Stand in the Gap

Ezekiel 22

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
January 2018

Some of us go to a church where the pastor that says the same thing week after week.  After a while, you begin to say, “I think I have heard this before.”  We have been studying the Book of Ezekiel and that was exactly what he did.

He has been predicting that Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians, ever since chapter four of his book. He has been saying the same thing for almost twenty chapters.  That sounds a little repetitive.  Why does Ezekiel keep repeating himself?  Does Ezekiel have dementia? Does he have or Alzheimer’s?   We all know a lot of old people who forget what they told us and keep saying the same thing over and over again.

Ezekiel does not have memory problems.  He is not an old man.  He is a young man in his thirties.  He is not repeating things because he forgot he said them.  He is repeating them because God is repeating them.  Ezekiel only says what God tells him to say.  He does not have his own message.

So why the repetition?  Does God stutter?  Some of us need repetition.  We do not always get things the first time.  Husbands need repetition.  Ezekiel was speaking to an audience that needed repetition. They had to hear it repeatedly.  They were spiritually dull.  God called them obstinate and stiff-necked.  They did not get the message the first time, so God had to say it again and again.

They must have been a little ADD.  Ezekiel had to speak to them several different ways.  He not only spoke to them in words but in actions.  He used prophet words.  He also used prophetic actions. He not only preached; he acted.  He did drama.  He did crazy things just to get the attention of people and to act out his sermon.

That brings us to our chapter for today. This chapter is fascinating.  It is very important.  It applies to our own country.  It has a powerful application at the end of the chapter fore all of us and yet most Christians have never read or studied this chapter in any depth.

It is another chapter of bad news.  Ezekiel does not have a message of good news.  He has a message of bad news to the Jews in Babylon.  We like to hear good news but the Bible contains both.  We cannot choose the parts of it we like and throw out the parts that we do not like.

This chapter does not mention the love of God.  It does not mention the mercy or forgiveness of God.  It does mentions the anger of God.  It mentions the wrath of God and it mentions the indignation of God.  God is so angry that He puts people in a furnace in this chapter.

At the end of the chapter, there is a powerful application that all of us need to hear.  Ezekiel says two things in this chapter.  He says that people are sinful.  The city of Jerusalem is extremely wicked.  He also says that God judges sin.  He judges sin in individuals. He judges sin in nations.  He judges sin among the pagans.  He also judges sin in His own people.

There are three oracles in this chapter.  Ezekiel gives us three prophecies.  They all start with the words, “The word of the Lord came TO ME.”  We see that in three times in the chapter (Ezekiel 22:1, 17, 23).

God bypassed all the religious leaders of the day.  He did not speak to them but He did speak to Ezekiel.  God spoke to Ezekiel directly, not one or twice but three times in this chapter.  Ezekiel did not come up with these ideas on his own.  He was not creative.  He did not invent these things.  This all came directly from God.

National Sin

This chapter lays out the indictment against the nation, just as a prosecutor would lay out all of the charges against someone before a jury.  God’s people in Jerusalem were completely wicked.  Ezekiel indicts the city of Jerusalem and says some terrible things about it.  We cannot criticize them.  We are not morally superior.  We have some of the same sins in our own country.  Much of what he says about his own nation applies directly to our nation.

God speaks to Ezekiel and tells him to declare to Jerusalem ALL her abominations (22:3).  Ezekiel’s job was to preach against sin.  His job was to expose national sin.  He gave them a report card on the state of the nation, the moral state.  This expose was shocking.  It tells us several things.

A Shocking Expose

The first thing it tells us is that God’s judgement in the Babylonian Captivity was because of CURRENT SIN. The exiles complained.  They said, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and their children’s teeth are set on edge.  They sinned but we are punished.”  God says, “That is not true.”  Their fathers were wicked but so are they.

