Three men were due to be executed before a firing squad. One of them thought, I'd better come up with a quick plan. As the gunman put the criminal in their sights he shouted out, tornado! The gunman looked over their shoulder to see if the tornado-- and the criminal jumped over the wall and escaped.
The second criminal was brought up to the firing squad, had him in their sights, he thought quickly of another natural catastrophe. And as they were about to pull the trigger he shouted out, flood! And once again the gunman turned over their shoulders, and as they did gave him time to get over the wall and escape.
Then it was the third criminal's turn. The gunmen aimed their rifles, had him in their sights, were about to pull the trigger and this criminal was desperately trying to think of another natural catastrophe to distract the gunmen. And he shouted out, fire!
And they did.
For the nation of Israel there was no escape at all from the firing squad of God's judgment. He had them locked in his sights. There was no turning back. There was no escape. Through several chapters, Jerusalem has been in the purview of the prophet's words. Jerusalem has been the city that he has marked out. In these chapters, he broadens out the prophecy not just for the city of Jerusalem-- though it is included-- but the entire nation of Israel.
Now Israel and the North had already fallen several years before, and the southern kingdom was in the midst of falling to the Babylonians. But the entire nation is slated for judgment. Chapter 7 is probably up to this point the most sobering of all of the chapters. It's a very somber lament that the prophet gives. The language is very somber. And he says that, basically, things are going to get much worse before they get any better at all.
When Ezekiel is prophesying, Jerusalem has not yet fallen to the Babylonians. Remember that. Now we'll come to a point in the book where he prophesies during the last siege of 586 BC. Up till this point it has only been the second deportation of exiles that have come to the land, and Ezekiel was one of them. And he is predicting what's going to happen to the exiles who are already in Babylon while Jeremiah is with the Jerusalemites still in the land of Israel.
There is a thought, there is a hope that these exiles have, that since Jerusalem has not yet fallen to the Babylonians, perhaps those other prophets-- the false prophets-- are correct in saying that it won't happen. And perhaps the false prophets, the other prophets, are correct in saying those who have already been exiled to Babylon will return back to Jerusalem, and they'll be free once again. After all, the people are still in the land-- so many of them-- and Jerusalem is still occupied.
Back in 1985 there was an article in a newspaper in Hertford, England. It was a very interesting prediction. The article was paid for by a private individual that said, the end of the world will definitely come on Wednesday, December 11 at noon precisely. The article was run, and then it was run again a couple days later on the 13th of December on a Friday. The editor of the paper re-ran the article with a P.S that said, we're still here. It hadn't happened.
The people in Jerusalem were saying, we're still here. What Jeremiah has predicted, the doom that would fall, hasn't happened. We're still here. But the day is coming. As Ezekiel prophesies some six years before the destruction of Jerusalem, and then it finally comes. "Moreover," verse 1, "the word of the Lord came to me saying, and you, son of man, thus says the Lord God to the land of Israel. An end, the end has come upon the four corners of the land."
He is predicting the final fall, the final judgment. And the final deportation. The end, 586 BC, which hasn't happened yet. But it will. Jerusalem means "the habitation" or "the City of Peace." It's an ironic name-- don't you think?-- for a city that has been besieged 46 times. It has seen more wars at its doorstep than any other city. Besieged and destroyed, at least in part, 46 times. Burned to the ground five times, each time rising from the ashes. But in those days an end, the end was predicted.
"Now, the end has come upon you. And I will send my anger against you. I will judge you according to your ways. And I will repay you for all your abominations." Mark that sentence. It's the first time we read about it. You'll read more of it.
"My eye will not spare you nor will I pity. But I will repay your ways and your abominations will be in your midst. Then you shall know that I am the Lord. Thus says the Lord God, 'A disaster-- a singular disaster-- behold it has come. An end has come. The end has come. It has dawned for you. Behold, it has come.'"
It's important to keep in mind through all of this that these were the people of God inhabiting the city of God, worshipping at the temple of God. How serious is it for a professed believer in Christ to actually be a phony believer?
So many people that profess the name of Christ. They go to church. They're faithful in attendance just like the people of old of Israel attended the temple faithfully, and trusted in the temple and their relationship to the temple. But going to the temple and having that relationship with the ritual of the land did not guarantee that God would not judge them. In fact, it invited God's judgment because of their hypocrisy.
