Elon, North Carolina
The Book of Hebrews says that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Everyone who stands before God at the Great White Throne Judgment will find out how terrifying it is. The Book of Life will be opened. If anyone’s name is not in that book, that person will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
They do not volunteer to go there. They do not say, “I want to go to Hell to be with all of my friends.” They are all thrown into the Lake of Fire against their will. It is a horrifying picture of what will happen to the unsaved lost.
The nation of Israel found in 587 or 586 BC how terrifying it is to fall into the hands of the living God. It is a difficult chapter. We do not know exactly when the Babylonian Captivity took place. Scholars disagree on the date. It could have happened either time.
Archeologists have discovered Babylonian history was written down on a bunch of tablets called the Babylonian Chronicles. They are in the British Museum. There are four tablets that have to do with Nebuchadnezzar but the section dealing with his attack on Jerusalem is missing. If this tablet ever turns up, we would know which date is correct.
During the Babylonian Captivity, Israel fell into the hands of the living God. The whole nation experienced divine judgment. “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Because you people have brought to mind your guilt by your open rebellion, revealing your sins in all that you do—because you have done this, you will be taken captive. “You profane and wicked prince of Israel, whose day has come, whose time of punishment has reached its climax” (21:24-25 ESV).
This was not just a terrible tragedy. It was divine judgment for sin. God was punishing the nation for its sin. It was not just judgment on the nation but on the leaders of the nation (21:12, 25-27).
When the nation falls into the hands of God, it is terrifying. It is a terrifying thing to face the wrath of God. We all know certain people that we would never want angry with us. We try to stay on their good side.
We definitely do not want God angry with us. We do not want God coming after us with a sword. It was so terrifying that Ezekiel was told to act it out with groaning, crying, and wailing (21:12). He strikes his hands together (21:17) and beats on his chest (21:12).
Ezekiel not only preached; he acted. He not only spoke in words but in actions. He did crazy things just to get the attention of people to act out his sermon. He even takes up a sword and becomes a martial artist. He begins swinging a sword, slashing right and left (21:14-17) to symbolize what the Babylonians would be doing very soon.
In this chapter, we find out that God is angry with the nation. Israel experiences God’s FIRE and God’s SWORD at the Babylonian Captivity. We will look at two different pictures of judgment. Ezekiel uses images to describe the Babylonian Captivity. He uses some vivid images.
The same event is pictured in two different ways. First, it is described symbolically in a parable. Then, it is described literally in direct speech. Ezekiel says that when God sends these two things on the nation, they will know that it comes from Him.
When God ignites a big fire and burns everything up, He says, “Everyone will see that I the Lord have kindled it; it will not be quenched” (20:48 ESV). When God send His sword, He says, “Then all people will know that I the Lord have drawn my sword from its sheath; it will not return again” (21:5 ESV).
Sometimes bad things happen in our lives and we do not know if it is us, if it is God or if it is the Devil at work but Ezekiel says that when this happens, they will know that it is God. There will not be any doubt. How did they know? They had prophets who predicted it. Jeremiah predicted it in Judah. Ezekiel predicted it in Babylon.
About five months AFTER the city fell, the Jews in Babylon found out about it. Ezekiel found out five years BEFORE it happened and predicted it but no one believed him. Many thought that they city could never be destroyed. There were people going around claiming to be prophets who said that the city would never be destroyed. They claimed to have a word from God.
Jerusalem was the dwelling place of God. How could it possibly be destroyed? It was indestructible. When we tell people of judgment and a Lake of Fire, no one believes us. We have the same problem Ezekiel has.
Ezekiel has a negative message to preach, which did not make him too popular. “Son of man, set your face toward the south; preach AGAINST the south and prophesy AGAINST the forest of the southland (20:46 ESV).
The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face AGAINST Jerusalem and preach AGAINST the sanctuary. Prophesy AGAINST the land of Israel (21:1-2). We like preachers who tell us positive uplifting messages. Ezekiel’s message was that God was against his people (21:3). This chapter is graphic and shocking in its imagery.
