Tuesdays with Ezekiel (Chapter 22)

In chapter 22, we read three more messages from the Lord given to Ezekiel, each beginning with the phrase “And the word of the Lord came to me” (1, 17, 23).  Once again, each message assesses the wicked condition of the Jews in Judah and announces God’s coming judgment upon them.

The opening message focuses on the people living in “the bloody city” of Jerusalem (2).  In disturbing, graphic terms, the Lord describes the ways the people of Jerusalem have “become guilty” (4).  They have wickedly shed blood, misusing power in lethal ways (4, 6).  They have “made idols” for themselves, leaving them defiled in God’s eyes (3-4).  They have been dishonest and oppressive in business dealings, committing usury and extortion, especially upon the most vulnerable—fatherless and widows (7, 12). They have become morally corrupt, guilty of a wide range of sexual sins (10-11).  They have shown contempt for fathers and mothers (7) and despised the Lord’s Sabbaths and holy things (8).

The baseline reason for these many wicked attitudes and actions is exposed by the Lord, who declares, “but me you have forgotten” (12).  They may have forgotten the Lord, but He has not forgotten them.  He has catalogued their sinfulness and now is bringing the day of judgment near (4).  He will soon deal with them in a way that will collapse their courage and sap their strength (14).

The middle message in the chapter is presented as an extended metaphor.  The people of Israel living in Judah are pictured as impure metals about to be melted in the fire of God’s furnace (17-22).  Since they have “all become dross” (19), the Lord promises to gather them into Jerusalem and melt them with his fiery wrath (19-20).

In the final message recorded in the chapter, the Lord indicts the prophets (25), priests (26), princes (27) and people (29) of Israel.  Each group of Jews is excoriated for their wicked ways.

The prophets are called out for causing the deaths of many (25) through their “false visions” (28).  They claim to speak for God but do not speak His words (28).  As Jeremiah warned, these false prophets pronounce sunny messages of hope in God’s name; but these misleading messages come from their own minds not the mouth of the Lord (Jeremiah 23).

Priests are denounced for doing “violence” to God’s law and profaning His “holy things” (26).  They fail to teach the people the differences between what is holy and common, clean or unclean.  Further, they disregard God’s Sabbaths and profane His holy name by their failure to fulfill their calling (26).

The princes (rulers) are guilty of being wolves instead of shepherds.  They oppress the people they are called to serve and lead, shedding blood and destroying lives for the sake of personal gain (27).

The people are no better, following the lead of their leaders in to oppression, extortion and robbery (29).  The most vulnerable in society (“sojourner”) are deprived of justice.

The Lord surveys the population of Judah and concludes corruption has become the norm.  He has looked for a noble exception, a “man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land” (30).  As with Sodom (Genesis 18), the Lord is trying to find a godly remnant that would keep him from destroying the entire land; sadly, He can find none (30).  Therefore, He pledges to pour out his “indignation” and to consume them with the fire of His wrath (31).

Visions of God

The Lord is sovereign when He seems silent or absent.  From a street-level perspective, the situation in Jerusalem must have seemed grim.  Wickedness was rampant, oppression and injustice common, idolatry normative.  On the international scene, the Babylonians were large and in charge, threatening to come and demolish Judah.  Where was God in all this?  Why were the wicked prospering?  Why were the righteous trampled? Was God no longer overseeing the events of His people or world history?  Ezekiel 22 makes it clear that God was taking notice and taking names.  He was maneuvering nations to accomplish His will and execute His judgment.  To some, these events would have seemed completely human and natural, devoid of any providential directions.  However, the reality was that God was indeed directing the events of people and nations to fulfill His larger purposes.  Remember this truth when appearances seem to point to the contrary conclusion!

The Lord’s people may forget Him, but He doesn’t forget them.  The Lord indicts the Israelites for forgetting Him (“but me you have forgotten”—12) and forsaking His will and ways.  God, however, has no intention of forgetting His people.  He constantly takes notice of them, observing and remembering all their wicked ways.  As a result, He promises to repay them for their sinful and shameful actions in a way they will not soon forget!

The Lord will purge and purify His polluted people.  The second message in this chapter utilizes the image of a refiner’s fire that burns the impurities from metals.  This fire not only refines precious metals, it melts and consumes dross.  When God’s people become contaminated, they can expect things to heat up!

The Lord has clear expectations for those in positions of leadership.  In the final message, the Lord indicts various groups of Israelites:  prophets, priests, princes and the people.  In each instance, it’s clear the Lord expects them to function in certain ways for the honour of His name and the benefit of His people.  When leaders (and people) fail to do this, the Lord will deal with them in judgment.  All in God-given positions of leadership should remember who is doing their performance review!

Words to Watchmen

Watchmen faithfully proclaim God’s message even when it exposes other leaders.  Ezekiel’s message calls out and condemns key leaders in Jerusalem:  prophets, priests and princes.  Speaking truth to power—confronting societal influencers—usually creates tension and trouble for a preacher (as Jeremiah and John the Baptist discovered). Yet faithfulness to God and His message will, at times, require this kind of courage.  Admittedly, there is danger here.  Some preachers become quick to call out and pull down other preachers and leaders, labeling them as heretics and apostates.  This kind of inflammatory preaching breeds an attitude of pride (“we’re right/they are wrong”), suspicion and division.  So a watchman must be sure he is speaking God’s truth at God’s direction.

Watchmen call out men (collectively) and call for men (individually).  Ezekiel’s message, while applicable to all the people living in Judah and Jerusalem (“people of the land”—29), is targeted most specifically at men.  He calls out men for misusing their power (“There are men in you who slander to shed blood”—9) and abusing women (“In you men uncover their fathers’ nakedness”—10-11).  While both men and women are guilty before God, Ezekiel focuses on men who wield power in society.  He calls out men collectively but also communicates that God is looking for a man individually to stand up and take action (“And I sought for a man among them”—30).  The Hebrew term used for “man” in verse 30 (אִ֣ישׁ ) can refer to human, but more commonly speaks of a male (Logos lexical study of the Hebrew term אִ֣ישׁ).  Since context is key to determining meaning, I would contend this chapter focuses on males who cause problems and God’s search for a male who would help fix them.  This is not to downplay the vital role of women in God’s redemptive plan; instead, it’s an acknowledgement that men have a key role to play in causing or correcting spiritual and societal problems.  Ezekiel rightly goes after the men!  For God is looking for “a better man”.  Ultimately, the better man who stood in the breach and brought help was “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

Watchmen won’t be appreciated or applauded by all.  Jesus warned his disciples, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).  Ezekiel would not have been in any danger of falling into that trap!  On the other hand, some of us may.  In a culture that prizes human value and esteem, we can under emphasize universal depravity. In our efforts to elevate grace we can downplay sin (though the two go together well).  In our desire to be loved, we can go easy on our hearers so they will “speak well” of us.  Ezekiel (among others) reminds us that faithfulness to God’s calling and message may create animosity and anger among some hearers.  But we preach God’s truth regardless of the response.

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