When Idols Destroy Your Life – Body and Soul

One of the driving themes of Ezekiel is that God will save a remnant of People in Israel. Among the many striking ways in which he did this occurred in chapter 5 when Ezekiel shaved his hair, both beard and head, burned a third portion, struck with the sword a third portion and scattered a third portion salvaging only a small amount out of each of those portions and then burning even a part of that.  Since they had been so unruly, “more turbulent than the nations that are all around you,” constantly generation after generation rejecting his laws and statutes, fulfillment of the promise of good to them must clearly come by a sovereign act of giving them a new heart. In order to show both the necessity and the pure grace of such an act, God showed Ezekiel the thorough corruption of the hearts of priests, princes, prophets, and people and their stupidly irrational attachment to idols. At the end of chapter 7, Ezekiel had seen the lamentable condition of those still in Jerusalem: “They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders. The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror” (7:26, 27a) That this is both their sin and their judgment becomes clear in what follows. The just severity with which God judges them shows that he is almighty and not to be trifled with, and again, the marvelous freeness of his gift of redemption to some. Chapter seven unfolds for Ezekiel a picture of the relentless pursuit of the people by divine wrath with such a mighty and thorough display of anger that none can conclude but that it is from God: “They shall know that I am the Lord.” (7:27b)

I. For the knowledge of the exiled elders of Judah, God showed to Ezekiel the spiritual causes of the judgment just detailed in 7.

A. This vision lasts from chapter 8 through chapter 11 when Ezekiel’s attention again can be directed to the elders that had gathered: “And I told the exiles all the things that the Lord had shown me” (11:25).

B. The vision began with the coming of the symbol of Christ incarnate as seen in chapter 1. When he takes him to Jerusalem, he does it by the Spirit, a foreshadowing of the relation between Christ and the Spirit’s work under the covenant of redemption. (8:3) “The Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.” (John 16:8, 13, 14

C. Verse 3 and 4 – He summarized the upcoming vision by presenting the striking incongruity between the meaning of the Temple, that is, the presence of the glory of God, and the present practice in the Temple, the image that provokes to jealousy.

D. verse 5-17 – The Spirit gave Ezekiel visions of increasingly provocative practices of idolatry, indicating their complete indifference to the revelation of which they had been recipients, the privilege of the redemptive symbols over which they were to be guardians, and an embracing of the soul-destroying superstitions of nature gods. Not only so, but their leadership had led to fraud, oppression, and violence in the land.

E. Among the abominations seen by Ezekiel, this one, “engraved on the wall all around, was every form of creeping things and loathsome beasts.” There in the place of the glory of God for Israel, they had degenerated into the dregs of paganism described by Paul in Romans 1:22, “They became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” Even in the presence of divine revelation, the sinfulness of man is such that he can descend to the most irrational and irreverent of loyalties.

F.  verse 18 – Thus the verdict, “My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity.”

(Note the juxtaposition of the words “cry in my ears with a loud voice.” (8:18b and 9:1) The first comes from Israel to God which he refused to hear. The second in 9:1 came from God to Ezekiel with the words of judgment. These of God, not those of Israel would surely come to pass.)

II. Chapter 9 – The remnant of Israel, those that mourn and groan over the abominations committed, are marked for preservation while the rest are executed.

A. Verses 1, 2 – God called forth six executioners and one man with a writing case.

B. The glory of God began its departure from the house and came to the threshold, anticipating its departure in chapter 10.

C. The man with the writing case marks all the faithful so that the executioners will past them by. This is reminiscent of the Passover in Egypt when the doorposts were marked with the blood of the sacrificed animal so that the death angel would pass over them.

D. The executioners are instructed “Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” (9:6)

E. Ezekiel cries for the remnant of Israel, asking if God is determined to destroy even them, those who had received the mark. Before giving him an answer, God justified his action of such judgment and reiterated his vow not to have pity. God does not have to apologize for his justice. Sinners warned, living in the presence of divine revelation all around them of varying degrees of detail, nevertheless pursue their own death by their refusal to retain God in their knowledge.

F. Then the man in the writing case returned, having accomplished his assignment (9:11). Even as Jesus said, “Of all those that thou hast given men, I have lost none,” even so this linen-clothed man accomplished his task of preservation.

III. The glory of God now with great deliberation and with a manifestation of power, combined with displays of both glory and mystery, moves and commits the judgment of the city with fire to the man dressed in linen. This judgment, though it will come from the invasion of godless forces, nevertheless is determined in accordance with the holy purposes of God, even from between the cherubim. When the one that marked God’s people for protection returns in glory, he is authorized to appear in judgment with flaming fire (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

IV. In this position of manifest glory and at the point of the departure of the divine glory from the house of worship in Jerusalem, He brought Ezekiel to observe another abomination.

A. the civil leaders of the city who mock the words of the prophets, reject their message of quick judgment, proclaim their long term safety and mislead the inhabitants. Ezekiel is given a message of judgment and as he proclaimed it, one of the civil leaders, Pelatiah, died.

B. Ezekiel again asked if God’s intention is to destroy the remnant of Israel.

C. God shows Ezekiel his intention of giving a new heart to the remnant and of gathering his people from among the nations, removing the heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh to obey his statutes and delighting to be his people.

D. The glory of the Lord departed the city and brought Ezekiel in his vision back to the elders that had gathered before him. He told them what he had seen.

V.  Chapters 13 and 14. Ezekiel symbolizes by a dramatic enactment the captivity of Jerusalem to Babylon and emphasizes that it will not delay but come quickly. The false prophets, including a group of positive-thinking women, who sought to give false comfort to the people, were condemned. God will deliver his people from false prophets.

VI. 14:1-6 – Having given a thorough picture of the judgment of God on idolatry, Ezekiel is now called on to speak to the elders that evidently have journeyed from Israel to Babylon.

A. Perhaps through his having written his prophecies as a letter to be read, they knew of him and wanted to see if he would maintain such a harsh stance in their presence. Perhaps they wanted him to contradict the words of Jeremiah and give some justification to their counsel of safety referred to in chapter 11. Men in power often seem to think that they can intimidate truth-tellers by their presence into  a stance of compromise.

B. If so, they did not accomplish their goal. Ezekiel delivered a closely personal message to them about the spiritual condition of these elders themselves. Their inquisitiveness did not arise from true desire for worship or spiritual growth, but from an idle curiosity or an attempt to intimidate. They had itching ears (cf 2 Timothy 4:3-5) and wanted to have their way justified. In such cases, God would not allow himself to be consulted by them. (verse 3)

C. Ezekiel, rather than softening or altering his message in deference to their presence, points to the secrets of their own hearts, and uncovers stumbling blocks, iniquity, hardness, and idolatry.

D. Ezekiel, rather than quench their curiosity-driven thirst, or giving them any release from the pressure of the truth he has uttered to this point, calls them to repentance, to turn away from their idols and their abominations. And further, if any prophet that they consult should conform to their desire for a softer message, both the inquirer and the inquired will suffer the same punishment. We cannot play games with truth and allow the easily offended feelings of sinful people make us deliver a false message. A failure to uphold the immutable holiness of God, the sovereign prerogatives of his wisdom and justice, and the utter gratuity of his grace in redemption will result in our sharing the status of those who inquired with false motives or answered with falsely assuring comforts.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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