Have you ever wandered from God? I have. It wouldn’t surprise me if we all have in some way big or small. Maybe you have wandered from him many times. Maybe you feel distant from him right now. In today’s post, as we continue studying Ezekiel 6, we’re going to hear about people that wandered from God. But there is hope for the wanderers, the lost, the weary, and it is hope that God speaks to us.
In the previous post, we learned that God told Ezekiel to set his face. I am calling that The Prophetic Stare. What is The Prophetic Stare? Read the previous post here to learn more about it. In today’s post, we talk about the recipient of the Stare! Look at Ezekiel 6, verse 2, and what is Ezekiel to set his face against?
The mountains of Israel. Mountains? Yeah! He’s bringing a heavy symbolic prophetic stare against the mountains of Israel. Even when I try to write that with dramatic tension, it still doesn’t seem all that important, right? Why would God tell Ezekiel to set his face against the mountains? It would be like God saying, “Christians, I want you to declare prophetic judgment against the Appalachian Mountains.” If I heard that, I would be thinking, “Why? What’s wrong with the mountains? They’re just natural formations. And actually, God, you created them.” If he said, “Set your face against mosquitos or poison ivy or humidity,” then I would get that. I am extremely allergic to poison ivy, and I have to take medicine every time I get it, so I would be totally okay prophesying against it. But mountains?
Why bring the Prophetic Stare of judgement against the mountains of Israel? But notice in verse 2, Ezekiel is also to prophesy against them. That means he will be speaking God’s words of judgment against them. “What did those evil mountains do this time?”
Look at verse 3, where we read what God tells Ezekiel to say.
At first, it sounds like God really has it out for the mountains, what with their mills and ravines and valleys. He says, “I am going to bring a sword against you.” In Minecraft you can use a sword to break rocks, but not in real life. Instead, it seems like God is writing a Monty Python skit where he sends someone to use a sword against mountains, and they start hacking away at the rocks on a mountain cliff. It might look hilarious. Not productive! What is going on in God’s mind?
Instead, in verse 3, we get a clue as to what this is all about. In the last phrase in verse three, God says, “I will destroy your high places.” Here God is not talking about high elevations, as if the mountains are too high and mighty or something. God is not saying that he needs to cut them down to size because they’re so high above sea level that they are starting to get a little full of themselves. As if he needs to show those mountains some humility.
No. “High places” is another way to refer to pagan places of worship! Read how God describes this in verses 4-7.
What God is referring to in verses 4-7 is the fact that the people of Israel would travel up into their mountainous areas and build altars and set up idols, and there they would worship pagan gods.
Why would Israel do this? When they had a history of the one true God’s power, provision and presence in the life of the nation, why would the people of Israel choose to wander away from him? It is a question with an answer that I suspect we might understand if we take a look into our own motivations. Many of us can say that we, too, have experienced the work of God in our lives, and yet we have wandered away from God, even after having encountered him.
The people of the nations around Israel believed and practiced a variety of pagan religions. At first glance, you and I might have a hard time understanding how those pagan religions could be attractive to the Israelites. As we think about the socio-cultural dynamics at play, though, remember that those nations were often powerful and thus influential to the peoples living around them. We want peace with our neighbors, and one way to do promote peace is to do what they do. Consider the belonging and acceptance the Israelites might feel by being included in the practice of pagan cult worship. Further, it could be that demonic powers were resident in ritual worship, even producing supernatural signs and wonders that promised peace, health and wealth to practitioners. Finally, cultic worship could entice the Israelites through sensual worship, including prostitution.
No doubt about it, the Israelites’ God, Yahweh, called them to a different kind of life, a clean life, and that meant Israel was to be different. Being different is not easy, even if it is a demonstrably better life. This has many parallels to living as a disciple of Jesus in a world that does not find Jesus’ life as attractive. Simply put, living the way of Jesus can feel lonely, or worse, as if the disciple is constantly rowing against a current flowing forcefully in the other direction.
So Israel would give in to temptation. There, up in the mountains, Israel would build religious shrines to the false gods of the surrounding nations. They would make idols out of wood, metal and stone, and practice religious rituals, including offering sacrifices to the idols there. Clearly worshiping false gods was wrong. But it could get even worse. Worship at these high places could include practices such as self-mutilation, drinking of blood, engaging in prostitution and even child sacrifice. It is no wonder God told the Israelites to stay away from wicked idol worship, and it is why he is so upset that they were participating in such vile practices. Not only was their idol worship a breaking of relationship with him, not only was it disobedient, but it was evil.
That’s what Ezekiel is setting his face against, and that is what God tells him to prophesy against. So there he is outside his house in Babylon, staring at the mountains, and declaring that God is going to lay waste to the false worship on the mountains, including killing the Israelites who are involved in this.
You might think, “Hold on…they’re 900 miles away…how is this going to matter to the Israelites practicing pagan worship in the mountains of Israel?” Good question. It won’t matter to the people back in Israel. But it will matter to the Israelites living there in Babylon. It is a warning to them, a call for them to repent and turn to the Lord. While the prophetic stare was about the wickedness happening in Israel, it was a message for the Israelite exiles in Babylon.
There is more to the message. Look at verses 8-10.
You can see how these words from Ezekiel might have caused his neighbors to pay attention. Maybe they were even thinking, “Oh, maybe he’s talking about us.” Why might they have wondered that? Notice verse 8. God says that some of the Jews in Israel will escape the sword and be scattered among the nations. Who were the Israelites scattered among the nations? There were many, including Ezekiel and his neighbors and the 10,000 Jews with them that had been exiled in Babylon. There would also be many more in the years to come. And what does God desire of them? He tells them in verse 9 to remember him. To take seriously the sin that they committed.
He mentions numerous sins. First, they have adulterous hearts which turned away from him. Second, their eyes have lusted after idols. Third, they committed evil deeds, and fourth, the did detestable practices. This prophetic stare is the spotlight shining the light of truth on the lives of the Jews living in Babylon. They should hear this truth and say with sorrow and remorse, “Yes, that is true. I behaved like that. We have behaved like that. We have rebelled against God. Woe is me!”
Though the prophecy includes severe judgment, notice that hope is not lost. Even though they have already been exiled in Babylon, look at the hope God communicates in verse 10. Despite all that horrible stuff they did, they can still know him. They can be restored. We wanderers, lost and hurting can be restored too! I would love to talk about it further with you. Just comment below!
But are they paying attention? Just in case the people outside Ezekiel’s house aren’t listening to him as he preaches this while he is doing the Prophetic Stare, God tells Ezekiel to do something else in this sign act.
Check back to tomorrow’s post, as we’ll talk about the shocking twist this skit takes.