An ancient parable to read when it seems hope is lost – Ezekiel 17, Part 1

Have you ever had that feeling of being dead inside?  Lacking hope.  Lacking energy.  Blah.  Depressed.  Feeling like there must be more to life than this.  Looking around for answers and satisfaction, and maybe finding it temporarily in TV shows, social media, food, alcohol.  What do you use to ease the frustration of life? 

Maybe you’re in a dead-end job.  Maybe you have a relationship that is going nowhere.  Maybe you’re a parent and feel like a failure in raising your kids.  Maybe it’s a health situation that lingers, lingers, lingers and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  Maybe you’re growing older, and you know you are closer to the finish line than to the start.  Maybe you’re real close.  Maybe you’re scared.

Maybe you look at the price of living and find it utterly maddening.  Gas just jumped to $3.35/gallon here in Lancaster.  Prices of food are going up.  Car and home and rental prices seem ridiculously high.  There’s a lack of affordable housing, and your salary might not be keeping up with it all.  Do you ask for a raise?  Do you look for another job?  Or maybe you try a side hustle.  But do you really want to add one more thing to your already busy life?  You think to yourself that you’re already probably too busy.  You go to bed exhausted, you don’t sleep that great, you wake up still tired, and you face another day to make another dollar or try to pay attention in school, and you wonder if this is what life is supposed to be about.  Where can you go for help?  You know the churchy answer is “God,” but maybe he feels real far away.  You might have even prayed in the past, and it didn’t seem to help.

Turn to Ezekiel 17.  We’re going to hear a story that I think speaks to the reality of the frustration of our world.  Read Ezekiel 17, verses 1-2.

In our study of Ezekiel, we’ve watched as God has told Ezekiel to perform skits.  God has given Ezekiel astounding visions.  God has asked Ezekiel to declare straightforward prophetic sermons.  Here in Ezekiel 17, verses 1-2 God tells Ezekiel that his next prophecy will be a parable, an allegory. 

When you think of parables, you probably think of Jesus.  Jesus is famous for his parables.  They are creative stories, genius in their simplicity and power.  But sometimes Jesus told parables, confused the heck out of people, and then did not let his listeners in on what the parable meant.  Other times he told the parable and the meaning.  In Ezekiel 17, thankfully, God will tell the parable and the meaning.  I would like read the parable, and you see if you can figure out what it means.  Before you read it, let me give you a couple important hints that I hope will help you understand Ezekiel’s parable. 

First hint: Think about the content of nearly all of Ezekiel’s prophecies.  More than likely this one will be similar.  What was the content of his previous prophecies so far?  I’m not going to tell you.  Sorry.  I want you to think about it and remember as you read to the parable.

Second hint: Parables are stories where one thing or group of things symbolizes another thing or group of things.  So, when you hear a parable, you should think, what might that object refer to?  When you are trying to understand most parables, it can be very helpful to make a cast of characters.  For example, Jesus tells a parable about a man who holds a banquet and invites various guests to the banquet.  But he’s not really talking about a man, a banquet, and guests.  Instead, the man, the banquet and the guests stand for something else.  The man stands for God, the banquet stands for the Kingdom of God, and the guest are the people God wants to enter his Kingdom.  See if you can do the same thing for this parable.

The parable is recorded in verses 3-10. Please only read those verses. Don’t peek ahead!  If your Bible has study notes, please don’t look at your study notes!  Like I said, God will eventually explain the parable.  Just keep your eyes on verses 3-10 and see if you can figure it out.  Ok! Read Ezekiel 17, verses 3-10, and then in the next post we’ll try to interpret it.

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Have you ever lost hope?

Have you ever lost hope?

I paused after typing that question, thinking to myself, “Have I ever lost hope?”  There have certainly been difficult periods in life, and I know I have become very frustrated, very anxious, and very sad.  But I don’t know that I have lost hope, at least in the sense of losing all hope.  I’m talking about losing hope in a final sense, to the point where a person thinks seriously about committing suicide.  I know I haven’t been at that point.  Maybe you have.  Maybe you know the feeling of darkness creeping in, when it seems there is no way out.  Even then, hope is not lost.

