Can you ever sin too much? Can you ever rebel against God too far? As we continue our study of Ezekiel 33, we learned in the previous post that God opened Ezekiel’s mouth, after seven years of silence, and now Ezekiel can speak freely.
In verse 23, just as soon as Ezekiel can say whatever he wants, God says he has another prophetic word for Ezekiel to share with the people. In verse 24, God tells Ezekiel about a situation happening back in Israel. Babylon has destroyed Jerusalem, the city is in ruins, and the people there seem to be struggling not just with their physical reality, which was grim, but also their theological reality. Physically, life would have been terrible, as the city and the land were decimated. It reminds me of a tragedy that occurred recently when tornadoes swept through the American Midwest. One day a town was lively, and the next day the town was leveled. The people there will be struggling with life and rebuilding for years to come. That is their physical reality. There is also a theological reality, and that is the deeper question of God’s relationship with them.
When disaster occurs, we question God. It is normal to do so. Death, health, finances, relationships, politics. When something goes wrong in those areas, we question God. We wonder what his role is in our pain. Did he cause it? Did he allow it? Could he have prevented it? Is the pain just the normal pain of a broken and fallen world? Or is God punishing me? If God is so loving and powerful, then why he is allowing me to go through this? All kinds of theology comes out, when we are in pain. Sometimes it is correct theology, sometimes it is incorrect.
It seems the people of Israel are doing some theology as well. Let’s see if it is good theology or bad theology. In verse 24, the people remember that God gave their ancestor Abraham possession of the land, and Abraham was just one person. Now they are a nation of millions, so they reason, shouldn’t they also have possession of the land? In other words, if God did it for one, surely he would do it for millions.
Or would he? The people could look around their precious city and promised land, and not only was it destroyed, they also were not in control. Mighty, powerful Babylon was in control. You can see the question forming in the hearts and minds of the people: “Is our God really who he says he is? If Babylon destroyed the city and the land, maybe God isn’t keeping his promises. Maybe our God isn’t so powerful or loving after all.”
We have to remember, at this point, that Ezekiel is not physically located in Jerusalem or Israel. In fact, he isn’t prophesying to any people in Israel. He is prophesying to the 10,000 Jews in Babylon. So it seems best to see the Jews in Babylon as also asking these questions of God. They hear the news of the destruction of Jerusalem, their hometown, and they, too, could be doubting God, wondering if God is really the one true, powerful God.
So God says, “Time out. Hold up, people. There’s more to this story, more that you are conveniently skipping. Let’s tell the whole truth.” In verses 25 and 26, God tells the rest of the story. He reveals that the people of Israel were the culpable ones in the scenario, not God. The people of Israel, by their actions, had broken the covenant between themselves and God. That covenant goes way, way back, and basically the terms of the covenant were this: if the people followed the way of God, he would bless them and they would flourish in the land. But if they did not follow the way of God, he would allow them to be cursed by foreign enemies, and the people of Israel would lose the land. Those terms were clear, and they were known by all. This should not have been a surprise ending. Not to mention the fact that God had sent his prophets over and over and over again to remind the people of the covenant, calling them to repent and return to the Lord.
In verses 25-26, God says the people did not keep up their end of the bargain, and they lost their right to possess the land. To prove his point, he gives a few examples of what the people did to rebel against him.
First, they participated in worship practices of foreign gods, including eating meat with blood still in it. God is saying, “You haven’t worshiped me alone.” Second, he says they relied on the sword, which is God’s way of saying, “You didn’t rely on me.” They didn’t practice dependence on God. They tried to take matters into their own hands. Third, they did detestable things, which sounds vague, but it is a word that refers to really awful sin. In some cases it refers to adultery or idolatry, both of which he mentions here. That’s what he says next when he refers to them defiling a neighbor’s wife, which is a very aggressive action. It speaks to people preying on one another.
To sum it up, in verses 25-26 God responds to the people’s theological argument saying, “You can’t be serious. You think you still have a claim to the land? Take a look in the mirror. You’re lives are a shambles of terrible behavior. You’ve forfeited the land. Don’t blame me for what has happened to you. I kept my end of the deal. It was you who rebelled.”
Next God concludes his message to the people in verses 27-29 saying, “Get ready people. You think your life is bad now? It’s only going to get worse. No matter where you are in Israel, you will die. It’s over. The destruction of Jerusalem was just the beginning. Now the whole land of Israel will become a wasteland. Why? Because of your horrible choices. When the destruction happens, then you will know that I am the Lord.”
God wants them to stop thinking that his promises to Abraham, Moses and David were still viable. The people of Israel should no longer believe that they can rest on the covenant God made with those famous ancestors. For years the people broke the terms of the covenant, and they should not believe that God was going to come to their rescue. And why? Not because God was being a jerk. It was all because they had chose to forsake him, to rebel against him, and they did so by their terrible behavior.
I am not suggesting that all pain in this world is due to human fault, and the deist version of God is correct. Deism depicts God as setting the universe in motion, then watching what happens from a distance. Like a bowler who launches the ball down the alley. The moment the balls flies free from their fingertips, that bowler has no further influence over the path the ball takes and how it lands. Clearly, Ezekiel prophecies and visions of Yahweh God are that of a very interactive and involved God. In fact, that is the premise of the book, that God is pleading with his people, through the prophet Ezekiel, urging them to return to him. God’s point in this particular prophecy is that the people of Israel had finally crossed the line, and they should not expect God to come to their rescue. Babylon’s destruction and control of the land was real and would not be overturned for decades.
Therefore, this passage is one of warning, a cautionary tale for those of us who hold to a theology of grace. We are correct to trust in the gracious forgiving love of God. But we should not abuse that grace. God will still allow us to face natural consequences if we rebel against his way, and those consequences have the possibility of being exceedingly painful. Remember, though, that God is still here in Ezekiel chapter 34, telling Ezekiel to reach out to the people, calling them to return to him. He is always willing to accept the penitent and the repentant.
Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash