We continue working through The Book of Ezekiel as it pertains to the theme of exile and return. Chapter 14 leads us into an exploration of some of the roles God plays in our lives and how they serve as metaphors for the way he provides and cares for us. The first two examples in Ezekiel focus on God as a father and God as the head of an enterprise.
Well, let’s go to Ezekiel, if you’ll turn there. We’ve been in this Exile and Return series. Jeremiah, Lamentations, now we’re in Ezekiel.
Jeremiah was a prophet to the nation from Jerusalem. He stayed; he never went into exile, and he wrote Jeremiah both before and after the exile, or during. And he declined to go to Babylon, even though he could have gone as kind of a—and so Jeremiah was one of the preeminent exile prophets, staying in Jerusalem the whole time.
Ezekiel went in the second wave. Daniel goes in the first wave, which was in 605. And then 597, Ezekiel goes.
Ezekiel is in the countryside of Babylon prophesying, and Daniel is actually in Babylon itself in the administration. So we get these three perspectives on the same time period.
And we’ve talked about all these minor prophets. Almost all of them have something to do with this time period in exile as well as 1 and 2 Chronicles. The Bible spends a large percentage of its pages on this episode, the exile and return; and we’re going to try to look for the lessons in it.
Last week we introduced the book of Ezekiel, and we met these crazy creatures, these giant things with four faces. You remember the four faces that they had? Ox, Eagle, man, lion. Those are the four faces, and these giant things, this big thunder head with the boiling fire, and God and his throne on top, and these voices coming out. And they’re always going straight on.
And we talked about how this message that God is giving to Ezekiel where he gives Ezekiel the call, and he says I’m asking you to go and tell people what I want you to tell them, and do what I ask you to do. And it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be brief, and people generally are not going to listen to you. And I just want you to tell them anyway! Just keep on talking. And it’s a very difficult job that God gave Ezekiel to do.
And these crazy creatures show up again in chapter 10, and it’s a big surprise who they are.
So let’s look at Ezekiel 10:12. And their whole body, with their back, their hands, their wings, and the wheels that the four had, were full of eyes all around.
As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing, “Wheel.” You’ve heard that before, right?
Each one had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub—it’s a little different— the second face the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
And the cherubim were lifted up. This was the living creature I saw by the River Chebar. The river Chebar is where the first vision happens.
Who is this crazy creature? What is this crazy creature? An angel. What kind of angel? A cherub.
Now when you think of a cherub, what do you think of? Fat cheeks. Precious Moments. A little naked thing with a little arrow. Isn’t that hilarious? This is what the real cherub looks like. It’s a Star Wars creature in a giant cloud that makes you scream.
The cherub—you’ve got the wings, so there was a cherub over the Ark, the Ark of the Covenant. This is mostly what we see when we see angels in the Bible, we see these cherubs.
One of the faces is changed in Ezekiel 10. Instead of an ox, there’s a cherub face. And maybe it is that cherubs have ox-like faces. It’s possible. Or maybe they just kind of change their faces as the moment requires it.
You know, we know from Star Trek that there’s animals in the universe that can take on different shapes, right? Isn’t that part of what we know?
This is some pretty wild stuff going on here. But I think the point that God is making—at least one of the points is this is my presence. I’m giving you the power of my presence so that you can have the motivation to do what I ask you to do.
God always gives us the provision that we need to do what he asks. And one of the messages is the Spirit’s in the wheels, and he goes wherever the Spirit goes. And Ezekiel was lifted up by the Spirit. So that was last week’s lesson.
This week what I want to do is start in chapter 14. And what we’re going to see in chapter 14 is we’re going to see a father’s love. And dads are sometimes scary people.
Did you ever have in your life a time where you told people how unfair and how lacking in perspective your parents were? How they just didn’t understand your situation? If only they knew, they would do something completely different.
And did your parents ever say to you something like, “Maybe someday you’ll understand, but right now this is in your best interest”? And then you grew up and you started realizing, wow, my parents weren’t quite as dumb as I thought they were. And then you found yourself telling your own kids exactly the same thing. Yeah, lots of nods. Everybody’s gone through this.
Well chapter 14 is going to be a parenting chapter. And then we’re going to look at chapter 15, one of the real shortest chapters that you’ll come across. And we’re going to see the boss chapter where God has an enterprise that he runs, and he wants us to be part of that enterprise, and he wants us to be effective. And then we’re going to look at chapter 16, and we’re going to see the husband chapter. And when we are estranged from God and don’t follow his ways, he has a real visceral reaction to it. And we’re going to see that.