Though we might not have encountered that final sense of lost hope, my guess is that we have experienced at least a partial loss of hope.  Last night we were watching Conestoga Valley High School’s varsity boys’ soccer team play Penn Manor.  In the first half, CV dominated, keeping the ball on Penn Manor’s side of the field nearly the whole half, pounding shots at the goal, but they were unable to put one in the back of the net.  There was no doubt that CV is the better team, but the score was 0-0.  Early in the second half, though, with the ball yet again on Penn Manor’s side, the Comets’ defense cleared the ball, and they caught the CV defense a bit flat-footed.  In the ensuing breakaway, Penn Manor scored a goal.  At this point in the game, CV probably had 95% possession, and loads of shots on goal, but scored none of them.  Penn Manor had one shot on goal, and they scored it.  But hope was not lost, as there was lots of time on the clock.  We could tell that after trying so hard, getting so close, now being down 0-1 was an emotional setback for the CV team.  But CV did not give up the fight, knowing that when you keep possession, taking shots, invariably one will go in.  Then Penn Manor scored another breakaway goal.  Now down 0-2, and with time dwindling, CV had a mountain to climb.  They kept fighting, kept shooting, and nothing was going on.  Still, hope is not lost.  Yes, scoring goals in soccer is difficult, but with CV’s skill, speed and fight, they could do it, even with the game clock under five minutes.  With the ball near the midfield stripe, a Penn Manor defensive back took a rocket shot, sailing it over the unsuspecting CV keeper’s outstretched arms, and into the goal.  Even though it was a high school game, I wouldn’t be surprised if that shot made ESPN’s SportsCenter highlights this morning.  The Penn Manor team and fans went wild.  It was one of the most impressive goals I have ever witnessed live.  It was particularly grueling because, without question, CV is the better team.  Maybe you know the feeling.  It could be when you wanted a relationship to work, and you tried to work it out, but the pain was too deep, and the relationship broke apart.  It could be when you studied and studied, in hopes of getting a high enough grade on the final test, so you could pass the course, and when the grade came back, you didn’t pass.  Even then all hope, final hope is not lost.

There are times when life seems hopeless.  It could be that you feel hopeless about our national political situation.  Or maybe about paying off debt.  Or about beating an addiction.  Even then hope is not lost.

This coming week we study Ezekiel chapter 17, and we’re going to hear an interesting story about two eagles, a tree and a vine, that will teach us an important reminder about hope.  Read it ahead of time and see what you think, then in the next post we’ll start talking about it.

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Practical ways to stay connected to God – Ezekiel 15 & 16, Part 5

What do we do to stay connected to God?

First of all, we must spend time with him, getting to know him, hearing from him.  Too often Christians have said that to build a relationship with God, “Go to church on Sunday,” as if what happens in that building is what God really wants.  Not so.  We don’t need a building to worship God or to be a church family.  I think that is especially obvious when we hold worship in the park twice each year. Sure, a building makes gathering for worship convenient, and they can be used for many good things in line with the mission of God’s Kingdom, so we do well to care for church buildings.  But let us not mistake entering a building with staying connected to God.  We need to have a connected, vibrant relationship with God that goes beyond the four walls of the church building.  That means opening up time in our lives to be with him throughout the other hours and days of our week, and that will likely mean sacrificing other activities to make time for God.   

It could be while you’re driving.  It could be while you’re washing dishes.  It could be a specific quiet time.  Maybe you get a lunch break, and you can find a quiet spot. Staying connected with God can occur in any time where it is just you and him.  In those dedicated times alone with God, include study of God’s word, reading devotional books, memorizing God’s word, praying, listening in the quietness, and just being in his presence.  In those moments we are saying God, “I remain in you, I stay with you, I need you.  Be like the vine and the branches, empower me by your Spirit, help me to orient my whole life around you.  I want to bear much fruit for you.”

