- The Reason for Judgement (6:1-7; 11-14)
- The Remnant of Judgement (6:8-10)
- The Arrival of Judgement (7:1-27)
We'll be looking tonight at Ezekiel 6 and 7, God willing, if time permits us. I hope you read these verses before you came, because if you haven't you might be in a bit of trouble. Ezekiel chapters 6 and 7.
Verse 1: "And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying", and that phrase has been repeated continually, in fact Ezekiel is unique in the sense that the word of the Lord has come to him more than any prophet - as far as I can understand - within the Scriptures. He receives so many revelations, and so many messages from God. "Son of man, set thy face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, And say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God; Thus saith the Lord God to the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys; Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. And your altars shall be desolate, and your images shall be broken: and I will cast down your slain men before your idols. And I will lay the dead carcases of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars. In all your dwellingplaces the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished. And the slain shall fall in the midst of you, and ye shall know that I am the Lord". Please underline that every time you see it within the book of Ezekiel. "Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries. And they that escape of you shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall loathe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations. And they shall know that I am the Lord, and that I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them. Thus saith the Lord God; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot", speaking to Ezekiel, "and say, Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence. He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remaineth and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus will I accomplish my fury upon them. Then shall ye know that I am the Lord, when their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars, upon every high hill, in all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak, the place where they did offer sweet savour to all their idols. So will I stretch out my hand upon them, and make the land desolate, yea, more desolate than the wilderness toward Diblath, in all their habitations: and they shall know that I am the Lord.
"Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Also, thou son of man, thus saith the Lord God unto the land of Israel; An end, the end is come" - now please, if you mark your Bible, underline that as well, you'll see it repeated through this chapter - "An end, the end is come upon the four corners of the land". Again: "Now is the end come upon thee, and I will send mine anger upon thee, and will judge thee according to thy ways, and will recompense upon thee all thine abominations. And mine eye shall not spare thee, neither will I have pity: but I will recompense thy ways upon thee, and thine abominations shall be in the midst of thee: and ye shall know that I am the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God; An evil, an only evil, behold, is come. An end is come, the end is come: it watcheth for thee; behold, it is come. The morning is come unto thee, O thou that dwellest in the land: the time is come, the day of trouble is near, and not the sounding again of the mountains. Now will I shortly pour out my fury upon thee, and accomplish mine anger upon thee: and I will judge thee according to thy ways, and will recompense thee for all thine abominations. And mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: I will recompense thee according to thy ways and thine abominations that are in the midst of thee; and ye shall know that I am the Lord that smiteth. Behold the day, behold, it is come: the morning is gone forth; the rod hath blossomed, pride hath budded. Violence is risen up into a rod of wickedness: none of them shall remain, nor of their multitude, nor of any of theirs: neither shall there be wailing for them. The time is come, the day draweth near: let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn: for wrath is upon all the multitude thereof. For the seller shall not return to that which is sold, although they were yet alive: for the vision is touching the whole multitude thereof, which shall not return; neither shall any strengthen himself in the iniquity of his life. They have blown the trumpet, even to make all ready; but none goeth to the battle: for my wrath is upon all the multitude thereof. The sword is without, and the pestilence and the famine within: he that is in the field shall die with the sword; and he that is in the city, famine and pestilence shall devour him. But they that escape of them shall escape, and shall be on the mountains like doves of the valleys, all of them mourning, every one for his iniquity. All hands shall be feeble, and all knees shall be weak as water. They shall also gird themselves with sackcloth, and horror shall cover them; and shame shall be upon all faces, and baldness upon all their heads. They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed: their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord: they shall not satisfy their souls, neither fill their bowels: because it is the stumblingblock of their iniquity. As for the beauty of his ornament, he set it in majesty: but they made the images of their abominations and of their detestable things therein: therefore have I set it far from them. And I will give it into the hands of the strangers for a prey, and to the wicked of the earth for a spoil; and they shall pollute it. My face will I turn also from them, and they shall pollute my secret place: for the robbers shall enter into it, and defile it". Now He speaks to Ezekiel and ask him to do one of his many sign acts. He tells him, Ezekiel: "Make a chain: for the land is full of bloody crimes, and the city is full of violence. Wherefore I will bring the worst of the heathen, and they shall possess their houses: I will also make the pomp of the strong to cease; and their holy places shall be defiled. Destruction cometh; and they shall seek peace, and there shall be none. Mischief shall come upon mischief, and rumour shall be upon rumour; then shall they seek a vision of the prophet; but the law shall perish from the priest, and counsel from the ancients. The king shall mourn, and the prince shall be clothed with desolation, and the hands of the people of the land shall be troubled: I will do unto them after their way, and according to their deserts will I judge them; and they shall know that I am the Lord".
