We talk about the seemingly unreasonable things God asks of Ezekiel. We often feel the same way – what he’s suggesting seems unfair or beyond our capacity. Do all of the requests of God have a point and a purpose? How does Ezekiel respond to God’s call and how should we? God doesn’t exist to make people comfortable. In fact, following Him often adds a unique set of difficulties to our daily lives. But faithfulness is always worth it in the end.
I’ve entitled today’s message When God Makes Unreasonable Requests. And we’re going to look at things still in this exile and return time period starting with Ezekiel where God asks some guys to do some pretty crazy things.
So let’s just turn to Ezekiel. While you’re turning there, I’ll just remind you that Ezekiel is a prophet, and he’s in the suburban area of Babylon. There’s obviously good courier service, though, because the people are reading the messages back and forth, so his message gets to Jerusalem as well.
Daniel is actually in the city of Babylon; he’s in the administration.
And Jeremiah stays back in Jerusalem the whole time.
So these three guys are all prophesying during the same time period warning the nation to turn back and then giving encouragement to the nation after the destruction of Jerusalem, that there’ll be a return and a restoration.
We looked at the real overt way in which God makes the point that actions have consequences. We saw this in Ezekiel 3 when God called Ezekiel in the first place. If you look at Ezekiel 3:16, it says,
Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me:
When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.
So the consequences of sin go to the one who commits the sin; and, yet, the responsibility is going to be laid on Ezekiel if he doesn’t warn them.
Last week we looked at a proverb in 18:18 that talked about, “don’t say this proverb in Israel anymore that the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” The father is not going to be responsible for the choices of his son, and the son is not responsible for the choices of his father. Everyone’s responsible for their own choices.
And we didn’t go through this passage but this is a great way to review the passage and make an additional point.
Ezekiel 18:19. “Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?’ Here’s the answer: Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and observed them, he shall surely live.
Everybody’s responsible for their own choices.
The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
And, again, here death sometimes is literal. That’s what happens in the exile. A lot of people die physically. But, obviously, during this time period, people are having kids and raising children and so forth. And life and death is a concept in the Old Testament that has to do with the consequence of blessing or cursing in the fruit of your life.
Verse 20. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
“But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live—
So you’ve got a wicked person, and they’re there bearing the fruit of wickedness, and they’re building up death for themselves. They’re experiencing death. They’re building up consequences of death for themselves in the future. And suddenly they decide, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m going to turn to righteousness.”
It wipes away the fruit of wickedness and replaces it with the fruit of righteousness. This reminds us of Hebrews where he says today’s the day to repent.
Now this next one—well, let me go on. Verse 22. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live.
Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?
See, God doesn’t have any pleasure in sin. He’s not glad because people are having to bear the consequences of their sin, including death. That doesn’t make God happy.
And then, this verse 24 is something I actually think about quite often. “But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty—
Just think about it. Just think about your life. Let’s say that our doctor friends here decided they just wanted to start doing witch doctor potions for people. Do you think that would have any consequences to their medical practice? I think it would. And probably something you couldn’t recover from.
The more you go in life and the more influence you have for the good, the greater the fall potential is, if you screw up. I think about that often.
You know, there’s this myth that our flesh gets better and better, and it’s just wrong. The flesh never improves any. There’s nothing in the scripture about reforming the flesh. It’s crucifying the flesh daily.
Lay on your side for a year
That’s where we’ve come from. So today I’m going to start with the unreasonable demands of God. We’re going to start with Ezekiel, and we’re going to start with laying on your side for a year.
Let’s go back to chapter four. So here’s after Ezekiel has gotten this very strict charge: I’m going to hold you accountable if you don’t do what I ask you to do. And, by the way, people aren’t going to listen, and don’t pay any attention if they don’t listen. I just want you to tell them anyway.
Chapter 4. “You also, son of man, take a clay tablet and lay it before you, and portray on it a city, Jerusalem.
Lay siege against it, build a siege wall against it, and heap up a mound against it; set camps against it also, and place battering rams against it all around.
You can visualize in your mind here a Lego set, you know, where the kids build a little castle and have all the men and all that kind of stuff. He’s building a little scene here for the people to see.
Moreover take for yourself an iron plate, and set it as an iron wall between you and the city. Set your face against it, and it shall be besieged, and you shall lay siege against it. This will be a sign to the house of Israel.
So we’ve got a drama going on here.
“Lie also on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it. According to the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their iniquity.
For I have laid on you the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days—
I want you to make this little scene. Put an iron plate up. And then lay on your left side for ninety days on one side of the iron plate to show that you’re bearing the iniquity of the children of Israel. How does that make you feel? Is that exciting that you’re going to get that great ministry?
