Sunday, March 30, 2014


Chapter 8 begins the story of Ezekiel’s second vision. This account goes through chapter 11. It involves the temple in Jerusalem. In a way, it picks up or resumes the statement of the Lord in 5:9. There he said, because of their abominations, he would execute judgments on them. In chapter 8, God took Ezekiel on a tour of the temple and showed him the abominations.

The Setting of the Vision

While Ezekiel took a meeting with the elders of Judah, God gave Ezekiel a vision. The same person came to him that appeared to him with the glory of God in chapter 1. The description is the same: fire at his waste and gleaming metal in his upper body. (8:2)

Who was this person? He is a representation of God. He referred to “my sanctuary” in verse 6. In verse 17, he speaks of Israel “provoking me still further to anger”.

This person took Ezekiel to Jerusalem in the vision. He placed him at the entrance to the inner court and showed him an idol he called the “image of jealousy which provokes jealousy”. (3) Ezekiel does not tell us what the idol was. But it would be really bad to put an idol, the image of a false god, in the place dedicated to the worship of Yahweh. It was placed at the entrance to the inner court, in which God’s presence dwelt between the cherubim. It was evidently seated, as if to copy the mercy seat where God sat enthroned between the cherubim. It was as if it were a direct challenge to God.

God described himself in the Old Testament as a jealous god. God command that we cannot make idols and cannot worship them. (Exodus 20:4) The reason is that Yahweh is a jealous god. This means he wants all of our worship. In Isaiah 48:11, he said “My glory I will not give to another”. Yahweh claims that either he is Israel’s only god, or is not their god at all.

As bad as this is, God told Ezekiel he would see greater abominations. (6)

The Elders Worshipping Idols

Next, Ezekiel was shown 70 elders worshipping in a secret room. It may have been a store room but had been converted to a place of idol worship. They were worshipping images of different beasts and insects. There was one elder attending each of the 70 images. Each one offered incense offerings to the carved picture of the supposed deity. They were trying to please these deities with the incense and seek their protection. They had lost faith and hope in Yahweh.

They claimed the Lord could not see them because he had forsaken the land. (12) This statement is ironic, for the Lord would in fact leave the temple.

These men were elders. They were likely those who led he city after the king and his advisors were taken to Babylon. They were not priests, but were acting as priests in the worship of idols. They included a descendant of Shaphan whose family were important advisors to kings. One of his brothers had helped Jeremiah. This means the perversion of true worship had even corrupted important families.

Still, as bad as this is, God will show Ezekiel greater abominations.

Tammuz Worship

Third, Ezekiel was shown women worshipping the god Tammuz at the north gate of the temple. Tammuz was a Sumerian king who was elevated to deity. There are stories of Tammuz leaving the earth for the netherworld, and he was mourned by women. Maybe these women thought Yahweh and Tammuz were the same, or they just were involved in the cult.

God said Ezekiel would still see greater abominations. (15)

Sun Worship

In addition to the worship of idols, Ezekiel is shown 25 men worshipping the sun. He was taken to the inner court of the temple to observe the ritual performed between the porch and the altar. These men may have been priests since they were near the altar. They turned their backs on the temple, and therefore on God, and faced the east to worship the sun god.

God had forbidden the making and worshipping of any images. Deuteronomy 4:19 specifically forbid the worship of the stars, the sun or the moon. Yet, Manasseh, who is referred to as Judah’s most evil king, built altars for “all the host of heaven” in the two courts of the temple. 2 Kings 21:5. Someone also built a statute of the horses and chariots of the sun at the entrance to the temple. 2 Kings 23:11. King Josiah destroyed all these, but the worship of these things returned.

God’s Reaction

So, how does God react to all this? He said, in verse 17, that they provoke him to anger. The statement about the branch is uncertain. But, it appears to be a gesture of disrespect. We might say they have thrown this in God’s face.

God reacted by saying he will act in wrath. But not only will he act in wrath, he will have no pity. Even when they cry out to him, he will not hear them.

In chapter 9, he will set out his reaction in detail.