Then consider developing what Brother Lawrence called an unceasing conversation with God, whereever you are, all throughout the day, even when you are busy. I know it can be hard to focus on two things. For example, am I have a conversation with God as I type this post? It can be hard. But Brother Lawrence was right when he said that if we practice a continual conversation with God, we can learn to keep it going. He called it the Practice of the Presence of God. You can read or listen to his small, fascinating book for free here.

So in conclusion, I have to ask, are we giving the idea of being disciples of Jesus lip-service?  Are we saying, “I believe,” but then not actually living our lives in such a way that shows we really want to bear much fruit?  Are we living our lives pretty much disconnected from God? 

As we saw in our previous posts in this five part series on Ezekiel 15 & 16, let us not wander from God, but stay with him.  Sit with him.  Remain in his presence.  Get to know him.  Serve him.  Sacrifice for him, the one who atoned for our sins.  No matter if you are at work, at home, driving, or wherever you are, remain in him.  To remain in him means we are acknowledging his presence, our need for him, the Holy Spirit within us.  To remain in him means we remember who we are in him.  We remember that we are children of a living, active, loving God and that knowledge will move us to love others as he loves us.  The more we are connected with him, the more of God will be seen in our actions, our attitudes, our choices, our thought patterns. 

Finally, invite others into the process.  He made us for relationship and for community.   Our faith is not solitary or individualistic.  We need to be together as we remain in God. Encouraging one another in our connection to our main source of life as it was intended to be, challenging one another to deeper connection and communion with God. 

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Do you feel disconnected from God? – Ezekiel 15 & 16, Part 4

How close do you feel to God? Do you feel distant? Maybe you participate in your church’s worship, and you feel closer, but the rest of the week is so darn busy you can go for days without giving God a thought. The result feels like a growing distance between you and God. As we conclude our discussion of Ezekiel 15 & 16 in this post and the next, we have already seen how desperately God wants to be connected with us.

In the previous post we talked about the importance of atonement, and how atonement makes it possible for us to have a connection with God. As we think about how God’s atonement leads to the transformation of our lives, I remembered something Jesus once taught.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus was thinking about Ezekiel 15 when Jesus taught about the vine and the branches in John 15.  Read verses John 15:1-8.

See the parallel between Ezekiel 15, which we studied here and here this week, and John 15?  Wood from the vine that is no longer bearing fruit gets pruned.  In verse 6 we see the closest parallel to the point that God is making in Ezekiel 15.  Jesus says in John 15:6 that those branches which no longer bear fruit are not only cut off, but they wither and die and are good for nothing except to be burned.  This is the very point God made in Ezekiel 15.  In Ezekiel’s day, the people of Jerusalem were not bearing fruit; they were like grape wood that is not making grapes, and therefore they are only good for kindling. 

The principle in both passages is that God desires to be connected to his people so that his life-giving power will flow from himself to his people, and they will flourish and bear fruit.  This is the same principle in Ezekiel 16, which we studied here and here.  The queen becomes, out of her free will, disconnected from her king, and her life is the opposite of flourishing.

God wants to be connected to his people so that his people can experience his power, flourish and bear fruit.  What, then, will it look like for us to be people who are connected to God? 

The first way we often answer that question is worship services. Our hearts desire is that our church family gathers to worship and connect with God together.  That is important and inspiring.  But we need to think about connection with God beyond the 1-2 hours we participate in gathered worship. We also seek to be people who connect with God throughout the rest of the week. 

Jesus in John 15:4 describes connecting with God as remaining or abiding.  Another word we could use is “Stay.”  Stay with God.  Stay connected to God.  How do we stay connected to God throughout the hours and days of our busy lives?