I don't know whether you heard this week, but insurance premiums have gone up in price. I'm sure you have heard that, much to your pain. I was listening to a programme on Radio 4 during the week, where they were discussing this. They were debating about the fact that the insurance premiums have risen purely because so many people are claiming compensation. They went into a philosophical debate about why this is so in our century: so many people are claiming compensation, and they indeed christened us a 'Compensation Society'. In other words, if you have an accident - whether you have whiplash or not - you claim for whiplash, because you know that you probably will get the money for it. They, in their secular discussion, were able to come to the conclusion that the reason why we're a 'Compensation Society' is due to our fondness of attributing blame to others. When we have accidents it's never to do with our stupidity, or our clumsiness. Someone else is to blame. If we crack our toe go on the footpath, it's the Council.
That mentality is filtering into society, and no-one any more seems to want to take true blame. Indeed, as we look around us and even look at the television this evening at the news, we see that justice once again has been castrated. It seems that there is no justice any longer in the courts of our land. Right and wrong are hard to tell apart nowadays, and I would say that they've almost become legally indistinguishable. We look at our own land and the politics, and what has gone on in the last few years since the Good Friday Agreement, and we see now today that terrorists are compensated more than the victims of terror.
We could almost cry with the Psalmist in 73 and verse 12, where he in his day was looking around and seeing all these injustices. A society that was not willing to take blame, but blamed those who were right and acquitted those who were wrong. He cried out: 'Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches'. The ungodly prosper, the evil are the ones who are rich. Well, the message of these two chapters we have read together this evening - and it was necessary to read both chapters, they go together. There are so many details in it, but listen, the one theme that must surely have come across to your mind is this: men and women may get away with their wickedness here and now in this dispensation, but this message of God is, 'You can run, but you cannot hide!'. Judgement is coming! The judgement of God is inevitable, and because of the hotchpotch of a lack of blame within our society, a lack of accountability, a lack of absolutism whereby we know what is right and wrong - whether morally or legally - the judgement of God will be an even greater shock because men think they have evaded it.
I don't know whether you have ever pondered the link between the dilution of the judicial system in our age today, and the denial of the doctrines of judgement. Have you ever set them beside one another? How a father convicted of sexually abusing his daughter can get three years jail? Then you measure that beside the theological concept of judgement for sin, and what you find - I believe - if you look at it, is that the lack of justice within our society is infiltrating into the minds of men and women so that they believe that there will never be consequences for their sin. If you can get away with crime - in other words, in your realm of reality, life, day by day living, if that is a place where men and women can get away with murder, heinous crimes, rape, that breeds within your mind and within your soul ultimately a confidence that it will always be so.
What happens is: the minimalisation of guilt becomes the cause of horror when men and women realise that there is a day coming when they will be judged severely. Do you see the parallel? Do you see the link that there is? Do you see why men and women don't want to believe in hell? Do you see why, in our society, theologians are diluting the concept of the judgement of God? And when you read chapters like Ezekiel 6 and 7 you wonder how they can do it! The graphic language that God is an angry God, and that God is declaring - as our title tells us - that 'the end is here!', that He will come in judgement. That does not only apply to the law of our land, but it applies - as we have said - to the laws of God. When you conclude, think about this for a moment, when you conclude that God is a God of love, just a God of love who will never ever punish you, who certainly won't send you to the lake of fire for all eternity, what happens is there is a process within you that you allow yourself the liberty of changing truth.
