Chapter 14 divides, like the previous chapter, into two sections. Verses 1-11 tell of God’s words to elders (and, by extension, to other exiles) who inquire of the Lord through a prophet but “have taken their idols into their hearts” (3). In verses 12-23, the Lord gives Ezekiel a message about the people living in Jerusalem and their upcoming judgment. This “burden” of this pronouncement centers on how any righteous in the land of Israel will be spared but will not be able to shield the rest of the “sons and daughters” from God’s righteous judgment (22-23).
The first message ends with God’s redemptive purpose in purging the evil from the exiles: He is seeking to reshape the hearts of the Israelites so they “may no more go astray from me . . . but that they may be my people and I may be their God” (11). The second message (focused on the Jews in Jerusalem) has no such positive outcome. The few survivors that make it to Babylon as exiles will, by their “ways and deeds” reveal God’s judgment was indeed justified (23). Ezekiel (and others) will be “consoled” as he becomes painfully aware that the Lord did not act “without cause” (23).
The first message gets to the “heart” of the matter when it comes to what God wants from His people. The indictment upon the elders who come to consult with Ezekiel is that they have idolatrous hearts (3, 4, 7). While they appear to be seeking the Lord’s counsel, they are syncretistic and spiritually compromised by their “multitude of idols” (4). God sees past their outward actions to their heart’s condition and responds with a promise of severe judgment. Those who carry idols in their hearts, who “set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces” will receive a rebuke and warning from the Lord: “Repent and turn away form your idols” (6). Those who won’t will receive an “answer” from the Lord they don’t want to hear (7). God is against them and will cut them off from His people (8). Any false prophets who give a different (consoling) message, will likewise be destroyed (9). The reason for this punishment is to purge and purify the hearts of God’s people so they no longer violate the first commandment (no other gods—Exodus 20). Then, God’s heart desire will be realized—they will be His people and He will be their God (11).
In the final half of the chapter, the Lord has a sobering word about the people living in Jerusalem. They are headed for a four-fold, devastating judgment: sword, famine, wild beasts and pestilence (21). Further, any who live there and are still walking faithfully with the Lord will only be able to “deliver but their own lives by their righteousness” (14, 16, 18, 20). To make the point unmistakable and memorable, the Lord imagines Noah, Daniel and Job as living among the people of Jerusalem. These three righteous men would be spared God’s judgment but would be unable to “deliver neither sons or daughters” (16). The proverb referred to in 18:2, will have a reverse application here: the righteousness of the father won’t rescue disobedient children. Rather “the soul who sins shall die” (18:4).
Visions of God
The Lord knows what is in the hearts of those who inquire of Him. The Jewish elders who visit Ezekiel ostensibly come to inquire of the Lord (2). But God knows their hearts are filled with a multitude of idols (3-4). Nothing is hidden from Him.
The Lord defines idolatry as what we put in our hearts and set before our faces. The elders approaching Ezekiel have taken idols into their hearts. They have also set the stumbling block of iniquity before their faces (4, 7). Whether or not the elders had physical icons in their homes, they had idols in their hearts. What we elevate to God’s place in our hearts or focus our attention on (instead of Him) is an idol.
The Lord will not tolerate idolatry among His people. Idolatry estranges us from God (5) and Him from us (“I will set my face against that man”—8). God will answer those who inquire of Him while holding idols in their hearts (“I the Lord will answer him myself”—7). However, the answer will not be a desired one. The Lord will answer by making the idolater “a sign and byword” and will “cut him off from the midst of my people.” Syncretism is a disastrous form of spirituality.
The Lord deceives deceitful prophets and righteously judges idolatrous people. When idolatrous people seek out a false prophet to inquire of the Lord, the Lord says he will deceive that prophet (9) and punish both prophet and inquirer (10). When judgment on Jerusalem comes and some survivors wind up in Babylon, Ezekiel and the other exiles will hear and see (first hand) the “ways and deeds” of those who had lived in Jerusalem. In a strange way, Ezekiel and others will be “consoled” because, having seen the “ways and deeds” of the survivors, they will understand clearly the justice of God’s judgment: He had good reason to bring judgment on such wayward people (“you shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it” (22).
The Lord calls His idolatrous people to repent by turning away from our idols. “Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations” (6). Repentance involves turning away from false gods and turning to the True God. The good news here is that repentance is possible and acceptable to God. The sobering news is that we cannot repent for someone else. The righteous response of “Noah, Daniel and Job” won’t save their own sons and daughters (14-20).
The Lord punishes idolatry because He is passionate for His people. The reason God is death on idolatry is because He wants to be the life of His people: “they may be my people and I may be their God” (11). This is the covenant purpose God pursues throughout time and into eternity (Rev. 21:3).
Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21). These words—the final words in 1 John—show that idolatry is not an ancient, 6th century BC problem. Christians must guard against allowing anything or anyone to take God’s place in our hearts or loom so large in our eyes that it obscures our vision of him.
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen warn of the danger of idolatry. Idolatry can infect anyone–even top-level leaders of God’s people (“elders of Israel”—1). When it infects, it also affects—in disastrous ways. Idolatry is insidious because it can be hidden in the hearts of those who appear to “consult” the Lord for guidance and direction (1, 7). So faithful watchmen must warn people of the deadly dangers of hidden idols.
Watchmen speak to heart issues. The Lord makes it clear that He looks upon the heart, knows the heart and wants to “lay hold of the hearts” of His people (5). So to mirror God’s heart, watchmen must speak to the heart and go for heart-level response to God’s truth. Surface level changes are not enough. As those who preach God’s Word, we must always instruct the mind (information) but aim for the heart (transformation). Heart-level transformation will lead to changes in “ways and deeds” (23).
Watchmen call people to personal repentance. Watchmen not only diagnose and denounce idolatry at the heart level, they also call for a change of heart. They call for genuine, personal repentance (6). They make this appeal to each person they address, knowing that one person’s repentance does not rescue another. Sons and daughters don’t get a pass because they had righteous fathers (Noah, Daniel or Job).
Watchmen speak of hope even when announcing judgment. Watchmen, like Ezekiel, understand God’s heart for His people. He desires to see idolaters turn from their sin and turn back to Him. He pursues (and will ultimately achieve) the goal of a close, covenant relationship with believing, obedient people: “they may be my people and I may be their God” (11). God will accomplish His purposes and gather a people for His own possession. Watchmen call people to be part of this glorious reality by responding to the Lord in obedient, humble faith.