Our idols are usually more abstract today. Certainly there are those in the world who worship other gods. But Christians themselves can be tempted to go astray. Ideas and philosophies about today, even in the context of the church.

Money, fame, glory, sex, beauty, success all are potential idols.

God does not change. He still demands exclusive worship. Examine yourself today and make sure God is in first place in your life.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


The statement of the covenant law always started with the act of redemption of God's part: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Dt. 5:1) Then he gave the commands on how to live. It is the same for us. First, Christ redeems us, then tells us how to live. That is why we preach the gospel to people, not tell them to clean up their act. Paul put it this way: as you received Christ, so walk in him (Col. 2:6) And all of God's commands are "for our good always".. (Dt. 6:24)

Monday, March 24, 2014


Luke's rendition of the Sermon on the Mount includes more of Jesus' instruction about giving to the poor. Jesus said "give to everyone who begs from you". (Luke 6:30) Notice there are no qualifiers or exceptions. There is no command to judge the beggar. He simply says to give to all of them.

He said it another way in 6:35, and included a reward: "…lend, expecting nothing in return and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."

And again in verse 38, he said "give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you."

Jesus commands us to give to the poor without judgment, but promises a reward to us for obedience. In all we model our Heavenly Father, we extend mercy. May the poor see our gracious Heavenly Father in us and desire to know him.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


The Arrival of God’s Wrath

Chapter 6 contained a judgment against the mountains of Israel. Chapter 7 is a judgment against the land, or soil. Both are symbols of the people or nation of Israel.

In this chapter, God stressed that the time for punishment had come. There was no longer a way of escape. He said their end had come (2, 5), their doom had come (7), and their time had come (7). He said it repeatedly, at least 7 times in these first 13 verses. There was no time left for repentance. (9)

We like to speak of God’s patience. He had been patient with Israel for centuries. He has been patient with us for centuries. Peter wrote “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:7)

But the time will come when God’s patience is exhausted and his judgment will be executed. That time came for Israel. God, through Ezekiel, tells them their time of judgment has come. God said he would have no pity and he would not spare them. (4)

The day will also come when God’s final judgment will come. There will be no more chance for repentance, just judgment upon those who do not follow Christ. The Lord will come with ten thousand angels and execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed. (Jude 14-15) The Book of Revelation also shows us an end to patience and the finality of judgment.

Death is also the end of God’s mercy and patience on us who perish before the end of the age. Hebrews 9:27 tells us there is a time for us to die and after that comes the judgment.

What was God judging Israel for? Their ways and their abominations. He said it twice in this section. (4, 8) Their ways were not just. They violated the covenant principles in the way they were to treat others. These are spelled out in the second part of the chapter. They were also to be judged for their abominations.

Abomination likely refers again to idol worship and the things that go with it. Deuteronomy 18:9-12 lists abominations to the Lord and includes sacrificing children, practicing divination, telling fortunes, interpreting omens, practicing sorcery, and acting as a medium (one who contacts the dead). God finds these practices abominable. They are improper worship, they are improper attempts to control the future in denial of God’s sovereignty, and they seek wisdom or knowledge from the dead rather than from God.

I find it interesting that the books that purport to tell the story of someone who went to heaven and returned usually include communication with the dead, a practice God finds abominable. Abominable means to cause disgust and hate.

We see a fair amount of this. Some practice astrology, numerology, listen to self claimed prophets who forecast the future, consult fortune tellers, communicate with the dead and other things. The attack of science on Christianity has not resulted in atheism, but paganism and abominable practices.

Certainly, none of these practices should occur in the church or among church members. God would not tolerate it in Canaan and used the Israelites to run the Canaanites out of the country. God would not tolerate it in Israel and drove Israel out of the country. Since God does not change, it makes sense that he will not tolerate it in the church either.

The Day of the Lord

Verses 10 through 12 again emphasize that the time for judgment had come. A new phrase is used in verse 10 and 12, though, “the day” or “a day”. Verse 19 refers to the day of the wrath of the Lord.