I remember the Christmas Eve years ago when I asked people who hadn't yet given their lives to Christ-- maybe they were religious people-- to come forward and give their lives to Christ. And we saw so many do that. But it was interesting. An older gentleman came to me and said, I have been a pastor for most of my adult life. And tonight I realize that I was a professed believer, but I wasn't yet born again. I want to be born again.
To whom much has been given, God said, much shall be required. Israel had been given so much, thus with all of the promises, all of the blessing God had given these people, God is now requiring it. And he says, "Doom has come to you. You who dwell in the land the time has come. A day of trouble is near. And not of rejoicing in the mountains. And now upon you I will soon pour out my fury and spend my anger upon you. I will judge you according to your ways. I will repay you for all your abominations."
Now that's the second time he repeats that phrase. "My eye will not spare. Nor will I have pity. I will repay you according to your ways, and your abominations will be in your midst." It's the third time it's mentioned.
"Then you shall know that I am the Lord who strikes. Behold the day. Behold, it has come. Doom has gone out. The rod has blossomed. Pride has budded. Violence has risen up into a rod of wickedness." Very interesting picturesque imagery. It recalls to us Aaron's rod that budded that was in the Ark of the Covenant.
The idea here in this verse is that their sin was like a seed that budded into a rod that would destroy them, i.e. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians would become the rod of punishment that God would use to judge them for their own sin, their own violence. "None of them shall remain. None of their multitude. None of them. Nor shall there be wailing for them."
You know what it's like when people read the Old Testament. Verses like this-- doom, and destruction, and judgment. And they say, boy, there it is. The God of the Old Testament. He is so harsh. And people love to drop this false dichotomy-- don't they?-- of the God of the Old Testament versus the God of the New Testament.
First of all, God is the same in both testaments. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. There is no break in his character. Second, God always loves and forgives, is willing to, as we have seen and will see in the Old and the New Testament. And third, if you think this is harsh, wait till you get to the New Testament Book of Revelation, when God really pours out his wrath. That's New Testament.
At the end of the age the heavens and the Earth are shaken. Hail stones fall from heaven. A people wail and cry out for the mountains and the rocks to fall on them and kill them. Demons are belched out of the pit and torment people for months upon the earth. All of that is part of the character of God, his justice, his judgment.
And understand that God's justice is tied to God's mercy, because the result of God's justice here is to purify the nation. To restore the people of God, once disobedient, back into intimacy and relationship with him. This is God's mercy.
God promised that they would inherit the land, but promised to boot them out if they disobeyed him. So they'll go to Babylon, they'll learn the lesson, they'll come back, and God will restore. That's the purpose. So God's justice is tied here to God's mercy.
I was reading that great devotional book, Streams in the Desert. And one of the articles on one day spoke about a woman who visited the Alps. She was there on vacation in Switzerland.
And as she was taking her walk, she noticed there was a shepherd over by some bales of hay where there was a little sheep that looked like it had a broken leg. It was all bandaged up and the shepherd was nursing it back to health. And so she mosied over there, and asked how that little sheep had broken its leg. And the shepherd said, I broke its leg.
She stepped back and said, you broke that little sheep's leg? Why? And the shepherd smiled and very calmly said, look, this little sheep, this cute little docile lamb was always going astray and leading all of these other sheep astray. So I went up to it and I broke its leg. And she just stood there, mouth open, couldn't believe it.
He said, madam, don't worry. Soon this little lamb will become the most responsive to my voice. And instead of leading others astray, will lead others in the right path. He said, after I broke its leg I tried to feed it the next day. It turned away and refused.
But now look it's eating out of my hand. And this sheep will become the most compliant. And I did it because I loved that little lamb, and because I loved the rest of my sheep.
And so the breaking of the will of Jerusalem and Judah would be so that there would be a restoration. "The time," verse 12, "has come. The day draws near. Let not the buyer rejoice nor the seller mourn, for wrath is on their whole multitude. For the seller shall not return to what has been sold, though he may still be alive. For the vision concerns the whole multitude, and it shall not turn back. No one will strengthen himself who lives in iniquity."
Now whenever land that is hereditary land, land that belonged to a person by inheritance from one tribe or another-- whatever hereditary land was sold, typically the buyer rejoiced and the seller mourned. The seller mourned because land is leaving my inheritance, leaving my family, leaving my tribe until the year of jubilee.
As you know, on the year of jubilee Leviticus 25 says, all of the debts would be remitted. The land would go back to its original owners. But God is saying, all of that activity of buying and selling, gaining wealth, is irrelevant. Because even on the year of jubilee it's not going to return. The Babylonians will occupy the land. You'll all be in captivity. So "Let not the buyer rejoice. Let not the seller mourn. There will be no joy. It shall not turn back. No one will strengthen himself who lives in iniquity."