Maybe Jesus means that we need to believe in him. No doubt, especially in the Gospel of John, we read Jesus calling us to believe in him.  That is important.  But belief does not guarantee connection with God.  James the brother of Jesus writes in chapter 2 of his letter than even the demons believe, and of course they are not connected to or staying with God.  So belief must move to action.  We do something about our belief.  In John 15, I highly doubt that Jesus is talking about belief when he says, “Remain in me.” What do we do to stay connected to God, to remain in him?

We’ll talk about some practical ideas in the next post.

Photo by Pier Monzon on Unsplash

How atonement changes everything – Ezekiel 15 & 16, Part 3

A family had planned a trip to a Major League baseball game to cheer on their favorite team. The whole family, parents and kids, were very excited to put on their team jerseys, drive to the big city, eat ballpark food, and cheer with the crowd.  The day before the game, though, a son in the family was disobedient, and his punishment was that the son was no longer allowed to go to the baseball game.  We call that getting grounded.  The day of the trip, alone in his room, he heard the sounds of the rest of the family excitedly getting ready to leave without him. He looked at his team jersey hanging in his closet, and he felt angry, guilty and frustrated. Then he heard a knock on his door.

I thought of this story and it’s fascinating conclusion, which I will tell you a few paragraphs below, when I considered God’s response to his people who had rebelled against him. We’ve been studying Ezekiel 15 and 16 in a five-part blog series starting here. In the previous post, God likens his people to his wife who has prostituted herself to others, terribly hurting him. When you hear his emotions, and you read what they did to God, the first thing that comes to mind is that God should divorce them. He would be totally justified in doing so. What is surprising is that God says he will restore their fortunes!  Read Ezekiel 16:59-63.

God says he will remember the covenant.  Though they have broken covenant, God will not.  Instead he says he will establish an everlasting covenant, and they will know that he is the Lord. How? He mentions a very important word. Atonement.

He will make atonement for them, for all they have done.  That is a concept that is vital for us.  Atonement.  This word conveys the idea of covering for someone.  You’re out to eat, the bill arrives, and you go for your wallet, and you are embarrassed to discover it is not there.  You must have left it at home.  So you ask your friend, “Can you cover me?”  When your friend pays your bill and does not expect to be repaid, they are atoning for you.  God says he is going to atone or cover for the people of Jerusalem, meaning that he will not count their very substantial sins against them.  When they see what God does, it will cause them to feel the weight of the sin to the point that it will silence them. 

Now let’s return to the story of the son who was grounded and missing the baseball game. Just before the rest of the family left for the game, the father came to the son who was sulking in his room, and the dad said, “Get ready, son, you’re going to the game.”  The son was shocked and elated, and he scrambled to pull his team jersey over his head.  As he thanked his dad, he asked, “What are you doing this?”  His dad went on to explain atonement and said, “Someone’s covering for you.”  The son was confused, “What do you mean?  Who?”  The dad, “I am staying home in your place.”  Just as fast as the son felt the consequences of his sin lifted, he now felt it heavy on him when he realized that his dad was atoning for him. 

That’s what God says he will do for the people of Jerusalem, and for us! How so? This passage wonderfully looks ahead to what God does for us in Christ. Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection are atonement for us.  They are God covering for us, making right which was wrong.  Atonement does that.  It enables us to be transformed.

The grape wood, which is no longer producing fruit, maybe even broken off and laying on the ground, waiting to be collected for kindling, is given new life.  It is reconnected to the vine, and the life-giving power of the vine enables it to produce fruit.

The baby which is left to waste away is given new life when God rescues it.

The queen turned prostitute is redeemed.

God’s atonement changes everything. 

Photo by Joshua Peacock on Unsplash

God has a wife? – Ezekiel 15 & 16, Part 2

I’m excited to feature the photography of my friend, Heather Leicy! Please learn more at her website. She does amazing work!

God has a wife! Am I talking about Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene, as was popularized in The Da Vinci Code? No. While that is a thrilling story, it based on fiction. What I am talking about is a different section of the Bible that tells a story about God getting married. Unfortunately for God, the marriage is difficult. Before we talk about God’s wife, we need to learn the answer to a riddle.