Can your courage endure, or can your hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with you? I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it. 15 I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you through the countries, and I will consume your uncleanness out of you. 16 And you shall be profaned BY YOUR OWN DOING in the sight of the nations, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (22:14-16 ESV).  God says in the last verse of the chapter, “I have returned THEIR WAY upon their heads.” (22:31 ESV)

The second thing we learn is that this captivity came because of MAJOR SIN.  They did not just commit little sins.  They committed big sins. They committed ABOMINATIONS (22:2, 11). That word refers to the worst types of sins. Pagan nations were not the only ones who committed abominations.  God’s on people committed all kinds of abominations.

Their sins were so bad that God says that they were a reproach to the heathen nations (22:4-5).  Even the pagans thought they were a disgrace. It is pretty bad when you live worse than the unsaved.  Some Christians live worse than unbelievers.  Paul said that the name of God is blasphemed because of the way some professing Christians live. Jerusalem was supposed to be a HOLY CITY.  Instead, it became SIN CITY.

The third thing we learn is that God’s evaluation of a nation is very different from our evaluation.  The things that we think are real important in a nation Is not necessarily what God thinks is important.  God said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8).

We think a nation is great if it is wealthy, has a good GDP and its citizens all have a good standard of living.   We think a nation is great if it is big or has a strong military.  We think a nation is great if it is technologically advanced.  We think a nation is great if it educated and sophisticated.  A nation may pass all of those tests and fail in other areas.  In Ezekiel 22, there are seven other areas that God looks at when He evaluated a nation.

Seven Tests of a Nation

1) When God evaluates a nation, He looks at a nation’s HOME LIFE.

This is the domestic test.  One of the sins that God looks at are sins in the home.  God said, “Father and mother are treated with contempt in you” (22:7 ESV).  How intact is the home life?  How are parents treated?  How are the children treated?  How do husbands and wives treat each other? How are the elderly in the home treated?  When the home dissolves, society dissolves because the home is the basic unit of society.

2) When God evaluates a nation, He looks at a nation’s FINANCIAL PRACTICES.

This is the financial test.  God looks at how a nation deals with money.  That is a problem for us because our nation has twenty trillion dollars in debt.  God said, “In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take interest and profit and make gain of your neighbors by extortion” (22:12 ESV).  They were involved in dishonest gain (22:13).  He does not look at how wealthy the country is but how ethical it is and how charitable that nation is with its wealth.

3) When God evaluates a nation, He looks at SOCIAL JUSTICE.

This is the compassion test.  How does a nation treat the most vulnerable members of society (sojourner, fatherless, widow, poor, and the needy)?  That is mentioned in this passage.  God says, “They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice” (22:29 ESV).  He said, “The fatherless and the widow are wronged in you” (22:7 ESV).  When that happens in a nation, God sees it and judges it.

4) When God evaluated a nation, He looks to see if that nation has a respect for LIFE.

This is the sanctity of life test.  God looks to see if that nation holds life sacred.  Jerusalem was a VIOLENT city.  God called it a BLOODY CITY.  He said, ““And you, son of man, will you judge, will you judge the bloody city?” (22:2 ESV).  Not only were the people violent, THE LEADERS were violent.  God said, “Behold, the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood” (22:6 ESV).

The picture here is of a city that is splattered with blood.  There were puddles of blood all over the city.  It was a violent city.  Child sacrifice took place in this city.  They burned up their kids on altars to Molech in this city.  We have no room to talk.  We have some cities in our country which are extremely violent.

We have cities with high crime rates.  Kids are still offered up in America.  We have about a million abortions every year.  We have had fifty-nine million babies killed since Roe v Wade.  Life is dehumanized in our country.  Unborn babies are not even called babies, just fetuses.

5) When God evaluates a nation, He looks at whether that nation WORSHIPS Him.

This is the religious test.  Who does the nation worship?  People in Jerusalem worshipped idols.  They ate on the mountains (22:9).  That does not mean that had a picnic on a mountain with their family.  Mountains were centers of idolatry.  They thought the higher you were, the closer you were to the gods.  They had feasts to these idols on the mountains.  The Jews not only worshipped idols, they made idols (22:3-4). They were idol makers.  They produced idols.

God looks at national attitudes toward Him.  Is the nation spiritually sensitive or does it mock God?  God says, “You have DESPISED my holy things and PROFANED my Sabbaths” (22:8 ESV).  In fact, even the priests did this.  God says, “Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them (22:26 ESV).

