This sermon is number 9 in a series of 24
Ezekiel - Part 9
"Strange Answers To Strange Prayers"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2001 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now let me welcome you this evening to the Iron Hall, to our Bible Class. It's our last Bible Reading in this season, it's great to welcome you here tonight to this final study in the book of Ezekiel for this season. Thank you for coming, and let me give you a big thank you also for supporting us right throughout the year in the studies here on Monday evenings. It's been great to see you, we don't take for granted by any extreme your attendance here week after week.
Ezekiel chapter 14, and excuse the screechiness of my voice - I've got a bit of a cold, so there'll be not as much steam tonight maybe, but we'll get through it nevertheless. Ezekiel chapter 14, this is the only chapter we're looking at tonight. We've been looking most of these evenings at two chapters at a time, but there's so much in this chapter - there's so much in all of them - but there's so much in this one in particular that I want to spend a bit of time over it.
Verse 1: "Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them? Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols; That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols. Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to inquire of him concerning me; I the Lord will answer him by myself: And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him; That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord God. The word of the Lord came again to me, saying, Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it: Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God. If I cause noisome beasts to pass through the land, and they spoil it, so that it be desolate, that no man may pass through because of the beasts: Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate. Or if I bring a sword upon that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off man and beast from it: Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only shall be delivered themselves. Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my fury upon it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast: Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness. For thus saith the Lord God; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast? Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings: and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought upon it. And they shall comfort you, when ye see their ways and their doings: and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord God".
The title that you have on your study sheet this evening is: 'Strange Answers to Strange Prayers'. The question often arises on the Christian pilgrimage: does God answer prayer? Does God answer prayer? That often stems from an experience in your life whereby you've sought God over a certain matter, you've sought Him perhaps with crying and tears, yet the answer that you sought never came. We often tell the children that God always answers prayer, and I'm not sure that that is correct - but nevertheless we could say that there are a number of answers to prayer that we can get. We can get the answer 'Yes', we can get what we're asking God for and what we're pleading for. I believe it is true to say that we can also get the answer 'No', when we ask for something that is not according to God's will He is not obliged to give us it. There may be the answer 'Wait, it's not My time yet. Ye have need of patience, though I tarry, I will not tarry' - God will eventually give what you're asking, but He tests us and He causes us to wait for the answer.
But added to those three normal responses that we know to come from prayer, there must be times in our experience when God answers us in a different way than we expect. In other words, when we pray to God for something and He does answer us, but He doesn't give us specifically the thing that we have been looking for. Perhaps there are even times when God gives us an answer to the question that we should have been asking. In other words, God, by the answer that He gives us, tells us: 'Look, this is the thing that you need, not the thing you're asking for - this is the thing you ought to have been asking for'.
In chapter 14 of Ezekiel you have a scenario a little like that, because again in verse 1 you find that the elders of the children of Judah have come again to God's prophet to seek God's word. They've done it before, and now they come again, but as we read down this passage we find that their question to God's prophet is but a veneer of an orthodox faith. In other words, it's like the Pharisees that we've been studying on Sunday mornings as we go through the Sermon on the Mount, there was this outward religiosity, this outward conformity to rule, but inwardly there was dead men's bones. We've seen this in weeks gone by, that what these people needed was one heart - in other words, not a divided heart. What they needed was God to put His Spirit within them, because His Spirit was not residing in their bodies. What they needed was God to do heart surgery, and to take out their stony heart, their cold, subordinate, awful rebellious heart out, and give them a heart of flesh and a heart of obedience to God.
So, as we see them coming to God's prophet, we see the veneer of an orthodox faith. But yet they come, and I believe they're sincere enquirers. I believe that, as they come to God's prophet, they are seeking for a response from God. You have to remember that these are leaders of an exiled people, an exiled community, and I believe perhaps they're coming to Ezekiel with a particular question, addressing God, asking Him: 'What is the way forward for us? What is going to happen? I mean, are we really going to be judged? Are we really going to be destroyed?'. They come looking for an oracle from God, a prophetic utterance to know the future of Jerusalem and the future of the people of God.
