“Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Joel 2:13). The call to return to the Lord is an urgent call: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8). Those who have returned to the Lord acknowledge that His way is best – “Righteous are You, O Lord, and Your laws are right” (Psalm 119:137). They delight in doing God’s will: “Your commands are my delight” (Psalm 119:143).
As in Hebrews 3, we find again, in Hebrews 4, the words, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7). The Word of God speaks of “the coming of the great and dreadful Day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31). We are called to decision – “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14). To those who are in the valley of decision, God says, ‘Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved’” (Joel 2:32). In response to this invitation, we are to say, “I call with all my heart; answer me, O Lord, and I will obey Your decrees. I call out to You; save me and I will keep Your statutes” (Psalm 119:145-146).
“Visions of God” – This is what we have in Ezekiel. These visions are not easy to understand. Their form emphasizes that God is beyond our understanding. We see the glory of God, and we fall before Him in worship (Ezekiel 3:23). We are not, however, to content ourselves with seeing the glory of God as we worship Him. We are to share the glory of God as we witness for Him (Ezekiel 3:27). As we consider this high calling – to worship the Lord and to be His witnesses, we become conscious of our weakness. This is where Jesus helps us. He is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Through Him, “we … receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). Discovering the mercy and grace of God in Christ, we say to God, in worship, “Your compassion is great, O Lord” (Psalm 119:156).
“Alas! because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the house of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine and plague” (Ezekiel 6:11). Alongside these words concerning Israel’s sin and fall, we place the solemn words of Hebrews 6:4-6, words which warn us of the danger of falling away, stressing the importance of pressing on in the “things that accompany salvation” (Hebrews 6:9). “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). We must not take anything for granted. Day-by-day, we are dependent on the mercy and grace of God. Without His mercy and grace, we will fall. Through His mercy and grace, we will stand.
The prophet was shown “the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here (in the Temple), things that will drive Me (God) far from My sanctuary” (Ezekiel 8:6). There were, however, “those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it” (Ezekiel 9:4). There was to be judgment, but it would not fall on those who loved the Lord and His House (Ezekiel 9:6). As we read of the “sanctuary”, which was defiled, we read also, in Hebrews 6:19-20, of the sanctuary which will never be defiled: “the inner sanctuary …. where Jesus … has entered on our behalf.” How are we to respond to the defiling of the sanctuary? We are to spend more time, giving our love to Jesus, entering “the inner sanctuary” where He is – “I hate and abhor falsehood but I love Your law. Seven times a day I praise You for Your righteous laws” (Psalm 119:163-164).
“The glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 11:23) – This is what the visions are about. The glory of the Lord is most fully revealed in Christ. His glory is revealed in salvation, in His power “to save completely those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25). As we read in Scripture of this great salvation, we must pray, from our hearts: “I long for Your salvation, O Lord, and Your law is my delight” (Psalm 119:174). Salvation is not a self-centred experience, all for me, no give and all take. It is a God-centred experience which leads to service, a life committed to doing His will.
God speaks against “those who prophesy out of their own imagination … who follow their own spirit” (Ezekiel 13:2-3). In the face of such false prophets, we must pray, “Save me, O Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues” (Psalm 120:2). How does the Lord save us from lying lips and deceitful tongues? He leads us to the One who is the Truth, our Lord Jesus Christ “who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man” (Hebrews 8:2). How does Jesus save us from lying lips and deceitful tongues? This is what He does: “I will put My laws in their minds and write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10).
The promises of God are given in Ezekiel 16 – “I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you … So I will establish My covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 16:60,62). These promises are fulfilled in “Christ … the Mediator of a new covenant.” Through Him, we “receive the promised eternal inheritance.” Through His death “as a ransom”, we are “set … free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15). “Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger” (Proverbs 27:13) – Through faith in Christ, we receive the garment of His perfect righteousness. Trusting in Him, we are no longer strangers to God. We are secure in His salvation.
