Marked off by the introductory statement, “The word of the LORD came to me,” chapter 6 records a divine pronouncement given to Ezekiel to declare to the exiles. This oracle declares deadly devastation upon the land, cities and people of Israel because of their idolatry.
The message begins with an address to the “mountains of Israel” along with the “hills”, “ravines” and “valleys” (3). Destruction (“a sword”) is coming to those living in these places. Specifically, destruction is coming to the “high places” (3). The altars and incense altars (4) will be torn down, the ground around them littered with the dead bones of the idolatrous Israelites (5). And it’s not just the countryside that will be violently decimated; “cities shall be waste” and their “high places ruined” and “broken and destroyed” (6).
The inhabitants of Israel will be largely annihilated, with those who are still alive after the carnage scattered “among the nations” (8). Here they will remember the Lord (9). What they will specifically remember is how He was “broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols” (9). The surviving remnant will abhor themselves for “the evils that they have committed” (9). They will also come to know that the Lord does not pronounce judgment in vain: “And they shall know that I am the LORD, I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them” (11).
Ezekiel is told to clap his hands and stomp his foot (a sign of emotion) as he underscores both the totality of the coming devastation (sword, famine and pestilence—11) as well as its deadly didactic lesson: “And you shall know that I am the Lord” (13); “they shall know that I am the LORD” (14).
Visions of God
The Lord reveals both His vengeance and vulnerability. In this pronouncement, He takes deadly vengeance upon His people who turn from Him to false idols, violating the terms of His covenant (Exodus 20). He is furious with idolatry. Yet, the LORD admits to having been “broken” by their unfaithfulness to Him, their “whoring” after other gods. His heart is affected by the condition of their hearts. He is grieved by idolatry, taking it personally.
These two stark, contrasting aspects of God are a stunning revelation of His character. Vengeance and vulnerability are qualities not given much consideration in current discussions or descriptions of God. In our day, God’s love is given great attention (as it should be!) for there is no love like His. However, His love is not a tame, sentimental tolerance. Rich Mullins is closer to the truth when he sings of the “reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.”
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen must deliver God’s message with the appropriate emotional expression. God wants his watchman to accurately convey His truth and His heart. Ezekiel was to clap his hands and stomp his foot to underscore the emotive power of this message. Watchmen are not to be detached dispatchers of divine words; they embody the emotion of the message they are called to deliver.
Watchmen need to warn about the deadly dangers of idolatry. The decimation of the nation comes from their unfaithfulness to their Covenant Lord. Idolatry begins in the heart (“whoring heart”) and expresses itself through the eyes (“eyes that go whoring”) and through actions (offering up sweet incense to false gods). Lest we think idolatry is a primitive, archaic sin, no longer practiced by sophisticated Westerners, we need remember how Ephesians 3:5 unmasks greed (covetousness) as idolatry. Jesus also warned monotheistic Jews to “be on your guard against all covetousness” (Luke 12:15). John closed one of his letters with the warning: “Little children, keep yourself from idols” (1 John 5:21). Evidently, idolatry, though deadly, is not dead. As a preacher, I must remember God’s fury over infidelity and warn my heart and my hearers against following idols—anything that gets elevated to crowd out God from His rightful, supreme place.