We don't know what their question was, but I suspect it may have had something to do with their leadership of the people, as the people continually came to them and asked: 'What is going to happen?'. Perhaps they couldn't cope with the questions of the people of: 'How long are we to remain in exile? How long are we to suffer? How long is it going to be until armies come from Jerusalem and deliver us, and take us back to our riches and back to our land and our home and our loved ones?'. The substance of the question is not really the important thing, what is important is how God answers the question. For God doesn't answer their specific question, but God answers the question they should have been asking - and that was a question regarding their spiritual condition. If I can say it reverently: God never beats around the bush. God goes straight to the jugular, He goes straight to the problem.
That is exactly what He does here. He doesn't answer them and address the question about their earthly geography in Babylon, rather than in Jerusalem. He doesn't talk to them about their physical exile away from the promised land, but He comes to them and brings straight before them their awful spiritual poverty and condition. Therefore they get, as it says on your sheet, the answer that they did not expect. They had come to seek God's word. They had come with their question, yet with the veneer of an orthodox faith, and they come - not realising it, perhaps - that they are guilty of breaking the first and second commandments. Guilty of breaking that commandment that says: 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me'; guilty of breaking the commandment that says: 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image of any living thing'.
So, they come to enquire of God, and they're standing before a holy and a righteous God as transgressors of the law, as abominable sinners, as idolaters. Now, if you look at verse 3 you see a contrast between these men - remember these are the elders in exile, not the elders that we were thinking about in the vision in weeks gone by who were still in Jerusalem, they haven't been exiled yet those 70 elders that we were talking about - but these are elders, the leaders of the people in the concentration camp that Ezekiel lives in by the river Chebar. Now here's the contrast between these elders and the ones in Jerusalem, verse 3: 'Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart' - and you should ring that every time it's mentioned throughout this chapter, it's mentioned about three times in verse 6 again and verse 7.
Here's the difference: in Jerusalem the elders were leading the people openly, there was an open shamelessness in worshipping the gods of Babylon. Remember that Ezekiel saw the vision of that statue of Asherah, possibly, outside the city. Remember God brought him nearer, into the very temple, and took him through that hole in the temple wall, and showed him upon the walls of the temple all of those graven images of all the abominations of filthy unclean beasts that the men of Israel were worshipping - probably gods of Egypt. You remember that God took him even further into the temple, nearer the Holy Place, and he saw men who had their backs to God's Holy Place and were bowing down worshipping the sun. Remember he saw, out in the court, women in tears weeping for Tammuz - and you remember that Tammuz was the fertility god, and by weeping to Tammuz they believed that they would get fertility in their land and in their harvest and in fruit.
That was Jerusalem, all outward - they weren't ashamed of it! But here in captivity it's in the heart - they have the outward veneer of Judaism, and religiosity, and the covenant of Jehovah, but deep in the recesses - and I say this so often because the verse of this hymn grips my soul: 'In those dark chambers where polluted things hold empire o'er the soul'. There were idols, there was Baalism, there was Asherah, there were all sorts of foreign gods of Medo-Persia and Babylon and Egypt, and all sorts of nations, and all the Gentile peoples round about Jerusalem and Israel. They were bowing down to those gods in their heart. With all of that it's still amazing, isn't it, that they didn't hesitate to come to God, isn't it? They didn't hesitate to hedge their bets, to seek God's guidance in addition to their little closet deities. They were following every other god, the Jerusalemites were doing it openly, those in captivity were doing it in their heart, but nevertheless when their back was against the wall, when there was trouble coming, they did not hesitate one moment coming to God with all the other gods in their heart and asking God: 'What are You going to do to help us?'.
Do you know what God said? 'You don't deserve a response! You don't deserve to be answered!'. Even though God told them they didn't deserve a response, He responds anyway, and He says: 'I'm not going to respond through Ezekiel as I have been doing. You're not going to hear the word of God through the prophet - you want to hear me speak to you? Well, I'll speak to you directly!'. We see in the chapters that will follow how God speaks to them directly in His judgement from heaven. God does not address their specific question, but rather He probes beneath the surface to the deeper problems in their spiritual life, the problems of the enquirers. As we read these words together today, as they have been right throughout this book, they are terrible words of judgement - and especially in this chapter they have a tone of a legal sentence, that God has come in His judicial robes and that God has plunged the hammer down upon the desk and pronounced a legal sentence upon His people. God comes to them in mercy, but yet in judgement, and calls them to repentance, calls them to turn from their evil idolatry and their evil ways - but the whole weight of His message is judgement! If you don't repent you will all likewise perish! If you do not turn to God from your idols, if you do not turn to God He will turn His face away from you!
