We continue to explore the metaphors of God as father, manager, and husband. What is our part? Using Ezekiel 17 and 18 as a guide, we explore the power and the opportunity of our choices. We examine the oaths of Israel and an invitation for all of us to choose life as opposed to death. No matter what setting we find ourselves in, we have to do our best to remain faithful, to stay true, and to continue to steward the choices in front of us.
Well last week, we did three chapters of Ezekiel; and this week we’re going to do likewise.
We’re in a series called Exile and Return. We started with the notion of the Garden of Eden and how the first tangible act of death that entered the world on the day that Adam sinned was exile, where he was purged from the Garden of Eden. He was exiled.
And this grand human drama that we’re in is all about us being exiled from our proper place of living, the Garden of Eden, where we live together in perfect harmony with nature and with one of another and with God. And, ultimately, that’s going to be restored in the new earth. And the Tree of Life will once again be in the center of the new earth.
As a matter of fact, the Jews call it Gan Eden. Isn’t that what they say called the new earth, the Garden of Eden? There’s actually a restoration.
And we talked about how much of the Old Testament is actually about this topic of the exile and return of the nation of Israel to Babylon. And we went through the books of the Bible, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and all the minor prophets, with just a couple of exceptions, are about this topic, so it’s a very relevant topic.
The prophet Ezekiel prophesied before and during this time of the exile, and he was in the country of Babylon, but not in the city. Daniel was in the city itself and actually serving in the administration. And we have Jeremiah who stays back in Jerusalem the whole time.
So these three prophets are three geographic spots and all prophesying about this same time period.
Last week we looked at Ezekiel 14, 15, and 16. And we saw in 14 that Ezekiel depicts God as a loving father giving discipline and instruction. If you’ll do this and have a good choice in this way, you’ll have good results. If you have a bad choice, you’re going to have bad results.
And we looked at God as an employer, a boss. He wants us to be useful. And if we’re not doing what he asks us to do, we’re just like grapevine someone is using to try to make something out of. It’s useless wood. You can’t even make a peg to hang a shirt on.
And then we looked at God through the eyes of an aggrieved husband with a harlotrous wife, who is even worse than a harlot because this wife is actually taking all the blessings God’s given her—this is Israel he’s speaking of—and just giving it to these paramours, not even receiving payment. And so this is the visceral reaction of God to a wayward people.
Choices have consequences
All of this, of course, has a theme running through it, and today we’re going to really focus on that theme, which is that choices have consequences. And what God wants us to do is choose life and not death. Every day in every way, we have the personal responsibility when the attendant consequence is to choose life and not to choose death. There is this personal responsibility and there’s a national responsibility to choose life.
We’re going to look at three more chapters in Ezekiel today starting with chapter 17.
Israel’s oath with Babylon
And the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Son of man, pose a riddle, and speak a parable to the house of Israel,
And then he goes into this parable, and I’m not going to read it, but it’s basically about an eagle and a tree. And I’m just going to give you the bottom line. If you want to read the parable, I’d commend you to do that.
17:11. This is the meaning of the parable:
Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Say now to the rebellious house: ‘Do you not know what these things mean?’ Tell them, ‘Indeed the king of Babylon went to Jerusalem and took its king and princes, and led them with him to Babylon.
Remember there were a couple of exiles before the exile that included the temple destruction and the wall destruction. There’s one in 605. That’s the one Daniel went to Babylon under.
There was one in 597. That’s the one Ezekiel went to Babylon under. And then there was 586. And with the 586, hundreds of thousands died. There was the destruction of the wall, the destruction of the temple, and this is the one that the Lamentation was written about.
Verse 13. And he took the king’s offspring, made a covenant with him, and put him under oath—This would be an oath of loyalty— He also took away the mighty of the land, that the kingdom might be brought low and not lift itself up, but that by keeping his covenant it might stand. Daniel was one of those mighty of the land that was taken, the princes and those of great capability. —but that by keeping his covenant it might stand.
15 But he—the king of Israel—rebelled against him by sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and many people. Will he prosper? Will he who does such things escape? Can he break a covenant and still be delivered?
And God’s answer is no.
The first big choice of life and the first big choice that has substantial consequences is whether or not you keep your word. This whole book, this whole series of prophecies, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, a major theme running through it is just keep your covenant with Babylon, and everything will be okay. Don’t break your covenant with Babylon and trust in Egypt.
Now who’s worse Babylon or Egypt? That’s a debatable question really. It would be hard to say which one’s worse. God doesn’t like either one of them. They’re both pagan. They’re both corrupt. They’re both nasty.
