Ezekiel 21:18-20 (NIV) 18 The word of the LORD came to me: 19 “Son of man, mark out two roads for the sword of the king of Babylon to take, both starting from the same country. Make a signpost where the road branches off to the city. 20 Mark out one road for the sword to come against Rabbah of the Ammonites and another against Judah and fortified Jerusalem.
On verses 18-20: According to scholars, when Jerusalem (led by King Zedekiah) rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 588 B.C., there were two other cities, also under Babylonian rule, that were rebelling against King Nebuchadnezzar at the same time. Those other two cities were Rabbah (the capital of Ammon) and Tyre. Tyre was the most difficult of the three cities to attack, so King Nebuchadnezzar narrowed it down to two options: attack Jerusalem or attack Rabbah. Which one would he choose?
To illustrate in a prophetic way the decision-making process King Nebuchadnezzar would go through, God tells Ezekiel to “mark out two roads for the sword of the king of Babylon to take” (v18), effectively creating a fork in the road. (It is not clear what exact medium Ezekiel would use to illustrate this fork in the road. Would he draw a map, create a small-scale model as with Lego bricks, or build a life-size model? For fun I could imagine Ezekiel in a construction hard hat driving a bull dozer and constructing a life size model. Whatever medium Ezekiel chose, I’m sure it was something that would grab the Israelites’ attention.)
Ezekiel 21:21-22 (NIV) 21 For the king of Babylon will stop at the fork in the road, at the junction of the two roads, to seek an omen: He will cast lots with arrows, he will consult his idols, he will examine the liver. 22 Into his right hand will come the lot for Jerusalem, where he is to set up battering rams, to give the command to slaughter, to sound the battle cry, to set battering rams against the gates, to build a ramp and to erect siege works.
On verses 21-22: Here we read of 3 ways that King Nebuchadnezzar would try to decide what he should do, most probably with the help of his most trusted fortune tellers. First, he would take a number of arrows marked with an occult symbol, attach one option to each arrow, shake the arrows in a quiver, and the first arrow that dropped out would indicate what decision he should make. This was one form of a divination practice called belomancy. Second, he would consult idols for guidance. Third, he would kill an animal and examine its liver to see what it tells him about his future (a practice called a hepatoscopy).
All of the methods Nebuchadnezzar would use were different forms of divination. What is divination? Divination is the attempt to discover hidden knowledge by calling on the help of spirits and by interpreting signs that are believed to be given by them.As much as people in the world today still resort to, believe in, and pay for divination, divination comes with 3 significant dangers. If you aren’t clear on the dangers of divination and fortune telling, or how seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit is different from divination, check out this sermon called Jesus, Fortune Telling and The Dangers of Divination.
Praise God that we don’t need to resort to divination to help us discern God’s will for our lives. That is because God has given us three much more powerful, more peace-producing and more effective ways to discern His will: His Word, His Holy Spirit, and His church. When there is a fork in your road and you are trying to figure out your future, I pray that you would have increasing wisdom to know how to look to God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s church (God’s people and in particular Christians you respect) to help you discern God’s will.
Ezekiel 21:23-24 (NIV) 23 It will seem like a false omen to those who have sworn allegiance to him, but he will remind them of their guilt and take them captive. 24 “Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘Because you people have brought to mind your guilt by your open rebellion, revealing your sins in all that you do–because you have done this, you will be taken captive.
On verses 23-24: Even when King Nebuchadnezzar’s own people think that their divination methods have incorrectly chosen Jerusalem as their next target, King Nebuchadnezzar will choose to go after Jerusalem anyways (v23). Why? It’s because divination, coincidence and even King Nebuchadnezzar’s will were not the ultimate reason for King Nebuchadnezzar attacking Jerusalem and taking the people captive. It was because God’s hand was at work, using this situation and using King Nebuchadnezzar to discipline the Israelites for their open rebellion against Him.
What can we learn from this?
God can use anyone, even those who do not acknowledge Him or worship Him, to accomplish His will, whether they even know it or not. God is sovereign and He has authority over all things. One way or another He will make sure His plans are accomplished.
Notice that the word “captive” is repeated in verses 23-24. Sin can have a captivating effect on us. At first, certain sins can seem so captivating to us in an exciting, exhilarating way, but when we actually get involved in the sin, it’s captivating in another way: it takes us captive. Instead of setting us free and bringing us happiness, sin enslaves and makes us miserable.
Ezekiel 21:25-2 (NIV) 25 “‘O profane and wicked prince of Israel, whose day has come, whose time of punishment has reached its climax, 26 this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low. 27 A ruin! A ruin! I will make it a ruin! It will not be restored until he comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to him I will give it.’
On verses 25-27: Here Ezekiel has a message specifically for King Zedekiah of Judah, whom Ezekiel calls the “profane and wicked prince of Israel” (v25). The message is that though King Zedekiah is exalted with the crown right now, he “will be brought low” (v26). His kingship will become “a ruin” (v27). In other words, Zedekiah (who was installed as a puppet king by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon) will be deposed until such time as “he comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to him I will give it.” (v27b) This prophecy would be fulfilled in part when Zedekiah would be taken captive and executed by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. Ultimately, however, this prophecy is pointing us to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the rightful ruler of Israel who will one day take possession of the crown and control of Jerusalem.
Just as God was in the business of deposing a weak king in Jerusalem and ultimately to install Jesus Christ His Son as the rightful king, so God wants to do that in our lives as well. May we humble ourselves, lay down our crowns, and relinquish control to Jesus Christ, the rightful ruler and owner of our lives.
Ezekiel 21:28-32 (NIV) 28 “And you, son of man, prophesy and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says about the Ammonites and their insults: “‘A sword, a sword, drawn for the slaughter, polished to consume and to flash like lightning! 29 Despite false visions concerning you and lying divinations about you, it will be laid on the necks of the wicked who are to be slain, whose day has come, whose time of punishment has reached its climax. 30 Return the sword to its scabbard. In the place where you were created, in the land of your ancestry, I will judge you. 31 I will pour out my wrath upon you and breathe out my fiery anger against you; I will hand you over to brutal men, men skilled in destruction. 32 You will be fuel for the fire, your blood will be shed in your land, you will be remembered no more; for I the LORD have spoken.'”
On verses 28-32: Despite God directing King Nebuchadnezzar to attack Jerusalem first, God still had unfinished business with the Ammonites and the city of Rabbah. Here verses 28-32 describe how God’s wrath would come against the Ammonites for their sin, despite the Ammonites receiving “false visions…and lying divinations” (v29) that they would be okay. Though the Ammonites may have thought that they had escaped the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar, they would not escape the wrath of God. Here God confirms that He will “pour out” (v31a) His wrath upon them and hand them over to “brutal men, skilled in destruction” (v31b).
What can we learn from this?
God’s wrath against sin does not discriminate between cultures, ethnicities or backgrounds. God is Lord over all the earth and demands that justice be served and that injustice be stamped out, no matter where that injustice takes place.
By our own effort we can’t escape God’s wrath toward our sin. The only true way to escape God’s wrath is when God decides to have mercy on us. Praise God that in His mercy God sent His Son Jesus Christ to accept God’s wrath for us, so that through faith in Jesus Christ we could go from objects of God’s wrath to objects of God’s mercy.
Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us Your Word, Your Holy Spirit, and Your church so that we can more easily discern Your will for our lives, such that we don’t need to resort to divination. Jesus, thank You that when sin took me captive, You came and rescued me, laying down Your life so that I could escape God’s wrath. Be exalted and glorified today as the rightful ruler and owner of my life. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!