It's an awful thing to think that God was threatening to avert His face from every one of these people who had idols set up in their heart. One author puts it like this: 'When the idolater turns aside it is sin, but when God turns aside it is death'. Awful! Because they turned to their sin, God would turn away from and it would mean spiritual death because the wages of sin is death. But my friend, I want you to see that, just like there was a rainbow in the vision of the glory of God and the chariot throne in the first chapter of this book, and as we've seen right throughout awful hellish chapters of judgement and God's retribution upon the people, right throughout it all there has been this little speck and ray of hope. The reason why God is bringing judgement upon them is not just for punishment for their evil deeds, but God is using this judgement to serve for their salvation, God is wanting to drive them from their evil deeds, to drive them their gods and goddesses and their sins of idolatry. It is His purpose in a heart of love and faithfulness to turn them to Himself again, to restore them to a full knowledge of Himself. Isn't it amazing that even in this awful judgement, God is wanting to bring them back in grace again! Even in the midst of all of this God's grace is working!
In verse 3, which is the key to this whole chapter, we see that these children of Israel, the children of God, were doing what the Lord said a disciple cannot do - do you remember? We cannot serve two masters. The result of serving two masters will be judgement by the Lord - it's very clear. It wasn't openly serving another master, it was subtle, in the heart, inwardly, the spiritual desire for other things, other gods, other occupations, other habits, other spending of your energy and your money and your life and your time. In a world in exile that was crumbling around them, their lives were being devastated, they turned their heart away from God and turned it to the world and the gods of the world. Now I cannot enter in, for one moment, and neither can you, to the anxiety and the pain and tribulation that they were going through in exile. I don't know what it was like, and as I look at the signs that Ezekiel was asked to perform, and the awfulness of these signs - and these were only typifying the suffering that would come upon these people - they were awful! I wouldn't like to go through the signs of Ezekiel, never mind the actual fulfilment of his prophetic acts.
Yet in all of this, perhaps to numb the pain, perhaps to observe that it seemed that God had abandoned them - and: 'If my God has abandoned me, I'll have to seek another God. I need another God to comfort me, I need another God to save me and deliver me from my enemy. If the Lord cannot deliver me, then why not try Marduk the god of Babylon? Why not try Baal or Asherah?'. People do it today: 'I can't escape from the horror, from the captivity, the prison doors within my soul, so I turn to the god of drugs, I turn to the god of a new car, the god of a house, the god of a career, the god of a new business deal'. The thing is this: when we don't find satisfaction in our hearts, this is common to humanity whether it be Babylonian humanity in the ancient Near East, or 21st century humanity today in Ulster, men and women turn away from God to turn and soothe their heart, to dull the pain, ultimately to find satisfaction. Their hearts can be torn between two loyalties, and even the children of God's hearts can be double minded.
We too can be attracted to the false promises of idols, can't we? The spiritual grass greener on the idolatrous other side. Now come on, young people, we must be honest with these things, and older folk you've got to be honest with the young people - they have never had it as bad. What they are facing, and the attractiveness that it seems, as the world worships these idols of sex, drugs, rock and roll, everything that you can imagine - they seem in the eyes of men and women to be satisfying them, that's why they are running after them! The spiritual grass is always greener on the idolatrous other side, but you know the awful result is what you find in verse 5. God says: 'I will take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols'. When you look for a satisfaction and a comfort and a dulling of the pains and anxieties of the world in another god, in another deity, or in things that take away your attention from God Almighty, what happens is: you backslide from God! What happens is, as God says to these elders: you cannot expect to receive a word from the Lord, for God is not deceived.
I suppose, theoretically, Ezekiel could have been deceived by these men. He wasn't, but one thing is certain: God cannot be deceived! Is that not the theme of the book of Ezekiel? You go back to the chariot car in chapter 1, and the wheels within wheels that were touching the earth, but were also touching the cherubim and the throne of God - what was covering those wheels? Eyes, all over, inward, outward. In fact as we looked at the chariot - I think it was in chapter 10, as Ezekiel saw it again - I think he said, if I'm right, that not just the wheels were covered with eyes but the whole of the chariot was covered inside, outside, with eyes. The omnipotence of God!
