Violent Destruction of Virtue

This lesson concerns the sacred responsibility that the Creator has given his image bearers to protect, nurture, and value human life, both their own and that of others (“Love your neighbor as yourself’). This responsibility can easily be deduced from the order of creation and the words that God used (Genesis 1:26-28) in culminating his creation with this marvel of a thinking, acting, investigating, communicating,  and worshiping being. The responsibility is solidified by the laws implied in human relationships and that God has given by distinct revelation (Genesis 4:8-15; 9:6, 7; Exodus 20:13).

I. Ezekiel begins with the intent of the Lord to “make known to Jerusalem her abominations” (Ezekiel 16:1).

A. From her beginning, Israel was unclean, and “abhorred on the day you were born” (16:5). This refers to her common lot with all humanity descending from Adam as corrupt and dead in trespasses and sins. We are “by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3). Israel in its seed-state was not exempt from that general condition but had been set aside in God’s eternal purpose as a bearer of life, that is, those through whom a hope of eternal life would arise.

B. In a sovereign act of mercy, God made the child live and grow to a beautiful maturity (16:6-14). Through an abundance of providential arrangements, favors of revealed truth, and some grace-filled leaders, Israel’s “name went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of my splendor which I bestowed on you” (14). Thus said the Lord whose splendor Israel reflected in her laws and religious worship.

C. Israel [Jerusalem] turned all of God’s grace into an opportunity for personal gain and worldly pleasure (16:15-19). This reifies the warnings of Scripture not to turn the grace of God into an occasion for corruption (Romans 6:1; Jude 4, 5) but to walk in a manner consistent with the righteousness reflected in the gospel (Phil 1:27).

D. They killed children (16:20, 21). Their self-centered quest for pleasure enticed them to violate the most basic law of human relations in its most egregious and perverse form, the sacrifice of children to the gods of adultery and harlotry.

The shedding of innocent blood is a peculiarly grievous contradiction to justice—as in abortion—and will receive retribution from the Lord (“Do not kill the innocent and righteous. For I will not justify the wicked; So you put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord; The Lord hates . . . hands that shed innocent blood” (Exodus 23:7; Deuteronomy 21: 9; Proverbs 6:16, 17).

II. God reveals the true condition of the heart of Israel even from their time in Egypt and after their rescue from slavery.

A. Though God claimed them as a peculiar people through covenant with Abraham, in their native depravity they never evacuated their hearts of Egyptian darkness (23:3, 8, 19, 21). The writer of Hebrews warns his readers to avoid the danger of the hardness of heart like that that remained in Israel even after their miraculous rescue from Egypt. One of the major themes that is interlaced throughout Hebrews is the deceitfulness of former loyalties that eventually inhibit the persevering manifestation of real saving faith (2:1; 3:6, 12-14; 4:11; 5:11; 6:6-8; 10:26, 27, 39; 12:3-7, 25; 13:9).

B. Samaria (Oholah) lusted after the life of Assyria and was then captured and dispersed by the Assyrians (5, 7, 9). Their Egyptian idolatry became reassigned to the gods of the Assyrians. The idols to which they gave such fond and fervent devotion led them to destruction as a nation.

C. Jerusalem (Oholibah) lusted after the lifestyle of the Chaldeans (11-21) and were thus given over to them in captivity (22-29, 35). The pattern set by Samaria was followed by Jerusalem and the pleasures advocated by the Chaldean idols destroyed the city.

III. God lists the putrid and abominable sins of Samaria and Judah. “Declare to them their abominations” (36). This string of abominations shows the unity of the law of God and really is a terrifying witness to the pervasively destructive energy of disobedience. The history of Israel shows the truth of James’s instruction: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” (James 2:10, 11).

A. The sins of idolatry, murder, and adultery are combined. They reflect the most basic law of the two tables. The religion that they covet begins with gods whose strength and glory is in their shame (See Philippians 3:18, 19). Sexual promiscuity is deified as a means of worship and human sacrifice supposedly allays the wrath of these gods and gains their favor.

B. They have violated the directions for the Sabbath, ignoring the creation ordinance of God’s completed work, and have profaned the sanctuary feigning the guidelines of regulated worship on the same day that they offer child sacrifice. (37-39)

C. The law of God is a single entity divided into relative parts beginning with the distinction between the first table and the second table.