We talked about the riddle in the previous post. Here’s the riddle from Ezekiel 15 verse 2: “How is the wood of a vine better than that of a branch on any of the trees in the forest?” As we learned in the previous post, the main purpose for grapevine is to make grapes!  When grapevine wood is no longer making grapes, it has only one purpose remaining!  What do you think that one purpose might be? 

Look at Ezekiel 15, verses 4-5 for the answer.

Vine wood is better than the other word of the forest, because it is the best fire starter.  Kindling.  Dead vine wood is not good for much else, but to be burned!

Why does God share this riddle? God explains it to the people in verses 6-8.  The riddle about dead vine wood is actually a prophecy against Jerusalem using figurative language.  What is the figure of speech?  It’s a metaphor: just as the dead wood from the vine is best used for starting fires, God will treat the people of Jerusalem in like manner.  Why?  Because they have been unfaithful, he says in verse 8. That word “unfaithful “is the perfect transition to chapter 16, where God gives another prophecy against Jerusalem using metaphor.  Turn in your Bible to chapter 16.  It is a long chapter, and rather than comment on it verse by verse, I’ll summarize it. I think you’ll see how the metaphor in chapter 16 connects to the word, “unfaithful.” 

God compares the city of Jerusalem to a baby that is unwanted and left out to die.  He rescues the baby, speaks life over the baby, and brings it to health and maturity as a beautiful woman.  Then, surprise, through the covenant of marriage, he makes her his queen.  But the queen becomes arrogant and proud, caught up in her own beauty and fame, and she becomes a prostitute.  Through this metaphor, God is describing his people, the Jews.  How they broke his covenant and pursued foreign nations and false gods. In verses 30-34 God describes the people of Jerusalem as a reverse-prostitute, where instead of receiving pay for services, they run after suitors offering them bribes. 

Imagine being God.  He is the husband in this scenario.  Though he rescued the people and made them flourish, what do they do?  Look at verse 32.  They prefer strangers to their own husband.  God is so emotional in this prophecy, as I’m sure any spouse would be when their spouse is not just receiving other lovers but chasing after them with bribes.  God is basically saying, “How much do you hate me?”   

What is so surprising, then, is that God says he will restore their fortunes. 

Why? And how? We’ll talk about it in the next post, and what seems to be a rather dark section of Scripture, turns out to have great hope!

When someone close to you wanders away – Ezekiel 15 & 16, Part 1

My college roommate was best man in my wedding.  We were very close. After graduating from college, we even worked together for a few years.  Then he asked me to be his best man.  On the one hand I was elated, but on the other hand, my wife and were very concerned about his relationship with his fiancé.  There was enough trouble in the relationship that we felt it was very unwise for them to get married.  So, out of that concern, I told him I couldn’t be his best man.  I’m guessing it will not come as a surprise, then, when I tell you that my decision pretty much killed our relationship.  We had a mediation with the pastor who was doing their premarital counseling, and we worked things out, but not to the point where I was still his best man.  We attended the wedding, but that was about it.  It was a wound that lingered. We didn’t talk much for the next six years.

Maybe you know the feeling.  It is exceedingly emotional and painful when a close relationship changes level.  It is even worse when it is the other person that wanders away, and you don’t want them to.  I am not talking about when someone close to you passes away.  Certainly, that is a change in relationship that carries very similar emotions.  I am specifically talking about a very close relationship that gets broken.  It could be a spouse.  It could be a friend. 

While I am deeply grateful that my friend and I reconciled to the point where we are close again, I know many broken relationships don’t. In our continuing study through Ezekiel, in chapters 15 and 16, God expresses the heart-wrenching emotion of a person whose loved one is wandering, unreconciled.

From nearly day one, God has given Ezekiel prophetic messages about a coming destruction of Jerusalem.  Many of those prophecies have been in the form of skits.  In Ezekiel 15 and 16, however, God gives Ezekiel two prophecies in the form of figurative language.  Turn to Ezekiel 15 and read verses 1-2, looking for a riddle that introducing the first prophecy using figurative language.