One was being used as God’s arm, and Nebuchadnezzar turns out to be a really righteous guy in time because of God’s interaction with him.
And he’s using Babylon, and it doesn’t matter how corrupt the other party is. If you make an oath, you keep it.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said it this way: You understand from the law that you’re to keep an oath, but I say if you say yes, then make sure it means yes; and if you say no, make sure it means no. You shouldn’t need an oath. Your word should be so trustworthy that it’s not necessary to put it in contract. It’s not necessary to put it under oath because you are trustworthy.
Israel’s oath with the Gibeonites
Let’s look at an incident that I think is really amazing that gives an example of this in 2 Samuel. 2 Samuel 21.
Now let me give you a little background. Joshua was the guy who brought the Israelites over the Jordan River and into the land of Israel. Joshua came in, and they fought the battle of Jericho, and they took it.
Shortly thereafter, these guys showed up on some mules. They’re all dirty. They had this old crusty bread, and they had old water skins. And they said, we heard about you back when you were traveling in the wilderness. We came to make peace with you. We come from a long ways away.
You remember what the name of these guys was? The Gibeonites. The Gibeonites. And Joshua made a peace treaty with them without checking with God. And then shortly thereafter, they discovered they were actually in the land just nearby. They’d just tricked them.
And they said, we’re going to keep our covenant with you, but because you tricked us, you’re going to serve the Levites and do their bidding for them. You’re going to be servants. And the Gibeonites said, “We’re good with that. We just don’t want to die.”
Here we are in chapter 21, hundreds of years later. This is Saul now. Joshua, all the judges, Samuel, Samuel anoints Saul, Saul is displaced by David, hundreds of years later, here we are in chapter 21.
Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord—how come we have a famine? What’s the problem? And the Lord answered, “It is because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites.”
So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; the children of Israel had sworn protection to them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah.
Therefore David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And with what shall I make atonement, that you may bless the inheritance of the Lord?”
Hundreds of years later, and God says, look, you didn’t keep your promise, this national promise.
Keeping your word is a big deal to God, and not keeping your word has serious consequences, even if it’s to a pagan.
One of the things about our culture and the direction it’s going that distresses me the most is watching the number of times on TV commercials—the few times that I don’t hit the mute button in time—the number of times that lying is glamorized. “Buy this electronic gadget, and it will enable you to lie to your wife and get away with it.” That sort of thing. It’s just kind of embedded.
This is choosing death and there are serious consequences to choosing death, both personally, as in the Sermon on the Mount, and nationally, as with the nation of Israel and here with the nation of Israel.
God executed this third invasion where the entire wall and the temple was torn down and a big part of the reason was they didn’t keep their word. Choose life. Chapter 17, keep your word.
Everyone is responsible for their own actions
Chapter 18, everyone’s responsible for their own actions. This personal responsibility—now we’re going to focus in on personal responsibility—this personal responsibility in Ezekiel 18 is for you.
Now I know our tendency is to take our personal responsibility and transport it onto other people. “I couldn’t help myself.” “I was raised this way.” “This person forced me to do it.” “I only did it because they did it.” That doesn’t work. Each one of us is responsible for our own decisions.
Let’s read chapter 18. The word of the Lord came to me again, saying,
“What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying:
‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
And the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
In other words, I take a big lemon and take a big bite of it, and my son Lee goes, “Woo! Mmm! That’s really sour!”
See that doesn’t happen. You see the problem? My actions are causing consequences for my children. That’s the proverb. “This is happening to us because of our parents.”
Now if you go to Africa today, that’s still a very common thought. They still practice ancestor worship there. And the thought that the ancestors are integrally involved in their lives is still prominent today.
You remember when the disciples came to Jesus and asked about the blind man? Remember the question he asked? What did the parents do to make this guy be blind? This is still a popular view in many places in the world.
And we still have a semblance of that today. And, in fact, as parents, we have an influence on our children, right? And it matters what we do with our children. And our parents had an influence on us.
But we still make the choice. We all have different tendencies, but we make the choice.
Let’s look at this. And we still have this idea of personal responsibility. Our choices are ours, and our consequences are ours.
The word of the Lord came to me again, saying,
“What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying:
Verse 3. “As I live,” says the Lord God, “you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel. Stop saying that.
“Behold, all souls are Mine;
The soul of the father
As well as the soul of the son is Mine;
The soul who sins shall die.