You see, if you don't believe there'll be any consequences for changing truth, why wouldn't you change it? If you don't believe in a hell, why would you ever contemplate an angry God? What happens is: when you don't believe there are consequences for your actions, you can then change truth - and when you change truth you begin to misrepresent God, and when you start to misrepresent God you get a new god, and when you get a new god you commit the sin of idolatry.
Don't always think that we're cocooned in the church, and are not affected by the world around us - because we are. Theologians, Bible teachers, are affected by society's values that prevail - and when you have a liberal society you will have a liberal church. The most serious sin that I can see within the Scriptures is the rebellion of idolatry in the eyes of an Almighty and a Sovereign Living God, for it is a serious thing to misrepresent the character of God. That is what idolatry is! To misrepresent the Almighty, and that is the sin that Israel was guilty of here - and God's message is: 'That sin just can't disappear! That sin must be judged and, Israel, that judgement is inevitable!'.
So we have the reason, first of all, for the judgement. We see it in verse 2 where He says to Ezekiel: 'Son of man, set thy face toward the mountains of Israel', and then in verse 3 you have, 'Ye mountains of Israel'. It's as if Ezekiel is turning and speaking to the mountains, that's exactly what he's doing. Now why is he speaking to mountains? Well, you remember in chapters 4 and 5 where Ezekiel was given the signs of judgement, those signs of judgement were specifically for the city of Jerusalem. But now the judgement, the borders, the horizon of this judgement, are being broadened. God is saying: 'I'm not just going to judge Jerusalem, but I'm going to judge the whole nation of Israel, north and south'.
But it means more than that, because for the Jew the concept of the mountains of Israel, if you like, was the home territory of God. Now I don't want to pull it down to our levels, but if I can illustrate it as His home territory, His home playing ground. The mountains were especially God's place, in fact the Lord refers to the mountains of Israel Himself as: 'My mountains'. God dwelt there in a special way, and even when the people of Israel were away in exile they were still God's mountains. As we read the word of God, even when Israel was taken captive by a foreign force - whether it be the Babylonians or another empire - the mountains of God still remained His home territory.
Now when you get that in your mind you begin to realise the seriousness of this sin, because God is directing His judgement towards His own home territory. In other words He is saying: 'Do you see this sin of idolatry? Do you see this sin of misrepresenting God? Well, if you like, you are bringing that sin right to My door step!'. The sin of idolatry had entered in, right into the very home territory of God Himself.
There's a third reason why Ezekiel addresses the mountains, and that is because in the hill countries of Palestine that is where there were located, in little spots, the high places of worship. If you look at verse 3 you see it mentioned there: 'and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys...I will destroy your high places'. Those high places were little coves, little groves, and there would have been a stone platform on which there would be an altar to the foreign god - Baal or Asherah - and there would be other cultic practices, and objects, and gods, and various other statues that people would worship and bow down to. They were constructed, and sometimes there were little buildings or, if you like, little chapels. There were idols housed within them, they lived there and men and women worshipped them there.
As you read the Old Testament you will find that, prior to the building of the temple in Jerusalem, the Lord allowed that God should be worshipped in those vacated high places of another god. Before there was any place, as long as the men and women of Israel were worshipping the true and the living God, God allowed them - 1 Kings 3 and 2 - to worship Himself in those high places on the hills. But as we read Old Testament history we find that, once the temple in Jerusalem was built, God told them in Deuteronomy chapter 12 that that was to be the centre place of worship - worship was not to take place anywhere else, but at the temple in Jerusalem!