The Word of God calls us to repentance – “Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32). This repentance does not earn salvation for us. While we are called to “repent and live”, we must understand that eternal life is God’s gift, given to us on the basis of Christ’s death as the perfect sacrifice for our sins: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). The foundation of our salvation is Christ’s death for our sins: “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.” There is an appropriate response to His saving death. We are to wait for Him – He “brings salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9:28). As we wait for Him, we look forward to life “both now and for evermore” (Psalm 121:8).
God is gracious. Despite all the sin of Israel, described in great detail in these chapters of Ezekiel, God still says, “I will accept you as fragrant incense” (Ezekiel 20:41). He still says, “I deal with you for My Name’s sake and not according to your evil ways and your corrupt practices” (Ezekiel 20:44). How does God deal with us in mercy and grace? He does so through Jesus Christ: “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). Concerning Jerusalem, the Psalmist prays, “May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels” (Psalm 122:7). This is what we have “in Christ” – peace and security. In Him, we have been removed from the realm of our own sin and guilt. We have been placed in His peace and security.
Human sin and divine judgment, described in such detail in these chapters of Ezekiel – this is the backcloth against which we are called to go on with the Lord: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26-27). In the face of our sin and God’s judgment, “our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He shows us His mercy.” We pray, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us” (Psalm 123:3).
The contrast between a life of sin and shame and a life of faith and blessing is highlighted in the comparison between the passages in Ezekiel and Hebrews. The contrast is between living for the things we see – “She saw men … As soon as she saw them she lusted after them” (Ezekiel 23:14-16) – and living and “longing for a better country – a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). Proverbs 27:20 says, “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man.” The glory of the Christian hope is that Death and Destruction will not have the last word. God has prepared a city for His people (Hebrews 11:16). Our eyes will look upon Him, and we will rejoice in Him who satisfies completely – our Creator, our Redeemer: God.
There is, in these passages, the continuing conflict between the life of obedient faith (Hebrews 11) and the life of disobedience (God’s judgments in Ezekiel). The Psalmist makes it clear that the life of obedient faith is not an easy life – “If the Lord had not been on our side … they would have swallowed us alive … the raging waters would have swept us away” (Psalm 124:1-5). The testimony of the Psalmist is clear: “Praise be to the Lord who has not let us be torn by their teeth” (Psalm 124:6). As we read these words, our thoughts may turn towards the Bible’s description of “the devil” as “a roaring lion who goes about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Through Christ, we have the victory – “We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped” (Psalm 124:7).
To Tyre, God says, “Your wealth, merchandise and wares, your mariners, seamen and shipwrights, your merchants and all your soldiers, and everyone else on board will sink into the heart of the sea on the day of your shipwreck” (Ezekiel 27:27). Those who are overladen by their attachment to the things of this world will sink in the storms of life. The Word of God says to us, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1). Though the storms of life be very severe, the Lord’s promise remains true: “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures for ever” (Psalm 125:1).
Many times over, in these chapters of Ezekiel, the words are repeated, “They will know that I am the Lord.” We must view the events of history in relation to God. He is fulfilling His purpose. He is demonstrating that He is the Lord. The demonstration of His Lordship is seen in both judgment – “Egypt will become a desolate wasteland. Then they will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 29:9) – and salvation – “On that day I will make a horn grow for the house of Israel … Then they will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 29:21). The judgment need not be final (Ezekiel 29:13-14). The salvation is not without the reminder of past sin (Ezekiel 29:16). In both God’s judgment and His salvation, we see God’s love and His holiness. Scripture speaks of both “the grace of God” and the call to holiness – “without holiness no-one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14-15). We receive God’s Kingdom with thanksgiving, rejoicing that it “cannot be shaken.” We receive His Kingdom “with reverence and awe”, acknowledging that “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). We rejoice in the Lord – “The Lord has done great things for us.” We pray for renewal – “Restore our fortunes, O Lord” (Psalm 126:3-4).
