EZEKIEL 16:1– 18:32 and REVELATION 2:8–11
This chapter captures the sad state of Jerusalem who once had a great promise but has now come to a place of absolute desolation. This chapter will picture the city as a beautiful woman who had promise and blessing but later came to ruin because of her gross sins. The origins of Jerusalem date long before its Israelite existence. The opening verses speak of the city as being birthed by an Amorite father and a woman from amongst the Hittites. This gives the picture of the city being likened to an unwanted infant (vs 1-3). The description goes on to describe this infant as being unwanted and discarded. It was while the city was in this condition that the Lord spoke that it should live.
The developing relationship between the Lord and the city is expressed vividly in verses 7-14. The city in its formation went through many battles to come to its glorious splendour. Joshua and those with him conquered the land of their inheritance which included Jerusalem. There was one enemy in particular that Joshua was not able to dispossess; a group known as the Jebusites (Josh 15:63). This enemy was removed when David ascended the hill of the Lord with the Ark of the Covenant. This hill was Zion and it was here where there was the perfection of beauty. What we see is a piece of land likened to a discarded child being transformed by the Lord into the glorious city that was able to bear His name and presence. Is not this what the Lord does with His people (vs 7-14)?
What happened to this glorious city? What happens to those who have tasted the goodness of God only to be brought down to a ruinous heap? The city and the people played the role of the harlot. They prostituted themselves to heathen deities. This is a result of pride and getting caught up in one’s own beauty. The more we examine accounts such as these the more we understand the 1st commandment that God gave regarding the worshipping of other gods. There is a slow de-emphasizing of the things that relate to God in lieu of patronizing other gods and idols. If this goes unchecked, it opens the door for the spirit of whoredoms to enter in. The more they persist in doing these abominable acts the more voracious the appetite for them. Their spiritual senses become dulled in spite of consistent prophetic warnings. The arms of the Lord are ever reaching out to heal and restore yet they continue on in their sin of ignorance and indifference. There comes a time when the cup of iniquity becomes ripe; a time when the people become so desensitized and immune to conviction that God cannot help but give them up. It has reached such a time with God’s beloved Israel. The situation is now so desperate that they have high places erected at the head of every street. They celebrated sin and reinforced their heathen practices amongst one another in open defiance to God, His laws and His ways. They were taking the treasures that God had given them and lavished them upon the idols of the Egyptians, Assyrians and Chaldeans. This is what happens when the church mixes more and more with the world. It is not difficult in being able to paint a similar portrait to what we see happening in today’s world. I shudder to think how the events will play out in our day when reflecting upon Israel at this period of history (vs 20-34).
A series of judgements are about to be pronounced upon Jerusalem for all of her abominations. The very world that Jerusalem became friendly with would now turn against them. This is seen over and over again throughout history. God will allow the world to break down their idols and strip them of their goods while laying desolate their lands. One of the key phrases seen here and in other places is that they had forgotten the God of their youth. How important it is to seek to rekindle that love and intimacy with God. This helps to destroy any intrusive device of the enemy that he seeks to lay hold of in one’s life. If we do not keep those fires burning it will diminish the flame that needs to be continually lit in our walk with God. This coincides with the warning given to the church of Ephesus in the book of Revelation. If they did not renew their first love, they risked the danger of losing the candlestick (Rev 2:5).
The sins of Jerusalem have essentially allowed the original spiritual inhabitants back into the land. What were the primary sins that enabled these original inhabitants to once again gain a foothold? Since Sodom is mentioned in verse 49 we can look there. Sodom was full of pride, abundance of food, leisure, idleness in addition to tending to the needs of the poor. These sinful attributes draw the enemy like a magnet hence the many abominations that are seen in Sodom. These same attributes are alive and well today and they are having no problem gaining footholds in both cities and churches.