The riddle is in verse 2: “How is the wood of a vine better than that of a branch on any of the trees in the forest?” Do you know the answer?

Before we see if you correctly guessed the answer to the riddle, God has two other questions in verse 3. First, is wood from grape vine useful for making things?  What do you think?  I asked two carpenters in our church family, and neither of them have used grape wood, and hadn’t really heard of it being used.

Why?  It’s too small!  Too thin.  And it is really twisty.  Google it and you’ll see.  Of course, in 2021 you can find furniture made from grape wood.  It is cool-looking because of how twisted grape wood is.  But in Ezekiel 15, God is talking to people living 2600 years ago, and their options for using wood for furniture were extremely limited.  They didn’t use grapevine wood for making things. So we have an answer to the first question in verse 3.

God asks a second question, because someone in that culture might respond, “Okay, true, you’re not going to be making tables or chairs from grapevine wood, but you could use it to make pegs, right?”  Pegs for hanging things are very small.  We make pegs out of dowels, wood that is made into rods.  Maybe grape wood would work for that.  Of course someone could try.  Someone probably had tried.  But the reality is that it is not the normal process for carpentry.  You don’t use grapevine wood for making things, because it is too thin or twisted.  What God is doing here is speaking the obvious.  Everyone in that culture already knew that you don’t use grape wood for making things, even small pegs like dowels. The main purpose for grapevine is to make grapes!  When grapevine wood is no longer making grapes, it has only one purpose remaining! 

What do you think that one purpose might be? 

We’ll find out in the next post!

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Do you feel disconnected from God – Ezekiel 15 & 16, Preview

When is the most recent time you encountered God?  Maybe it was long ago.  Maybe it was today.  Maybe you wonder if you have ever encountered God.  Maybe you encounter God on a regular basis.

What was it like when you encountered God?  Did it happen during worship?  Maybe you felt his presence in nature?  Perhaps you were reading the Bible, and you sensed God speaking to you?  The famous movie, Chariots of Fire, is about Eric Liddell, an Olympic runner, and he said that when he ran, he felt God’s pleasure.  Maybe you know what that’s like.  We can encounter God while we are creating art, singing songs, praying, serving, working, driving…anywhere.  God is not limited to manifesting himself during worship services.

Maybe you’re reading this thinking, “I haven’t encountered God in a long time, and I feel distant from him.”  You might admit that you haven’t encountered him even in worship services, which have the specific purpose of helping us connect with God every week.

Do you feel dry?  Spiritually dead?  Disconnected from God?  If so, you’re not alone.  You might remember the story of Mother Theresa.  Yes, that Mother Theresa, the famous nun who gave her life to serve the poor in India.  She claimed that for most of her ministry years she experienced what some people call a dark night of the soul, a sense of disconnect from God, in which the felt presence of God seems nowhere to be found.

In Mother Theresa’s case, she remained faithful, of course, even though she longed for God, and only rarely felt his presence.  In other words, she remained spiritually vibrant.  Some of us, and perhaps many of us, don’t feel spiritually vibrant.  In fact, it could be that we have neglected God.  It could be that we have turned away from him.  Sure, we still believe in him, but we must admit that we haven’t done much to cultivate a relationship with him.  We haven’t really tried to encounter God.

Does that describe you and your relationship with God?

In the next series of posts we study Ezekiel chapters 15 and 16, and God has some very emotional things to say about his relationship with his people.  Read it ahead of time and see what you think, then check back in next week as we discuss it further.

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Does your life need a U-turn? – Ezekiel 14, Part 5

Is there any way you might be heading in the wrong direction? Maybe it is obvious and you know it, but you are plowing ahead anyway. Maybe it is not so obvious, and you suspect it, and in your moments of quietness you long for something different, but you don’t really believe it is possible to make a change. We can feel trapped. Is it possible to make a change?

