Editor’s Note: Thanks to guest blogger David Hundert for continuing the Ezekiel series this week.
Do you wonder how God feels about you? Do you wonder if you’ve been so bad that God would never forgive you? How does God feel about us when we have done things that are awful, whether big or small?
As we continue studying Ezekiel 20, we’ll observe God’s relationship with Israel to try to answer those questions. In the previous posts (here and here), the Lord uses the reciting of Israel’s historical track record as a teachable moment for the elders of Israel. What, then, does God want to teach the elders? Read Ezekiel 20 verses 29-32, and let’s see if we can discover what God says.
Thinking about those verses, let me start by quoting again a comment I mentioned in the previous post, “God’s people cannot be destroyed completely, not because they do not deserve it but because God has staked the reputation of his own name on the covenant promises made to them. He may and does in fact chastise them and judge them, but he can never abandon them. His divine nature requires faithfulness to his promise, even in the face of unrelenting human sin.”
Because of this, we read in Ezekiel 20 a prophecy of a new act of salvation on God’s part, a new exodus. Israel won’t be abandoned to “be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone,” as the elders had thought! Whether that thought is one of desire (“We want to be like the nations …”) or of despair (“We are becoming like the nations …”), this isn’t the issue. Instead, the focus is on the impossibility of such a thing happening because God has staked His reputation on them!
As believers, we all still struggle with sin. All sin is sin against God. If our salvation was based on our efforts, on our accomplishments, we’d be sunk. But glory to God, because our salvation is based on God’s grace, and not on our works, we have the ability to knock on our Father’s door, ask Him if He has a minute, crawl up in His lap, and say, “Daddy, I’m so sorry for sinning against you. This is what I’ve done, and I’m asking for Your forgiveness.” We have His word, that promises us in 1 John 1:9, that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
So back in Ezekiel, we left Israel facing the fact that God isn’t going to destroy them, so where does that leave them? Let’s pick up where we left off, and read verses 33 through 39.
God’s divine election of Israel cannot be revoked; the Lord will reign over them. You can see this in verse 33. Here, you can almost see the echoes of 1 Samuel chapter 8. There, the people looked to become like “all the other nations” by having a king, which is interpreted as a rejection of the Lord’s reign over them. They are warned of the very real consequences of their choice, yet ultimately their election is not revocable. They do not, in fact cannot, become like the nations around them: instead, even their rebellious wish for a monarchy is incorporated in the providence of God. The Lord himself gives them the kings of His own choosing, good and bad, to prepare the way for the coming of the King of kings.
However, the message of God’s kingship exercised in this new exodus is not necessarily good news. Yes, His reign comes with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, as in the first exodus; yes, He will bring them out of the nations and gather them just as He once brought them out of Egypt. But, His reign comes with outpoured wrath. Just as the unfaithful Israelites were brought up out of Egypt only to die in the desert, so too the regathered Israel will be purged in the “desert of the nations”. There God will meet with His people “face to face,” just as He met with Moses “face to face” in the tent of meeting. God is going to go to court against the rebels among His people, singling out the transgressors from the faithful just as a shepherd counts and separates His sheep by passing them one by one under his rod.
No matter the situation, we can depend on God, knowing that he is a God of love. Yes, he allows us to face the consequences of our sinful choices, but he never abandons and forsakes us.