We have heard the phrase “the Day of the Lord” referring to judgment. Amos used this term. His prophecy was written before Ezekiel’s prophecy. For example, in Amos 5:18-20, Amos told them not to look forward to the day of the Lord, for it would be a day of judgment and not deliverance. (You can make the case, by the way, that Ezekiel 7 is a development of the sermon in Amos 8)

Pride and Violence

This second part of the chapter tells us some of the ways of the Israelites that God would judge. First, he says pride has budded. (10) It is very clear in the Bible that God hates pride. Human pride is never commended in the Bible. Pride makes us turn from God and rely on ourselves. Despite their horrible circumstances, the Jews were proud. In their pride, the rebelled against God. True worship only occurs in humility.

Some of the Jews also relied on their wealth. In verse 11 and 12, God said their wealth would not remain. There would be no buying and selling. Verse 19 says they will through their silver and gold in the street because it cannot deliver them from the day of the wrath of the Lord. There would also be no redemption of the land. Verse 13 says the seller cannot return to what he has sold, as he would either in the Sabbath year or if he could pay for it. The land will be occupied by others.

Violence had also escalated. Verse 23 referred to bloody crimes. God values human life. He calls us to account for the taking of life. Remember God’s instructions to Noah after the flood? He said he would require a reckoning for the life of men and women. One who took a life must pay with his life, for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:5-6)

The news in America reports murder every day. In addition, abortion has claimed the lives of millions of children. God requires a reckoning for these lives.

No Escape

These verses repeat God’s promise that all would be punished. Some would die by the sword, some by famine and some by pestilence.


This verse repeats the promise of shame. The would become objects of horror to other nations and experience shame in their punishment. He again mentioned baldness, the shaving of heads as an act of humiliation.

The Temple Spoiled

The beautiful ornament and treasured place probably refers to the temple. The Jews profaned it by putting idols in it. Since they made it unclean to God, he would make it unclean for them, having foreigners come in and spoil it.

God’s Silence

There would also be no word from God. Verse 26 says they would seek a vision from the prophet. They would ask the prophet to tell them any good news. They wanted to be told they would survive. But, God says they seek the prophet while they abandon the law. (26) In other words, God will not speak to them through the prophet, at least in a hopeful way, while they disrespected and disobeyed the word he spoke to them in his law.

When you read of the day of God’s wrath toward Jerusalem, you cannot help but think of the day of God’s wrath upon the earth at the end of this age. Jude 18 says that in the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions. That sounds accurate for today, doesn’t it?

When God begins to pour out his wrath, people will try to hide and ask to be hidden from the “face of him who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath had come and who can stand.?” (Revelation 6:15-17)

Revelation shows us God pouring out wrath in stages, giving me time and motivation to repent, as he did with Israel. Yet, they do not. Then the day comes when it is all over. Judgment comes. Jerusalem and Israel were destroyed. Only then did the remnant remember that Yahweh was their lord.

As Jerusalem was destroyed by God’s wrath, so shall this creation be destroyed and all who refused to obey God are sent to destruction in hell. Only those who are in Christ, the faithful remnant, are saved to eternal life in the presence of God.

It is sad that, only when their land was made desolate, did the remnant begin to acknowledge God. But it would be worse for your soul to be made desolate.

The last words of the chapter are “and they shall know that I am the LORD”. Those who stand condemned in the final judgment will also know that he is the LORD. There is time to repent today. But who knows about tomorrow?

Repent and believe the gospel today.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


In Numbers 26-27, the concept of inheritance is developed. The Lord claimed Canaan as his own. He said "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me". (Leviticus 25:23) He gave each tribe and family an inheritance in the land. It was a portion assigned to them. It must stay in the family, for it is their inheritance in the Lord. The daughters of Zelophedhad understood this and fought for the share of their father. If they did not get his portion, his name would be taken away, he and his family would lose their inheritance.

God kept his promise to apportion the land to the tribes of Israel. He fulfilled every promise through Joshua. (Joshua 21:43-45)

As is typical, God also had a greater fulfillment in mind. Peter told us that Christ followers also have an inheritance. It is kept for us in heaven. It is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. (1 Peter 1:4) Jesus explained it by saying the meek would inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5) We will receive our inheritance when Jesus returns: a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11-13) The Book of Revelation comes to its grand conclusion when this new earth is revealed.

