Elon, North Carolina
We are studying the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel was born in the priestly family. He was exiled to Babylon (Iraq), where he lived all of his life, died and is buried there today. Five years after he arrived, God appeared to him in a spectacular vision of God. God called him to be a prophet, not a priest.
Last week, we looked at the beginning of Ezekiel’s ministry. It began with acting. It began with a drama ministry. As one man put it, “Ezekiel was a drama queen or drama king or drama prophet.” Before he delivered his prophecies, he acted them out. He acted out the siege that was going to take place in Jerusalem in just five years. He acted out the starvation. He acted out the food shortage with his siege diet.
He did this all by shaving his head, eating unclean food, lying on his side, and building a miniature city. He preached in actions in chapters four and five. He preached in words in chapters six and seven primarily. We see Ezekiel’s first spoken message to the people in these chapters. These two chapters go together, like the last two. In many ways these are difficult chapters.
These chapters contain VIOLENT IMAGES. Ezekiel 6 mention dead bodies scattered all over the mountaintop. These people were all killed in church. There are all these dead worshippers on the hilltops.
They are not just killed but left unburied in the hot sun, rotting corpses stacked up like wood. Ezekiel 5 mentioned cannibalism. It seemed a little off color to us with the command to eat things cooked over dung but that was the reality of war and a two year siege on the city.
These chapters also contain some GRAPHIC LANGUAGE. This chapter needs an explicit content warning, like they have on some rap songs. Critics say that Ezekiel does not have the cleanest mouth. They say that he has a potty mouth. Why do they say this?
People are going to be so scared during this judgment that Ezekiel 7:17 says, “Every hand will go limp; every leg will be wet with urine” (NIV). This is reflected in the Greek translation of the OT (LXX) which says “all thighs shall be defiled with moisture”. Men will pee their pants, only they did not wear pants back then. They wore skirts.
The Hebrew word that is used for “idols” in Ezekiel 6:4, 5, 6, 9, 13 is gillulim (gill-oo-lim). It is not the normal word for idols. It is a term of derision. It is used about thirty-nine times in the book. It is a strong word. It means “poop balls.”
The people though highly of these deities. They looked up to them. God did not think too highly of these idols. He calls them “balls of crap.” He is not politically correct. He must not have been big on tolerance and diversity. He says that the idols they worship are crap.
Ezekiel 7:19 says, “They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like AN UNCLEAN THING” (ESV). Ezekiel 7:20 says, “His beautiful ornament they used for pride, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it. Therefore I make it AN UNCLEAN THING to them” (ESV).
The Hebrew word for unclean is niddah (nih-DAH). In the Law of Moses, that is the same Hebrew word used to describe a woman during her menstrual cycle. She is called “unclean” during that time.
Preachers and Profanity
Is it wrong for preachers to use this kind of language in the pulpit? If Ezekiel used this kind of language, why can’t preachers use it in the pulpit today? Many do. Many worldly pastors today believe that this is a way to reach the contemporary culture. Are they wrong? This is something that Christians should not do, to say nothing of leaders.
Paul said, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 5:4 ESV). Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (NIV). We are to be a model to others in our speech (I Timothy 4:12).
Of course, it is not wrong for preachers to sometimes use shocking language to get the attention of people so they can see the seriousness of sin. Ezekiel used SHOCKING language to describe their sin. On the other hand, if they do it all the time it is no longer shocking and defeats the purpose and even that kind of language should not be filthy, crude or unwholesome, in light of the Ephesians passages above.
These two chapters give us God’s prophecy against Israel. They tell us what happened in 587 BC. Most of you might find it interesting but you did not come to church to learn ancient history. It was relevant to people who lived in Ezekiel’s day. How does it apply to us? It is very relevant to us today. This chapter affects us very much today. It began a new period in the program of God.
When Jerusalem fell in 587 BC., it began a period of time in the Bible called THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES (Luke 21:24), the period of time in which Israel is under either partial or total domination by Gentile nations. The times of the Gentiles began with the Babylonian Captivity.
We live in the times of the Gentiles today. The Jews are back in their homeland today but do not have complete control of the Promise Land God gave them and will not have complete control of that land until Jesus returns. The times of the Gentiles will end at the Second Coming.
It is relevant in another way. These chapters foreshadow the final judgment. What happened in these chapters will happen again on a larger scale. Ezekiel says “the end has come” (7:2, 6). That sounds apocalyptic. It sounds like the end of the world. It sounds like something you might read in the book of Revelation but this was not written by John but by Ezekiel.
Final Judgment Foreshadowed
These chapters are describing judgment on Jerusalem but they give us a picture of hell. It is not a perfect picture. Hell in the NT is characterized by fire (called a furnace of fire, a lake of fire, fire and brimstone).