That describes our own country.  The priests removed the distinction between CLEAN and UNCLEAN.  We have removed the distinction between MORAL and IMMORAL.  Everything is acceptable.  Sin does not exist.  If you dare call anything sinful, you are labeled a bigot or intolerant.  This has even infiltrated into the church.  Some churches say exactly what secular society says.

God said that Israel forgot God (22:12).  That is true of our own nation.  When the country began, religion played an integral role in our country but now our country is secular.  According to the polls, only forty percent of the country even attends church but experts believe that the number of regular attenders is closer to twenty percent.

We call ourselves a nation under God.  We have “In God We Trust” on our dollar bills but America has rejected God’s Word and His standard for living and even his standard of marriage. America has turned its back on God.  It has thumbed its nose at God. We have corrupt religious leaders and political leaders in our own country today.

America has forgotten God.  Politicians have forgotten God. Judges have forgotten God. They have changed the definition of marriage   Educators have forgotten God.  We have taken Him out of the schools and the universities.  Some ministers have even forgotten God.

Churches in mainline denominations that used to believe the Bible but no longer believe it or preach it. Jerusalem had prophets that devoured souls (22:25).  We have plenty of cultists who go door-to-door and devour souls.  Psalm 9:17 says, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (KJV).

6) When God evaluates a nation, He looks at a nation’s SEXUAL PRACTICES.

This is the sexual test.  Fifteen sins are mention in this chapter.  Most of the sins on the list are sex sins.  Six of the fifteen sins on the list deal with sexual sins.  God said, “they commit lewdness in your midst. 10 In you men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women who are unclean in their menstrual impurity. 11 One commits abomination with his neighbor’s wife; another lewdly defiles his daughter-in-law; another in you violates his sister, his father’s daughter.” (22:9-11 ESV)

We have sexual sins in America. Our country has embraced sexual perversion.  It has become the norm.  Perversion has become respectable.  It is no longer considered shameful, just an alternate lifestyle.

7) When God evaluates a nation, He looks at the LEADERS.

This is the leadership test.  When things are bad, people often look to leaders to do something about it.  That’s what happens in churches.  The problem here is that the leaders were just as bad as the people.  There is corruption everywhere, even in the highest levels of power of the nation (religious power and political power).

The PEOPLE were corrupt. The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. (22:29 ESV) but the leaders were also corrupt.  The PRIESTS were corrupt (22:26).  The PRINCES are corrupt (22:27).  The PROPHETS were corrupt (22:28).  Every class of society was corrupt.  Everyone was guilty of apostasy from the bottom to the very top of the naiton (22:26-28 ESV).

Could God Judge America?

Many say that God would never judge America.  They say that America is under the protection of God. That is interesting because many Jews said the same thing about Jerusalem. It could never be destroyed because it was God’s beloved city (Revelation 20:9).  This was the city of God (Psalm 87:2).  God dwelt there in the Temple but that wasn’t true.  Many think that God judged them but He would never judge us.

If the Jews were not immune from judgment, we certainly are not immune from divine judgment. America is not the chosen country.  We are not the people of God.   Some have said that God has already started to judge the nation.  God judged them and we have some of the same sins but there was one difference.  America has one thing that they did not have, as we will see at the end of the chapter.

The Dross Nation

17 And the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to me; ALL OF THEM are bronze and tin and iron and lead in the furnace; they are dross of silver. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have all become dross, therefore, behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. 20 As one gathers silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into a furnace, to blow the fire on it in order to melt it, so I will gather you in my anger and in my wrath, and I will put you in and melt you. 21 I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it. 22 As silver is melted in a furnace, so you shall be melted in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord; I have poured out my wrath upon you.” (22:17-22 ESV).

God calls the house of Israel “dross.” The way to purify metals is to turn them into liquid.  If you melt silver, the impurities rise to the top.  The dross is the crud at the top.  It gets scraped off and you have pure metal.  God says to the nation, “I have already brought out the silver and gold and you are the dross that is left.”