The blessing of an inheritance in the little country of Canaan is a shadow and type of the greater blessing of an inheritance in the whole earth, the new earth, where God dwells with his people and no evil exists.

I love that.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Balaam: The Story of a Man Who Did Not Like God’s Answer

Balaam: The Story of a Man Who Did Not Like God’s Answer
Numbers 20 et seq.

Here you see Balaam get a very clear word from the Lord telling him what not to do. Yet, when more worldly honor and money were shown to him, he determined to go and tried to get God to bless it. It did not turn out well. 

I have had people tell me they knew what the Bible said on a subject, but they had prayed and were sure God would let them do what they wanted to do. It is important to seek our answers by the Bible where they are given, then to be a "doer of the word". (James 1:22)
Our feelings are not good guides to God's will, for they are tainted by our desires. Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitful above all things. Even David, the man after God's own heart, surrendered to his flesh and sinned greatly.

If God has spoken in the Bible, he will not contradict it in prayer. Do what he says to do. Refrain from doing what he forbids. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will keep your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:6)

And remember, even the guy who wrote that (Solomon) did not take his own advice and fell into sin.  Let's be careful out there. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Numbers 20

Even a great leader can fall into sin when frustrated over the difficulties of leading his congregation.. He was clearly angry and frustrated, he spoke to the congregation (instead of the rock) and said “hear now your rebels”. He also took credit for the miracle “shall we bring water out of this rock”.

Though Moses had just come from the glory of God, he disobeyed God’s command to speak to the rock. He struck it twice. He did not tell the congregation the Lord provided the water. He did not tell the congregation the Lord was present (Ex. 17:6; 1 Cor. 10:4). He did not uphold God as holy before the congregation.

God holds leaders to a higher standard because they represent him and must model his character and holiness. So, they must do and teach the right thing or face discipline. But the followers also have a duty toward their leaders. They are to follow them. Hebrews 13:17 says “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

There is no joy for the leader of a congregation of rebels, as Moses demonstrated. One problem with the congregational model, adopted by most American Baptists, is the sense of a right to rebel. Sometimes even to organize a rebellion against the leaders, whether pastor or teacher. That is not the model of the Bible, which presents us with a structure of authority, with Christ at the head, a servant leader or leaders below, and obedient, submitting followers who all together accomplish the will of God and bring glory to his name.

Saturday, March 08, 2014


Prophesy Against the Mountains

God told Ezekiel to prophesy against the mountains. The message is really to the people, but the mountains are addressed because they are the center of pagan worship, of idolatry. God announced his intention to destroy these places of pagan worship and the people that worshipped at them. In verse 5, he said he would lay the dead bodies of the people around the broken altars. This, again, is a reflection of the covenant curses in Leviticus 26. In 26:30, God said “I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols.” (NIV)

It was common to build worship sites in the mountains and call them high places. 1 Kings 11 tells us that Solomon built high places for the worship of various gods worshipped by his foreign wives. These were built on the mountain east of Jerusalem. In addition to being on the mountain, they are raised platforms, giving further meaning to the phrase “high places”. They often had buildings next to the altars for festivities connected to the pagan worship.

God’s original command was to destroy all foreign altars when they invaded Canaan. (Exodus 34) Israel failed to do that, so God now will do it thoroughly and completely. He will destroy the people as well. They will fall from sword, famine and pestilence (11) as in chapter 5. These three horrors are also three of the four horsemen of Revelation 6.

God also commanded them not to marry foreign women who worshipped other gods. (Exodus 34:16) They broke all these commands. Of course, they also broke the first command of the covenant “so shall have no other gods before me”. (Exodus 20:3) Their basic loyalty to God, their king, was compromised. Now, God finally decided to bring judgment on their disobedience and disloyalty by executing the covenant curses.