When God pours out his judgment on a land wealth is pretty useless. And people quickly discover that if they've trusted in wealth, if they've trusted in land investment, if they've trusted in the stock market, it doesn't do any good. Think of the land values in Israel once Babylon came and occupied it. Pretty useless.
It's a good lesson for us. We are called the most prosperous nation in the world. Over the last 25 years the median income of the United States has risen per capita at about 13-plus percent. So we think we're better off.
But are we? Because with accompanying wealth usually comes, ironically, accompanying want. The more we have, the more we want. The more we own, the less satisfied we become.
100 years ago it was a matter of record that the average American had 70 wants-- 70 things he or she thought they wanted or needed to get by in life. Today the average American has 500 wants. We have so much more, but we want so much more. And so many people trust in their wealth.
Whatever you own today has competition. It's called the new model. It drives us nuts. If you have a computer that's five years old it's probably a doorstop by now. Technology moves that quickly. And as soon as you get something it's outdated. Something new is out there. And so all of the transactions, all of the trust they had in their land and their wealth, god says would be fruitless, useless.
"They have blown the trumpet and made everyone ready. But no one goes to battle for my wrath is on all their multitude. The sword is outside, the pestilence, the famine within. Whoever is in the field will die by the sword. Whoever is in the city, famine and pestilence will devour him. Those who survive will escape and be on the mountain like doves of the valleys, all of them mourning each for his iniquity."
"Every hand will be feeble. Every knee will be as weak as water. They will also be girded with sackcloth. Horror will cover them. Shame will be on every face. Baldness on all their heads. They will throw their silver into the streets, and their gold will be like refuse. Their silver and their gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. They will not satisfy their souls nor fill their stomachs, because it became their stumbling block of iniquity."
It seems that Israel had trusted in its own prosperity. Now think back several years before this when Solomon came to the throne and boosted the economic level of the people of Israel. After David Solomon came in and really brought it to its apex. And so people were prosperous, and enjoying a level of wealth that up to that point had not been enjoyed in the land of Israel.
Some people, even today, think that money will solve their problems. If I only could have that income, that house, that position, I'd be a happy person. An interesting poll, though not scientific, was given via a newspaper agency. They just simply asked people, who are the happiest people on earth?
And most people wrote things like, a mom who spends the day taking care of her children, a craftsman who whistles after a job well done, a surgeon who performs an operation and saves a life. And several lists like that. Several people like that. Not one millionaire. Not one wealthy person. Not a person who has this kind of an income.
Andrew Carnegie once said, millionaires seldom smile. Notice the God says, "Their gold in the day of wrath will be like refuse, and it will not be able to deliver them."
In the New Testament we are warned that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And we're told to warn people of it-- not to trust in uncertain riches. It can fade away. It can go. As somebody once said, if money talks all it's ever said to me is, bye.
Or Anybody who trusted in it back then would only say, see ya, because they would go into exile. As for the beauty of his ornaments, he said it in majesty. But they made from it the images of their abominations, their detestable things. "Therefore I have made it like refuse for them. I will give it as plunder into the hands of strangers and to the wicked of the earth as spoil. And they shall defile it."
They love their wealth. They adore their jewelry. They collected it. But it changed them. They reached a point where they took their wealth-- their silver, their gold, their jewelry-- and cast it into images, false gods, goddesses, and amulets with which to worship. They made images to worship. The money, the wealth they clung to, changed them and stole their hearts away from God.
A cranky old millionaire went to visit a rabbi. The rabbi wanted to show this wealthy guy that he had a pretty bad attitude. And was trying to figure out a way to do it because wealth had so tainted his outlook in life.
So the rabbi, in his house, took him over to the window, and asked the wealthy guy to look through the window. And he said, tell me what you see. The millionaire said, well, I see a few men, and a few women, and children playing. He said, good.
Then he brought the man across the room and took him to a mirror and said, now what do you see here? The rich guy said, well obviously I see myself. Ah, said the rabbi. Isn't that interesting? He said, for the window is made of glass, and the mirror is made of glass with a thin layer of silver. No sooner is the silver applied to the glass than you cease to see others and you see only yourself.