What we have been learning in our five-part series on Ezekiel 14 is God’s message to the people of Israel, that they needed a U-turn, in their hearts’ desires and in their actions. They were headed for deep trouble, and he calls them to repent, which is a theological way of saying, “Turn around! There’s disaster ahead.” Read Ezekiel 14, verses 12-23, and you’ll hear him talk about the disaster ahead.

Did you hear the names of three men: Noah, Daniel and Job.  It seems like God is referring to the famous Noah, who built the ark, and the famous Job, whose story is in a book of the Bible.  The Daniel, though…we’re not sure.  The famous Daniel from the book of Daniel, was likely alive at the same time as Ezekiel and starting his famous career in Babylon.  The point of this section is not so much the identity of these three guys, but how they would react to the situation God describes.  You heard how the pattern is repeated four times over in verses 13-20.  God says if he sends disastrous judgment to a nation because they have been sinful and unfaithful, even if those three men were alive, they could only save themselves.  The rest of the nation would face judgement. 

So God says, this will happen to Jerusalem.  Four dreadful judgements, and it will be awful.  With that in mind, notice verse 22. There will be a remnant that will come to Babylon where Ezekiel and the 10,000 exiles now live.  Here’s where it gets interesting.  Ezekiel and the 10,000 exiles will observe the newbies when they arrive, and they will see how wicked their conduct will be.  What they see will tell Ezekiel and the exiles that God was justified in allowing Jerusalem to be destroyed.  God’s judgment isn’t random, and it isn’t unjust.  It is instead a response to the fact that the people had set up idols in their hearts and committed wickedness.

The focus of the chapter, however, is not God’s judgment, but his invitation to repentance!  God is separated from his people, and he is not at all happy about that.  They chose to leave him, and now he invites them to return to him. 

God is passionate about being in relationship with his people.  So have you allowed anything to capture the desire of your heart?  Ezekiel chapter 14 is a clarion call for us to examine our hearts.  What do you desire? Is God your desire? 

Or better yet, how does your desire for a vibrant relationship with God stack up to your other desires?  For example, I can eagerly desire to be done with my dissertation, to have my dissertation published as a book, for it to make the New York Times best-seller list, etc.  But do I desire God like that? 

Is the God the ruler and focus of your desires? 

This is why we so often talk about inner transformation, so that our desires, which we all have, are being transformed by God, to be in line with his heart.  Do your desires match up with God’s desires?  This is what Paul describes in Galatians 5 as walking in step with the Spirit. 

So often our desires are different from God’s desires.  Maybe a little, maybe a lot.  We live in a world that feeds our desires, and often not because it truly cares about us.  Think about how businesses tap into our desires, making us desire their products.  While they say that their products will change our lives and give us the good life, the reality is that they want our money.  They want our money more than they have our best interest in mind. 

God, however, has our best interest in mind.  When he told the Jews in Ezekiel’s day that they should repent and return to him, it was because that was the best possible situation for them.  They would be far better off if they were in a vibrant relationship with God, then if they continued down the pathway of setting up idols in their hearts and performing wicked deeds.  God is trying to give them a vision for a better reality, for a world where the true good life is reality. 

So I ask, what idols have you set up in your hearts?  More than likely those idols have promised the good life.  But those idols make promises they cannot keep. They are not telling the truth about the good life. Where then is the truth to be found? God’s message to the elders in Ezekiel 14 is the truth.

In Ezekiel 14, God gives us an important reminder to examine our hearts, our desires, and to evaluate if they are aligned with God’s heart and desires.  This can require vulnerable work on our part.  Sometimes hard work.  Sometimes uncomfortable work.  This can require that we include people in our lives who speak honestly to us, asking us the tough questions about our heart’s desires.  Perhaps the best thing for us is to have our lives placed under that kind of examination, to see if we do in fact have godly desire or not.  If we do, then we should do what God asks of the people in Ezekiel 14, repent!  Turn back to him.  Make a U-turn. Restore your relationship with him. Repentance brings renewal.

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A curious case of God making a prophet sin? – Ezekiel 14, Part 4

Long ago I attended a church’s Sunday School class in which the teacher claimed that God is in control of everything, which includes creating and causing human sin, and then punishing humans for the sin. I found that very strange and wrong. I questioned the teacher, but he explained that God is holy and perfect, even in something that doesn’t make sense to us. That didn’t sit well with me. As we continue reading Ezekiel 14, we come to a section that seems to prove that Sunday School teacher correct. So maybe I am wrong. Or is there another way of looking at the passage?

In the previous post we heard God say emphatically in Ezekiel 14, verse 6 to his rebellious people, “Repent!  Turn away from the false gods.  Come back to me!  Let me be your desire.”  God doesn’t want to be separated from his people, and he doesn’t want divorce.  He wants to be in close relationship with his people. So will they return?  He doesn’t tell us yet. Instead he addresses a situation where one of the prophets also needs to hear the message of repentance and return.

In verses 9-10 God sends a clear warning to false prophets. When you read verse 9, it might sound like God is saying, “I will cause the prophet to prophesy, and then I will punish him to the point of death.”  Wait…that doesn’t sound right, does it?  I want to ask God, “Are you saying you’re taking away his free will, and then punishing him for something you made him do?”  If so, that’s not fair, right? That’s actually evil.  Whenever you read Scripture and it doesn’t make sense or it makes God out to be evil, something is amiss.  Could be a cultural difference, a mistranslation, or a misinterpretation.  We know God’s heart is a heart of love.  He is not a God who plays manipulative unfair games. 

So what is going on here?  I think there is an explanation.  Go back to verse 7, which is where God first mentions the prophet.  There we see God describe a situation where people in rebellion go to a prophet.  God says he will intervene and speak straight to the people himself.  He will not use the normal method where the prophet is the intermediary.  Now in verse 9, God continues describing that situation.  What if, God says, the prophet speaks anyway?  It seems that God is describing a prophet who is arrogant or power hungry, to the point where God has already spoken, God has already dealt with the situation, and yet this prophet still speaks.  How bold, right?  It reminds me of seminary classes where students would disagree with the professor and almost start teaching the class.  I would be thinking in my head, “Shut up…these classes are super expensive, and we are not paying all this money to hear you talk.  We want to hear from the expert, the professor.”  In like manner, this arrogant prophet speaks up, after God already spoke!  What more could the prophet add?  Nothing!  God handled the situation quite well.  The prophet should be quiet.  But nope, they can’t keep their mouth shut, and they speak. 

But what about the part in verse 9 where it says God enticed them?  I do not believe that means God has overridden their free will and made them speak.  Instead, it seems best to understand it as the prophet, though they heard God talk and deal with the situation, they are still very eager to add their two cents to the discussion.  You know how you get in a discussion and people are sharing their stories and you think you have the ultimate story to share? You are chomping at the bit to tell your story, because then you are sure you will be the star of the conversation!  Everyone will think you are hilarious or knowledgeable or wise.  I think something like that is going on here in Ezekiel 14, verse 9.  The prophet should have kept his mouth shut.  God handled the situation.  Of course God handled it.  It is God we are talking about here.  Why in the world would the prophet think he has anything at all to add after God has spoken?  Well, some people are know-it-alls.  They can’t shut up.  The temptation to get their voice heard in the discussion is so enticing, they gave in and let it fly.  Rather than becoming the star of the discussion, God says to the prophet, “You’re done.” 

But notice the drastic shift that happens in verse 11.  After God places the guilt on the prophet, the people no longer stray from God, no longer commit sin, and they have returned to God.  They will be his people, and he will be their God. This is a picture of repentance that has led to renewal! 

Hold that thought: Repentance leads to renewal. In the next and final post, we’ll work through the rest of Ezekiel chapter 14, and then we will talk more about what it means: repentance leads to renewal.

Photo by Agni B on Unsplash