Ezekiel - "Disaster from the Sovereign Lord"        

Preached at Emmanuel   26/8/90

Exactly 2 months ago God spoke to us from the prophet Jeremiah.
The theme was what Jesus promised
      'In me you will have peace - but in the world, trouble!'
Jeremiah's awful message was that God would NOT defend Jerusalem.
Their sin was so great, so universal and without any sign of real repentance
      that God was going to punish them - because they deserved it.
Jeremiah saw, and longed for the coming of Jesus,
      and for a people with new, clean hearts.

This evening we are looking at Ezekiel.
Is his message just ancient history and mystery!?
Another of the largely unread books of the OT - too long, too difficult!
Let's see.

In 612 BC Nabopolassar, the Chaldean,
      who had driven the Assyrians out of Babylon, took the city of Nineveh.
7 years later (605) Nebuchadnezzar routed the Egyptians at Carchemish,
      and became King. He marches on to Jerusalem.
There king Jehoiakim submits without a fight,
      pays tribute out of taxpayers money
      and builds himself a cedar-wood palace.
Daniel and many other skilled men are exiled to Babylon.
      An enforced brain-drain. But Jehoiakim didn't care!
      Life went on - he was still king - so what's the problem!?

There was one man who was a bit of a nuisance.
      But he was soon silenced (well almost) and put in prison.
Jeremiah had prophesied that exile to Babylon was certain.
      But the people all thought it was ridiculous.
God is 'our God', he is good and kind, Mr 'Nice-Guy'.
      Honoured in official functions, but otherwise ignored.

In 601 Nebuchadnezzar suffered heavy losses in his fight with Egypt.
So Mr 'Face-2-Ways' Jehoiakim switches allegiance to Pharaoh Necho II,
      Which didn't please Nebuchadnezzar, who attacks Jerusalem!
Jehoiakim dies and his body is thrown over the city wall as Jeremiah prophesied.
      His teenage son Jehoiachin immediately surrenders.
Nebuchadnezzar makes uncle Zedekiah king,
      plunders the Temple of the gold and silver vessels,
      and takes EZEKIEL and all the able-bodied as slaves to Babylon.

Ezekiel, was a young man of about 25, soon to become a priest.
But he was now a slave in exile.
All his hopes were ruined. He couldn't even serve God.
He had to cut his daily quota of clay bricks and bake them in the sun.
Day after day, week after week. No Sabbaths and no holidays.
      - Just like in Egypt 700 years earlier when they were slaves.
In those far off days they had cried to God and he delivered them.
Surely he would do the same again now; and send them another 'Moses'.
Ezekiel cried to God;
      but the toil went on, and there seemed to be no answer.

To start with everyone said,
      'Come on chaps, God is on our side, we'll soon be back.'
But it had soon worn a little thin, for they weren't back in Jerusalem.
To the sensitive, serious, earnest, imaginative Ezekiel, it was agony.
He had so many questions; and no answers.
Even the guards had begun to taunt them - 'Sing us some of your songs'.
So they sang:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung up our harps for there our captors asked us for songs,
      our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
      they said, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion!'
 Ps 1371,2

Ezekiel cried to God, not just to relieve the endless brick making,
      or even for Jerusalem. He wept for God, who seemed to be so far away.
Last time we sang the hymn:
      My goal is God himself, not joy nor peace
      Nor even blessing, but himself my God:
      'Tis his to lead me there, not mine but his,
      At any cost dear Lord, by any road.
Has this been our constant cry? Or even occasionally?

Ezekiel persisted in his cry for God for 4 long years.
Then the word of the Lord came to him by the river Kebar.
He saw the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord!
He saw brilliant fire and a man whose form was like 4 living creatures.
There were wheels and wings and flashes of lightning.

We do not 'understand' it - and I don't expect Ezekiel did either.
      It defies all logical analysis and wounds our pride.
But the vision did tell him, and us, much about God:
      God is Dynamic - not a fossilised statue from the traditions of yesteryear.
      God is unstoppable - nothing stopped the moving of the Spirit Creatures.
      God's purpose will not change - they moved together, straight ahead.
      just as "Jesus steadfastly set his face towards Jerusalem."
The glory and presence was such that Ezekiel fell on his face before the Lord.
Yes, he now knew that God had arrived on the scene. (He hadn't left!)
And he was overwhelmed for 7 days.

But what did God say to him - practically?
God's priest had become God's prophet with God's message.
He was a watchman and he would be held responsible for delivering it.
The slaves said,
      'What are you looking so glum about?'
'Come on, 'Praise the Lord! - and tell us what he said?'
But Ezekiel just sat there.
His mouth moved, but there was no sound.
Slowly they realised he was DUMB!
Surely Lord, you must have blundered this time.
A dumb prophet that's ridiculous!
But God's ways are not our ways!