God as Israel’s father
So let’s look at chapter 14, and let’s look at this fatherly love.
Now some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. These are the leaders of Israel. And they came and sat down.
And the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Son of man—Now, Son of man is this sort of a princely title. Son is the person who runs the enterprise in this family-business culture. And this is actually the same phrase that is used of Jesus, Son of man. So God has given Ezekiel a very elevated position here. He calls him Son of man.
“Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity.
OK, so what does having an idol in your heart cause you to do? Sin. It causes you to sin. Now, I don’t know if it’s the only thing that causes you to sin. This passage wouldn’t require that interpretation. But, most certainly, if we see sin, it’s likely we have an idol in our heart.
Idols are what? What is an idol?
Something we desire more than God.
Something we desire. What else? Especially in this timeframe.
It’s a physical statue.
It could be a physical statue. It usually has a physical representation of some kind. We normally have that.
But what is it? What is the idol?
Something that you trust in to give you something.
It’s something that you trust in to give you something. Remember, we had, in Jeremiah, when Jeremiah is talking to the people, and they’re trying to get him to go to Egypt, and they say, “Well—”
And he says, “Don’t worship the queen of heaven anymore.”
And they said, “Well, when we worshipped the queen of heaven, we had food and drink and everything we wanted. And when we stopped, all this disaster happened.”
And Jeremiah said, “How stupid are you? It’s exactly the opposite of what you said.”
Because what we want is something that gives us what we desire. That’s what an idol is.
And it can be an external power. It can be an internal power. It can be another person. It can be most anything. What are you trusting in to get you what you really desire?
Well, these guys had something besides God that they were trusting in.
Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them?
Verse 4. “Therefore speak to them, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Everyone of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him who comes, according to the multitude of his idols,
So these guys are coming and saying, “Here’s what we want.”
And God says, “I’m not going to talk to you about what you want. I’m going to talk to you about your idols.”
These people would be happy to get from God what they want because God—they’d be happy for God to be another one of their idols, wouldn’t they? We’re always happy to serve God as long as he’s behaving and giving us what we desire.
When God says, no, that’s not that’s not the way I operate. Let’s take care of your idols first. The idols are going to cause you to stumble.
Now, if you have a child that is really, really dedicated to putting their fingers in the light socket, what do you do? Put a plug in. Plug them. Okay that’s a good thing to do.
Let them try it once.
Let them try it once. Okay. We’re going to work with you on your parenting a little bit.
Did you actually try it yourself?
I have a friend that did and he has a lifetime scar from it. Unfortunately, he wanted to put his tongue in it.
This is not a good thing, right, for kids to do this. And sometimes they’re really dedicated to that sort of thing, right? They’re just really insistent. It’s a great desire of theirs, and they can’t understand, why are you getting in my way of doing this?
Well, this is the same kind of attitude God has here. You’re going to destroy yourselves, and this is not constructive behavior, so I’m going to stop it.
Verse 6. “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations.
For anyone of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who separates himself from Me and sets up his idols in his heart and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, then comes to a prophet to inquire of him concerning Me, I the Lord will answer him by Myself.
I think this is probably one of the reasons why we don’t like to come to the scripture because God does us the same way. When we come to the scripture, he’s going to deal with, who are you trusting, what choices are you making, if we’re paying attention. And our tendency is to say, “Oh, no, that’s not what I want. I want to make my wife behave.” Or, I need this job, this employer to behave. I need my 401K to behave.”
And God’s really interested in the heart foremost.
Ezekiel 10:9. “And if the prophet is induced to speak anything, I the Lord have induced that prophet, and I will stretch out My hand against him and destroy him from among My people Israel.
This kind of attitude needs to be removed.
You know, in the New Testament, we see, sometimes, God removing people because they’re corrupting the rest of the folks. This discipline can be severe. But it’s for protection.
Verse 12. The word of the Lord came again to me, saying:
“Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it.
Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,” says the Lord God.
This is a really amazing passage.
And what he’s saying here is, normally, three righteous people can preserve a whole nation. That’s pretty encouraging, isn’t it? You can have an immense impact where you are just by serving God yourself. It spreads, and it influences people around them. And it can preserve an entire group of people. And that’s the normal circumstance.