Here is where it gets scary for us today. Sodom was evil and worthy of the judgements that came upon her. The Bible says that if they had the light that the church at the time of Jesus had they would have repented. What about the light and example that we have in our hands today? The blessings of a future Restoration are spoken which will include both Sodom and Samaria. What a great and merciful God that we serve. The sins of Sodom as great as they were will not keep her as a city from being restored. It will be at a different level of restoration than that of Israel but there will be healing. There will be true and genuine repentance that will come upon Jerusalem which will be made possible by the spirit of grace. This grace is available today but it requires a determination and boldness to obtain it. Our day to day decisions help to determine whether we be candidates for grace or not. It requires Truth to be instilled on the inward parts (Psa 51:6) as well as a dying daily mentality (1 Cor 15:31). There is a great opportunity to those who hear and respond to His voice.
Ezekiel will now speak a parable in the form of two eagles and a vine. The Lord was not the only one who used parabolic teachings to make profound points. There are two eagles in this parable; one represents the king of Babylon and the other the King of Egypt. It was towards Egypt that King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah turned to. It was a clear act of rebellion to the Word of the Lord that Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other prophets continually brought forth to Israel. King Zedekiah initially made an oath to the king of Babylon but eventually broke it resulting in his being brought back to Babylon where he would die. The Lord ever pleaded with Zedekiah to consider his trespass and not to look towards Egypt for he would receive no help from them. Once again, we see the same formations at work today. The world (Egypt) has so crept into the church that the church becomes the tail. It reacts and responds to the whims of culture instead of it being the other way around (Deu 28:13).
In verses 11-13 we see a picture that speaks of Nebuchadnezzar coming to Jerusalem to take captive the nobles of the Jewish nation which includes King Jehoiachin. It goes on to speak of the kings seed (meaning Zedekiah who was the uncle of Jehoiachin) to make him king. It is here where the oath between Zedekiah and Nebuchadnezzar took place. This oath would allow for Jerusalem to be abased while at the same time enabling it to stand. In other words, the Jewish nation would become a colony in the Babylonian Empire. This oath later became repulsive to Zedekiah; he revolted and looked towards Egypt (vs 15). This account is covered in 2 Chronicles 36:13. As stated earlier, Zedekiah was brought back to Babylon, had his eyes plucked out and died there.
Israel sought to turn to Egypt to help but they (Egypt) retreated in the midst of the oncoming Babylonian assault. It would have been a far different result if Zedekiah would have maintained the oath that was taken. Zedekiah not only failed to keep the oath, he despised it. God is a covenant keeping God and the keeping of any oath is of great importance to Him. This was an oath that He authored as an act of mercy for Zedekiah and Israel (vs 19). In breaking it he opened himself (and Israel) up to great consequences. This helps us to appreciate how God views oaths when it comes to the subject of marriage (Mal 2:14). It is also one of the qualifications of ruling and reigning upon Mt. Zion (Psa 15:4).
There is another beautiful illustration of God’s faithfulness as he seeks to plead once more with Zedekiah after he is brought back to Babylon. Yes, he despised the oath that was made earlier and yes he disobeyed God’s Word in seeking after Egypt but there still must have been a quality that was seen in him that allowed for God to speak kindly concerning his end (vs 20). There are similarities that were seen in Manasseh. It is the mercy of God that Zedekiah would have this opportunity but what a horrible price he paid. He saw his sons slain just prior to having his own eyes plucked out. It could have been different If only he would have maintained the oath he had made with Nebuchadnezzar.
There are several important lessons that can be drawn from this chapter starting with the first few verses. The Word of the Lord through Ezekiel was making clear that the soul that sins shall die (vs 4). There had been occasions in Israel’s history where a king may sin and the consequences and fallout for their transgression would play out in future generations. This happened with King Hezekiah and it was a false sense of security that ended up permeating much of the land. God was making clear the soul that sins will die; each and every man would be accountable for their respective transgressions. This helps to shed light on what is happening today with the mortgaging away of future generations by reckless spending and debt. There is a live for today mentality that does not think about future consequences. This is the fruit of an entitlement mentality. “I want my share and I do not care where it comes from”. Can you see how this modern day attitude could be tied to the proverb that Israel lived by in Ezekiel’s day? The reason why the Lord was making this statement is that judgement is no longer going to be delayed. The same is true today. The bubble economy that has been building up in recent decades is about to implode and it will affect everybody. We will no longer be able to let the future generations wrestle and figure out how to deal with it. It is going to hit everyone hard. There were many years of prophetic warnings given to Israel concerning judgement but it was not immediate. That is all about to change.