As you and I know in many ways in life, and especially in religion, old paths die hard - the old habits that we have, especially when those old habits are more convenient for ourselves, and the locations are more flexible, and the rules are broader. That is exactly what happened to the children of Israel: they were allowed to use these places when there was no temple, but when the temple came and God said: 'Now you've to worship Me here, and don't worship Me there', the people said: 'Well, it's more expedient for me to worship You in these high places. It's more convenient, it's nearer my house. The rules of this God are more flexible!'.
Often the figures of Baal and Asherah were erected once again in those high hills, and again the ritualistic sexual practises took place above every high hill, and under every green tree as they worshipped the fertility gods. One by one, year by year, this pagan religion began once again to infiltrate into God's Judaism. If you turn to 2 Kings - you don't need to do it now - 2 Kings 23, you'll find there that even those ministering at the high places in King Josiah's day were not just pagan priests of Baal and Asherah, but the very priests of Jehovah, God's priests, were standing there worshipping and offering sacrifices to another god!
All of that religious behaviour can be summed up in a word that is extremely relevant and contemporary for us today, the word 'syncretism'. What syncretism is is when you combine the truth of God with false religion, you get a syncretistic faith. The distinctions of the true and living God were being blurred. Israel's distinctiveness as the people of God, and as a shining light among the nations, and as having the only way to God, was being diluted. You can see this if you read through the books of Kings and Chronicles, you can see that it was the primary concern of the writers of those books - that the kings, one after another, failed in wiping this old religion of Baal worship out. God continually told them: 'Knock down those altars, knock down those high hills and worshipping places of the god of Baal'. But time after time there was this repeated failure of reigning monarchs to suppress the high places, in both the Northern and the Southern kingdoms. As we read Old Testament history we find out that the only two kings, Hezekiah and Josiah were the only two monarchs that attempted to destroy them!
We read, even, that at times this syncretism - this false mongrel of a religion - was officially encouraged! It was sanctioned, it was stamped by the kings - and some of them even worshipped those gods themselves! Some of them weren't as bad as that, they only turned a blind eye to it. Now listen, I hear people say sometimes, you know: 'See in the day and age in which we live, we've got to make the word of God relevant'. That's a lot of rubbish! You don't need to make the word of God relevant, it is relevant! If people would just take it and preach it they would find that it becomes relevant!
Can you see a more clear picture in all the world of our day than this? A day when there is religious syncretism, and pluralism, and ecumenism - there are no more absolutes any more, but as long as you're sincere and have a heart after some kind of deity out there, and as long as you're nice to one another, smile all the time, God will accept you! It doesn't matter any more what truth really is! You have the priests of Christendom standing up and worshipping other gods - some of them even standing and saying they don't even know if there is a God! You have the 'Defender of the Faith' saying he will be the 'Defender of the Faiths'. This is the kind of society that we are living in, and with the ones that are actually worshipping other gods you have the other ones who just turn a blind eye to it and let it go on, and don't even shout about it.
We see for Israel that in Leviticus 26, as we saw the parallels last week, there the covenant was laid out for God's people and they were giving the blessings and the cursings. They were blessed if they were obedient and stayed with God, and if they were disobedient they were cursed. You see the parallel here again, it can be heard, the curse of God because they had fallen away from the covenant, they had become a rebellious people for worshipping and following another god! There you have it, the reason for the judgement: absolute and utter idolatry.
Now listen, let's bring it into our day even more for the situation is just contemporary to us - but certainly I would say Ezekiel is not contemporary, because there's very few of them around today. Now what do I mean by that? Well, I mean that if you stood up in Parliament, or even in public, and shouted at the top of your voice what Ezekiel said, people would be absolutely astounded and turn nauseated at such ignorance and arrogance! In a contemporary pluralistic society Ezekiel's words are terrible!