But there comes a point past which it just doesn’t work anymore, and God has to judge; and this was such a point.
So God wants us, as his people, as his elect, to do what’s in our best interest. He’s our Father. He doesn’t want us to go into self-destruction. If we insist on it, then he’ll give it to us. And he’ll give it to us in such a way as to protect others.
There are consequences to our actions.
God as the head of an enterprise
Ezekiel 15. God’s also running a substantial enterprise, and he’s got things he needs done. And he wants us to be useful.
Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying:
“Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any other wood, the vine branch which is among the trees of the forest?
OK, you’ve seen a vine of some kind. Have you had vines at your house? What’s a vine like at your house if it crawls up the side of the house or something? How would you describe that?
It takes over. How big is the trunk? Yeah, there’s no trunk, is there? It’s just little stems. And what happens when it dies?
It dries out. And then what do you do with it? Throw it away or burn it. Why?
It’s dead. Why don’t you make a carving out of it? It’s just little spindly things, right? There’s just not much use. It’s pretty good for starting a fire. It’s just not very useful stuff.
If it was an oak tree and it died, what would you do with it? Yeah, you might cut it down and make a bed out of it, right? Or turn it into 2 x 4s and make a house out of it or something, right?
So this is the point. He saying,
—how is the wood of the vine better than any other wood, the vine branch which is among the trees of the forest?
Is wood taken from it to make any object?
Do you go get wood vine?
“Hey, what is that? Boy, this is really pretty furniture. What’s that made out of?”
You’ll never hear that, right?
Or can men make a peg from it to hang any vessel on?
Okay, so we can’t make furniture out of it. We can’t make a house out of it. How about just making a peg to put on the wall to hang your shirt on? Can we at least do that? You can’t even do that!
If you take a grapevine and you put it on the wall and you hang your shirt on it, what’s it going to do? It’s just going to break. It’s a twig, right?
No, Instead, it is thrown into the fire for fuel—We can make a fire with it. —the fire devours both ends of it, and its middle is burned. Is it useful for any work?
Indeed, when it was whole, no object could be made from it. How much less will it be useful for any work when the fire has devoured it, and it is burned?
“Therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so I will give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will set My face against them.
What was Israel’s job in the world? What did God set up Israel to do? What’s its job?
Light to the nations. What else?
Be separate. What particular job functions did they have? They have these purposes, these charges. What’s actually the job function they’re supposed to have? Priestly. They’re supposed to be a priestly nation, right? Light to the nations, separate. Because what are they supposed to be doing to the nations? Showing them how to come to God. Everybody comes to Israel, and they see, this is how you do life! Let’s go be like that! That’s their job.
And God put them in the intersection of the world, the middle of the world. All the silk routes went right through Jerusalem.
That’s why there have been so many wars there because it’s the world’s best tollbooth. And every king or every tyrant wants a big tollbooth. Why do you want to tollbooth? You can collect lots of money, and you don’t have to really work for it. Everybody’s after that, right? It’s the taxmania place. I mean you can just haul it in.
The most fought over ancient piece of ground is Megiddo because it’s where multiple trade routes came together.
God put them right there so that they could be this light, so they could be a different kind of people, and everybody could come through and say, hey, this is how you do life.
And they’re worse off than their neighbors now. They’re not doing their job, and if we don’t do our job, then we’re not being useful.
We see this same picture in John 15. Jesus says in John 15, my father is a vine dresser. He plants grapes. Now in the ancient world, most of the time grapes were planted in the ground. If you plant grapes in the ground, they’ll still produce grapes, but they also produce lots of roots. So if you want them to produce more grapes, you put them on a trellis. Fewer roots, more grapes.
And that’s what John 15 says. If the grapes don’t produce enough, my father lifts them up, puts them on a trellis. And if they produce fruit, then he prunes them. Again, we’re reorienting the energy away from making vines to making grapes.
Why does he do that? That he wants fruitfulness. He wants usefulness.
And if they won’t produce any grapes, then we’re in Ezekiel 15. You just take it and put it in the fire because that’s all it’s useful for.
God wants us to be useful. And what has he called us to be? Priests to the world.
He’s called us to be members of a body to one another, to serve one another. And that’s our job.
And he wants us to be useful. And if we’re not, we’re not doing our job.