Saul found to his detriment that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. 'Do you want a word from the Lord, elders of Israel? Well, you'll get one - not through the prophet, but directly from me', saith the Lord, 'I'm going to demonstrate to you my attitude towards you by making an example of you before all the nations and all the world'. Verse 8: 'I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the Lord'. 'Just as Lot's wife became a proverbial example of the dangers of looking back, of the dangers of looking back to the world and all that is in the world, so I will make Israel a byword - I will make them a proverbial warning of the dangers of what it is like to have a divided loyalty, what it is like if you do not follow the Lord fully!'.
I don't know about you, but as I have been studying these words of Ezekiel they have probed my spiritual anatomy like an x-ray. They speak so accurately of the human condition, and the first thing I want you to see of the human condition, yours and mine, in these elders, is their blindness that God exposes. Imagine, you know all the words of judgement that we've had hitherto in this book, and that Ezekiel has delivered to the people - yet they still have not understood anything of Ezekiel's message. They haven't realised yet that God has put them where they are in exile because of their sin, because of their idolatry. They haven't seen, and made the equation in their head: 'This is the wages of our sin. This is the consequence of what we have done'.
The Lord summed that up last week in the statement: 'They have eyes to see, but they do not see; they have ears to hear, but they cannot hear'. They don't see that this is all a judgement for their sin, and the amazing thing of it is, as we look in hindsight: they are still in exile, and they are still indulging in exile in the sins that took them there in the first place. They're like the criminal in prison for murder who, in prison, kills a fellow convict and then wonders why he can't be released from his cell. In exile they commit the same sins, and then they come running to God's prophet looking to God's prophet for when they're going to be delivered! It's worse than that because they wanted to cover every possibility of safety, they didn't just run to Jehovah their covenant God of Judah, but they ran to every god that they could within their heart. They were playing it safe. They came with their faith to God, but they thought that that faith could be usefully supplemented by a little worship of this god, and that god, and the other god. Some could help, perhaps if Jehovah failed, Baal would help. Perhaps if Marduk failed, Asherah would help. 'We'll hedge our bets. The laws of probability tell us that if we follow as many gods as possible then we will be alright' - but God says: 'I am a jealous God! I will not share my glory with another, I will not be set in your spiritual deity trophy cabinet with other gods shining'.
How blind they were! The amazing thing to me is this: they were not the least bit uneasy coming to Ezekiel for God's help. Isn't it amazing? Thinking that God didn't know what they were up to, thinking that God couldn't see into their heart! Running to the prophet of God with all this darkness and idolatry in them, and what a picture that is to me of my own life at times, when I will pursue my own idols, run after my own pet sins - the things that satisfy for a moment my flesh, and my lusts, and my hate, and all that wells up within my heart - but when the need arises I don't hesitate to seek God! Isn't that right? When I need Him, I run to Him. I'm not ashamed, I don't hesitate to ask Him for help and for answers - and the amazing thing about the blindness of the sinner is that they cannot even see the inconsistency in such behaviour.
I think the fearful thing about all this is that, subconsciously in our mind, we begin to believe that God doesn't really see what we're doing. Or maybe not that God doesn't see what we're doing, but that it doesn't matter to God because we've been forgiven, we're redeemed, we're on our way to heaven, and we can have these little idols in our heart yet still the Lord will hear us when we run to Him in trouble - but the message of this chapter in Ezekiel is: God saw what they were doing, and what a shock it was to them when He said: 'Yes, you want me to speak, well I'll speak!', but they didn't like what they heard.
You see the blindness of the sinner exposed, the second thing I want you to see is the hypocrisy of prayer exposed. You see the elders had a request for God, and they were going through Ezekiel to give that request to God. They required an answer from God, and we asked at the very beginning tonight the question: does God answer prayer? The biblical answer to that question is: yes, of course God does - but we said that the answer may not correspond with our request. Now God said clearly in verse 3: 'You don't deserve an answer', but yet He gives an answer to the question - but He answers the question that they should have asked! He told them the thing that they needed to know.