Now look at this, idols are mentioned through chapter 6 consecutively. Do you see the word in the Hebrew that Ezekiel uses? It's a favourite word of his - because he uses it right through the passage - for idols, do you know what it actually means? It's a bit like what Paul does, he makes up words when he can't think of a word to describe what he's meaning. What Ezekiel does is he takes two words and makes an artificial one. The first word is the word 'to roll', the second word is for 'a detestable object'. So he takes the Hebrew word 'to roll', and the Hebrew word for 'a detestable object' - he sticks them together, and he makes a word that means 'idol'. Do you know what the imagery is? Just think about it for a minute: a rolling object that defiles. You don't need to think too long, he is speaking of excrement. Ezekiel, in the strongest language that you can imagine, is calling these idols of Baal and Asherah pieces of dung!
But let me tell you, he does it in even cruder terms that I couldn't tell you from the pulpit tonight. For if we were to take it into our society, and try and explain what Ezekiel was saying, we couldn't say it - it's so crude! As one author said on this verse: 'Such is not the typical language of inter-faith dialogue in our culture'. Sure it's not? If you can imagine Archbishop Eams telling Cardinal Sean Daly that his idols are just pieces of dung. You can imagine what would happen [it would be] all over the papers, on Talkback, on Question Time, and everybody would be in a hue and cry - but here's Ezekiel, doesn't care, it's the truth of God!
Now the question that we have to answer here is: do we do what Ezekiel did? Now I don't mean in our scathing remarks, but I mean Ezekiel didn't just say this - some of the prophets, even Gideon, went and pulled these things down and smashed them up! Is that what we're to do? We have to be very careful, because many people have read the Old Testament and misrepresented it and misinterpreted it. Because modern nations, in other words - and this might hurt a few of you - but the nation that we live in is not God's nation. We are not in a covenant with God as a people! Therefore, because there isn't that covenant relationship between God and the United Kingdom, we must beware that we don't bring in the rules and regulations of a covenant relationship.
Now I know that in British history a lot of men did believe that we were in covenant relationship with God, but you'll not find that within the Scripture. We are not in a relationship, covenantly, with God - so to a large extent it doesn't matter what men and women do around us. But this is the inference, and this is how we must apply it to our day and age: Israel were God's covenant people, and if you want to take the parallel into our century today, in our dispensation the people of God and the people that are covenanted by the Spirit of God is the church of God. Right, we apply it. That means that if we are to do today what Ezekiel was doing then, we are to come into Christendom and into the realm of religion and we are to declare what the truth is, and we are to declare that the covenant of God has been diluted, that idols have been brought up into the church of Jesus Christ, into His covenant people.
Let me give you an example of this, because this is exactly what Paul did. Let me give you two examples in fact. In the book of Acts you have Paul in Athens, and he looks at the altar unto the unknown God, and what does he do? Does he say: 'You pagan sinners!'? The AV says: 'I perceive that you are superstitious', and indeed the Greek seems to indicate that Paul is actually saying: 'I perceive that you are religious'. It seems that Paul is almost commending them for their seeking after the God, or a god, even if he's the unknown God. So there is a people, the Greeks living in Athens, and they are not covenanted to God - they are a Gentile nation. Paul comes to them and tells them the way, the living way.
But it's different for Paul when he finds people who say they're Christians, preaching a false gospel. When he finds the people who claim to be covenanted by God, and are taking the name of Christ as their own - and he uses the harshest words possible, and he reserves them for those who are preaching: 'Anathema'! That tells me that there can be no polite dialogue with those who Paul considers under eternal condemnation. Do you see how we apply this in our day? You can look at it - we don't have time - to Galatians 1 and verse 8, and he says: 'It doesn't whether an angel from heaven come down and preach another gospel, he is accursed of God if it is not the truth!'. Go to Galatians 5 and verse 12 he says the same thing, and in Philippians 3 and verse 2 he describes anyone who came into the church, into the religious realm, and among the covenanted people of God by the Spirit, and preached another gospel - do you know what he said? 'They're dogs! Beware of dogs!'.
Now again that doesn't impact us today in our realm, because a dog was the dirtiest animal you can imagine in Palestine. It had other connotations, it was such a strong word - and in fact you could even think of words now that are related to dogs in our language that are absolutely abusive, but that is the connotation, that is the strength of it. He even talks about those who came into Galatia telling them that they needed to be circumcised and Paul said: 'I wish they were even cut off!' - and he's not talking about cut off from the people of God! He says: 'If they want to be circumcised, well why don't they go the whole way and be emasculated!'.