What was the vital message that God entrusted to his dumb prophet?
The people will not be freed from slavery.
They will all die here in Babylon.
Zedekiah will not save Jerusalem, nor will Egypt - nor will God!
Indeed he will ensure that Jerusalem and the Temple are totally destroyed.
God said,
      "You must tell them.
      But you will be dumb from now until it is completed!"
And God was not joking!

He told Ezekiel exactly what to do.
The Nebuchadnezzar's of this world don't give their slaves much time off
      to arrange a series of meetings.
      But they do have to allow them time to eat a meal once a day.
So during this time Ezekiel takes one Babylonian 40lb clay brick
      and he starts carving it up - quickly, accurately.
It probably didn't attract a huge crowd,
      but some stood by and watched the street artist at work.
Suddenly they realised it was a model of Jerusalem.
'Here chaps, see there's the Temple, and David's citadel,
      and there's the Pool of Siloam ...' 'What's all this about?' etc etc
Then Ezekiel made siege works and battering rams.
      ... and all the chatter ceased. Numb silence. The message was clear.
Jerusalem would be besieged!
He put an iron plate between himself and the model
      and lies down on his left side.
No jokes, no mime, just a static scene.
      Then he weighed out his food in scales and rationed his water.
      And cooked his food using dried dung!

Next day at break time he weighed his food and lay down beside the model.
And the next day he did the same.
And the next.
It became the joke of the slave camp.
You can be sure that they started taking bets as to how long it would last.
Months passed. A whole year passed. Each day exactly the same.
Then on the 391st day he changed to lie on his right side!
Not exactly an Oscar winning performance.

After 40 days there was a stir at break time.
Here was Ezekiel with a large razor sharp Babylonian sword.
He sat down beside his model and proceeded to shave his head.
Then his sideboards and finally his beard.
What a sight! But no one laughed.
He carefully collected all the hair and weighed it into exactly into 3 parts.
He burnt one part in his clay Jerusalem.
The 2nd part he threw into the air and lunged with his sword again and again.
The 3rd part he threw to the wind and then chased after it with the sword.
That was the end.
He sat down exhausted and just wept.

So shall the Lord deal with Jerusalem. The city will be destroyed.
The people in the city will die by hunger and disease and the sword.
And any who escape from the city will be scattered and die by the sword.

The weeping watchman had faithfully delivered God's message.
Without uttering a single word.
As Dorothy Sayers wrote, "Doctrine must be experienced to be understood."
Ezekiel understood all too clearly.
Now the Jewish slaves in Babylon also understood.

But that was all 2,500 years ago!
We know better now. We say that God will not do that sort of thing again.
He is the God of love and compassion.
Our theology may have changed over the years - but God hasn't!

201 times in Ezekiel he uses the expression "declares the Sovereign Lord"
'Jesus is Lord' is written outside Emmanuel Church.
      But is he Lord inside Emmanuel!?
Can God do what he wills in me? Am I eagerly obedient?
      or is Jesus my Lord only when he does what I want !?
42 times in the first 39 chapters,
      Ezekiel says, "... then you will know that I am the Lord."
When will we really know that?

If God wants to destroy the earth as in Noah's day, so be it.
If God used the brutal Assyrians to destroy Israel,
      does that screw up our ideas about God?
Or if he directed the proud Babylonians to take Judah into exile?
Or if he uses Saddam Hussein to humble the arrogant and greedy West?
Do we say Amen, Lord. You are right and just and true. (Rev 165,7 192)
Do we bow in humility and say - it is only what we deserve.
      or do we say - this is not the loving God that I know!
God has brought judgement before, several times, when deserved.

And if he has done it to his Chosen People; why not to us Gentiles?
For we have rejected our Christian heritage
      and abused our abundant opportunities.
Everyone in this nation has easy, even free access to a Bible;
      but God's Word is largely ignored.
Homosexuality was the sin of Sodom; and we all know what God did to Sodom.
      But we recently gave a knighthood to David Steel, the man who introduced
      the Private Members Bill that made it legal in this country!

But Ezekiel tells us something more about Sodom in Ezek 1649
      "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom:
      She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned;
      they did not help the poor and needy."

Last year (1989) there were over 165,000 divorces - the highest in the EC.
And 1 in 4 babies born here are illegitimate.
We have been arrogant and assumed that we can ignore God's commands.

Last year in the U.K. we spent an average of £ 908/person on food.
      The average for India, China and SE Asia was just £ 65.
In the countries of central Africa
      the average daily calorie intake is just 2120 (300 below the minimum)
      and in Mozambique the average is only 1607! c.f. UK 3218.
We are overfed!

In the present oil crisis (1990)
      we cannot honestly pretend that our concern is for the Kuwaiti people.
Our major concern is for a good, consistent supply of oil to us.
How many column inches have been given to the plight of the Kuwaitese?
Last year in the EC we murdered 667,000 babies by abortion.
We had the chance to change our part of that in the last session of Parliament.
We made a cosmetic change to reduce the time limit from 28 to 24 weeks.
But how many Christians bothered to write to their MP? We have failed.
We are unconcerned.