Sometimes the things that we need to know are the most uncomfortable things of all. It's amazing, isn't it? They came to hear words of comfort, but the answer was not what they expected. They came for a balm to their ears, they came for a salve to their conscience, they came for words of soothing succour from a gracious, loving, long-suffering God - but what they heard amounted to a death sentence upon them, that God was finished, that God was coming in judgement! Yet the miracle of it all is: in the very midst of that judgement God's mercy can be found in the fact that He answered them at all!
Hypocritical prayers are just like this. I want you to look into your own heart tonight and be honest with yourself, ask yourself: am I like these men? The hypocritical prayer closely imitates the conduct of real prayers. Isn't that what they were doing? Coming to ask of God with outward sincerity, in other words they were stirred by the messages of the prophet - and that has to be said: they had to hear something of what Ezekiel was saying that drove them to say: 'Well, can you not give us a message of comfort? Can you not tell us when it's all going to finish?'. So the message of this man stirred them, otherwise they wouldn't have went to that man, they would have went to the false prophets who were saying: 'Peace! Peace!'. Yet in all of the stirring in their soul with the messages from God, they were still hypocrites!
Then we see that they came to the prophet to hear a word from God. Isn't that amazing? You can be stirred by the message of God, in fact you can seek God for a word from Himself, yet still be a hypocritical sinful prayer. As we see them coming for a word from God, we see that their cover is blown because they lacked the essential qualities of a real enquirer of God. What I mean by that is: they didn't want God's will, but they wanted to be confirmed in their own error and their own superstition. Sometimes people come to me and ask my advice, and sometimes I think in my mind - I haven't always said it to them - but sometimes I think: 'Are you coming to me because you want to hear something, or because you want advice?'. We can be like that with God, can't we? We come wanting to hear a certain answer, wanting to be led a certain way. These men didn't come wanting to know the will of God, but they wanted to be confirmed in their own error and their own superstition. They wanted to be told: 'Look, we'll deliver you, we'll get you back somehow to the land of promise - and it doesn't matter deep down in your heart that there are idols from every nation and every religion in the world'.
Another thing was: they retained their sin in their heart, though they didn't show any outward manifestation of it. Do you know something? That is the prayer meeting all over! Isn't it? You can stand here, and you can pray to God - and I can't see what's in your heart, you can't see what's in my heart. There were idols on the throne and the altar of their hearts, but they had no outward manifestation of it like the elders in Jerusalem - but yet they were determined to retain their sins in their own hearts!
The third thing that I see in them is that they took no steps to remove the occasions for their sin. Look at verse 3, this spoke to me so specifically in my life, verse 3 is a wonderful verse: 'Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face'. Right, now, what is He saying? 'The very sin that is in your heart' - it wasn't as if they were trying to avoid falling into that temptation, but they were taking the very thing that was their pet sin, and the sin that so easy beset them, and they were setting it before their face! You run to God, don't you, and say: 'Lord, I've a terrible problem with lust', but what are you putting in front of your face? You can't put The Sun and The Star in front of your face if you have a problem with lust and you're praying to God to overcome it. My friend, we have all these sins within us, but when we put these stumbling blocks before us it's like a magnetic field that draws them out of the heart of the old man that's still residing within us!
The sin that made these men and women hypocritical prayers was that they were coming to God, and I've said it before, and saying: 'Lead me not into temptation', but their own feet were leading them into temptation! They put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face. Half-heartedness has been the problem of Christianity all down through the ages, and it can be seen today even in the secular world, because there is a philosophy that pervades most of society and the workplace - if you're a businessman you will have encountered this - 'I've done my duty. I've done it! I've done what you asked me'. You don't go the extra mile, you don't do one minute over, but you do right up to the exact amount of time you're meant to do. You spend and be spent about what your employer asks you, all the requirement of life and work and habit - you fulfil that and nothing more. Just enough. Most people, it would be true to say, in life would be absolutely ecstatic if in their life they were just always meeting the requirements, if they were just getting the pass mark and no more.
Now, my friend, that can pervade and filter into Christian discipleship. You hear some young people asking the question in the whole sexual realm, as they go out together: 'How far is too far?'. They ask it with regards to the world and the pubs and the clubs: 'How far is too far?'. It's asked about worldliness in the church: 'How far is too far?'. It's this concept: 'What does God expect me to do? What is the bare minimum that I can pay God, and then know that I have done just enough?'. I think we all know that that's not Christianity. I think, deep down in our hearts, we all know that God asks of us 100%. We all know what is meant to be in our lives, but the problem is that we may not be satisfied with that!