What a contrast there is between “Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Ezekiel 31:2) and “Jesus Christ” who is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Pharaoh had the appearance of “majesty”, yet he was “brought down” (Ezekiel 31:2,18). Jesus has a glory which will never be diminished. It will be “glory for ever and ever” (Hebrews 13:21). “Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse” (Proverbs 28:6). Jesus didn’t have the riches of this world, but He lived in perfect obedience to His Heavenly Father. Pharaoh had this world’s riches, but he hardened his heart against the Lord. The Word of God leaves us in no doubt about which way is the better way. It’s not the way of Pharaoh. It’s the way of Jesus.
God’s Word must be spoken as a Word which calls for response. The prophet is to “warn the wicked man to turn from his ways” (Ezekiel 33:9). He is to declare that “the Sovereign Lord … takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” The prophet is to say, “Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:11). If God’s Word is to be received as a Word of salvation, it must be “humbly accepted.” We must “not merely listen to the Word.” We are to “do what it says” (James 1:21-22). Our “house” must be built on the Lord (Psalm 127:1). This is the way of wisdom, the way of building on the Rock, which is God Himself. When the storms of life become very testing, those who have built their lives upon the Lord will not collapse – “They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate” (Psalm 127:5). God’s Word promises blessing to those who respond to its challenge with the obedience of faith.
The Word of God speaks clearly about sin and judgment – “See, I Myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep” (Ezekiel 34:20), “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” (James 2:13). God’s Word also gives to us great promises. They are promises of mercy: “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). They are promises of blessing: “There will be showers of blessing” (Ezekiel 34:26). If we are to enjoy the Lord’s blessing, we must fear Him and walk in His ways: “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in His ways” (Psalm 128:1).
The Breath of God (the Spirit of God) brings life (Ezekiel 37:9). When “the tongue … is … set on fire by hell” (James 3:6), the words which it breathes out will be “full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). How important it is that we keep on praying, “Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew.” If the Breath of God is not sweeping through our lives, we will be blown here and there by every wind of doctrine, by “restless evil” which goes from one false doctrine to another, never content to settle upon the stability of God’s Word. There is a blessing of the Lord for those who love Him – “The blessing of the Lord be upon you; we bless you in the Name of the Lord” (Psalm 129:8). This blessing will not be given to those who turn away from the Lord – “May all who hate Zion be turned back in shame” (Psalm 129:5).
God’s Word speaks of His judgment upon sin (Ezekiel 39:23-24). It also speaks of His great salvation from sin (Ezekiel 39:25-29). “Scripture says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6). God’s Word speaks of the choice placed before man – obedience or disobedience, blessing or judgment (Proverbs 28:13-14).
Ezekiel 40:1-49; James 5:1-20; Psalm 130:1-8
The prophecy spoken by Ezekiel has its ultimate Source in God Himself – “the hand of the Lord was upon me” (Ezekiel 40:1). He goes on to describe “visions of God” (Ezekiel 40:2). To speak the Word of God faithfully requires patience. There is not always evidence of great blessing. Nevertheless, we must be faithful like “the prophets who spoke in the Name of the Lord” (James 5:12). Such ministry is to be accompanied by prayer – “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). The prayer and preaching are to be directed towards bringing men and women back to the Lord from whom they have wandered away (James 5:19-20). There is blessing for those who lead others back to the Lord.
Ezekiel emphasizes that the Temple was to be built according to God’s pattern. Our lives are to be lived according to God’s pattern – “Be holy in all you do”, “Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:15,22). The instructions for the building the Temple were precise. The instructions for our living in obedience to the truth (1 Peter 1:22) are comprehensive. Holiness and love – these are the principles which are to guide us in the whole of life. Psalm 131 speaks of humility and hope. With a humble heart, we are to bow before the Lord. Like “a weaned child” trusts “its mother”, we are to trust our Heavenly Father. Such childlike faith is the essence of hope – trust in “the Word of the Lord” which stands for ever” (1 Peter 1:24).