In verses 5-9 there are several attributes listed that will draw us closer to God in the midst of a corrupted atmosphere. We can call these qualities the 17 steps to righteousness. They are listed below:
1. He is just.
2. He does that which is lawful and right.
3. He has not eaten upon the mountains (idolatry).
4. He has not lifted his eyes to idols of the house of Israel.
5. He has not defiled his neighbour’s wife.
6. He has not come near to a menstruous woman.
7. He has not oppressed anyone.
8. He has restored to the debtor his pledge.
9. He has spoiled none by violence.
10. He has given his bread to the hungry.
11. He has covered the naked with a garment.
12. He has not given his money to usury.
13. He has not taken increase.
14. He has withdrawn his hand from iniquity.
15. He has executed true judgment between man and man.
16. He has walked in the Lord’s statutes.
17. He has kept the Lord’s judgments to do truly. (taken from Dr. Bailey’s Book on Ezekiel, the Chariot Throne of God”. How does one become righteous, especially in the midst of an evil environment? One must take time and meditate upon God’s Word while pondering over the keys of righteousness listed above. The message that Ezekiel is bringing forth is a weighty one but we see interspersing threads of hope and restoration. The power of thought and meditation concerning the things of God should not be taken lightly. They can produce a work of inward transformation.
In verses 10-13 there is the thought of a righteous person bringing forth evil sons who are robbers or shedders of blood. This is not a unique problem seeing that others godly men brought forth men who did not walk in the ways of the Lord. There is the example of Samuel who had sons that were corrupt judges (1 Sam 8:3). How difficult a burden that must have been for God’s priest. On the flip side there have been evil people who brought forth a godly seed such as Amon bringing forth Josiah. The primary point that the Lord is trying to make is that every man will be accountable for their actions. We cannot blame our parents even if they were evil and inclined against God. There are definite disadvantages being born into a sinful environment however God is able for people be set free from any besetting sin (vs 14-18).
There is a repeated theme that is expressed in verses 19-24. There are similar references in Eze 3 and Eze33. Essentially is one who is a sinner comes to the place of repenting that person will surely live. In addition, the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father nor the father bear the iniquity of the son provided there is repentance. There is the added blessing of the former wickedness that was committed no longer being remembered. In verse 24 there is the warning of those who had been living righteously who commit sin. If they do not repent of their sin they will be accountable for it. Worse, their former righteousness will not be remembered. Does this help for us to better understand what Jesus said in saying “Depart from me for I never knew you…” This is after this person speaks of the many righteous acts he had previously done. This is an awesome warning and it should serve as an indictment to some of the false teachings that are emerging today. King Solomon makes an interesting point regarding the falling of a tree. Where it falls, it shall lie and die. What does this mean in today’s context? The way a man dies with the spiritual condition he is in is the way he will be for eternity. This is why we want to strive to finish well and strong. When we die, our spirit continues to live but it is no longer constrained by the physical body. There are several tragic examples of people I knew who started well and had significant ministries only to go off the path later in life. It truly saddens me while at the same time warning me of what can happen. These admonitions and warnings need to be taken seriously. This is why they are repeated on multiple occasions throughout Ezekiel.
How did Israel respond to such a warning; what does the church today say in response to what was stated above? They said that the ways of God were unfair and unjust. Today many would say that a just and loving God would never allow for such a thing. They redefine God according to their preferences so as to accommodate their areas of uncircumcision. This is how the subject of grace can be redefined. This is how the subject of sin can become lost in the sea of redefined grace. Those who subscribe to such teachings would not declare God to be unfair openly but they do so by the doctrines they teach and uphold (vs 25-32). Ezekiel 18 should be a chapter that all believers should meditate upon; it should be a chapter that the ministers of God be faithful in upholding.