That is seen in the studies and the surveys that have taken place in recent years in the Western church. It is said generally that most Christians live their lives with little difference to those who are living in the world. Ethics in work, most Christians are no different. Sexual ethics, no difference. Moral, theological ethics - all these things compared to the world, why is it today that there seems to be no distinction? The answer can only be that there is a divided heart! Outwardly we can appear fit, we can appear orthodox, we can appear spiritually well, but it could be that beneath all the churchgoing - beneath the facade of fresh suits, and carrying of Bibles, and wearing a head covering, and using all the cliches and the 'it' words - that there are deep-seated idolatries in the hearts of believers. The Laodicean age is upon us for sure in the West, and our deeds prove that we are neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm - and that we are fit only to be vomited out of the Son of God's mouth.
Yet what do we do? This is what I want you to see: when the troubles come we run to God! We want God on our side, and like Israel we seek His help, but we're not willing to give up our other options. I remember when I was going to Bible College, I came straight from school and went straight to Bible College. Men of God were saying to me, not men of God here now, but in other places were saying to me: 'Well, would you not do a year's teacher training, just in case it doesn't work out? So you've something to fall back upon'. My friend, that is the wisdom of this world, but that is not following God 100% - that is seeking Him like these Israelites, seeking Him for your help and guidance, but having your other options just behind in case He doesn't come through. It can be those cherished sins within our breast - and, my friend, it is not an option to approach God with those within us. We cannot keep one foot in the idolatrous camp of the world, and one foot in the kingdom of God - for the double minded man, you see this passage, will receive nothing from the Lord. The Lord says: 'I have nothing to say to you, and the only word that I will give to you is judgement'.
If we had time tonight we could go to the apostle James, chapter 1 verses 7 and 8 - listen to what he says: 'A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord'! The only way to deal with your idolatries is to do what God said to these people: repent! Repent! The simple act of repentance, and repentance is turning your back on any other source of hope, any other source of satisfaction or self-justification, and to find refuge in the Lord alone. It's the attitude of Toplady in his wonderful hymn:
'Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling'.
The cross! Nothing is a greater idol-smasher than the cross, because the cross is the place where self dies! Idols feed self, but at the cross self is crucified, self is dealt a bloody blow. It is the spirit and expression of our first hymn:
'The dearest idol I have known,
What'er that idol be.
Help me to tear it from Thy throne
And worship only Thee'.
Was our Lord Jesus Christ half-hearted in His commitment to us? Was He? He was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. That is why we cannot be anything but 100% happy in giving all to Him:
'Saviour Thy dying love, Thou gavest me,
Nor should I aught withhold, my Lord from Thee'.
Oh, I had so much to say to you tonight, but we're quickly running out of time and I want to get onto the second point - the intercessors that would not have mattered. If you look at verses 12 to 20, Daniel, Noah and Job are mentioned. The reason why they are mentioned is each of them were men, righteous men, unique men in their society. In other words, when the rest of the world's society and civilisation in which they lived were going a-whoring after other gods and other idolatries and awful things, these men remained unblemished and unblameable in their generation. You remember that's said about Noah, he found grace in the eyes of the Lord. You remember that was Daniel, as he refused the king's meat and the king's wine in the court of Babylon. You remember that was Job, God said to the devil: 'Look at my servant, Job. Have you considered him? There is none like him in all the earth'.
For their righteous behaviour in the midst of a corrupt generation, that is why God mentions them here in this book. God is saying that in the same way as their righteousness didn't save their own generation, even if they were here and now in Ezekiel's day it still wouldn't save his generation. There's a principle that we find here for nations: if a nation persists in its sin, it will not be delivered from judgement - even if Noah, Daniel, and Job, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, the apostle Paul - we hark back and only wish the apostle Paul was here - it wouldn't matter!