    • The first table is summarized in Mark 12:29, 30, “The first of all the commandments is,…’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” Matthew 22:37 introduces this with the question, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” When the first table is not lovingly honored, the second table, summarized as “You shall love your neighbor as your self,” falls into chaos. If there is no preeminent respect for the Creator and sustainer of life, there will be no true respect for any created life.
    • Each table also begins with the most fundamental duty of the respective tables and the other commandments are elemental aspects of the lead commandment of each table. The first table begins with the exclusivity of the Lord as God and that no other supposed gods may be considered as having any claim to reality or power or devotion in light of his infinite power and excellence. Commandments 2, 3, and 4 deal with ways this infinite perfection might be profaned in our minds. Commandment two forbids any action that might substitute our perspective for God’s revelation of infinite holiness and his perfect justice in calling creatures to account for their sin. Commandment three forbids using the name of God in an irreverent manner by seeking some personal advantage or autonomous personal judgment by invoking the name of God. Commandment four enforces our worshipful recognition of dependence on God’s power and purpose by setting aside a time for remembering the perfect work of his sovereign pleasure, under the Old Covenant in creation and under the New Covenant in redemption. Commandment five completes the first table by establishing God’s authority throughout life in setting forth parents, the begetters and bearers, as worthy of honor from their children in the way that God as Creator and Sustainer manifests his authority over all to which his power has given existence. Children must learn obedience to and honor of God by their submission to his immediate authorities over them on earth.
    • The second table begins with the most fundamental value in relation to neighbors, that is respect for their life: “You shall not murder.” If this commandment is not honored as an absolute recognizing the sole prerogative of God over human life, the rest of the commandments have no context or relevance as contributing to the dignity and inviolability of the life of another. The honoring of God’s rules for sexuality, ownership of property, truthfulness of witness toward fellow creatures, and contentment with one’s own status by not envying the property and status of another fill out the spheres in which we must honor the life of our neighbors and have benevolent intentions toward them.

D. Their sacrifice of children arises from their idolatry as does their unbridled lustful living. Honor the wrong gods, who are no gods, and you get a life of selfish destruction. They “committed adultery with their idols and even cause their sons, whom they bore to me, to pass through the fire to them as food” (37). “They slaughtered their children for their idols” (39).

E. American idolatry today is much more subtle and thus more dangerous and destructive, for there appears to be absolutely no external point of worship to which sacrifice is made. Instead, the idol is the personal desire of an individual unfettered by any idea of an external authority. Complete secular “meism” gives rise to an abandoned disobedience to every specific command of both tables of the law. Abortion completely reverses the order of the tables of commandments and contradicts the content of all. The human side is first, so that our obligation is only to ourselves and our own pleasure. After this reversal, the first commandment, “Thou shalt not murder,” becomes you may take the life of the unborn, the innocent, the absolutely dependent is service of your own deified prerogative.

IIII.  Psalm 139:13-16

A. Verses 13: “You formed my inward parts” – David does not deny the ongoing biological processes in conception, but expresses the reality that nothing occurs apart from the immediate superintending hand of God. Though we are procreated, we are nonetheless created and are justly claimed as God’s project and property. He uses the image of formed (a reference probably to the potter’s wheel and the possession, power, and purpose of the potter over the clay). It comes from a word of extended meanings that can connote create, or own by purchase, that is, to possess all the rights to [as in 2 Peter 2:1]. God superintends the formation of the “inward parts” or the “reins,” by imagery those parts of the inner self wherein dwell all the affections, the determination, the will. He has in mind the marvelous quality of the human person in God’s image as a willing, thinking, feeling being; not the corruption of it through sin. This contrast he deals with in Psalm 51:5, 6.

B. Verses 14, 15 – David moves rapidly to the present state of his being and confesses the mystery of the human body and the human mind.

    • All the mechanisms of the body should cause us to marvel and realize that only massive intelligence could form such individual parts and also put them together with such integrated purpose. The human “frame” is fearfully and wonderfully made as the manner in which the “reins” or inward parts express themselves. This union of soul and body constitutes an appropriate whole as an expression of ingenious integration and intricate weaving, of material and non-material reality. This created union serves as an assumption for the necessity of the resurrection. It provides rationale as to why Paul can call a body that is physical before death as well as after the resurrection (Luke 24:39-43), natural in this life and spiritual after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:42-49). In addition, “My soul knows it very well” is a worshipful way of stating the truth also assumed in Romans 1:28, but manifest in an opposite manner. “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, etc.”
    • Verse 15a – The process of the intra-uterine development of the child proceeds step by step under the guidance of God. He has established the proper order of the formation of parts and oversees it. For humans to claim the right to interrupt this divine operation is one of the most arrogantly sinful usurpations of the intrinsic and natural right of God imaginable.
    • Verse 15b – “The depths of the earth” – This is a reference to the hiddenness and mysterious nature of this creative process. It also refers back to the fact that we are originally created from dust. Amazingly, from the earth comes “intricately woven” life.

C. Verse 16 – God knows the beginning from the end. Even when this child is, as it were, an unformed substance, God has the work of the fully-formed and maturing individual established in his sovereign purpose. This disposal of a person’s life is the prerogative of God alone. He not only gives the child physical existence, but he projects how this particular child will be used in the world for his assigned length of days as God sees fit. No other being has the right to determine the days for this child; none else has the moral prerogative to decide if the child continues to live or has his life taken away.

D. When David was conceived, he was “shapen in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5); when Jesus was conceived the angels called him “the holy thing conceived” (Luke 1:35). The human nature was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary in her ovum, while at the exact moment of such conception, the person of the eternally generated Son of God joined with that fertilized egg in full personhood by the same eternal action by which he exists as the Son of God. At conception, both had fully intact moral natures and personhoods. At their conception, neither David nor Jesus were anything less than full-orbed persons in the image of God. If we understand the implications of the doctrines of original sin and the incarnation, we cannot be satisfied until abortion is abolished and its willful consummation is defined as murder.

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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