Scripture Text – Ezekiel 18-21
Responsibility is one of the major themes of these four chapters. By dealing with the subject of personal and national responsibility, Ezekiel was able to answer the frequent complaints of the people that the Lord was treating them unfairly. Responsibility and accountability are needed themes in our own day. Irresponsibility is rampant and very few people are willing to take the blame for wrongs committed or mistakes made.
National Responsibility – Continued
Please read Ezekiel 20:1-44 for the background to this section.
Israel’s future kingdom (Ezekiel 20:33–44) – continued. From the last lesson: “I will purge the rebels” and they will not be allowed to enter the land of Israel and enjoy the blessings of the messianic kingdom.
As for the true believers who receive their Messiah, God declares, “I will accept them.” God will establish a sanctified nation that will worship Him in holiness. As the result of this New Covenant and new spiritual experience in their hearts, the people will come to know their God as well as know themselves and loathe themselves for the terrible sins they have committed. They will no longer blame their fathers for their own sins! They will come to know the grace of God, for all the blessing He showers on the nation will be for His name’s sake and not because of any merit on their part.
There are some that teach that verses 33-44 apply to the restoration of the Jewish nation, however, that theory can’t be applied to the return of the Jewish exiles to the land of Judah in 538 B.C. This was not an exodus from many countries nor did it result in the glorious restoration of the Jewish nation. We have to apply this paragraph to that time in the future that Ezekiel describes in chapters 33 to 48, when Christ will return and the promised kingdom will be established.
Please read Ezekiel 20:45-21:32 for the background to this section.
Ezekiel has explained the individual responsibility of the people and their leaders and the national responsibility of Israel. Now he focuses on the fact that God has a responsibility to punish His people when they rebel against Him. He must be true to His character and true to His covenant.
God identifies the target (Ezekiel 20:45–49). Frequently in this book, God commanded His servant to “set your face” against something or someone. This was one way to point out the “target” at which His judgment would be hurled, in this case, Judah and Jerusalem.
The prophet assumed a posture of stern judgment as he announced that threatened judgment was about to fall against “the South,” and Judah and Jerusalem were in the territory south of Babylon. Using the image of a forest fire, he described the invasion of the Babylonians and the destruction of the Jewish nation. When you study chapter 21, you learn that the fire represents the deadly swords of the soldiers and that the “south” represents Judah and Jerusalem. According to Ezekiel, it was the year 591 B.C. when he gave these messages, so in five years, the Babylonians would set fire to the holy city and the temple. During Israel’s wilderness wanderings, God didn’t severely punish His people for their rebellion because He wanted to honor His name before the Gentiles; but now He would honor His name by burning their city and temple and sending them into exile, thus showing that He was also a just God when it came to His word.
God draws the sword (Ezekiel 21:1–7). The word “sword” is used nineteen times in this chapter to represent the invasion and attack of the Babylonian army. God has His eye on three targets: the land of Judah, the city of Jerusalem, and the holy place of the temple. However, as is often the case, some of the righteous would suffer along with the wicked since this is so often the case in times of war. Note that God declared that it was “My sword,” because it was He who summoned the Babylonian army to punish His sinful people. God is sovereign and He can use any individual or even nation to accomplish His will!
At this point, God commanded Ezekiel to perform another “action sermon” by groaning and sighing like a man experiencing great pain and grief. When the people asked him why he was groaning so, he would tell them, “Because of the news when it comes,” referring to the news of the fall of Jerusalem. The news wouldn’t come until January of 585 B.C. (Ezekiel 33:21–22), five months after the city had been burned, which was August of 586 B.C.; but the Lord told Ezekiel that the news was coming. The exiles nurtured the false hope that the Lord would spare the city and the temple, but everything the Lord had prophesied would come to pass.
God sharpens His sword (Ezekiel 21:8–17). In this second “action sermon,” Ezekiel not only cried and wailed, but he struck his thigh and clapped his hands together. It’s possible that he was also brandishing a sword as he spoke, although the text doesn’t state this. The Lord was preparing the Babylonian army to be effective and efficient in carrying out His plans. Despising the king of Judah, the sword of Babylon would turn Judah’s scepter into nothing but a stick! The invading soldiers would be so effective that one swordsman would do the work of three, and for the Jews there would be no escape. Even the Lord would applaud the soldiers as they executed the judgment that He had ordained. Perhaps some of the Jews recalled Ezekiel’s previous “action sermon” using the sword (Ezekiel 5:1–4).
To Be Continued