And then, the sense you get as you go through this book is people walk by and say, “What are you doing?” And he tells them, “This is what the message is.”
And there’s probably a spattering of, “Have you seen what Ezekiel’s doing? What’s he doing now?” He’s the crazy guy.
Now it doesn’t say here if he lies all day, all night, exactly how this works. But it doesn’t sound like much fun to me.
And when you have completed them, lie again on your right side—
After the three hundred ninety days on your left side, you get to lay on your right side for forty days.
then you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days. I have laid on you a day for each year.
The commentators are not sure which years these days represent. There are all kinds of theories. But that’s not the main point of this. The main point I want to focus on here is, God asked these guys to do some pretty crazy things.
He goes on in verse 9, he says, “Also take for yourself wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt; put them into one vessel, and make bread of them for yourself. During the number of days that you lie on your side, three hundred and ninety days, you shall eat it.
And your food which you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from time to time you shall eat it.
And this is like a ration that you would have in a siege. So while you’re lying on your side for three hundred ninety days, I want you to eat a starvation diet.
Verse 11. You shall also drink water by measure, one-sixth of a hin; from time to time you shall drink.
So you get a starvation allocation of water as well.
And, let’s see, verse 12. And you shall eat it as barley cakes; and bake it using fuel of human waste in their sight.”
And why would you use human waste? What’s the little scene that he’s reenacting? The siege. So there’s no fuel in the city so they start using human waste as fuel.
Now at this point—and Ezekiel’s just sitting there, okay, okay, I’ll do that. I’ll do that.
And then he says “—Ah, Lord God! Indeed I have never defiled myself from my youth till now—Remember Ezekiel’s a priest. —I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has abominable flesh ever come into my mouth.”
Then He said to me, “See, I am giving you cow dung instead of human waste, and you shall prepare your bread over it. We’ll compromise on that one.
So you got all these crazy requests, and he says, “Do I have to use human waste?”
“Oh, you can use cow dung. It’s okay. It’ll be okay.”
It’s pretty crazy, don’t you think?
One of the things that God asked him to do, he asked him to be dumb. I mean, he can’t talk. And he says I’ll help you out by paralyzing your mouth except when I want you to talk. I’ll help you out.
“Oh, thanks. Really appreciate that.”
Chop off your hair and burn it
Second thing that God asked him to do—we’ll start in Chapter 5—we’ll call it chop off your hair and burn it. So we’ve got laying on your side for a year, now chop off your hair and burn it.
“And you, son of man, take a sharp sword, take it as a barber’s razor—So now we’re going to cut, but we’re not going to cut with scissors. We’re going to cut with a sword. —
—and pass it over your head and your beard —so here we are. We’re going to have a public shaving using a sword, and he’s going to do it himself. You get the picture?
—pass it over your head and your beard; then take scales to weigh and divide the hair by weight.
You shall burn with fire one-third in the midst of the city
I want you to take your hair and divide it up into three parcels here. Take one parcel, take it into the middle of the city, and set it on fire.
then you shall take one-third and strike around it with the sword—
So the other third, I want you to go around, throw a little up, and whack it. And then throw a little up and whack it. Throw a little up and whack it. It’s all these dramas that God has Ezekiel doing.
And the other one-third you shall just scatter in the wind—
Now, can you imagine what people are saying with this? Maybe this is why Ezekiel’s not mentioned anywhere else in the scripture.
You shall also take a small number of them and bind them in the edge of your garment.
Then take some of them again and throw them into the midst of the fire, and burn them in the fire. From there a fire will go out into all the house of Israel.
“Thus says the Lord God: ‘This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the midst of the nations and the countries all around her.
She has rebelled against My judgments by doing wickedness more than the nations, and against My statutes more than the countries that are all around her; for they have refused My judgments, and they have not walked in My statutes.’
Therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘Because you have multiplied disobedience more than the nations that are all around you, have not walked in My statutes nor kept My judgments, nor even done according to the judgments of the nations that are all around you’—
therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘Indeed I, even I, am against you and will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations.
And I will do among you what I have never done, and the like of which I will never do again, because of all your abominations.
Therefore fathers shall eat their sons in your midst, and sons shall eat their fathers; and I will execute judgments among you, and all of you who remain I will scatter to all the winds.
Verse 12. One-third of you shall die of the pestilence, and be consumed with famine in your midst; and one-third shall fall by the sword all around you; and I will scatter another third to all the winds—
He’s doing a drama using his own hair. A third are going to die by pestilence. That’s the fire. And then a third by the sword. And then a third gets scattered to the wind. It’s pretty crazy.