God’s demand for exclusive worship continues into the New Covenant era. Jesus even said to Satan, during his temptation, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve”. (Matthew 4:10) He claimed the titles of Lord and king. He claimed to be the exclusive giver of eternal life. (John 14:6) He demands that we worship him and not money. (Matthew 6:24) He demands that we deny even ourselves. (Luke 9:23)

Yet, we too have our idols. There are two areas that especially concern me for the American church. First, many define Jesus to meet their desires. That is creating an idol you worship instead of Christ. The Jesus that wants to make you rich, the Jesus that does not care if you sin, the Jesus that does not care if you worship in the gathering of the saints, the Jesus that takes care of you even if you do not commit your self to him, these are all idols.

The second area that concerns me if that of entertainment. The same person who says he has no time to study Scripture or pray watches hours of television, movies and\or sporting events. God cannot be pleased by that.

God’s destruction would serve not only as judgment, but as proof of who he is. He said that when he had done these things, they “shall know that I am the LORD (Yahweh)”. (7) The same happens at the end of this age, when, after all the judgments have been poured out, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)

The Remnant

Although God would bring destruction and desolation, he would preserve a remnant. Verse 8 says he will leave some alive. Those will go into exile, then remember the Lord and how he had been broken by their unfaithfulness. (9) They would even consider themselves loathsome. And again, they would come to know that he is the Lord. (10)

Restating the Judgment

God reinforced his message by requiring Ezekiel to repeat it while clapping his hands and stamping his foot. (11) Again he said Israel would suffer death by sword, famine, and pestilence. God would spend his “fury” on them for their idolatry. Fury (wrath in NIV) is a fierce, destructive anger.

Let’s think for a minute about the words here used for the name of God. In the English Standard Version, which I use, the phrase used in this chapter is “Lord God”. (3) This is also the usage in the King James and New King James versions and the New American Standard Bible. The New International Version uses “Sovereign Lord”. That is because the personal, covenant, name of God, Yahweh, is followed by the word Adonay, meaning lord or master. Then the word is “LORD” in all caps, it means Yahweh. So, I think the reason Yahweh refers to himself as Yahweh Adonay is to reenforce the idea that he is their god, the God of the covenant, and their lord and master. Israel has rejected its master and the God with whom they made a covenant and now Israel will suffer for its disobedience.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Promise Stands

The writer of Hebrews continues his warning for the Hebrew Christians not to fall away from Christ and return to Judaism. 

Only Those Who Believe In Christ Enter His Rest

The writer begins this chapter by saying the promise of God’s rest still stands. But, they must heed his warning or some of them might not reach the fulfillment of the promise. He is concerned for each and every member of his congregation. He said they should fear if any one of them should fail to reach the promise (1).

We know that the promise still stands, because the good news came to us as well as the generation that failed to go into Canaan. The good news for those Old Testament Hebrews was that God would deliver them from the wilderness into Canaan, where he would give them rest from their enemies and their struggles to survive. The good news for us is that Jesus came to save us from our sins and give us rest from trying and failing to earn our salvation through works. Galatians 2:20 says we are saved by grace through faith and not by our own works. 

The writer reinforces his idea by pointing out that the good news did not benefit the Old Testament Hebrews because they did not believe it. He said they were not united by faith with those who listened (believed). (2) All of those of all times who believe God’s promise of redemption are united in salvation for eternity. In verse 3, he said “for we who have believed enter that rest”. Again, he shows that salvation comes through faith in God’s promise of redemption. 

Much of the Jewish religion in New Testament times was based on works. They had commandments, regulations and interpretations. Jesus clashed with the Pharisees numerous times, accusing them of greater loyalty to their own rules than to God. In contrast, he said “This is the work of God (or the work required by God for salvation), that you believe in him who he has sent”. (John 6:29

The second part of verse 3 may seem jarring to you. After he said believers enter into God’s rest, he quoted Psalm 95 again to say God swore the disobedient Old Testament Hebrews who refused to go into Canaan would not enter his rest. But he is presenting a comparison for his audience of Jews and for us. Those who believe will enter into God’s rest. Those who do not believe will come under his wrath as the disobedient Hebrews did. They will not enter God’s rest, but will enter into his wrath.

