Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday, January 20th

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Genesis 35-36, Psalm 15, Matthew 15
Today's scripture focus is Ezekiel 20:45 - 22:30

Ezekiel 20:45-22:21

English Standard Version (ESV)
45  And the word of the Lord came to me: 46 “Son of man, set your face toward the southland; preach against the south, and prophesy against the forest land in the Negeb. 47 Say to the forest of the Negeb, Hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree. The blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from south to north shall be scorched by it. 48 All flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it; it shall not be quenched.” 49 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! They are saying of me, ‘Is he not a maker of parables?’”

The Lord Has Drawn His Sword

21  The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries. Prophesy against the land of Israel and say to the land of Israel, Thus says the LordBehold, I am against you and will draw my sword from its sheath and will cut off from you both righteous and wicked. Because I will cut off from you both righteous and wicked, therefore my sword shall be drawn from its sheath against all flesh from south to north. And all flesh shall know that I am the Lord. I have drawn my sword from its sheath; it shall not be sheathed again.
“As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes. And when they say to you, ‘Why do you groan?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that it is coming. Every heart will melt, and all hands will be feeble; every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water. Behold, it is coming, and it will be fulfilled,’” declares the Lord God.
And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus says the Lord, say:
“A sword, a sword is sharpened
    and also polished,
10 sharpened for slaughter,
    polished to flash like lightning!
(Or shall we rejoice? You have despised the rod, my son, with everything of wood.) 11 So the sword is given to be polished, that it may be grasped in the hand. It is sharpened and polished to be given into the hand of the slayer. 12 Cry out and wail, son of man, for it is against my people. It is against all the princes of Israel. They are delivered over to the sword with my people. Strike therefore upon your thigh. 13 For it will not be a testing—what could it do if you despise the rod?” declares the Lord God.
14 “As for you, son of man, prophesy. Clap your hands and let the sword come down twice, yes, three times, the sword for those to be slain. It is the sword for the great slaughter, which surrounds them, 15 that their hearts may melt, and many stumble. At all their gates I have given the glittering sword. Ah, it is made like lightning; it is taken up for slaughter.16 Cut sharply to the right; set yourself to the left, wherever your face is directed. 17 I also will clap my hands, and I will satisfy my fury; I the Lord have spoken.”
18 The word of the Lord came to me again: 19 “As for you, son of man, mark two ways for the sword of the king of Babylon to come. Both of them shall come from the same land. And make a signpost; make it at the head of the way to a city. 20 Mark a way for the sword to come to Rabbah of the Ammonites and to Judah, into Jerusalem the fortified. 21 For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination. He shakes the arrows; he consults the teraphim; he looks at the liver. 22 Into his right hand comes the divination for Jerusalem, to set battering rams, to open the mouth with murder, to lift up the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up mounds, to build siege towers. 23 But to them it will seem like a false divination. They have sworn solemn oaths, but he brings their guilt to remembrance, that they may be taken.
24 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have made your guilt to be remembered, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your deeds your sins appear—because you have come to remembrance, you shall be taken in hand.25 And you, O profane wicked one, prince of Israel, whose day has come, the time of your final punishment, 26 thus says the Lord God: Remove the turban and take off the crown. Things shall not remain as they are. Exalt that which is low, and bring low that which is exalted. 27 A ruin, ruin, ruin I will make it. This also shall not be, until he comes, the one to whom judgment belongs, and I will give it to him.
28 “And you, son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord God concerning the Ammonites and concerning their reproach; say, A sword, a sword is drawn for the slaughter. It is polished to consume and to flash like lightning— 29 whilethey see for you false visions, while they divine lies for you—to place you on the necks of the profane wicked, whose day has come, the time of their final punishment. 30 Return it to its sheath. In the place where you were created, in the land of your origin, I will judge you. 31 And I will pour out my indignation upon you; I will blow upon you with the fire of my wrath, and I will deliver you into the hands of brutish men, skillful to destroy. 32 You shall be fuel for the fire. Your blood shall be in the midst of the land. You shall be no more remembered, for I the Lord have spoken.”

