Elon, North Carolina
The last time we were together, we began looking at Ezekiel 14. It is a very interesting chapter. There are some shocking statements in this chapter, shocking statements about God. God says, “If a prophet is deceived, I, the LORD have deceived him.” This week, we will learn some things that will challenge some things you have always believed about God and about prayer.
This is an important chapter. Ezekiel gets two messages from God in this chapter. The chapter is divided into two parts. There is a phrase that occurs twice in the chapter. Ezekiel 14:2 says, “and the word of the Lord came to me.” Ezekiel 14:12 also says the words, “and the word of the Lord came to me.” Ezekiel receives two words from God.
One word is about the SIN of the leaders. One word is about the FATE of the nation. One if these words is CONVICTING. The other word is SHOCKING. One word is about people who were living in BABYLON. The other word is about people who were living in JERUSALEM. Let’s look at the first word.
The First Word
The chapter begins with a visit by some of the religious leaders in Ezekiel’s day. They, like Ezekiel, were exiled to Babylon but they were no just EXILES. They were the ELDERS. People respected them and normally came to them with questions.
God appears to Ezekiel. He speaks to Ezekiel. He gives him visions of heaven. He gives him prophecies of the future. He does all of these crazy prophetic signs in front of the people. The elders have more questions for Ezekiel. We see God’s reaction to their visit.
You would think that God would be happy with these elders. You would think that He would be happy when people come to church. You would think He would be happy when they join a small group or attend Sunday School but He is not always. He was not too pleased with these elders.
Why not? They were hypocrites. They were religious and spiritual on the outside but not on the inside. That sounds very similar to the Pharisees in the NT. They came to Ezekiel with questions and wanting to hear a word from God, pretending to be sincere, but they had idols in their hearts. Let’s think how this applies to people today.
Many people today, many Christians today have the exact same problem these elders had. They can come to church to worship and praise God but have idols in their heart. It is okay to come to church with addictions, if you are coming to get help.
Some do not come to get help but to put on a show. They worship the true God on the outside but worship another god on the inside or deny that they even worship idols. They deny that they have a problem at all.
God said of some people that they, “draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV).
Some pray and even ask God for some things but they have unconfessed sin in their life. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (ESV). Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (ESV).
Isaiah 1:15-17 says, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (ESV).
When Jesus was on earth, many came to Him with questions. Some questions were genuine and sincere. Some were insincere. Some were not questions to get information but to trick Jesus. What is your motive who you come to a Bible study? I know some people who live in unconfessed sin but love to study the Bible.
What is the point? They do not do anything it says. It is like the Pharisees in John 5. They loved to study the Bible. They would study the Bible all day and all night but they hated Jesus. That is strange. Jesus wrote the Bible. He is the theme of the book. Jesus said to them, “You search the Scriptures … but you refuse to come to me to have eternal life” (John 5:39-40).
Some Christians choose to live a life of sin and then seek a Christian counselor. What is the point of going to a Christian counselor when you have already rejected what God has to say? It is like saying, “I am not going to do what God says but I would like to see what a Christian counselor has to say.” That is similar to what the elders in Ezekiel’s day were doing.
Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols (14:4 ESV)
God had only one message to these religious hypocrites. He told them to REPENT. “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations” (14:6 ESV). That is the same thing God said in Isaiah 1. He did not want more worship or more singing or more prayer or more bible study. He wants repentance first. Now we come to the second word in this chapter.
The Second Word
This second word had to do with the destiny of the nation. It was a difficult word. It was depressing. It was all bad news. In the second half of the chapter, we learn three things. First, God’s judgment is severe. Second, it comes in four forms. Third, it cannot be stopped. Let’s look at this.
Ezekiel 14:21 says, “For this is what the LORD God says: How much worse will it be when I send my four terrible judgments–sword, famine, wild animals, and plague–to Jerusalem to kill both people and animals!”
These four judgments are explained in the chapter. Famine is mentioned in Ezekiel 14:13. Wild beasts are mentioned two verses later in Ezekiel 14:15. The sword (warfare) is mentioned in Ezekiel 14:17 and pestilence is mentioned in Ezekiel 14:19.
All of these judgments were providential but God says that they are not just acts of nature or acts of warfare but are ACTS OF JUDGMENT. Some say that it is never God’s will for anyone to be sick ever. In this passage, He sends sickness on people. It comes from Him.
I am not suggesting that every time you get a cold, you are living in sin but this chapter proves CONCLUSIVELY that God can send sickness and disease on people. One of God’s four dreadful judgments that He sends on His own people in this chapter is pestilence (14:21).
These four judgments came about the same time. Babylon put a blockade on the city, which led to food shortages and starvation and disease. There were wild animals in the street. Eventually, they broke through the barrier and started killing people.
What is interesting is that these same four judgments will be repeated in the future by God. This time it will not just be judgments on Jews. Revelation 6 mentions the same four judgments when the seals are opened and you see the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.
When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with SWORD and with FAMINE and with PESTILENCE and by WILD BEASTS of the earth. (Revelation 6:7-8 ESV).
Many say that this has already taken place. The four horsemen have already come. This is taking place right now. There may be a partial fulfillment now but much of this chapter has not been completely fulfilled yet. A fourth of the earth has not been killed
What is the bad news in Ezekiel 14? These four judgments were going to come. Judah was going to fall and there was absolutely no way to stop it. Judgment is inevitable. The city cannot escape what will happen to it. The situation was so bad that God made two shocking statements about the city.
