Ezekiel 20:30-31 (NIV) 30 “Therefore say to the house of Israel: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Will you defile yourselves the way your fathers did and lust after their vile images? 31 When you offer your gifts–the sacrifice of your sons in the fire–you continue to defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. Am I to let you inquire of me, O house of Israel? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I will not let you inquire of me.
On verses 30-31: As part of their idol worship, the Israelites adopted the wicked and horrific practice of sacrificing their children to the idol Molech by burning their infant children in a massive fire pit. The Israelites hoped that by sacrificing their children to Molech, Molech would bless them with prosperity. In response to this heinous crime and horrific sin, God refused to let the elders of Israel inquire of Him.
As horrible as the Israelites’ child sacrifices were, those of us who are parents or older siblings must ask ourselves, “Do we sacrifice our children – their well being, their spiritual growth, their moral development, and our relationship with them – for the sake of money?” May we not be so consumed by the pursuit of money and material gain that we sacrifice our children in the process.
Ezekiel 20:32-33 (NIV) 32 “‘You say, “We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.” But what you have in mind will never happen. 33 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I will rule over you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath.
On verses 32-44: The Israelites had this tendency to want to be just like the idol-worshiping nations around them (v32). If their neighbouring nations worshiped other gods, the Israelites wanted to worship those gods as well. If their neighbouring nations had a flawed and treacherous king to rule over them, the Israelites wanted a flawed and treacherous king to rule over them too. Whereas the Israelites wanted to be just like their neighbouring nations, God’s response here is that He will not let that happen (“But what you have in mind will never happen” – v32). Try as they might, the Israelites would never be just like any other nation. Here are three reasons why:
God would never treat His chosen people as merely any other nation. His call is irrevocable (Romans 11:29). So even when His chosen people rebel against Him and drift far away from Him, like any parent God will never see His chosen people as merely anybody. He refuses to give up on His chosen people, even when they have given up on themselves.
In the same way, you are chosen by God. You could try to do everything in your power to shed your identity in God and to live just like the rest of the world, but for as long as you live God will never stop seeing you as special and chosen in His eyes.
No matter how much the Israelites would try to be like the world, there would always be a remnant within Israel that knew deep down that they were made for more than this world, that they were made for the purposes of God.
In the same way, no matter how much you try to be like the world, you will never be just like the world. For deep down there will always be a part of you that knows that you were made for more than this world, that you were made for the God who loves you eternally. No matter how much we sin against Him, God can’t get away from His calling on your life, and neither can you. God made you for greater things than the world could offer (Romans 12:1-2).
God would love the Israelites too much to let them have their own way. Verses 33-44 describe God’s plan to intervene and gather the Israelites from the countries where they have been exiled. As we will see in the verses that follow, in at least 3 ways God’s plan would echo what God had previously done with the Israelites many centuries before when they were enslaved in Egypt. Likewise, when God intervenes or interrupts your plans, often it’s because God loves you too much to let you have your own way.
Ezekiel 20:34 (NIV) 34 I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered–with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath.
On verse 34: Here is the first similarity between how God dealt with the Israelites in Moses’ time and how God would deal with the Israelites in exile: Just as God took the Israelites in Moses’ day out of slavery in Egypt “with signs and wonders, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror” (Jeremiah 32:21), so Ezekiel is foretelling the day when God would remove the yoke of exile from the Israelites “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath”, such that they would know that it was God would did it and not themselves or coincidence.
Likewise, it is with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath that God rescued us from sin and death. With outpoured wrath against our sin, God punished His Son Jesus in our place when He hung on the cross. With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm God raised Jesus from the dead.
Ezekiel 20:35-38 (NIV) 35 I will bring you into the desert of the nations and there, face to face, I will execute judgment upon you. 36 As I judged your fathers in the desert of the land of Egypt, so I will judge you, declares the Sovereign LORD. 37 I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. 38 I will purge you of those who revolt and rebel against me. Although I will bring them out of the land where they are living, yet they will not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD.
On verses 35-38: Here is a second similarity. In Moses’ day, some Israelites, despite being rescued from slavery in Egypt, refused to submit to God. Because of their rebellion, God let them die in the desert instead of making it to the promised land. Similarly, Ezekiel foretells that some Israelites in Ezekiel’s day will be bent on rebelling against God and will be left behind somewhere “in the desert” along the way.