Then the wealthy man started to understand that it was his silver and gold that changed him. It had become his idol. It affected the way he treated others. Now God has already said to these people, "Violence has budded into a rod of destruction that will destroy you. And now all that they trusted in will be as water will be as refuse. It will not be able to help them. They shall defile it. And I will turn my face from them--" verse 22. "And they will defile my secret place."
The secret place was the holy of holies. The marauders would come in and destroy even that secret place where God met with his people. Secret because only the high priest could enter it once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. "But that would be overrun by the Babylonians, for robbers shall enter it and defile it. Make a chain, for the land is filled with crimes of blood, and the city is full of violence. Therefore I will bring the worst of the Gentiles."
That's how he describes Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. "And they will possess their houses. I will cause the pomp of the strong to cease. And their holy places shall be defiled. Destruction comes, they will seek peace, but there shall be none. Disaster will come upon disaster, and rumor will be upon rumor."
When things get bad in a nation, because of this kind of activity, this kind of destruction, it exacerbates the imaginations of people. So they're prone to all kinds of rumors that may or may not be true. If it's this bad, how bad will it get? Rumor will be upon rumor. "Then they will seek a vision from a prophet, but the law will perish from the priest and counsel from the elders."
Now God had sent them prophets. Ezekiel was a prophet. Jeremiah was a prophet. They didn't want to listen to them. They were listening to the false prophets. But the day will come when they'll look around and saying, where is the man of God? We need truth. We need hope.
"The King will mourn. The prince will be clothed with desolation. And the hands of the common people will tremble. I will do them according to their way. And according to what they deserve I will judge them." There it is again. "That they shall know that I am the Lord."
And you maybe remember, last week, that that phrase is common in the book of Ezekiel. "That they will know that I am the Lord" is mentioned 70 times. I think God wants them to know that he's the Lord. Don't you? He repeats it over and over again. That the end result-- and here's where the mercy comes into the justice. They're going to know that I am the Lord. There would be a seeking of God once again.
You know, if they had only mourned before over their sin, they would not be mourning afterwards because of their sin. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn. They will be comforted." First he said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
And that describes a person who recognizes, apart from the work of Christ on my own-- anything that I could produce in and of myself-- isn't good enough. I'm not worthy to stand before a holy, righteous, perfect God. I'm poverty stricken in spirit before God. It causes me, in repentance, to mourn over my condition. And seek to be covered for my sin.
Jesus said, "Blessed, oh how happy are those who are sad. Those who mourn, had they only mourned first over their sin, they would not have mourned after because of their sin. Now they will mourn in punishment."
And we noticed several times in this chapter that repeated phrase, "I will judge you according to your ways and repay you for all of your abominations." God says, "The punishment will match the crime. For what you have done I will match that with my judgment. It will be fair. It will be just. It will be righteous. And you're going to get it."
Here's the principle. God will give us what we deserve unless we deal with God in his mercy. When we approach God based on his grace and we cry out to God for his mercy, that's a whole different way of dealing with God than saying, well, God I've worked pretty hard. And I'd like you to deal with me based on what I deserve. Don't ever ask him to do that.
And if you do, God will be gracious to let you breathe another second. Thank God for the new covenant. Thank God for his son, Jesus Christ. Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God to our Lord Jesus Christ, Romans chapter 5 tells us.
God deals with us not based on our works, or righteousness, or deeds, but upon the finished deed, the finished work of his son on Calvary's cross. David described that, and Paul refers to Psalm 32 even in the New Testament. David writes, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity."
Impute is a bookkeeping term. God doesn't deal with us or put the sin to our account. "Blessed, oh how happy is that man." And the cross proves that God will go to any limit to save mankind, to save sinners.
If you haven't read Pilgrim's Progress, and I assume many of you have, it's a Christian classic. Get it and read it. Charles Spurgeon loved to read it twice a year, he said. It's an allegory. It was written by John Bunyan from the Bedford jail in England.
And he writes about Christian, who has left his old town, the city of destruction. He's on his way to heaven called the Celestial City. He goes through the narrow gate. He begins his journey. And in the book there's this great place where he sees the cross. And Bunyan writes, "And I saw in my dream as Christian walked up to the cross, the burden that he carried on his back was loose from his shoulders, fell off his back, and it tumbled and continued to tumble till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre where it fell in. And I saw it no more."
The burden of sin he was carrying. Approaching God on his own deeds, his own works. He was burdened because of his own iniquity. And he discovered the cross. And how God would deal with him, and not impute to him the sin that he had committed because of the finished work. And it fell into the sepulchre, the tomb where Jesus had risen from the dead and they saw it no more.