Message of the Fire
45 The word of the Lord came to me: 46 “Son of man, set your face toward the south; preach against the south and prophesy against the forest of the southland. 47 Say to the southern forest: ‘Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to set fire to you, and it will consume all your trees, both green and dry. The blazing flame will not be quenched, and every face from south to north will be scorched by it. 48 Everyone will see that I the Lord have kindled it; it will not be quenched.’” (20:45-49 NIV)
Remember, we saw last week that Ezekiel 21 begins in chapter twenty in the Hebrew Bible. God uses symbolic language here to describe the Babylonian Captivity. It is pictured as a forest fire. He uses the metaphor of a hot blazing fire to describe this judgment. It was symbolic. Just because it was symbolic does not mean that it is not real. God used symbolic language to describe this judgment. Some have called this the Parable of the Forest Fire.
What does the fire represent? It represents the Babylonian armies. The Babylonians are God’s fire. The Babylonian Captivity is pictured as a blazing fire that consumes everything in its path. God makes four points in this parable.
1) God’s people will face a fire.
We had about sixty thousand wildfires in the United States this past year. The fire in Ezekiel 20 will be so hot that no one will be able to stop it. We are told that twice in this section. We are told in Ezekiel 20:47 that the fire will not be quenched. We are also told in Ezekiel 20:48 that it will not be quenched. The fire will be so hot that “all faces from south to north shall be scorched by it” (20:47 ESV). The last verse of the next chapter says that people will be fuel for this fire (21:32).
2) This fire will focus on one particular region
It will take place in the south (20:45). Judah was the southern kingdom of Israel.
3) The arsonist is God Himself.
We are told that God is the arsonist and everyone will know it.. Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I will kindle a fire in you (20:47 ESV). All flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it (20:48 ESV). Most fires are man-made. This fire will not have a natural cause. It will have a supernatural cause. It will not be caused by man but by God Himself.
4) This fire will be completely devastating.
This fire will burn up all of the trees. Forest fires damage property. They destroy human life. They affect the environment (wildlife, vegetation, soil, water, air). This fire will be severe. It will devour everything (green tree and dry tree).
Dry trees are much easier to burn than green trees but even the moist trees will burn as well as the dry ones. What do the trees represent? They represent people. The righteous and the wicked will be affected by this fire. God does not punish the righteous for the sins of the wicked but they do suffer the consequences of their sins. We will see that in the next image as well.
Next, we see the reaction of the exiles to this parable. The people did not take Ezekiel seriously. They mocked him, like they mock anyone who preaches the Word. “You do not really believe the Bible do you? You do not take it literally?” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! They are saying of me, ‘Is he not a maker of parables?’” (20:49 ESV)
This first message was largely symbolic, although part of the city was burned by the Babylonians. The exiles did not like the forest fire parable. What did it all mean (fire, trees)? It was too symbolic, so Ezekiel stopped speaking in riddles. He began to speak in straight-forward language.
Message of the Sword
The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries. Prophesy against the land of Israel 3 and say to the land of Israel, Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am against you and will draw my sword from its sheath and will cut off from you both righteous and wicked. 4 Because I will cut off from you both righteous and wicked, therefore my sword shall be drawn from its sheath against all flesh from south to north. 5 And all flesh shall know that I am the Lord. I have drawn my sword from its sheath; it shall not be sheathed again.
6 “As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes. 7 And when they say to you, ‘Why do you groan?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that it is coming. Every heart will melt, and all hands will be feeble; every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water. Behold, it is coming, and it will be fulfilled,’” declares the Lord God.
8 And the word of the Lord came to me: 9 “Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus says the Lord, say: “A sword, a sword is sharpened and also polished,10 sharpened for slaughter, polished to flash like lightning! (Or shall we rejoice? You have despised the rod, my son, with everything of wood.) 11 So the sword is given to be polished, that it may be grasped in the hand. It is sharpened and polished to be given into the hand of the slayer. 12 Cry out and wail, son of man, for it is against my people. It is against all the princes of Israel. They are delivered over to the sword with my people. (21:1-11 ESV)
1) God’s people will face a sword.
The Babylonians would not only be God’s fire, they would be God’s sword against sinful Jerusalem. The agent of judgment will be a sword. The sword is a clear reference to a military attack.
2) The swordsman is God himself.
I am against you and will draw MY SWORD from its sheath and will cut off from you both righteous and wicked. 4 Because I will cut off from you both righteous and wicked, therefore MY SWORD shall be drawn from its sheath against all flesh from south to north. And all flesh shall know that I am the Lord. I have drawn MY SWORD from its sheath; it shall not be sheathed again. (21:3-4 ESV)
This is not just the sword of Babylon. God says three times that it is His sword. This is the Sword of the Lord (which John R. Rice used as the name for his ministry).