You can see that Paul uses the strongest language possible when it comes to those who will pervert the truth and the gospel of Almighty God. It doesn't matter whether it's a dead body that they're flying around the world for men and women to touch - that is idolatry in the sight of God and should be condemned from every Bible believing pulpit in the land! It is absolute blasphemy! Because of that God says: 'Do you know what I'm going to do?'. In verses 11 to 14, and also at the start of chapter 6, He says: 'I'm going to do a death dance. I want you to do it out for Me, Ezekiel'. You see, in these high places where they worshipped the other gods, as they would sacrifice to their gods and bring homage, they would do a ritualistic dance. As they were committing and consecrating the place to their god, they would dance around it, and sing and all the rest. But God takes this, and almost - if I could say it - in a sarcastic way, He says: 'Well, I'm going to do a dance of death! Just as you consecrate this place for your holy worship, I'm going to slay the people round, and I'm going to lay them round just the way they would dance - but they'll be corpses, and they'll lie in death, and they'll lie in blood - do you know why? I'm going to do what every monarch in Israel and Judah failed to do - I'm going to do it!'. Why? 'Because then they will know that I am the Lord'.
Do you see what a big thing it is to misrepresent and violate the character of Almighty God? That's the motive of the covenant in Leviticus, to not misrepresent the character of God - and you see, my friend, even in our own Christendom, and now sadly in evangelicalism, how our God is misrepresented as an impotent, powerless, weak grandfather who's just a God of love. It stinks to God. That is the reason for the judgement.
Then, secondly, we have the remnant of the judgement in verses 8 to 10. You see there that there is a glimmer of hope in chapter 6, because God tells Ezekiel: 'There will be some, and it will not be now Ezekiel, but in the years to come they will look back with hindsight, they will remember and have bad memories of what they did. They will remember me, they will remember their idolatrous sins, and they will have self-loathing. The sin of idolatry that they once delighted in, it will come to them and it will be the object of horror in their eyes, and terror, and conviction of their sin. Ezekiel, this is future, it's not going to happen now. It's going to take time for this to fester and germinate within their heart, but the judgement that I bring upon them, it will bring them to the realisation of what they have done!'.
Now from a theological point of view, an eschatological point of view, it tells us this: that God never ever cut off Israel finally in history, and He never ever will finally cut them off. There will always be a remnant, always be some who are faithful - but I think this is, perhaps, one of the darkest hours in the whole of Israel's history, except today. For it takes them a while until they realise, only some of them, what they have done. That quickly transpires from verses 8 to 10 talking about a hopeful remnant, right back into judgement - it's only a glimpse of hope. You find again in verses 11 to 14 a threefold judgement that you find repeated throughout the Old Testament: there is the judgement of the sword, war; there is the judgement of the famine, hunger; there is the judgement of the plague, disease - and once again it's unleashed on all of the land. In verse 11 you can read that, from house-to-house for the abominations - and that word 'Alas', literally means 'Hooray! Hooray! God is judging His people's sin!'.
Isn't that awful? This fearsome trio of sword, famine, and plague can be found in Leviticus 26 as a judgement of a violation of the covenant of God. If we had time we could go to Revelation chapter 6 and see that the four horsemen of the apocalypse - three of them are sword, famine, and plague. It is God's way of judging, and it even points in this through to a future great tribulation upon the whole of this world.
What a picture of our world today, what a picture - because Baal worship and Asherah worship is still with us. Do you know why? Because Baal was the thunder god, in other words the god of power, and the male god of fertility. Asherah was the female goddess of fertility, and we know her better from the Greek goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of love - so-called - 'Eros'. There you have it, and the Israelites were wandering after these gods - and do you know what they believed? That when these two gods copulated in heaven, there would be rain on the earth and the seeds would grow and there'd be fertility. They believed that the way to worship these two gods, and to help them copulate in heaven, was for men and women to commit fornication all over the world - and under every green tree, and upon every high hill, this is what God's people were doing!