Likewise, when we were hell bent on sinning against God, God intervened and sent His Son Jesus Christ to remove the yoke of sin from all of us, making a way for us to come back to Him. But like the Israelites in Moses’ day and the Israelites in Ezekiel’s day, whether we’re part of the remnant that arrives home to be with God or among those who end up dying in the desert on the way there all depends on our faith. Do we hang on to faith in Jesus or do we go back to trusting in ourselves? Place your trust in Jesus Christ. He is our only ticket home.
Ezekiel 20:39-44 (NIV) 39 “‘As for you, O house of Israel, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Go and serve your idols, every one of you! But afterward you will surely listen to me and no longer profane my holy name with your gifts and idols. 40 For on my holy mountain, the high mountain of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD, there in the land the entire house of Israel will serve me, and there I will accept them. There I will require your offerings and your choice gifts, along with all your holy sacrifices. 41 I will accept you as fragrant incense when I bring you out from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will show myself holy among you in the sight of the nations. 42 Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the land I had sworn with uplifted hand to give to your fathers. 43 There you will remember your conduct and all the actions by which you have defiled yourselves, and you will loathe yourselves for all the evil you have done. 44 You will know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name’s sake and not according to your evil ways and your corrupt practices, O house of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD.'”
On verses 39-44: Here’s the third similarity between God’s work in the Israelites in Moses’ time and God’s work in the Israelites in Ezekiel’s time. Just as it was a believing remnant led by Joshua and Caleb that would end up in the promised land, so God would make sure that those who return to Israel to stay are those who believe and worship the Lord (v40-44).
Since God is sovereign and His plan to bring the Israelites back from exile could not be thwarted, God can say in verse 39, “As for you, O house of Israel, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Go and serve your idols, every one of you!” That’s not because God was condoning idolatry. It was because God knew that, despite their current idolatry, many of the Israelites would come back to Him one day, listen to Him and no longer profane His name (v39).
Likewise, God is committed to starting what He finished in you and me. God knows that we will go through ups and downs in life and in our relationship with Him, but for as long as we live He never gives up on us. It is God’s patient and persevering kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Ezekiel 20:45-48 (NIV) 45 The word of the LORD came to me: 46 “Son of man, set your face toward the south; preach against the south and prophesy against the forest of the southland. 47 Say to the southern forest: ‘Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to set fire to you, and it will consume all your trees, both green and dry. The blazing flame will not be quenched, and every face from south to north will be scorched by it. 48 Everyone will see that I the LORD have kindled it; it will not be quenched.'”
On verses 45-48: Here Ezekiel predicts the fall of Jerusalem, as “the south” (v46), “the forest of the southland” (v46) and “the southern forest” (v47) are all references to Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah. Ezekiel predicts that a great, unquenchable fire will scorch Jerusalem. This is indeed what would happen just a few short years later when Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Jerusalem and set fire to it in 486 B.C.
Ezekiel 20:49 (NIV) 49 Then I said, “Ah, Sovereign LORD! They are saying of me, ‘Isn’t he just telling parables?'”
On verse 49: Apparently the Israelites would not listen to Ezekiel despite Ezekiel telling the truth and doing so in such a powerful, creative fashion. The people thought he was just making up stories. God had warned Ezekiel before that he was sending Ezekiel to speak to a rebellious people (Ezekiel 2:2-8). Even so, it must have been frustrating for Ezekiel to give his best and to not be taken seriously.
Likewise, when you do your best to answer God’s call on your life, know that you will not please or convince everyone. Some may mock, misunderstand or otherwise reject you. But remember: it’s part of the calling. We can’t control how people respond to the message we share, and we don’t have to. Just focus on doing the best you can with what God has given you, and God will work out the rest to write a greater story than we could ever write.
Heavenly Father, thank You that no matter how far I stray from You, no matter how much I try to be like the world, for as long as I live, You always see me as Your child and You never give up one me. Thank You that You love me too much to let me have my way all the time. May I trust in You no matter what the world around me is saying or doing. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!