When I say choose life, I’m talking about you choose life, and you choose life or choose death.
But if a man is just
And does what is lawful and right;
If he has not eaten on the mountains
Nor lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel,—eating on the mountains is idolatry.
Nor defiled his neighbor’s wife,
Nor approached a woman during her impurity—menstrual cycle.
If he has not oppressed anyone,
But has restored to the debtor his pledge;
Has robbed no one by violence,
But has given his bread to the hungry
And covered the naked with clothing;
If he has not exacted usury
Nor taken any increase,
But has withdrawn his hand from iniquity
And executed true judgment between man and man;
If he has walked in My statutes
And kept My judgments faithfully—
He is just;
He shall surely live!”
Says the Lord God.
Now, obviously, he’s not going to live forever. It’s appointed a man once to die. But I think you’re talking here about the consequences of his actions in his life. That doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen; what it means is the consequences of his choices are going to be good. And these consequences, as we know, go on indefinitely.
18:10. “If he begets a son who is a robber
Or a shedder of blood—here’s the righteous man. His son’s a robber.
Who does any of these things
And does none of those duties,
But has eaten on the mountains
Or defiled his neighbor’s wife;
If he has oppressed the poor and needy,
Robbed by violence,
Not restored the pledge—pledge meaning a poor person has given you his cloak, and you don’t give it back that night so he can be warm.
Lifted his eyes to the idols,
Or committed abomination;
If he has exacted usury
Or taken increase—
Shall he then live?
He shall not live!
If he has done any of these abominations,
He shall surely die;
His blood shall be upon him.
“If, however, he begets a son—so now the robber has a son
Who sees all the sins which his father has done,
And considers but does not do likewise;
Who has not eaten on the mountains,
Nor lifted his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel,
Nor defiled his neighbor’s wife; etc.
—He shall surely live!
Obviously, in this parable here, the robber has lived long enough to have a son, right? He didn’t die physically. So what we’re talking about here is the consequences, the fruits, of your actions.
Let’s look at a parallel passage in Galatians 5. Bear in mind the things that the robber did and so forth, the unrighteous person; and bear in mind the things that the righteous person did.
Galatians 5. This is about the Spirit and the flesh. The Spirit lusts against the flesh, and the flesh lusts against the Spirit. They have this passionate desire for the same thing, and it’s our choice that we make. What are we going to choose? Are we going to choose the Spirit, or are we going to choose the flesh?
And then he says if you want to know which one you chose, here’s how you can do it.
Verse 19. Now the works of the flesh are evident—you can tell whether you’re reaping death or life. Here’s how you can tell:
—adultery—same thing as the robber, right?—fornication—same thing as the robber—uncleanness, lewdness,
idolatry—You’ve seen this list before—outbursts of wrath—That’s the prequel to violence.—selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders—There’s the actual outgrowth of outbursts of wrath.—drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God, we know from just a few passages over—if you look at the famous verse, Colossians 3:23,
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,
knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance—
This inheritance that we’re talking about, inheriting the kingdom of God is a reward. And it’s something that begins to happen in this life as we reap the consequences of life.
If you want to know if you’re reaping the consequences of life, here’s how you can tell:
Galatians 5:22. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
This is what the righteous man did. He made sure people had their wages. He kept his word. He brought harmony rather than violence. When he had someone in need, he provided for them. You see the difference?
And Galatians 6:7, we get the bottom line, and it’s the same thing we’re talking about in Ezekiel 18.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
Which again is not just a gift. When we believe on Jesus, we get the gift of everlasting life. Whether or not we experience it and the extent to which we experience it depends on the extent in which we walk in the Spirit versus walking in the flesh.
So the robber lived long enough to have a son, physically; but the consequences of our actions in our daily life is life versus death.
Have you spent much time with someone who was a substance abuser? Have you spent significant amounts of time with someone who was prone to fits of rage? Have you spent significant amounts of time with someone to whom everything’s about them? Have you spent a significant amount of time with someone who’s violent? Have you spent a significant amount of time with someone who’s constantly sowing the seeds of dissension? Is that a happy experience? It’s not, is it?
But these people that walk in the fruit of the Spirit that are constantly sowing harmony, that are constantly sowing peace, that’s who we love being around, right? Because when we walk in the Spirit we’re fulfilling the law. We’re fulfilling it. It’s coming to life, and we’re bringing life to the sphere around us because actions have consequences.
I think that sets up the next chapter we’re going to do, which is chapter 20.