The punishment in our section took three forms – war, disease and famine (7:15). This judgment is providential. God uses Babylon, wicked Babylon to judge Israel. Hell is not providential but there are many similarities, as you read these chapters.
1) It is a picture of anguish
Shouts of anguish will be heard on the mountains, not shouts of joy (7:7 NLT). That sounds like weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42, 50). The end of the chapter says that the people are paralyzed by terror (7:27).
The people will be filled with horror and shame (7:17). It is a terrifying picture. There is anguish, horror, shame and utter terror. The Bible says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).
2) It is a picture of destruction
Those outside the city walls will be killed by enemy swords. Those inside the city will die of famine and disease (7:15 ESV). Ezekiel 6:12 says, “He who is far off shall die of pestilence, and he who is near shall fall by the sword, and he who is left and is preserved shall die of famine” (ESV).
Judgment hits you wherever you are. There will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. The end has come upon the four corners of the land (7:2). The end has come on every side. There is bad news wherever you live.
3) It is a picture of hopelessness
Disaster comes upon disaster; rumor follows rumor. They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders. 27 The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. (7:26-27 ESV).
You cannot turn to a priest or prophet for comfort. They have no word from the Lord. You cannot turn to a king. They are powerless to help you. Silver and gold won’t save them on the Day of Judgment (7:19).
The things they trusted in before will not be able to help them at all. In fact God says, during the siege, they will have all of this gold but it will not be able to fill their stomachs or satisfy their hunger (7:19).
4) It is a picture of justice
This is a judgment is a judgment on sin and a judgment based on works, as the full weight of God’s justice is brought to bear down on people. Three times God says, “I will judge you ACCORDING TO YOUR WAYS” (7:3, 4, 9).
Two times, God says, “I will punish you FOR ALL YOUR ABOMINATIONS” (7:3, 8 ESV). In fact, God shows NO PITY. He says that twice (7:4, 9). This is strict justice, no grace or mercy. The final judgment will be very similar.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done (Revelation 20:11-12 ESV).
They will also be judged according to their works and there will be no place for them to hide, because the earth and sky are gone. All of the unsaved will stand before God in their sins completely naked and transparent. It is too late to repent.
Everyone will be there, highly educated people with PhDs and people who are completely illiterate. Billionaires will be there, along with people who were dirt poor. Wicked people will be there, along with other people who were outwardly moral.
5) It is predicted in advance
God warned the people in advance through Ezekiel what was going to take place. He was a watchman to Israel. God warns the wicked about Hell. We are to be a watchman today like Ezekiel was. Many did not believe Ezekiel’s message of doom, like many do not believe the warning about hell today.
Let’s look at the strange command God gave Ezekiel in chapter six. Remember that when Ezekiel began his ministry, God shut his mouth. He was mute. He could only speak when God told him he could speak and only when he gave him a message.
26 And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. 27 But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house. (3:26-27 ESV)
Two Strange Statements
Ezekiel finally gets word from the Lord and God tells him to speak to some mountains. The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them (6:1-2 ESV). That seems strange a little strange.
1) Ezekiel is told to preach to MOUNTAINS
That is strange. Preach to the mountains, not people. Mountains are inanimate objects. They had not committed any sin. They were not guilty and yet God tells Ezekiel to prophesy AGAINST them.
Ezekiel is told to say, “You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God!” (6:3). Why doesn’t he say, “You people of Israel, hear the word of the Lord?” The mountains did not do anything wrong but it suffers because of the nation’s sin. The people will be scattered and the land will be left desolate.
The centers of idol worship were at the top of mountains. There were open-air altars to Canaanite deities all over the land. They liked high places. Thought you could get closer to God. It had a psychological appeal. There was something seductive about these high places.
2) Ezekiel is told to preach to the mountains OF ISRAEL
Ezekiel is in Babylon but he is not told to preach against Babylon but against Israel. The captives would rejoice if he was told to preach against Babylon. God would not have said, “Preach against the mountains of Babylon” because Babylon was a flat country. Geographically, it is a plain with some deserts. Israel has some mountains.
Modern Equivalent Today
Ezekiel was told to preach against the mountains of Israel. Judgment must begin with the house of God. Think about what this would mean today. Israel was the people of God. Ezekiel is told to preach against them.
That would be like Ezekiel preaching against the church today (since the church is described as the people of God today). It would be like Ezekiel preaching against some against some contemporary worship centers (high places) in churches today.
There is a lot of crap that comes out of some pulpits. There is a lot of garbage that comes out of the mouths of preachers every Sunday in America. They give people either no hope or false hope. Some teach false doctrine and say things that are completely unbiblical. That raises a thought-provoking question. Is idolatry alive in the modern church? It may be alive in some churches today.
