What’s wrong with the world? Ever discuss that question? It’s a popular one, and rightly so because of what we see going on around us, especially in our day and age when we have instant access to news from anywhere in the globe. It can get overwhelming thinking about the problems in our world, especially when we add our own personal problems. What’s wrong with the world?
Today we start a new series on the blog in which we meet a man from long ago through whom God tried to communicate the answer to the question “What’s wrong with the world?” The man who was God’s mouthpiece was a prophet, Ezekiel. Next week we’ll start looking at the text of the biblical book by the same name. This week, we need to spend some time just getting our bearings. Who was Ezekiel, when did he live, what was going on in the nation of Israel, and what are the themes of Ezekiel’s prophecy?
First of all, let’s place Ezekiel on a historical timeline. The first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, tell the story of the origin of the nation of Israel, starting with their Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God made a covenant with Abraham that God would make his family a blessing to the whole world. Abraham’s grandson Jacob, whom God renamed “Israel,” moved the family, now with multiple wives, 12 sons, and some daughters, from Canaan to Egypt, where they could find food in the middle of famine. Over the next 400 years, the family of 12 sons of Israel grew into the nation of the 12 tribes of Israel numbering in the millions. The Egyptians who had once been very accommodating to these immigrants eventually grew fearful of them. So the Egyptian king Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites using them as laborers to build many projects. The people cried out to God, and God led them out of slavery under the leadership of Moses, heading back to Canaan, the Promised Land.
One of the major events of that journey from Egypt to the Promised was a stop at Mount Sinai. There God met with Moses and renewed the covenant between himself and the nation of Israel. If you have been a reader of the blog for a couple years, you might remember that we studied this covenant in 2019 and 2020 in the series through Deuteronomy. God’s covenant can be summarized like this: “Israel, I love you and I am your God. If you love me and follow my ways of righteousness and justice, I will bless you, and you will be a blessing to the whole world. But if you turn your back on me and follow other gods, it will not go well for you.” There at Mt. Sinai, Israel heartily agreed to this covenant! But their adherence to actually live according to covenant was another story.
The next book of the Bible, Joshua, tells us how Moses’ right hand man, Joshua, took over for Moses and led the nation in the conquest of the Promised Land of Canaan or Palestine. After beginning the conquest, though they were now established in a land of their own, for the next few hundred years the people struggled to complete the conquest, as we read in the next book, Judges. Why did they struggle? Because during this early period in the nation’s history, the people were regularly tempted by and succumbed to the sinful ways of the nations surrounding them. They broke the covenant relationship between themselves and God. So God allowed those nations to invade Israel. Then when the people would cry out to God for help, God would raise up from among them a judge, a leader, to rescue them. This cycle happened over and over and over.
The last judge was a prophet named Samuel, and we read about him in the biblical book of 1st Samuel. During his time, the people cried out to God for a king, so that they could be like the nations around them. God wasn’t happy about this, as God was their king, but he allowed it. After the disastrous first king, Saul, the second king was a wonderful godly leader, the great King David. Under David, the nation finally completed the conquest of the land, and followed God. It seemed that the covenant God had made with their forefather Abraham, that his family was going to be a blessing to the whole world, was finally coming true. During his reign, which we read about in 2nd Samuel, David set up the kingdom for peace and prosperity, to be a nation that truly followed the covenant with the Lord, and then before he died, David turned the throne over to his son Solomon.
Solomon, famous for his wisdom, led the nation to new heights of prosperity and influence, as well as building the temple of God in Jerusalem, which we read about in the book titled 1st Kings. In some ways, under Solomon’s reign, the nation of Israel was at its high point. People from all over the known world traveled to Israel to see its splendor and the wisdom of its king. In other ways, cracks in their covenant foundation were starting to appear. First, Solomon used slavery to accomplish many building projects, a dark callback to the days of Egypt when it was Israel who was enslaved to build buildings. Then Solomon made treaties with numerous foreign kings, marrying their daughters, allowing them to bring idols to Israel and worship them. When Solomon died, the nation broke into civil war and split in two, ten tribes to the north named Israel, and two tribes to south, named Judea.
In the books of 1st and 2 Kings we read the stories of the many rulers that led these sister nations. In Israel to the north, the kings are almost always wicked. In Judea to the south, it is a mixed bag, some wicked, some righteous. During this period God speaks to the people through his prophets, calling the people to return to covenant relationship with him. Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah are some of the most famous. They called the people of Israel to return to following the Lord. Sometimes the people repented. But as the centuries went by, their wickedness grew, and God allowed surrounding powers to invade the land. Eventually, first Israel, and then Judea, were conquered, with foreign powers like Babylon exiling the Israelites. With the land in turmoil and many of the people in exile, it seems as though the covenant relationship between God and Israel has broken beyond repair.
During those years of exile, we meet another prophet, Ezekiel. Things were very wrong in Ezekiel’s world. So when we ask the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” as I did at the beginning of this post, we can know that many people throughout history have been asking the same question.
Check back to the next post as we learn about this new prophet, Ezekiel, and how his prophetic message can help us answer the question, “What is wrong with the world?”