My friends, if you don't see the parallels today with our world - as one writer put it: 'To put it into the contemporary vernacular, Baal and Asherah were in effect the patron saints of sex and guns and rock roll - promising to deliver a potent mixture of satisfaction to the desires for power, success, and pleasure'. Sex, power, and money - only look to Hollywood and you'll find out that those are the gods of today. Now, the church of Jesus Christ wouldn't remotely - I hope, at least the true Church - bow down to pieces of wood and stone and metal. That is beyond us, and therefore we think that we are not committing idolatry. But you know, and I know, that we can have little high places in our heart. We can have little altars to unknown, or even known, gods. Even in our lives, in our families, we can have them as a god, our career as a god, our business, our self achievement, our academia, our recognition, our doctrine - even our church, our denomination!
One writer put it: 'Our high place may be the office, where we sacrifice our relationships to win the blessing of the god of career. It may be the family room, where we consecrate our prime time to the god of entertainment. We measure our value and success by the extent to which these gods smile on us, and consider ourselves of little value when they frown on us'. At times, because of these things, we often despair within ourselves that our desires for God are not enough. You know, C. S. Lewis says that's not the case, he says: 'Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward in the Bible, and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that the Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak! We are half-hearted creatures fooling around with drink, and sex, and ambition - when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum, because he cannot understand what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea, we are far too easily pleased'.
For the believer the choice is between reward and loss, for the unbeliever the choice is between life and death. We hear today, around our world and in the church: 'It doesn't matter what you believer as long as you're sincere' - but what that is in cold language is: 'It doesn't matter what you believe about God'. If it doesn't matter what you believe about God that is idolatry, and that is a matter of life and death - and it means that it matters all the more, for God is a jealous God! God is one who will not suffer caricatures like that.
The reason for the judgement, the remnant of the judgement, and finally: the arrival of the judgement. Many think the message of the prophets continually through the word of God was this: 'Repent, for the end is near'. You know the wee man walking about: 'The end is nigh'. That's not what Ezekiel's message was, his message was: 'It's too late to repent, the end is here!'. What an awful, awful message to have to preach. The message that you find in Genesis, remember we saw the parallels between the beginning in Genesis and this book? In Genesis 6 verses 5 and 6 you have: 'And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart'.
Do you know what God says in chapter 6 and verse 9? He says: 'I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me - my heart is broken'. In other words, if we could put it in our language today, He is saying: 'This is going to hurt Me as much as it's hurting you' - it has come. For the first time in this chapter 7 - in every chapter so far there has been a glimmer of hope: the rainbow in chapter 1, the remnant in chapter 6, but if you go through this chapter you'll not find one iota of hope. Totally dark, totally gloomy, and it's in poetic form. God Himself - do you know how He refers to Himself? As 'the Lord Attacker'! Verse 9, look at it, He says: 'I am the Lord that strikes the blow, I am the Lord that striketh!'. He says over over again: 'The end is here', verse 2 of chapter 7, verse 3, verse 6, verse 7, verse 10, verse 12. He over and over again says: 'The end is come, the end is come, the end is come, the end is come!'.
God's anger is burning against His people. His wrath is kindled. Imagine the impact of this - this is God's covenant people! God who had been revealed to Abraham as Jehovah Jireh, God the Provider; been revealed to God's people as Jehovah Nissi, God my Banner - and that simply means 'God my Protector'. So here you have a people that have seen God as their provider, and God as their protector, and now God says: 'I'm Jehovah Makeh (sp?), the Lord that smites you!'. God's patience had run out with His people, and God's anger was personal. If you count how many times, even in verses 8 and 9 of chapter 7, that you read the word 'I' it's amazing. He saying: 'I'm doing it, I shortly will pour out my fury upon thee, I will judge thee. Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity'. God is saying: 'This is a personal anger, I have a personal controversy with my people. I am not an impersonal cosmic force or law, I am a personal God who is holy, and a God who is angry!', in verse 3, 'A God who has reason, just cause, to be angry - for I am recompensing you for your works!'.