Israel's Shedding of Blood

22 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “And you, son of man, will you judge, will you judge the bloody city?  Then declare to her all her abominations. You shall say, Thus says the Lord God: A city that sheds blood in her midst, so that her time may come, and that makes idols to defile herself! You have become guilty by the blood that you have shed, and defiled by the idols that you have made, and you have brought your days near, the appointed time of your years has come. Therefore I have made you a reproach to the nations, and a mockery to all the countries. Those who are near and those who are far from you will mock you; your name is defiled; you are full of tumult.
“Behold, the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood. Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you. You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths. There are men in you who slander to shed blood, and people in you who eat on the mountains; they commit lewdness in your midst. 10 In you men uncover their fathers' nakedness; in you they violate women who are unclean in their menstrual impurity. 11 One commits abomination with his neighbor's wife; another lewdly defiles his daughter-in-law; another in you violates his sister, his father's daughter. 12 In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take interest and profit and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; but me you have forgotten, declares the Lord God.
13 “Behold, I strike my hand at the dishonest gain that you have made, and at the blood that has been in your midst. 14 Can your courage endure, or can your hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with you? I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it. 15 I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you through the countries, and I will consume your uncleanness out of you. 16 And you shall be profaned by your own doing in the sight of the nations, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
17 And the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to me; all of them are bronze and tin and iron and lead in the furnace; they are dross of silver. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have all become dross, therefore, behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. 20 As one gathers silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into a furnace, to blow the fire on it in order to melt it, so I will gather you in my anger and in my wrath, and I will put you in and melt you. 21 I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it. 22 As silver is melted in a furnace, so you shall be melted in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the LordI have poured out my wrath upon you.”
23 And the word of the Lord came to me: 24 “Son of man, say to her, You are a land that is not cleansed or rained upon in the day of indignation. 25 The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. 26 Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. 27 Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain. 28 And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord has not spoken. 29 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. 30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.

Accompanying David Legge sermon: No Man for the Hour
Accompanying Robert Rayburn sermons on Chapter 21 and Chapter 22.

I appreciate Rayburn's introduction to his sermon on Chapter 21.  He admitted that it was beginning to grow tiresome - studying and preaching virtually the same sermon on judgment week after week.  He had even considered halting the series, and returning to it later on... or never!  And then he said (and this is only in the audio, not in the transcript)....
That is precisely the burden that this book of the Bible is intended to make us feel.  And if we break it off we will then be failing to receive precisely the blessing and the benefit that the book of Ezekiel is intended to provide us as readers of and believers in the Word of God. It was the Holy Spirit that decided that there would be chapter after chapter after chapter of the prophecy of judgment and that we would have to read those chapters one after another, making our way through this important book of the bible.
A good reminder to insert in the middle of our study I thought!

The end of Chapter 20 (it is the beginning of 21 in the Hebrew) is a picture of a fire.  God, through Ezekiel, is telling the people that a devouring fire is coming from Babylon by the hand of God to devour the south (Jerusalem) until there is nothing left.

In 21:1-17 God reinforces that idea with the metaphor of a sword of judgment.  The people may have expected God to wield a sword on their behalf - to protect, defend, or even avenge them.  But not in judgment!  Here, God reinforces the reality that He will come down in judgment on His people.  This is not a holy temper tantrum.  This is holy judgment of wrath as an exercise of His holy justice.  Judgment on earth is always a picture of the ultimate judgment to come at the end of each man's life, and at the end of time.  Hell.  And the very idea of that ultimate and eternal judgment should make us wail, groan, and mourn, just like Ezekiel.

Rayburn settles on this point in his sermon on this chapter.  The concept of God's judgment wouldn't be such a hard doctrine to accept, if it were not so severe and unrelenting.  Death itself is not the ultimate judgment.  What comes after death is the ultimate judgment.  Hell is forever.  God's ultimate judgment is forever.  And this is so very hard to accept with our finite, human minds.

If people were only punished in hell until they repented, of if there was a cap on the amount of time they would be punished before being allowed back to heaven, if it was more of a purgatory setup, or even if souls were simply extinguished and ceased to exist - that would be easier to swallow. But the fact of a never ending place of judgment being the destination for all unbelievers, no matter how "good" they were from a human standpoint?  That is perhaps the hardest of doctrines to accept.

Rayburn gives a few reasons why we can't simply eliminate the prospect of hell....
First, the fact of a severe divine judgment is not simply a question of the future. It is with us already in this world. We are face to face with it every day and cannot deny divine wrath without closing our eyes to reality....
It is, in fact, the clear, emphatic, repeated teaching of Holy Scripture....
The Bible, of course, roots the coming judgment in divine justice. The Bible explains it; gives a reason for it; justifies it...The future judgment is nothing else but precise and exact justice. Everyone is not punished the same way...We are told very little about precisely how men and women will be punished. What we are told is that they will be punished in perfect justice. Surely we can trust the Lord God to do that. Surely we, who have so much trouble with justice – who find it so easy to have a narrow standard for others and a wide one for ourselves – surely we can trust the Lord God to do what is perfectly just. Surely we can trust the God of infinite wisdom and infinite love to dispense justice with exactness...
You cannot demand that judgment be lessened in the world to come without in effect denying or diminishing your own culpability. You are, in effect, saying that you do not deserve to be punished so severely...
What is more, we cannot object to the biblical teaching of eternal punishment, a severe judgment of the wicked in the world to come, without diminishing Christ’s suffering and sacrifice. The Lord endured our punishment in our place so that we would not have to endure it. In the nature of the case you cannot lessen the divine wrath that threatens the unbelieving and impenitent without lessening the weight of that burden our Savior bore. Every Christian should be very, very careful before ever contemplating taking such a step.

