesus lived, He died, and the greatest sign act of all was that He died taking our sins - but, praise God, taking them away!
Just as Jerusalem was once abandoned by God because of their sin, our Lord Jesus Christ, the sinless one, was abandoned on Golgotha's hill by God that we might go free. The difference between what Ezekiel does and what we do is: our sins are gone! We aren't to depict anything, we aren't to act anything, we are to tell what has happened! What is done! We are called to act out our message like Ezekiel's - and this is the greatest challenge of all: if you want to dramatise the message of God, do you know what you are asked to do? You are asked to dramatise what Christ did for you, what did He say? 'Take up your cross daily, and follow Me'.
Do you know what we need today? We don't need new methods, we don't need new gimmicks - and let's ask the question: with all the gimmicks that they've brought into the church of Jesus Christ, has it brought a great awakening? No, if anything there's more reproach in the eyes of the world - and I believe the devil's laughing at us! What we need is men filled with the Holy Ghost, willing to be fools for Christ and willing to dramatise in their own life the message I bear in my body: the dying of the Lord Jesus! Oh, my friends, God's chosen method is still incarnation - the life of God in us. My question to you as we close is this: are we, like Ezekiel, acting out the message of God, living out the message of God - not dead orthodoxy, that's dramatisation and acting - the real thing, the Living God living in me? For if we were doing that, I think we would find a great awakening.
Our Father, we thank Thee that Thy plan of salvation is the divine life within the human. Lord, the apostle John told us that no man has seen God at any time, but he also goes on to tell us that the way God will be seen today is in the lives of His children when they love one another, when they lay down their life for the brethren, and when they have a heart broken for the lost to win them to Christ. Lord, help us - like Ezekiel, but we do it in a more superior sense - to live out the message of Christ in us, the hope of glory. 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 fourth tape in his Ezekiel series, titled "Signs Of Judgement" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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