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.