3) The instrument of destruction is Babylon
The sword they are going to face will be “the sword of the king of Babylon” (21:19) but God calls that His sword. Babylon will be God’s instrument of judgment. It is God’s sword but it will be in the hands of the Babylonians. God was the one behind the Babylonians.
This is interesting. The Babylonians were not good people. They were pagans. They worshiped idols. The king of Babylon used divination (21:21-22). God calls the Babylonian soldiers “brutal men” (21:31) but God uses them to do His will. God can use anyone to accomplish His will, even the wicked. God is sovereign over everything, including sin.
Proverbs 16:4 says, “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (ESV). The Bible prohibits divination (Leviticus 19:31; 20:6). Divination is demonic. The occult is satanic but God is even sovereign over divination. Nebuchadnezzar uses three forms of divination to decide which city to attack and the lot will come up for Jerusalem (21:22). The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. (Proverbs 16:33 NIV)
4) This sword will cause a great slaughter
The sword will be used to kill people (21:15). It will cause a great slaughter (21:14). That is a terrible way to die. Most would rather be shot than stabbed with a sword. Death would be quicker with a gun. Death could come slower, depending on where you were stabbed. When they encounter this sword, the people will be terrified.
The Babylonians will close in on them from every side, hearts will melt with fear (21:14-15), people’s spirits will become faint. Hands will become limp and people will even pee their pants (21:7). This sword is sharp (21:9-11). It is polished (21:9-11). It is drawn, taken out of its sheath (21:28). It is used.
Then, he says something shocking. This sword will be used indiscriminately. God says, “I will draw my sword from its sheath and will cut off from you both righteous and wicked” (21:3 ESV). This sword will be used on soldiers and on civilians. It will kill both the good guys and bad guys, the tsadik and the rasha. They will kill without pity or compassion. It will be a massacre or a slaughter.
This sword will not kill everyone. Some will survive this attack. We know that from Ezekiel 9. This killing will be random but it will not be universal. The point is that when the nation suffers, we suffer. That is why we need to pray for our nation.
Eight Powerful Lessons
1. Nothing is more frightening than to face the wrath and anger of God.
It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. You say, “I do not have to worry about this because I am saved. Jesus bore God’s wrath for me on the cross.” That is true but it brings us to our second point.
2. God judges sin, even in His people.
In this chapter, He sends the sword, NOT on the enemies of God but on His own people. You say, “That is in the OT. That does not apply to us in the NT.” In the Book of Revelation, Jesus threatens to send His sword on professing Christians and fight AGAINST them (Revelation 2:16). The language is very similar.
3. God sometimes uses the wicked as instruments of His judgment.
God can use anything for His purposes, including the wicked. If He can use the wicked to do His will, He can certainly use you and me.
4. When the leaders of a nation sin, the whole country suffers.
When our nation suffers, God’s people suffer. God does not hold us accountable for the sins of other people (Ezekiel 18) but we sometimes suffer the consequences of the sins of others.
5. God is completely sovereign over everything.
He is sovereign over wicked nations and wicked rulers. He was sovereign over Nebuchadnezzar. He was sovereign over Adolf Hitler. He is sovereign over the occult. Nebuchadnezzar came to a fork in the road and had to decide which city to attack (Jerusalem or Ammon). He used three different forms of divination and they all pointed to Jerusalem as the city to attack first (21:21-22).
6. Preachers need to say their message more than one time.
They need to use repetition. Some pastors are very good at this. They also need to say their message in more than one way and to use a multi-sensory approach, like Ezekiel did. They should be emotionally involved in their message, like Ezekiel was. Ezekiel not only delivered a message, he wept, wailed and beat his chest. He showed signs of grief in a public way.
7. Biblical preaching is not all positive.
Some of it is negative. Ezekiel was told two times in the chapter to preach against some things. Some ministers today have lost that concept. We do not want to go to the other extreme and be all negative but we do not want to be all positive either. We should preach the whole counsel of God.
8. Leaders are only in charge by the grace of God.
They can be removed at any time. God told him to remove the turban and take off the crown (21:26). He would no longer be king any more. Daniel 2:21 says that God “changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others” (NIV). God says, “The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low.” (Ezekiel 21:26 NIV).