Now chapter 8. Chapter 8 is-- well, we go back to more visions just like we did in the first chapter. At chapters 8 through 11 are more visions and they're kind of wild. It reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode. When I was reading chapter 8, and 9, and 10 this week I thought back to those old Rod Serling narratives. I can just picture him saying, picture if you will.
A prophet by the Chebar river. He is lifted up in a vision and transported to Jerusalem in the spirit, though his body presumably stays there, though some feel he actually was taken to Jerusalem. And he sees things. And what he sees he is then to tell to the exiles who are there at the Chebar river.
It came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month-- this has been about 14-- well, it has been 14 months since his first vision. "That I sat in my house with the elders of Judas sitting before me that the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there."
All right. We are given a chronology. An exact timing. The total elapsed time from the first vision has been a year and two months. Now in that came a sign that Ezekiel was to perform. Remember he was to lie on his side a total of 430 days. We read that last time. 390 on one side. 40 on the other. A total of 430 days.
The total elapsed time that is given here from the first to the second vision is a total of 413 days, so we're several days short. Because of that, some Jewish scholars believe that there is a month that is added-- which is not untypical in Jewish chronology-- where sometimes, as the calendar goes, they will throw in another month called an intercalary month.
The month of Adar was inserted in there, which then gave him the 430 days to lie on his side with 12 days left over to recover from that sign before this second set of instructions come. "Then I looked, and there was a likeness like the appearance of fire. From the appearance of his waist and downward, fire. And from his waist upward, like the appearance of brightness like the color of amber."
Some translations don't say "fire." They follow the Septuagint translation, which says "the appearance of a man." And you say, boy, that's a diversion in translation. However, in Hebrew the words sound very similar. In Hebrew the word for "man" is "eesh." The word for "fire" is "esh."
And if you compare this vision with the vision that John saw in Revelation-- this fiery, bronze, amber picture of Jesus with eyes like a flame of fire, hair white as wool, feet like burnished bronze-- there are similarities. And so it's safe to say he saw this fire-like man in the appearance.
"He stretched out the form of a hand, took me by the lock of my hair, and the Spirit lifted me up between Earth and heaven. And brought me envisions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the image of jealousy was, which provokes to jealousy."
Now remember Ezekiel had to shave off his beard and his hair. He was bald. But it's been 14 months, so his hair has grown back. So the vision is the angel grabs him by the hair of his head. Very interesting way to get your attention. Didn't lead him by the hand gently. Just whoosh, took him by the hair, took him over to Jerusalem, and he sees this vision.
It says that he went to Jerusalem by visions. I believe that he didn't literally go there, though some see a literal transporting of this man from the Chebar river in Babylon to Jerusalem. Of course that's possible. God did it in the New Testament.
Philip was preaching to the Ethiopian eunuch, and he was immediately raptured-- taken over to Azotus and he made his way to Caesarea. We know that the prophet, Elijah, was taken up into a whirlwind, so there could be that transporting.
But because it says here, "I was taken in visions," I think it's best to see that this was like Paul the Apostle, who was taken up into the third heaven and saw things unlawful to utter. And probably while Paul the Apostle was being stoned in Lystra he had this vision of heaven that he mentions later on.
I think this is akin to John in the Book of Revelation. John says, "I was in the spirit on the Lord's day." Or better yet, "I was in the Spirit unto the day of the Lord." He was transported into the future up to the day of the Lord, the second coming of Christ, and he saw these futuristic events as if he were actually there. That's probably the best way to see it.
"The Spirit lifted me up between Earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the image of jealousy was, which provokes jealousy." It's called the image of jealousy because it provoked God to jealousy.
When God gave the commandments on Mount Sinai, the second commandment is, you shall not make an image-- anything carved-- that represents me. Anything that looks like something in heaven, or on earth, or in the sea. For the Lord your God is a jealous God-- one of his attributes.
What exactly this image is we're not sure. Some believe that it was the image, the Asherah pole that King Manasseh had put there years before. Back in 2 Kings, chapter 21, after King Hezekiah died, who reformed and tore down all the high places, King Manasseh, who was the most wicked king who had ever lived, brought the children of Israel back to worshipping false gods. And even put in the temple a pole from the groves to worship Asherah, or Ashtar, or Ishtar,-- however you want to say her name-- in the courts of God.
