Last week I caused a car accident. Thankfully it was minor, and no one was hurt. As I was driving, I glanced down at my phone to check the GPS, and in that split-second, the vehicles in a line of traffic in front of me slowed to a stop. It all happened so fast. I looked up, realized the pickup truck in front of me was stopped, and I slammed on my brakes. My car skidded, but there wasn’t enough space, and I rear-ended the pickup. I hit them hard enough to deploy my airbags. Because my phone was connected by Bluetooth to my car, the airbags triggered an automatic call to 911. Within seconds, the emergency operator was talking to me asking how I was doing. Soon after that, local police arrived. It was amazing and comforting that technology and people were instantly available to help in my time of need.
What is your automated response in times of need? Our automated responses reveal who we are and what we care about, don’t they?
As we have been studying Ezekiel 17 this week, we have learned, through the parable of the Two Eagles and the Vine, the major historical events that had recently occurred in the city of Jerusalem. The parable turned out to be an allegory about those events. If you want to learn more about the parable, pause this post and start reading the first post in the series.
The final event in that recent history was a desperate plea made by Jerusalem’s King Zedekiah to the king of Egypt, Pharaoh, asking for military help to overthrow Babylon’s control of Jerusalem. Will Zedekiah succeed? Will his ploy to enlist help from Egypt work? Let’s keep reading as we now come to the part of Ezekiel 17 that is a prophecy about the future. Look at verses 16-21.
In these verses, God says that Zedekiah’s plan of rebelling against Babylon by getting military help from Egypt will be an utter failure. Babylon will destroy Zedekiah and his forces, just like the vine in the parable will be withered completely. And why? Why would God allow his people in Jerusalem to suffer such defeat? Look at verse 20. There God gives the answer, “because he was unfaithful.”
There it is. This is what we have heard all along in Ezekiel. The people of Jerusalem will be attacked and defeated again by Babylon, but this next time will devastating. No puppet king. No treaty. No peace and prosperity. Their rebellion will be answered with destruction because they were unfaithful.
Before we start thinking about how awful that is, and it is awful, God reminds us that this is all happening because the king of Jerusalem and the people have been unfaithful to God. They rebelled not just against the king of Babylon, but first they rebelled against God. They worshiped false gods and made idols. They practiced ritual worship that included prostitution or child sacrifice. They committed acts of injustice. The people no longer knew God. That’s why God has been repeating a phrase throughout the book of Ezekiel, “Then you will know that I am God.” He says a variation of that phrase again here in verse 21, “Then you will know that I have spoken.”
Think about it. There is Zedekiah, King of Jerusalem. He is a puppet king, controlled by Babylon. He’s not free. His people aren’t free. Yes, they have peace, but only if they do what Babylon says and pay tribute, in the form of taxes, to Babylon. Not many people would like to be controlled by another nation. So Zedekiah wants to be free from the shackles of Babylonian control. His solution is to reach out to Egypt for help. Egypt? Why Egypt? Egypt is another regional power. They might have a common interest in pushing back Babylon’s ever-increasing encroachment. But take notice of a pretty important detail in Zedekiah’s plan for rebellion: when Zedekiah knows he will need help to rebel against Babylon, he does not choose God for help!
Think about this from God’s point of view, as he is watching this play out. His people, the Jews have rebelled against him for decades, so he allows Nebuchadnezzar and the military of Babylon to attack and capture Jerusalem and exile the people. We can imagine God thinking, “This will get their attention. Now they will return to me.” But they don’t return to God. Instead, when he is desperate to break free from Babylon’s control, King Zedekiah goes to Egypt for help! If you’re God watching this, you’re shaking your head thinking, “Why won’t my people return to me? I love them. I rescued them from slavery in Egypt all those years ago. I gave them the Promised Land where they could flourish. Now they are fixated on turning away from me.”
Think about the irony of Zedekiah reaching out for help from Egypt, when it was Egypt that enslaved Israel centuries before. Zedekiah has finally trampled on God’s covenant with Moses one time too many, and God says that Zedekiah’s plan will fail, and Babylon will decimate Jerusalem. As we heard in chapter 7, the end is near.
But the parable is not done. God has more to say, and to many, what God says next, in part 2 of the parable, will make no sense whatsoever, especially when you consider how his people had ripped up the covenant and turned their backs on God. Check back tomorrow, as we’ll look at the surprise ending to the parable.
For consider how you typically respond when life blows up in your face. What is your normal go-to for help? Do you call a friend? Do you google it? Do you eat some ice cream or grab a beer? Does God cross your mind? What do you need to do to make turning to God your automatic response?