Idolatrous Elders Condemned
Jerusalem Will Not Be Spared
3 “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them?
or from the Message translation:
God’s Message came to me: “Son of Man, these people have installed idols in their hearts. They have embraced the wickedness that will ruin them. Why should I even bother with their prayers?
It reminded me about something we had talked about in Sunday School yesterday. The Pastor from our inner city church plant was speaking about class stereotypes that he encounters with the members of his congregation and the view people from outside of the church's neighbourhood have on the people who live in that neighbourhood. The pastor handed out a sheet that attempted to generalize "unspoken class rules". I found this link with an older copy of the chart that our pastor handed out.
One of the things that came up in the discussion in Sunday School was that with the upper and middle class focus on wealth being "stuff" it was so easy for these "things" to become idols and for it to become a hinderance for people to feel like they need God. Their idols of possession become more important than what God has in His plan. The pursuit of "stuff" and the things themselves can easily become an idol and that can become a path to destruction and away from God. People need to find their way back to God and this is not always easy for people to admit. Way back in Ezekiel's time, the problem was the same:
David Legge says
In chapter 14 of Ezekiel you have a scenario a little like that, because again in verse 1 you find that the elders of the children of Judah have come again to God's prophet to seek God's word. They've done it before, and now they come again, but as we read down this passage we find that their question to God's prophet is but a veneer of an orthodox faith. In other words, it's like the Pharisees that we've been studying on Sunday mornings as we go through the Sermon on the Mount, there was this outward religiosity, this outward conformity to rule, but inwardly there was dead men's bones. We've seen this in weeks gone by, that what these people needed was one heart - in other words, not a divided heart. What they needed was God to put His Spirit within them, because His Spirit was not residing in their bodies. What they needed was God to do heart surgery, and to take out their stony heart, their cold, subordinate, awful rebellious heart out, and give them a heart of flesh and a heart of obedience to God.
...That was Jerusalem, all outward - they weren't ashamed of it! But here in captivity it's in the heart - they have the outward veneer of Judaism, and religiosity, and the covenant of Jehovah, but deep in the recesses - and I say this so often because the verse of this hymn grips my soul: 'In those dark chambers where polluted things hold empire o'er the soul'. There were idols, there was Baalism, there was Asherah, there were all sorts of foreign gods of Medo-Persia and Babylon and Egypt, and all sorts of nations, and all the Gentile peoples round about Jerusalem and Israel. They were bowing down to those gods in their heart. With all of that it's still amazing, isn't it, that they didn't hesitate to come to God, isn't it? They didn't hesitate to hedge their bets, to seek God's guidance in addition to their little closet deities. They were following every other god, the Jerusalemites were doing it openly, those in captivity were doing it in their heart, but nevertheless when their back was against the wall, when there was trouble coming, they did not hesitate one moment coming to God with all the other gods in their heart and asking God: 'What are You going to do to help us?'.
Do you know what God said? 'You don't deserve a response! You don't deserve to be answered!'. Even though God told them they didn't deserve a response, He responds anyway, and He says: 'I'm not going to respond through Ezekiel as I have been doing. You're not going to hear the word of God through the prophet - you want to hear me speak to you? Well, I'll speak to you directly!'. We see in the chapters that will follow how God speaks to them directly in His judgement from heaven. God does not address their specific question, but rather He probes beneath the surface to the deeper problems in their spiritual life, the problems of the enquirers. As we read these words together today, as they have been right throughout this book, they are terrible words of judgement - and especially in this chapter they have a tone of a legal sentence, that God has come in His judicial robes and that God has plunged the hammer down upon the desk and pronounced a legal sentence upon His people. God comes to them in mercy, but yet in judgement, and calls them to repentance, calls them to turn from their evil idolatry and their evil ways - but the whole weight of His message is judgement! If you don't repent you will all likewise perish! If you do not turn to God from your idols, if you do not turn to God He will turn His face away from you!
It's an awful thing to think that God was threatening to avert His face from every one of these people who had idols set up in their heart. One author puts it like this: 'When the idolater turns aside it is sin, but when God turns aside it is death'. Awful! Because they turned to their sin, God would turn away from and it would mean spiritual death because the wages of sin is death. But my friend, I want you to see that, just like there was a rainbow in the vision of the glory of God and the chariot throne in the first chapter of this book, and as we've seen right throughout awful hellish chapters of judgement and God's retribution upon the people, right throughout it all there has been this little speck and ray of hope. The reason why God is bringing judgement upon them is not just for punishment for their evil deeds, but God is using this judgement to serve for their salvation, God is wanting to drive them from their evil deeds, to drive them their gods and goddesses and their sins of idolatry. It is His purpose in a heart of love and faithfulness to turn them to Himself again, to restore them to a full knowledge of Himself. Isn't it amazing that even in this awful judgement, God is wanting to bring them back in grace again! Even in the midst of all of this God's grace is working!
God's grace is greater than anything we can imagine. And we ALL are in need of it.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Ezekiel 15-16
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Genesis 25-26