The example of wrath is that of Numbers 14. When the Hebrews refused to go into Canaan, God swore they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years until all of that generation died. It is a picture of being cast from God’s presence. The New Testament Jews, and we also, will be cast from God’s presence for eternity if we do not believe. In John’s vision of the judgment in Revelation 19:15, anyone whose name was not written in the book of life (those who believe and are saved) is cast into the lake of fire (hell). 

God’s Own Rest
Hebrews 4:3b-4-5

In these verses, the writer expanded his concept of God’s rest by referring to creation. He wrote that God rested from his labors of creation on the seventh day. This rest is where the Sabbath concept originates. God rested because everything was accomplished or finished. The writer is telling us that God’s rest from creation is the ultimate origin of the concept of rest.

In literary terms, then, God’s rest is the archetype of rest. It is the original patter from which all of types of rest in the Bible are based. Then, the Sabbath is a type of God’s rest. The land of Canaan, or the Promised Land, is a type of God’s rest. A type is a symbol or image of a greater truth. Finally, our eternal rest in God’s presence is the antitype, the real thing, the ultimate truth.

The Promise of Rest Is Still Available
Hebrews 4:6-10

Here the writer returns to his original thought, expressed in 4:1, that he promise of God’s rest still stands, or is still available. So, in verse 6, he says “it remains for some to enter it”. 

A Hebrew might have responded to this statement by saying God promised “rest” by promising that the Hebrews would enter Canaan. Joshua led them into Canaan after the unbelieving generation died in the wilderness. Therefore, God kept his promise to the Hebrews and it is among the Hebrews they should stay. No other promises exists.

The writer rebuts this thought in verse 7. His reasoning is based on the wording of Psalm 95:7, where David tells his people “today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”. So if David promised rest many years after the time of Joshua, the promise of rest was not complete. (8) So the writer says God’s promise of rest continues until the present day.
Notice that in verse 8, the writer says “Sabbath rest” for the first time. He knew his Jewish readers would make the connection between God’s rest from creation and the observance of the Sabbath. They would also know the rules of the Sabbath rest. What is the principle of the Sabbath? It was the seventh day, it was set aside to God. In other words, it was holy and they were to keep it holy, or set aside to God. (Exodus 20:8) They did this by refraining from the activities of work. They were to do no work. (Exodus 20:10) And the reason given for it was that God rested from his creation labor on the seventh day. 

Of course, it was about rest. But it was also about belief. The Hebrews had to believe God. They had to trust him to provide food for them even when they did not work that day. It was even more crucial for the Sabbath year. Every seventh year, they had to let the land rest. (Exodus 23:10) They had to trust God for a whole year’s provision. Image not working every 7th year and depending on God to pay your rent, buy your food and clothes, and keep you financially sound!

The writer is pointing out to them, and to us, that both God’s rest from creation work and the Sabbath were types of God’s ultimate rest for believers. They were to point men and women to faith in Christ. Jesus pointed out this comparison by using the word “rest” himself. He said come to me, you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28

What is the rest that Jesus gives those who come to him? The writer of Hebrews tells us in verse 10: “for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his”. The Pharisees worked hard to earn salvation through observing the law in great detail. But Jesus repeatedly said God was not pleased with them, for they were only Godly on the outside. He called them hypocrites. (Matthew 15:7) They looked good in their observance, but their hearts were far from God. (Matthew 15:8)

When the Holy Spirit convicts you of your sin, and that is one of his jobs, you began to lose all hope in the idea that the good you do will outweigh the bad and God will let you into heaven. You begin to see the great holiness of God. You compare it to the filthy rags of your acts of so call righteousness. The voice of Paul thunders in your head “for by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight...” (Romans 3:20) Then you want to rest from your works. Then you rejoice to turn to Christ and receive his salvation by faith. (Romans 3:21-25)

You Cannot Fool God
Hebrews 4:11-13

Just as the Pharisees could not fool Jesus into thinking they were righteous, you cannot fool God into thinking you are righteous in your own works. It does not matter if you sit in church for every sermon, give generously, talk piously and refrain from outward sin. God knows your heart. 