The land, if you like, was ripe for judgement. Verse 10 says the rod had blossomed, and the rod speaks of Nebuchadnezzar - meaning that the time for God's rod, he was actually God's threshing instrument for the children of Israel. God took Nebuchadnezzar in His hand, verse 11 explains that violence had become a rod of wickedness - and God was using Nebuchadnezzar to discipline and to chastise His people. What is being predicted in chapters 6 and 7 is the final destruction of Jerusalem and the temple that will come in 586 BC - the final destruction of that city and the third deportation to Babylon. They cast God's law aside, they put it behind their back - so God would set His face against them, God would force them to despair at their idols, God would make them dissatisfied with their hoarding up of silver and gold. They would cast their silver and gold into the streets, and they would break down their idols. Their material possessions would mean nothing to them - look at verses 19 to 22 - they would be meaningless, they wouldn't fill their belly or their bowels, they wouldn't satisfy their hearts.
In verse 22 we see God says: 'Not only that, but I'll let them go into the very Holy of Holies, My secret place - I will let the Gentiles, the worst of pagans, walk in and defile my place'. We heard yesterday morning that they set up their ensigns, their signs of pagan religion and military prestige. He says, in verses 26 and 27, that in this judgement He will be no respecter of persons. 'The king shall mourn, and the prince', verse 26, 'the priest' - all the religious realm, all the hierarchy and the monarchy, they will all come to naught for they have left God! He told Ezekiel: 'I want you to do another sign: take chains and put them on your arms, and show these people that I'm going to chain them because they have chained themselves to their sin'.
We see God's people, Israel, still in absolute misery and distress today because of this very same thing. D.A. Carson preached on a tape about these chapters, all of judgement, do you know what he called it? 'When God Shoots to Kill' - an awful thought! But the reality is this: any nation that rejects the knowledge of God, it will lose its moral fibre, it has no means of support or protection when it falls into trouble. This is exactly what is happening - God isn't even protecting them, He is the Lord the Aggressor, the one that's smiting them. We might declare: 'O God, our help in ages past', because of the first world war and the second world war - but let me tell you this: because of what our government and church and society are doing today, if we - God help us - ever fall into another world war, God will not be with us!
There is a day of reckoning coming, and we as God people should know it. There's a day of judgement, there's a great tribulation, and there's an awful hell - and there's a judgement going on at this very moment even in people's lives for their sin, where they are receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which is meet. You see AIDS all over the world because of sexual immorality, but there is a day coming after man shall die that there will be a judgement. Jude says: 'The Lord will come with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him'. The point is this - praise the Lord this isn't for us! - but the point to us is this: knowing the terror of the Lord we ought to persuade men! For it's not God's job to just forgive them, it's not God's job to let them in because they're sincere - because the religious world in their religion and moralism, as they live this life of unrepentance they are doing nothing less than treasuring up for themselves wrath against the day of wrath and the revelation of righteousness of God.
What is the message? Ezekiel 3 and 18 is the message: we are the watchmen, the watchwomen, who are to cry to a dying world: 'Flee from this wrath to come!'. That's why the apostle John, in his closing words in his epistle 1 John 5 verse 21 - do you know what he said? A very strange thing, when I was younger I couldn't work out why he threw this one in at the end: 'Little children, keep yourselves from idols'. I once heard a preacher say that in his study he had a picture, and there was one little word just written in the middle of that picture - do you know what it said? 'Eternity' - eternity.
Whether it's heaven or hell, whether it's reward or loss, God - as He gave these people the choice - gives us the choice: 'Choose you this day whom you will serve'. Sinner, will you go to hell for your sin? Child of God, will you go on empty-handed?
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 fifth tape in his Ezekiel series, titled "The End Is Here!" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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