In Ezekiel, the priests are described in great detail. In 1 Peter 2:5, the Lord’s people are described as “a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” This description continues in 1 Peter 2:9 – “a royal priesthood … a people belonging to God. To His people, God gives this call – “Declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” To be “a holy priesthood … a royal priesthood” is not only privilege. It is also responsibility. Concerning this privilege and responsibility, the Psalmist writes, “May Your priests be clothed with righteousness; may Your saints sing for joy … I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall ever sing for joy” (Psalm 132:9,16).
In Ezekiel, we read of many sacrifices being offered to God. In the New Testament, it is emphasized that one Sacrifice is sufficient – “For Christ died for sins once for all, the Righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). We are called to look to Christ for salvation. We are to trust in the Lord. This is the way of true prosperity (Proverbs 28:25). It is the way of walking in wisdom, the way of enjoying salvation. This way is contrasted with the way of trusting in oneself, the way of the fool (Proverbs 28:26).
“The sanctuary will be in the centre of it … In the centre of it will be the sanctuary of the Lord … the Temple sanctuary will be in the centre of them” (Ezekiel 48:8,10,21). Here, we have the centrality of worship in the life of God’s people. First and foremost, God calls His people to worship Him. In all our service offered to God (1 Peter 4:10-11), there is to be the offering of worship – “To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11). This worship is not simply personal worship – ‘you in your small corner and I in mine.” It is the worship offered to God by His people when they gather together to praise Him. It is God’s people responding to the call, ‘Let us worship God.’ “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). When God’s people worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), the Holy Spirit descends upon them “like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard” (Psalm 133:2). As God’s people worship Him, the blessing of the Lord will be given: “There the Lord bestows His blessing, even life for evermore” (Psalm 133:3).
Daniel’s praise, offered to God, in Daniel 2:20-23, highlights for us the direction from which blessing comes. It comes from above. What we do not have is given to us by God – “He gives” (Daniel 2:21), “You have given me” (Daniel 2:23). Daniel’s praise is echoed in Peter’s praise: “To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:11). Again, in Psalm 134, the connection between praise and blessing is underlined: “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord … May the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth bless you from Zion” (Psalm 134:3).
God is sovereign. He is establishing His Kingdom which is heavenly, eternal and glorious – “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a Kingdom that will never be destroyed … it will itself endure for ever” (Daniel 2:44). Alongside the sovereignty of God, there is also the responsibility of man – “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fail, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:10-11). There is no comparison between the kingdoms of men and the Kingdom of God – “I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods … He struck down many nations and killed mighty kings … and He gave their land as an inheritance, an inheritance to His people Israel” (Psalm 135:5,10-12).
“The Most High is sovereign over the kingdom of men” (Daniel 4:17). It is a great comfort to know that God is sovereign. It gives strength in the midst of the conflict. It’s an unequal conflict – God’s Kingdom will prevail over the kingdom of Satan. We must not, however, doubt that Satan will provide determined opposition – “false prophets … false teachers … will bring the way of truth into disrepute” (2 Peter 2:1-2). However fierce the conflict may be, we have this assurance: “The Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the Day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). In the heat of the battle, we must never forget what we are fighting for and who we are fighting for – ‘To be the best that I can be for truth and righteousness and Thee.” In this battle, the Lord Himself fights with us and for us. He enables us to maintain His standard. He keeps us from dropping down to the level of the world’s standards. “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Proverbs 29:7).
Worldly men “praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (Daniel 5:4). They worship things – material possessions. The Lord calls His people to higher things. He tells us that “the idols of the nations are silver and gold” (Psalm 135:15). They are not to be worshipped. We are to “praise the Lord” (Psalm 135:19-21). We are to give the glory to “our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). We are to praise the Lord – “Your Name, O Lord, endures for ever, Your renown, O Lord, through all generations” (Psalm 135:13).
“For He is the living God and He endures for ever; His Kingdom will not be destroyed, His dominion will never end” (Daniel 6:26). “His love endures for ever” (Psalm 136). God is the God of love. His Kingdom is the Kingdom of love. God is eternal. His Kingdom is eternal. The love of God is eternal in its origin. It is eternal in its outcome. The love of God has been revealed in history. Between the beginning and the end, there is the Cross of Jesus Christ: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).