Rev 2:8-11 (Smyrna)
The 2nd letter is addressed to the church at Smyrna. We learn something about this church by the root meaning of it name. The name Smyrna has the name “myrrh” as its root. It speaks of suffering and death. Myrrh was an embalming fluid for the Middle East. The church was situated in the midst of affluence but they themselves were poor and lightly regarded. They were a suffering church that did not figure prominently on the national scene. By all natural accounts they had the look of being dead which is reflected by their very name.
It is interesting to see that the Lord introduces Himself as the first and the last, which was dead but now alive. This is how the church looked in the natural; it had the look of being dead with little or no semblance of life. This actually describes the city of Smyrna which once had a vibrancy to it but then became dead to only become alive once again. Is this not a picture of the Lord Himself? Can you see how an introduction like this would serve as an encouragement and blessing to those who were hanging on? It is a beautiful introduction that the Lord gives to them to help allow for faith and encouragement to arise. The Lord gives them a very high commendation in verse 9. He notes their hard work and labour of love and He notes their poverty. (In the natural) How did the Lord see them? He saw them as being rich and possessors of the real treasures. Their riches were eternal that were gaining them a heavenly reward. How did the real world and those in the church see the saints of Smyrna? They were poor with very little appeal or sense of spiritual growth. This then leads us to an important question to ponder over. How would the church of Smyrna be evaluated by today’s criterion? Honestly, would we have the ability to see the true riches and value of such a church if they were mired in poverty? (This is in stark contrast to the church of Laodicea which we will consider later) Today’s church is gauged by its growth in numbers, its glitz and outward veneer of fruitfulness. Now there is nothing wrong with growth because it is to the glory of the Lord that His house be full. There is nothing wrong in promoting a spirit of excellence in the presentation of the church. If this were not true then scripture would not make reference to the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon’s temple. The question is what is beneath the veneer? All can look so well on the outside but what really is at work behind the scenes? The church of Smyrna was a suffering church that the Lord highly esteemed. His greatest commendation to the church was that they were given no rebuke by the Lord. The day and hour is at hand where the Lord is testing and tempering each work and each individual life. What will be discovered when the plumb line is applied to our church, to our individual life? There are some verses worthy of note from Isa 28:16-17:
“Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Judgement also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.”
The Lord goes on to encourage them to not fear any of the things that they would suffer. There will be times of great suffering in the days to come to the church. It will require us to be like Daniel and his three friends who were able to prevail in the midst of great tribulation. The Lord was with them and the Lord promised to be with the suffering church (vs 10). There is another key that we find in verse 10. It is the number 10, which has a number of meanings. The number 10 speaks of trials. There were 10 days that Daniel and his 3 friends fasted and prayed after making the intentional decision to separate from the worldly delights of the king’s table (Dan 1:12).
There were the 10 trials in the wilderness in the lead up to Israel’s call to possess their inheritance (Num 14:22). There were 10 days where Johanna and his men sought the Word of the Lord from Jeremiah as to what they should do (Jer 42-43). As believers we are and will be tested. There may be times when we do not even know that God is seeking to prove us. The church of Smyrna was a church that had been tested and proven. The world and church world may not see them as anything significant but God surely did. I think the church world today would evaluate Smyrna with a bit of contempt. It’s the same church world of today that would give Laodicea an A+. We better hear what the Spirit of the Lord is saying to our church and to our lives. I feel this message to Smyrna can serve as an encouragement and blessing to many.
The promise to Smyrna was that they would not be hurt or affected by the 2nd death which is being cast into the lake of fire at the end of the millennium. This should serve as a warning to all of us that we consider well our ways in how we live in this life. Our pursuit should be godliness and holiness so that we can inherit eternal life with our Lord.