Two Shocking Statements
1) Prayer could not save the city
The situation was so bad that there is no point in praying for it. That is strange. I thought there was always hope. God said not even to pray for Judah. We see this in the Book of Jeremiah.
11 The Lord said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. 12 Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.” (Jeremiah 14:11-12 ESV). That is strange. I thought we were supposed to pray for everybody. Here, God says, “Don’t pray for these people.” He says it again in Jeremiah.
“As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. 17 Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.
19 Is it I whom they provoke? declares the Lord. Is it not themselves, to their own shame? 20 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched” (Jeremiah 7:16-20 ESV).
It did not matter how many people prayer or how much faith they had, Judah would still be destroyed. Many people think that the key thing about prayer is faith. Jesus said, “If I have faith as a mustard seed, I can move mountains.”
John also said, “I we ask anything, ACCORDING TO HIS WILL, He hears us.” If we do not ask according to His will, it does not matter how much faith we have. We could have two hundred pounds of faith. It will still not be answered.
When should we stop praying for something? What if you are praying to be healed and you have prayed for years and it has not been answered? Should you stop praying? Jesus said that people should always pray and not faint. He gave a whole parable about a persistent widow to illustrate this.
Even when God seems silent, we should pray. The only time we should stop is if we have a word from God to stop praying. If we have prayed for something and feel confident that God’s answer is no, we should stop praying.
The Apostle Paul received a thorn in the flesh and it came from Satan (II Corinthians 12:7). We do not know what this thorn in the flesh was. Nobody knows. It was not a literal thorn but it was IN THE FLESH (body) and a thorn is painful. It hurts.
What did Paul do? He prayed for God to take it away. He prayed three times. God said no. Even apostles did not always get their prayers answered, so we should not feel too bad when it happens to us. We are low on the totem pole.
God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9). God said, “My grace is all you need. You can live with that thorn.” Why did God not answer that prayer? God used it to help Paul. Whatever problem this was, it kept Paul humble. God once again was sovereign over Satan and uses him for his own purposes.
Judgment on Judah was inevitable. It could not be changed. Prayer would not do any good. Even if the three most righteous people on the planet prayed, God said that it would not do any good.
2) Righteous people could not save the city.
Ezekiel mentions the names of three righteous people and says that even they could not save the city. In case you did not get the point, Ezekiel says it four times in this chapter. With each of these four terrible judgments, we are reminded of this fact.
12 And the word of the Lord came to me: 13 “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, 14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God. (14:12-14 ESV)
16 even if these three men were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither sons nor daughters. They alone would be delivered, but the land would be desolate. (12:16 ESV)
18 though these three men were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they alone would be delivered. (14:18 ESV)
20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness. (14:20 ESV)
Lessons from Three Men
This is a very interesting point. There are some interesting lessons that we can learn from these three men. Let’s look at four basic lessons.
1) There are righteous people in the world today
There are some righteous people in our world. There were righteous people in biblical times. Ezekiel mentions three of them – Noah, Job and Daniel. Two lived before Ezekiel (one lived before the Flood) and one was a contemporary of Ezekiel. These three men were tested. They were righteous.
Noah was tested by the Flood. Daniel was tested by the lion’s den and Job was tested by trials. Noah was righteous in spite of wicked surroundings. Daniel was righteous in spite of harsh persecution and Job was righteous in spite of personal suffering but no matter how godly they were, there were some things that they could not do.
These three men were not only considered righteous by those around them (not only had a reputation for being righteous by their peers), they were declared righteous by God. God said, “Have you considered my servant Job.” Daniel was also praised by God as a righteous man. All three were declared to be righteous men in the Bible. Noah walked with God.
In the OT they are called sah-deek. Twice God says that the cause of their deliverance would be their “righteousness” (14:14, 20). The Book of Ezekiel recognizes that certain people are righteous and even names some of them.
That is interesting. Paul said that there were none righteous, “no not one” (Romans 3:10). One passage says that there are NONE righteous, while another says that there are SOME righteous.
Is that a contradiction? Who is right? Are people righteous or are they not righteous? They are talking about two completely different things. One is righteousness in an ABSOLUTE SENSE (compared to God) and one is righteousness in a RELATIVE SENSE (compared to man).
2) God knows who the righteous are
Righteous people are not always recognized by society. They are not always honored. In fact, they are usually persecuted and hated. The world does not honor them. In fact, some times the church does not even honor them but God does. He called these three men by name and pointed them out to Ezekiel.
3) There is great value in being righteous.
James says “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16 KJV) or as the NIV says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” It has GREAT value. Psalm 34:14 says, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.”
God says that if Noah, Job and Daniel were in the city, they would be delivered because of their righteousness. Their own righteousness did not save them but it would have protected them from this particular judgment. Proverbs 10:2 says that “righteousness delivers from death.”
4) There are some things even they cannot do.
These three men were godly. There are some things even a righteous person cannot do. Noah couldn’t stop the judgment on God. Job couldn’t stop the judgment on God. Daniel couldn’t stop the judgment on God.
The three of them together couldn’t stop it, even with the most eloquent prayers. In fact, they could not even stop God’s judgment on their own kids (Ezekiel 14:16, 18, 20). Ezekiel could not either. That is scary. We will all one day stand before God on our own. Jesus could do what none of the most righteous people on the planet could ever do.