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.
Divine Responsibility – Continued
Please read Ezekiel 20:45-21:32 for the background to this section.
God directs the enemy (Ezekiel 21:18–27). The pagan nations of that day used many forms of divination to discern the will of the gods, and Ezekiel pictured the Babylonian army at a fork in the road, trying to discover which way to go. Should they go to Rabbath, the capital of Ammon, and attack the Ammonites; or should they go to Jerusalem to attack the Jews? When the Lord told Ezekiel to “appoint for yourself two ways,” he probably sketched on the ground a map of the roads looking like an inverted Y, and at the juncture stuck a “signpost” into the ground. It was God’s will that the army attack Jerusalem, so He overruled the soothsayers and diviners and made sure their decision was for Jerusalem. This doesn’t mean that their system of divining was accurate or even proper, but that the Lord used it to accomplish His purposes.
Nebuchadnezzar decided to attack Jerusalem, so he appointed his captains and made his plans. The people in Jerusalem were hoping he would attack the Ammonites, and when the word came that Jerusalem was his target, they hoped the diviners would say they had made a mistake. But God was in control and there had been no mistake. King Zedekiah had sworn an oath of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar and had broken it (see 2 Kings 24:20), and Nebuchadnezzar would not stand for this kind of rebellion from a weak vassal state. Zedekiah’s sins had finally caught up with him.
Ezekiel paused to give a special message to Zedekiah, whom he refuses to call a king but refers to as a prince. He calls him profane and wicked, a man who has committed iniquity and will suffer because of it. He would lose his crown and his throne. The day had arrived when God would turn everything upside down. The Lord said, “Nothing shall remain the same. Exalt the humble, and humble the exalted.” The word translated “overturn” in verse 27 is awwa, in the original, and we can just imagine Ezekiel lamenting: “Awwa—awwa—awwa!”
But once again, the Lord added a brief word of hope: the Messiah would one day come, the true Son of David and Israel’s King, and would claim the Davidic crown and reign over His people. The phrase “whose right it is” takes us back to the messianic promise that we explored in Ezekiel 19 when we studied the images of the lion and the vine.
God completes the task (Ezekiel 21:28–32). But what about the Ammonites? When the Lord directed the Babylonian army to Jerusalem, did this mean He would not judge the Ammonites for their sins against Him and the Jewish people? They would rejoice to see Babylon ravage the land of Judah and set fire to Jerusalem and the temple. (See Ezekiel 25). Along with Judah and the other nations, Ammon had joined the alliance against Babylon (Jeremiah 27), so Ammon had to be punished. Their own false prophets and diviners would give them a false hope that they had been spared, but God hadn’t told Nebuchadnezzar to put his sword in its sheath. The message closed with another fire, but this time a furnace in which ore was smelted. God would “blow” against the furnace and make it hotter, and then He would pour out the molten metal on His enemies. The Ammonites would become fuel for the fire and the nation would disappear from the earth.
We come away from the study of chapters 18 to 21 with a fresh realization of the tragedy of rebellion against the Lord. Israel has had a long history of rebellion, but the other nations weren’t any better, except that Israel was sinning against the light of God’s Word and His providential care over His people. If any people had the obligation to obey and serve the Lord, it was Israel, for the Lord had blessed them abundantly. Instead of becoming a holy nation to the glory of God, she became like all the other nations and failed to be God’s light to the Gentiles.
Yet, woven throughout this series of messages is the theme of Israel’s hope. The prophet reminded them that God had promised to regather them from the Gentile nations and give them their King and their kingdom. Historically speaking, weak King Zedekiah was the last ruler in the Davidic dynasty, but not prophetically speaking; for Jesus Christ, the Son of David (Matthew 1:1) will one day come and reign from David’s throne. Ezekiel will go on to discuss that theme in detail before he completes his book.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” Ezekiel has defended the justice of God and yet at the same time, magnified the mercy and grace of God. How much we today can learn from his messages!