9th Sunday in Trinity 2017
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul's Anglican Church
August 13, 2017
We read a very serious O.T, today from Ezekiel. It speaks of the gross ingratitude of man in response to the graciousness of God.
Let's discuss some information about Ezekiel himself. According to noted O.T. scholars Keil and Delitszch, Ezekiel,” יחזקאל Vulgate Ezechiel, while Luther, after the example of the lxx, writes the name Hesekiel, was the son of Busi, of priestly descent, and was carried away captive into exile to Babylon in the year 599 b.c. - i.e., in the eleventh year before the destruction of Jerusalem - along with King Jehoiachin, the nobles of the kingdom, many priests, and the better class of the population of Jerusalem and of Judah (Eze 1:2; Eze 40:1; cf. 2Ki 24:14.; Jer 29:1). He lived there in the northern part of Mesopotamia, on the banks of the Chaboras, married, and in his own house, amidst a colony of banished Jews, in a place called Tel-abib (Eze 1:1; Eze 3:15, Eze 3:24; Eze 8:1; Eze 24:18). In the fifth year of his banishment, i.e., 595 b.c., he was called to be a prophet of the Lord, and laboured in this official position, as may be shown, twenty-two years; for the latest of his prophecies is dated in the twenty-seventh year of his exile, i.e., 572 b.c. (Eze 29:17).”i
Ezekiel was a witness to the fulfillment of God’s prophecy concerning Israel and Judah. Beginning in Deuteronomy and continuing through all of the books prior to Ezekiel, the Jews had heard the same message again and again; stay in covenant with Almighty God, or suffer the consequences. This message they ignored and continued to run after false gods and various pagan religious practices, including ritual drunkenness and ritual fornication. They worshipped the Baals and Ashtoreth, as well as Chemosh and Milcom, who were the abominable idols of the Canaanites. We learn in Ezekiel that the elders of the Jews had even carved out secret rooms in the Temple of Solomon where they offered incense to various idols.
We know the history that followed Israel’s and Judah spiritual whoredom. First, the Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom were carried away and dispersed into the vast Assyrian Empire as a result of their gross idolatry. Next, the Babylonian suzerain Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and carried away the “cream of the crop”, so to speak, of Judah. The Prophet Daniel was among those carried away. King Jehoiakim became a tributary. Failing to see God’s Hand in their tribulations, this king rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, whereupon he marched again to Jerusalem, besieged it, and eventually took it again. This time, the Babylonian king carried away the king, his court, and many of the skilled artisans, warriors, priests and carpenters. He left a remnant of the people, over which he appointed Jehoiakin’s uncle, Mattaniah, whom he renamed Zedekiah. This occurred during the prophecy of Jeremiah, who warned the people repeatedly of their fate if they did not repent. Meanwhile, the various false prophets concurrent with him were prophesying prosperity and peace. As we know, Jeremiah was eventually proved right, although he was accused of speaking treason against the king and was imprisoned.
After the second fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah, speaking for God, told the people to bear the Babylonian yoke with patience and all would be well with them. Even at this point, the leaders of Judah refused to hear the Word of God, but instead rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, broke their treaty with him and turned to Egypt for help, the very nation which held them in slavery for 400 years.
This was absurd and futile. The Egyptians were smashed by the Babylonians, and now perfidious Jerusalem was to feel the full fury of Nebuchadnezzar, who had been remarkably restrained up to this point. His forces marched back to Jerusalem and besieged it again. Eventually, the city was starved out. The walls of Jerusalem were breached, and in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the city was completely destroyed. The fabulous Temple of Solomon was thoroughly looted and destroyed as well. Nebuchadnezzar left Jerusalem a smoking heap of stones.
As we know from the book of Jeremiah, Zedekiah, his court, and his top military men tried to escape through a hole in the wall. They were captured and brought to Riblah. Here, Zedekiah’s sons were killed before his eyes, and Zedekiah himself was blinded.
He was led in chains back to Babylon, where he spent his days as a captive, subject king to Nebuchadnezzar. Judah as a nation had been effectively destroyed.ii
In the section of Ezekiel we read today the destruction of Jerusalem, had not happened yet. The final blow had not yet been struck against the heart of Judah. Yet, we see in the reading that the mindset that would lead to it was very much present among the exiles to which Ezekiel was attached. In this passage, God speaks of those who take success as their own, without any recognition of the goodness of God. The elders of Israel came to Ezekiel seeking the counsel of God, yet their innermost hearts and spirits were not of God. In fact, they had put the stumbling block of their idolatry in front of the faces and had idolatry in their heart, even while they were seeking the counsel of God. Obviously, they were “hedging their bets”, so to speak. They obviously wanted to enjoy the notorious sensuality and wanton-ness of their pagan practices, while pretending to be holy towards the God of Israel. This cannot be.
Our God is a holy God, who will not tolerate our allegiance to any sort of idolatry. He will not allow His Glory to be diffused with another. He cannot allow His Holiness to be diluted in a believer’s heart, or to be mixed with an idol of any sort, if one is to enjoy true fellowship with Him. If we have deep hatred, animosity, or unrepented sin abiding in us when we enter the House of God, we cannot offer a worthy sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, because our spiritual selves are in turmoil due to sin. One may, like these elders of Israel, go through the motions of religiosity, yet never really get close to God.
The purpose of religion is not merely to do ritualistic things for God, but to develop a deep and abiding relationship with the Holy Trinity. Thus, when Christ speaks in Luke 17:21 regarding the Kingdom of God, “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” This is very akin to the statement Jesus made in John 14:23 where he says, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” This certainly sounds like a relationship situation to me.
This sense of relationship is exactly what is missing from the Jewish elders with whom Ezekiel dealt. God is not minded to listen to them because they are not really interested in a relationship with Him. They only want to use God to get what they want, or to hear what they want. They want to hear are the words of the false prophets saying, “Peace, Peace”, when there is no peace. Eventually, through Ezekiel, God told them that He will turn His face from those who deceive themselves with idols and will remove them from their land. This will be done not out of cruelty, but rather out of chastisement, so that Judah would eventually repent herself of her idolatry.
As later history would prove, God did remove Judah from the Promised Land. Judah did repent and was restored, but to a lesser degree until the time of the Ptolemeys. By this time, the Jews were so against idolatry that it led to the rise of the Pharisees, who became jealous guardians of the Law.
The point for today is that we too must remove any idols in our hearts, or any stumbling blocks of iniquity that impede our relationship with Almighty God. All of us have them, and for us to enjoy the fullest fellowship with God, they must be removed. The Holy Spirit will keep pointing to them until one of two things happens. Either we, with the help of the Holy Ghost, remove them in order to enjoy a fuller experience with God, or we will grow hardened in our sinfulness until a fuller relationship loses its value to us.
Pray God that this does not happen to any of us, because it had serious consequences. Rather than experiencing the wonderful fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, contentment, godliness and self control, we will bear the evil fruit of our natural natures: hate, discontent, malice, unease, fear, and infidelity.
In the words of St. Paul himself, he me! May it never be! We pray that all of us may continue to take daily inventory of ourselves and of our relationship with Almighty God in Christ. Unlike those idolatrous men in Ezekiel whom God would not hear, we will enjoy the warm spiritual embrace of our Heavenly Father. He will hear us. He will come to us and tabernacle with us. He will make His Face to shine upon us. Through His blessed Holy Spirit, He will give us peace, now and forever.
i Kiel and Delitzsch, “Ezekiel”, BW 7.0