So the writer says strive to enter that rest so that no one falls by disobedience. Preach to gospel to each other, live the gospel among each other, worship in gratitude of salvation and confess your belief.

The word of God prevents you from fooling God. Verse 12 tells us it penetrates. It goes past all pretense and appearance, to judge our hearts. Verse 13 tells us we are defenseless before God and his Word. We are naked and exposed to him. 

So forget about acting. Believe in Jesus. Trust him for salvation. Rest from working to please God. Join the congregation of believers in joyful worship.

As David said in Psalm 95, today is the day. Do not harden your heart. Believe.



The Book of Numbers

I just started reading the Book of Numbers as I read the Bible through in a year. Numbers is the story of Israel's journey through the wilderness to Canaan, the land God has given them.

The New Testament compares Israel's journey through the wilderness to the Christian life. Both start with redemption and continue through trial to reach the promised land. God provides everything needed for the trip. His people must trust him or they will fail him. Pretenders to faith will fall away, not reaching the promised land.

All along the way, God dwells in the midst of his people and goes with them. In the O.T., by dwelling in the Tabernacle that stayed in the middle of the camp. In the N.T., actually dwelling in the believer himself and being present in the meeting of the congregation. Judah is already the largest tribe, foreshadowing the day when a descendant will be king of the largest tribe ever, and the ultimate kingdom, of which we are now subjects.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Ezekiel 5 - The 3rd Drama

Ezekiel 5
The Third Drama

Chapter 5 is devoted to the third drama.

Here, God told Ezekiel to take a sword and shave his head and beard.(5:1) It would be humiliating for a Jew, or an middle eastern man, to have his head and beard shaved off by another. Ezekiel was a priest, and priests were not to have off their heads or beards. (Leviticus 21:5) The new king of the Ammonites shamed King David’s servants by shaving off half their beards. (2 Samuel 10:4) The message is that God will soon humiliate and shame Israel.

The fact that a sword, and not a razor, was used, indicates this shame and humiliation will come in a military conflict.

There is also here a connection to Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 7:20. When God told King Ahaz he would defeat Syria with the king of Assyria, he said “In that day the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the river-with the king of Assyria-the head and the hair of the feet and it will sweep away the beard also.” (Isaiah 7:20) In Ezekiel 5:1, God says I will do the same to Jerusalem that I did to Syria. The razor this time will be the Babylonians instead of the Assyrians.

Next, God told Ezekiel to divide his cut hair into 3 batches by weight. (5:1) He was to do different things with each batch. Each batch represents a different fate for the people of Jerusalem. God’s judgment is measured and deliberate.

Ezekiel was to take the first batch into the middle of the city (symbolized by the brick described in 4:1) and burn it after the siege was over as he enacted the siege in chapter 4. (5:2)

He was to take the second batch and scatter it around the city, then strike it all with the sword.

Ezekiel was to take the third batch and scatter it to the wind. But God said he would still take the sword to that part.

Lastly, God said to take a small portion and bind it in the skirts of Ezekiel’s robe. (5:3) Still part of this was to be cast into the fire. And God said “from there fire will come out into all the house of Israel”. (5:4)

The picture here is the destruction of the city Jerusalem, but more so, the whole of the population of Judah, all that is left of Israel. It is a picture of how the people will die.

God explained the symbols of this drama starting in verse 12. One third of the people would die by pestilence and famine (12). This is symbolized by fire and burning as judgment. One third would fall by the sword of the invaders, symbolized by beating the hair with the sword. One third would escape to be scattered into exile, but would still face judgment by the sword there.

God’s judgment was devastating. God said the punishment will be so bad, it would be something God had never done and would never do again. (5:9) This is hyperbole, I think, to say it is terribly bad. He said he would make them a desolation. (14) We saw God use that word repeatedly in Jeremiah. It meant he would make the place inhabitable. He would make them a reproach to all nations, a horror, and a warning. In other words, nations would look at them and say they must have been a terrible people to have incurred this much wrath from God.

Beginning in 5:5, the Lord explained why he was executing this terrible destruction. He explained that Israel, symbolized by Jerusalem, rebelled against God and broke the covenant. He said they were, in fact, worse than the Gentle nations around them.

Here is his list of Israel’s violations:
violated his rules and statutes by doing wickedness (6);
violating his rules more than the Gentile nations around them (6);
Being turbulent (7); and
defiling the sanctuary with detestable things (11) and abominations;

We saw in Leviticus 26 that God set forth the punishments for disobedience of the covenant rules. In Ezekiel 5, he explains that he will do those very things to Jerusalem.

sword & pestilence (Lev.26:25; Ez. 5:17);
famine via cut off food supply (Lev.26:26; Ez. 5:16);
eating children (Lev. 26:29; Ez. 5:10);
exile (Lev. 26:39; Ez. 5:10)
set his face against them (Lev. 26:17; Ez. 5:8).

Why does it matter that God punished Israel according to the curses for violating the covenant? It shows God’s punishment here is not arbitrary or unfair.

God is consistent. He is unchanging. He executed devastating judgment on the Canaanites, using Israel as his sword. He now executes devastation judgment on an apostate Israel, using Babylon as his sword. It gives you a picture of what eternal punishment must be like as God’s wrath is poured out for eternity.

There is some hope for Israel here. Let’s go back to Leviticus 26 and the curses of the covenant. God extended hope by saying, after his wrath was poured out, it would cease. If Israel came to a point of confession, God would restore them. He said:

Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 26:44-45).

The 2nd Drama - Ezekiel 4:4-17

Ezekiel 4:4-17
The Second Drama

The second part of God’s message was another drama, or play. This time, Ezekiel was to lie on his left side and place the iniquity of Israel on himself. He had to lie on his left side for 390 days. This was to equal 390 years of their iniquity. Then he had to lie on his right side for 40 days to bear the 40 years of Judah’s iniquity.

What was God’s message? There is a fair amount of debate about it. But, since he distinguishes Israel from Judah in the passage, I think by Israel he means the 10 northern tribes who were destroyed by Assyria. If you count from the rebellion of Rehoboam, after Solomon’s death when the kingdom was split and Rehoboam made the golden calves, you can count roughly 390 years to the destruction of Jerusalem. So, God put up with, or bore, the iniquity of the 10 tribes, of Israel, for 390 years.

After that, Ezekiel was to lay on his right side for 40 days, to symbolize 40 years of iniquity for Judah. God often uses the number 40. This is more convoluted, but if you start with the point where Manassah became evil and count forward, but remove the reign of Josiah the godly king, you have 40 years to the destruction of Jerusalem. (As I noted, there are different interpretations and there are variations of this interpretation which you can study in commentaries if you wish. Some people also add the numbers and point out that they equal 430 years, the amount of time Israel spent in Egypt. But, neither God nor Ezekiel add the numbers or refer to the total in the text.)

The point of all this is that God put up with evil and rebellion from Israel and Judah for all this time, and now the punishment of it is all coming to bear in the impending destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonia.

It reminds me of Jesus’ words to the Jews that all the blood of the prophets from Abel to Zechariah would come upon them. (Matthew 23:35-38)

The third part of God’s message was portrayed by Ezekiel’s food. He was to make bread according to God’s recipe. (9) He had to weigh the food and eat only the weight of 20 shekels per day. He had to measure out a specific amount of water he could drink. In other words, his food and water were rationed. These were small amounts, not really sufficient for good health. The reason the bread is made of several ingredients was not to give a healthy recipe, but to show that shortages in food were such that there was not enough of one thing, such as wheat, to make the bread. The people of Jerusalem would suffer hunger during the siege.

God also told Ezekiel how to bake his bread. It was to be cooked over a fire of human dung. This wold make it unclean. This was to show that the Jews would live among Gentiles and be defiled by it. God had mercy on Ezekiel here, for Ezekiel did not want to defile himself by doing this. God allowed him to use cow dung instead. (14)

But the message was the same. After suffering hunger during the siege, the survivors would eat their food in an unclean land. They would go into exile in a foreign country.