Let’s look at 8:17. This is the people’s response to this. And He said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it a trivial thing to the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they commit here? For they have filled the land with violence; then they have returned to provoke Me to anger.
It’s not just that these abominations are some sort of religious practice or something. What sin always results in is trying to control other people and gain our own way. And that always ends up in coercive violence of some kind.
And what God wants is harmony. What he wants is life-giving cooperation among people. And that doesn’t happen when people are sinning.
Look at 9:9. Then He said to me, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is full of bloodshed, and the city full of perversity; for they say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see!’
And as for Me also, My eye will neither spare, nor will I have pity—because these people have done what’s wrong.
In multiple places, he says, you say that I’m not fair, that they are saying, hey, you’re not fair. And God says in return, is it really me that’s not fair? It’s actually you that’s not fair. Because what God does is he sets up consequences. He’s very faithful for them to be carried out.
Don’t grieve your wife’s death
So we’ve got the unreasonable requests number one, lay on your side for a year. Unreasonable request number two, chop off your hair and burn it. Unreasonable request number three, I’m going to have your wife die, and I don’t want you to be sad.
Ezekiel 24:15. Also the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes—that’s his wife—with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep, nor shall your tears run down.
Sigh in silence, make no mourning for the dead; bind your turban on your head, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your lips, and do not eat man’s bread of sorrow.”
So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died; and the next morning I did as I was commanded.
And the people said to me, “What are you doing this for?”
Then I answered them, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
‘Speak to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I will profane My sanctuary, your arrogant boast, the desire of your eyes, the delight of your soul; and your sons and daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword.
And you shall do as I have done; you shall not cover your lips nor eat man’s bread of sorrow.
Your turbans shall be on your heads and your sandals on your feet; you shall neither mourn nor weep, but you shall pine away in your iniquities—
You’ll be so hungry and so starved and there’ll be so much of it, you won’t be able to really mourn.
So unreasonable request number three is I’m going to have your wife die.
Now, actually, with all that’s going on, that might have been a tremendous blessing for the wife because there’s immense suffering coming. But he actually tells Ezekiel in the morning, I’m going to have your wife die, and I don’t want you to mourn, in order to make a point.
God makes Ezekiel the watchman
Let’s look at chapter 33.
Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Son of man, speak to the children of your people, and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head.
He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life.
But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.’
“So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman—
After he’s made all these unreasonable requests—this is the same thing he told him to begin with. Now we got a reminder in here.
I don’t ever see any place here where God gives Ezekiel a hug.
He does that to Jeremiah a few times. Jeremiah says, “I can’t do this anymore, God.”
“Yeah, yeah, you can. Just hang in there, guy.”
But he’s given him the same—it’s all just consequences. I’m expecting you to step up and do this.
When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. I’m holding you responsible. You’re accountable for this, Ezekiel.
Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.
“Therefore you, O son of man, say to the house of Israel: ‘Thus you say, “If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?”’
Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’
“Therefore you, O son of man, say to the children of your people: ‘The righteousness of the righteous man shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression; as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall because of it in the day that he turns from his wickedness; nor shall the righteous be able to live because of his righteousness in the day that he sins.’
When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity—by trusting his own righteousness—none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die.
Again, when I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live.
“Yet the children of your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ But it is their way which is not fair!
When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die because of it.
Verse 20. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, I will judge every one of you according to his own ways.”
See this dichotomy here? Remember in Jeremiah at the end when Jeremiah’s in Jerusalem, and the people, after they’ve seen Jeremiah’s prophecies be absolutely accurate, absolutely true, right down to the last detail, and Jeremiah’s main message has been honor your word to the Babylonians, and this will all be okay. Trust in Egypt and you’re going to get absolutely blasted. They trust in Egypt they get blasted.
And the people come to Jeremiah and say, “We’re going to go to Egypt now. We’re afraid of the Babylonians.”
He says, “Haven’t you been paying attention? Just do what the Babylonians say now.”
“No, no. We’re not going to pay attention to you.”
He says, “You didn’t come to listen to me. You came to try to get me to agree with you. Why won’t you listen to what God says?”
And they answer and say, “Well, because when we sacrificed to the queen of heaven we had plenty of bread and water and our crops were good; but when we start trusting in God, all this happened.”
He said, “You idiots! It’s exactly the opposite! When you started falling away from God is when all this stuff happened. Aren’t you paying attention?”
Well, it’s the same kind of thing here. The perspective of the people is, “Well, God’s just not very fair. He should do things our way! He shouldn’t make all these unreasonable requests. He should make us comfortable! He should do things our way!”
Well, that’s not the way God operates.