Sometimes, God wants to refine us.  He does that by removing the dross in our life. There are many verses in the Bible that talk about this. One way he does this is through suffering.  Isaiah 48:10 says, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction” (ESV). God is going to refine the Jews in the future.

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. (Malachi 3:2-3 ESV)

In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. 9 And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” (Zechariah 13:8-9 ESV).

A Scary Judgment

This is a scary chapter.  Ezekiel predicts judgment for the nation in this chapter.  He says that some of the nation will be consumed (22:31) and some will be scattered (22:15).[1]  Some will be destroyed and some will be dispersed.  Then there is a more frightening picture.

God says that He is going to pour out His wrath on the nation (22:22, 31).  God is going to put some people in a furnace.  He is going to blow on them and they are going to melt (22:17-22).  You blow on a fire when you want to make it hotter.  Now, this is symbolic language.  It is talking about the Babylonian Captivity.  God was not going to throw people into a literal hot furnace.  They were not literally going to burn and they were not literally going to melt but they were going to face the wrath of God.

This fiery furnace was a symbol of judgment.  The NT actually uses the furnace as a symbol of Hell, because it is the fullest expression of the wrath of God (cf. Matthew 13:41-42, 47-50).  Nebuchadnezzar later had a literal fiery furnace in Babylon and put some people in it.  He threw anyone in it who did not worship him.  This fiery furnace is the furnace of God’s wrath.

A Powerful Application

And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. 31 Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God.” (22:30-31 ESV)

This chapter ends with a powerful application.  What is it talking about?  You have to know the historical background to understand it.  Cities in the ancient world had walls.  They had strong walls.  They were often tall.  When a nation wanted to attack the city, they first attacked the walls of the city.  They would look for the weakest part of the wall and keep hammering at it until there is a hole in the wall.  If someone found a hole in the wall, they were to repair and fix it and if they could not do that, soldiers would stand in the gap.  They would be willing to lay down their lives and say, “You are not getting past me. You are not getting in.”

God is not talking about physical walls here.  He is talking about when things get really bad, when it looks like the whole nation has gone to pot and even looks bad in the church.  Usually we do nothing, except talk about how bad things are.  God said, of the Jews, “You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD” (Ezekiel 13:5).

When things are really bad, God is looking for someone to do something about it.  Some of the saddest words in the Bible are the words BUT I FOUND NONE (22:30). The priests were not gap standers.  The prophets were NOT gap standers.  The princes were NOT gap standers.  The people were NOT gap standers.  God could not find one.  He was not looking for a few good men.  He was just looking for one, not one church but one man but couldn’t find one.

God is looking for someone to stand in the gap.  He is looking for someone to take a stand.  He is looking for someone who is not afraid to be unpopular and stand up for the truth.  He is looking for people to pray. When the nation began to worship a golden calf, Moses stood in the gap and interceded for the nation (Psalm 106:19-23).

There are three types of people in this world.  Some make the gap bigger and bigger.  They cause problems.  Some stand in the gap.  They try to solve problems and fix things.  Some do nothing.  They do not get involved at all.  They are the silent majority.  Which are you? What are we doing to fix what is broken in our family, in our church, in our city or in our nation?

This verse shows that one man can make a difference.  God can use even one person to change things in a church, in a city or in a country.  God was looking for someone to stand in the gap in Ezekiel’s day and He is looking for someone to stand in the gap today.  He is looking for people he can use.  He is looking for people who have the courage to take a stand.  The Bible says, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him”(II Chronicles 16:9 NIV). In fact, it says this twice (cf. Zechariah 4:10).

D.L. Moody was a shoe salesmen with a fifth grade education.  He was converted in a shoe store. He once heard a Sunday school teacher say that the world has yet to see what God can do with a man who is fully devoted to Him. Moody said “I will be that man” and ends up traveling a million miles and preached the gospel to a hundred million people.

[1]Ezekiel has mentioned scattering more than ten times earlier in the book (5:2, 10, 12; 6:8; 11:16-17; 12:14-15; 17:21; 20:23, 24, 34, 41).

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