Why does he preach judgment on Israel? Because God is angry. Why is he angry? He is angry over their sin. What is their sin? They have many sins but the one that stands out in these two chapters is idolatry. They committed idolatry all throughout the country and even in the Temple.
Idolatry in the Bible is the same thing as spiritual adultery. God looks on it as unfaithfulness. When a man commits adultery, the spouse has three responses. She feels hurt. She feels angry. She feels jealous. God is a real person. When his people commit idolatry, He has the same feelings.
God is JEALOUS (5:13). He is ANGRY (7:3). He is also HURT (6:9). Sometimes we do not picture God as a person. Sin grieves his heart. We grieve the Holy Spirit today by our sin (Ephesians 4:30). Notice a few different translations of Ezekiel 6:9.
I have been GRIEVED by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. (NIV)
I have been HURT by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols (NASB)
I’ve been CRUSHED by their unfaithful hearts that have turned against me. (ISV)
The greatest sin a person can commit is idolatry. The greatest sin is not prostitution or homosexuality or adultery or drinking alcohol. The greatest sin is worshipping a false god. That made number one on God’s top ten list. When God’s people commit idolatry, it is even worse.
Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. 4 Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense altars shall be broken, and I will cast down your slain before your idols. 5 And I will lay the dead bodies of the people of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars.
6 Wherever you dwell, the cities shall be waste and the high places ruined, so that your altars will be waste and ruined, your idols broken and destroyed, your incense altars cut down, and your works wiped out. 7 And the slain shall fall in your midst, and you shall know that I am the Lord. (6:3-7 ESV)
God’s Message to Idolaters
1) You will be judged
God does not just hate it, he judges it. God is not described in this section as “our provider” or “our shepherd” but as “our smiter.” I will punish you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord, who strikes (7:9 ESV).
God will judge all false worshippers (idols destroyed, altars smashed, high places broken). He will judge idolatry in believers. He will judge idolatry in nonbelievers.
Do we have any idolatry in our life? When we go home we do not light a candle to a carved image in a shrine to be an idolater but we may still have an idol in our heart. This is something God takes very seriously.
2) You will become like your idols
Psalm 115:8 says, “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (NIV). These worshippers became dead right in front of their idols. They became like their idols. The idols were dead and so were they.
3) Sin always brings shame
This goes all the way back to Adam and Eve in the garden, sewing fig leaves. In the OT, dead bodies made people unclean. God desecrates these pagan altars on the mountain tops with the dead bodies of its worshippers.
This chapter is not all negative and all depressing. It is not all doom and gloom, although it seems like that with “disaster after disaster” (7:5). There is one tiny ray of hope in the chapter.
And the slain shall fall in your midst, and you shall know that I am the Lord. “Yet I will leave some of you alive. When you have among the nations some who escape the sword, and when you are scattered through the countries, then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations. 10 And they shall know that I am the Lord (6:7-10 ESV).
This is interesting. God shows mercy and leaves some people alive. He leaves a remnant. This has profound theological implications. It tells us two things.
1. God always has a remnant
No matter how bad things are, God always has a remnant. No matter how bad things are in the country, no matter how bad things are in the world, not matter how bad things are in the church, even in times of great apostasy, there is always a remnant.
There was a remnant in Noah’s day, when the whole earth was corrupt. There was a remnant in Elijah’s day (I Kings 19:14-18). God had seven thousand people who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Ezekiel demonstrated this with his hair in chapter five, when he put some of it in his clothes (5:3).
2. It is a remnant of grace
Who got to survive? Who got to live and who got to die? God decided that. Why didn’t He pick other people? He did not have to pick anyone. He did not have to let anyone survive. This was sheer grace and mercy. Did these people live because they were righteous? No.
The people that survived were idol worshippers. God says that they did “evil.” They committed all kinds of “abominations” (6:9). Paul in the NT speaks of a remnant chosen by grace.
So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:5-6).
From this small group of people, some will repent. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations (6:9). What is the result? And they shall know that I am the Lord (6:10).
That is one of the dominant themes of the book. This phrase occurs about sixty times in the book. There are two ways you can know God. You can know Him IN JUDGMENT (6:14) but then it is too late. Every atheist and unbeliever will one day know who the true God is but it will be too late then.
You can also know God IN SALVATION (6:10). That does not happen until people acknowledge their own sin and rebellion and turn to Him in faith. If there is no repentance, there is no salvation. For people with hard hearts, it often takes a calamity to bring people to Christ. Their life has to be turned upside down.
If you get saved, you know God. That is the definition of knowing God. Jesus said, And this is the way to have eternal life–to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. (John 17:3 NLT)