Doing away with the judgment of hell makes light of the sacrifice and suffering of our Saviour.

In v18-32 we see a fork in the road.  The King of Babylon needs to decide who to attack - Ammon or Jerusalem.  And this isn't the King of Babylon's decision.  It's God's decision.  And God can and will work through evil men, even work through their evil ways (divination, etc) to accomplish His holy will.  And God had determined to judge His own people first.  To whom much is given, much is required.

Legge focuses on the end of Chapter 22 - God could not find even one righteous man, not even one to stand in the gap.  It couldn't be Ezekiel because he was proclaiming God's wrath on the people.  Thankfully, Jesus is that One for us.  And as believers, we too are to stand in the gap, interceding just as He is interceding now.  He is looking for one who is willing - are we willing to be the man or woman for the hour, at a time such as this?

In Chapter 22 we see a list of some of Israel's many sins, and the judgment that will come upon her because of them.  Everyone was guilty - from priests to princes to civic leaders.  The melting pot of dross reveals no metal.  They are all guilty.  Every one.

Rayburn considers the fact that....
If we don’t think much of our sin, we aren’t going to think all that much of its forgiveness or of the sacrifice that made that forgiveness possible. It is when someone sees the true blackness of his heart and life that he comes to realize what a stupendous thing it is, and how utterly inexplicable, that God loved us and Jesus died for us knowing full well who and what we are....When you see yourself as you really are, you are not only free to see God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice as the utterly amazing and wonderful things they are, but you are free to see others as people just like yourself in their weakness, foolishness, selfishness, and the like. It’s hard to be hard on someone who reminds you so much of yourself!

Rayburn notes that the sins listed here were all violations, not only of natural law (the sense of right and wrong written on our hearts) but against God's specific commandments.
What we are being reminded here is that we are to take our orders for life from Holy Scripture. That is where God has revealed his will. Those laws are the laws that bind us. What is found there as our duty is our duty indeed. I find it amazing how cavalier many Christians are nowadays about the teaching of the Bible; how glibly they ignore or minimize its teaching and its requirements. Whether it is getting a divorce that God forbids, or going to court against another Christian, or sleeping with someone to whom you are not married, or any number of other things, far too many Christians seem to think that it doesn’t matter all that much whether one obeys the Bible’s commands. The Jews in Ezekiel’s day thought the same way and the Lord demonstrated in no uncertain terms that they were mistaken, grievously mistaken. You are obliged to obey the commandments of God, period. And those commandments are the very commandments given to us in Holy Scripture. Any disobedience to those commandments, the Lord himself regards as an act of rebellion against him.

This catalog of sins covers all grounds.  This doesn't mean that everyone committed all of the sins, but they all committed some of them.  There is not a pecking order of sins.  We should not look down on others because they happen to commit different sins than we do.  All sin is offensive to God.

In this list we find that sins against God are mixed in with sins against other people.  Ultimately all sin is a sin against God.  But we are commanded to love God AND man.  Not one or the other.

When we sin, we are not simply rejecting a moral code, we are rejecting God.  People know they are sinners. They may not know the half of their sin, but they know that they don’t meet the moral standards they themselves accept and hold others to. But they don’t make it personal. They don’t typically accept that they have personally offended God himself. That they have acted against him. They never think that they have repudiated God’s rule and as much as spit in his face. They never think that! But even we Christians too often depersonalize our sins. We are more likely to worry about what others think about our misbehavior than about what God thinks of it. We rarely visualize our unseemly and unworthy behavior as being committed before the face of God and as offending him and displeasing him. We know we have done wrong; we tend not to think nearly so often that we have grieved the Holy Spirit.

And the very truth of the matter is the fact that sin must be and will be punished.
But the punishment of those sins can be transferred and has been in the case of all who are being saved. Your sins must be punished, but Christ took that punishment on himself. Every act you ever committed against God, every thought you thought, word you spoke, and deed you performed before God, in his presence, that was disgusting to him and amounted on your part to pure indifference to him and disrespect for him – the thousands upon thousands and millions of such acts of both commission and omission – I say they were punished, but they were punished in the punishment Christ suffered in your place. And sinner that you are, that ought to make you a very grateful human being, who loves God with a passion, and trusts Christ without reservation, and wants, desperately wants, to get rid of as much of your sin as you can and to live as much as you can to please and honor the Savior of your life. Sin is most important for what it teaches people about the love of God and the salvation of Christ and what it makes them want to be and do because they have been forgiven.


Tomorrow's scripture focus: Ezekiel 23
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Genesis 37-38, Psalm 16, Matthew 16

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