What you have here first of all is corporate responsibility. In other words, we hear a lot about the individual today, but what we see if we go into Joshua chapter 7 is that you read of Achan, the sin of Achan. There was sin in the camp, but what you read is this: because of that individual sin in the camp, the curse of God came upon the whole camp - and in fact you see the suffering of Achan's family for his sin. That's not an Old Testament thing - you come into Corinthians: 'A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Purge out therefore', Paul says, 'the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us'. You remember what I said to yesterday morning, if the child of God in the old dispensation was going to offer a sacrifice, the paschal lamb, and on his way he remembered that there was leaven in the house, he had to go back and purge out the old leaven.
God reveals Himself as one who is a jealous God, one who visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and upon the third and the fourth generation of them that hate Him. What do you hear from the heart of a sinner today, even sadly from the heart of some believers in modern Christianity? 'I'm not harming anybody. I'm not asking you to do what I'm doing. It's my own business what I do, it's my life'. That's not New Testament Christianity, for the fact of the matter is that the church is a body - in the same way the eye cannot say to the ear: 'I have no need of thee', the eye cannot say to the ear: 'I cannot harm thee'. What you have here is Christ's life, it is not your life, it is Christ's life. What is your business becomes my business, because you might be the eye and I might be the arm.
The righteousness of these three men would not make Jerusalem or Israel escape the judgement of God, even if there were three men with the qualities of Noah, Daniel, and Job, Israel would be judged. You think about this: Abraham and Sodom, he pleaded for the city, he intervened. You read in the Old Testament of the king of Judah, Josiah, as he pleaded God for the nation. There was an idea in Judaism that if there were these type of men among the people of God, interceding for the children of God, that the nation was invincible. They believed with the presence of Jeremiah, Obadiah, men like Habakkuk within the city, that God could not curse them, that God could not destroy them. But here is the fact, God is saying: 'Look, you remember Noah - he was saved and his seven household, but the rest of the earth was damned'.
In other words, because of his righteousness he saved himself alone, he couldn't save anybody else. Josiah's praying proved futile too. Daniel, living in the court of Nebuchadnezzar when Ezekiel wrote, it didn't deter the exile, it didn't deter the judgement of God - but I'll tell you what it did do, and this is the crux of the matter for us today in our Laodicean generation: one man standing in the very court of idolatry and sin in Nebuchadnezzar's palace, Daniel stands there as a monument to godliness and to holiness. Don't swallow this nonsense that the heroes of God are in bygone days that have gone into history, men like Moody and all the Reformers, that that could never happen again - don't swallow that! Because even if we are in the Laodicean age today, God can raise up men and women who are faithful to Himself. It might not save the nation, just like it wouldn't save them if Noah, Job, and Daniel where there in Ezekiel's day - but I'll tell you what it will do: it'll bring glory to God. Let me say this categorically: I have a passion for souls, but the glory of God is infinitely more important.
That judgement would not be averted, they would be cut off from God's people unless they turned and re-turned to God, unless they repented and went back to God, unless they took down those idols from their hearts - unless, in our scenario today, unless they come to the cross and are crucified with Christ, and let the life of Christ flow through them, unless they divorce themselves from all their idolatrous, adulterous idols.
In this passage you have the cry of the covenant of the Canaan land of promise: 'I will be among them, I will be their God, they shall be my people'. Do you know something? There's a day coming for us, and it doesn't matter what Israel does, it doesn't matter what the church does, it doesn't matter what the world does, we will hear a great voice out of heaven saying: 'Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God'. What a blessed hope! May it spurn us to see the glory of God return again into our lives.
Let us bow our heads and, as we think about the word tonight, we all have idols that we worship and that we don't want to let go of. We all continually bring them before our face, tempting ourselves - but, you know, God gives power and God gives grace. If we will repent He will replace that idol with Himself and with His holy presence. Father, help us to repent - not a once and for all thing, but daily, as we've been singing, to take up our cross and put to death daily those things that would rise up in our breast as idols that would take away glory from Thee. We thank Thee for all that we have learnt in these weeks, and the one pre-eminent thing that we finish with this evening is the prayer that Thy glory would return upon us, that men may look upon Thy church here in the Iron Hall, and say: 'The glory of God dwelleth there'. We thank Thee for Thy faithfulness, and we pray that Thou wilt go with us now - in Christ's name we ask it, Amen.
Preach The Word
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the ninth tape in his Ezekiel series, titled "Strange Answers To Strange Prayers" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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