National, as well as personal debt, is an enormous burden.
Currently Brazil has the largest overseas government debt of £57,000m
      and they have to pay us nearly £ 5,000m/yr. (1/3 the value of all her exports)
In the last 11 years the UK aid to the Third World has almost halved.
      (from 0.51% GDP in 1979 to 0.27% in 1990. The U.N. aim is for 0.7%)
In this country during the same period
      the real income of the poorest 10% has fallen 6%
      while that of the top 10% has risen over 25%.
Is that just?
We have not helped the poor and needy.

These are not just statistics, they are the sum of individual life tragedies.
They are the result of decisions that we have each made.
God sees them all, and God is not impressed!
Are we not guilty of the same sin as Sodom?
      " ... She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned;
      they did not help the poor and needy."

Are we concerned, grieved enough to do anything about any of these issues?
As David Watson said,
      "Will we learn to live simply that others may simply live?"
Do we weep before God as Jeremiah and Ezekiel did?
To Ezekiel, and to Judah his own chosen people, God said,
      "I will not look on them with pity or spare them.
      Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them."
 Ezek 818

If God did this to Judah, his beloved,
      what will he do to us whose sins are so great?
Would not God be right and just to punish us also?

Ezekiel had been responsible for telling the people there was no escape.
There would be no end to the exile in their life-time.

On 15th Jan. 588 BC   God said to Ezekiel,
"Record this date for the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day. ...
With one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes.
  (i.e. his wife)
Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears ..."
What a message!

And so it happened that in the evening his wife, "the delight of his eyes", died.
Every one knew that Ezekiel loved his wife dearly,
      for there are few secrets in a slave labour camp.
So next morning, when the word had gone round the camp,
      they came to pay their respects and offer sympathy.
But there was Ezekiel outside his home - spick and span.
      (as much as any slave could be).
      He was not in sackcloth and certainly not mourning.
Many probably began to criticise him ...
      then they suddenly realised that his smile was not quite natural.
      They saw that his face smiled, but his heart wept bitterly.
Never was a man so grieved and so alone.
But why God?   Why?
And God tells Ezekiel.
Because I am about to desecrate my sanctuary, the Temple:
      the delight of my eyes,
      the place where we were to be together,
      the place of sacrifice and forgiveness and love.
But when they lose the Temple, they will not weep for me,
      they will groan only for themselves,
      because their ease and plenty are replaced by fear, famine and failure.
      They will complain, but not repent!
You, Ezekiel, will be a sign.

Ezekiel did not resign his commission.
Scripture simply records, "The next morning I did as I had been commanded."
If any of you aspire to be a prophet - Beware! the cost is high.

O, and Ezekiel, on the day that Nebuchadnezzar completes this task for me,
      you will speak again.
It will be another sign to my exiled people.

Some two years later on the morning of 8th Jan. 585 BC Ezekiel speaks.
And in the evening the first fugitive who had escaped from Jerusalem,
      when it had fallen on the 9th Av 586, arrived with the dreadful news.
God had fulfilled his word exactly.

For some it led to broken-hearted repentance;
to others it hardened the hatred,
      the stubborn pride that refused to allow their hearts to admit
      the rightful dominion of God in all the affairs of men.
Only human arrogance says,
      "Never mind what the Bible says, I don't think God is like that!"

600 years later God would come himself,
      and "they hated him without a cause."
But to all those willing to repent he brought reconciliation and life.
They would see "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

Ezekiel saw the Messiah, the Saviour of the world too,
      and he had heard him accurately:
      I myself will search for my sheep ...
      I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered ...
      I will save my flock.  (3412, 22)
      I will cleanse you.  (3625)
      A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit I will put within you;
      and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone ...  (3626)
      Prophesy to the bones ... and the bones came together ...
      Prophesy to the breath ... and they lived.

He was not a prophet without hope or faith.
These things which Ezekiel prophesied have come to pass.
      The Lamb of God has searched, rescued and saved.
      He does graciously give us a new, clean heart.
      The bones have come together - Israel has returned to the promised land.
      He is even now breathing upon them.
            Many Jews are now believing in Yeshua, their Messiah.

And Ezekiel tells us how he saw the new temple, the new Jerusalem,
      in which was the glory of the Lord, together with all the redeemed.
He saw the Prince who would provide the sin offering,
      (instead of the priests and people bringing their lambs and pigeons).
He saw the endless, fruitful, healing river that flows from the sanctuary.   (Ch. 40-48)

All this Ezekiel sees - and much more!

But his visions and the ways of God
      cannot be measured in metres or kilograms, miles, years or dollars.
His 170 ft new Temple may seem to some to be pathetically small!  (4113)
If it does, then you will probably be blind to the fact that a young boy's
      bit of rough wood and 2 bent nails is truly a wonderful spaceship.
      And you will certainly not understand Ezekiel!

Ezekiel dies as he began, a clay digging, brick making slave.
the faithful servant and messenger of the Sovereign Lord.

How will you live?       And how will you die?