Presumably, it is thought that this image was pushed aside into a corner during the reforms of King Josiah. But then it was brought out again. And it was the image that provoked to jealousy. "Behold," verse 4, "the glory of the God of Israel was there like the vision that I saw in the plain. And then he said to me, 'Son of man, lift your eyes now toward the north.' So I lifted my eyes toward the north, and there, north of the altar gate was the image of jealousy in the entrance."
So the northern gate of the inner court, opposite the altar of sacrifice in that outer court. "Furthermore, he said to me, 'Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel commits here to make me go far away from my sanctuary? Now turn again and you will see greater abominations.'"
You're going to see something in these chapters on into chapter 10 and even 11, where this gradual departure of the glory of God-- it leaves the temple. It leaves Jerusalem. It goes away. It's visible and it's seen. He sees it leave. But it's gradual. And you'll see it not leaving suddenly, but as if we're going from a part of the Ark of the Covenant into one cherub. And then lifting up and going toward the east gate. And then later on to the Mount of Olives. And then eventually it leaves.
So it's not a sudden departure, but it's a slow departure, which tells me the patience and long-suffering of God. Not wanting to depart from his people. Longing for their repentance. Maybe if they see this, and I pause here, they'll see how serious I am. Maybe this will be enough to awaken them and they'll turn back to me.
In the Book of Revelation, Jesus writes to the Church of Ephesus. He tells them their works, their deeds, what he commends them for. But because they had left their first love he tells them to repent. And he says, "Or else I will remove the candlestick from its place." In other words, what Jesus was saying is, I will not stay around a church who doesn't love me.
He was willing to depart, and God did depart here. He was repelled by the sin of his people, because they did not turn. "So he brought me to the door of the court. And when I looked there was a hole in the wall." I've been to a lot of restaurants like that, but it's not referring to those kinds of holes in the wall. But a literal hole in the wall of the temple.
"And he said to me, 'Son of man, dig into the wall.' And when I dug into the wall there was a door." So here's a hidden chamber. This clandestine, secret, furtive cult that was practiced by leaders in the temple. And Ezekiel was able to see the entrance point.
"And he said to me, 'Go in and see the wicked abominations which they are doing there.' And I went and I saw. And there every sort of creeping thing, abominable beasts, all of the idols of the house of Israel portrayed all around on the walls."
This could refer to their thought life. What the leaders, the priests, the representatives of the nation were thinking about, and were portraying on the walls of their minds. And Ezekiel was able to see into their thinking. Or it could refer to literal graffiti in this chamber of the temple, where animal-like debased forms of worship like was practiced in Egypt and in Babylon.
A form of worship that worships nature, including animal worship, is called animism. And Egypt was packed full of animism-- where nature was worshiped and regarded as deity. Heqet, the frog goddess of Egypt was worshipped. Apis was the God of strength, portrayed as a bull in Egypt. Ra was the sun god, and also portrayed as an animal. And there were all of these depictions that he was able to see on the wall.
In the book of Romans it talks about, "When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, but they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, and birds, and four-footed animals, and creeping things." He goes on to say, "They changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped, and served the creature, rather than the creator who was blessed forevermore."
There is a picture of the idolatry of the nations that surrounded Israel, and the idolatry that Israel permitted in its own midst. And there stood before them 70 men of the elders of the house of Israel. And in their midst stood Jaazaniah, the son of Shaphan. Each man had a sensor in his hand, and a thick cloud of incense went up.
Now these 70 will later become known as the Sanhedrin, the 70 ruling elders of the Jewish nation. But they had their beginning way back in the Old Testament, where there were these 70 rulers that were selected by Moses to hear the cases of the children of Israel. And it became their tradition where these 70 were the spiritual giants of the land. They represented the land. They represented the nation.
"And he said to me, 'Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark? Every man in the room of his idols. For they say, "The Lord does not see us. The Lord has forsaken the land."'"
Hey, here's a frightening thought. What if God opened your mind to public display, where people around you could read your thoughts? How embarrassing that would be.
There was a booklet put out years ago. It's been one of my favorite little reads. It was put out by Robert Boyd Munger called My Heart-Christ's Home. And he talks about his life being like a house, and Jesus is invited in, and there's different rooms in his house that represent different parts of his life.
He said, I brought him into-- it was the room that represented his mind. He said it had thick walls and it was a very small room. He said, that was my mind. He said, Jesus came into that room and I felt embarrassed because of the reading material that I had in that room. And what I had been watching on television, and allowed my eyes to be entertained with. And it was all hanging on the walls and Jesus saw it.
And he said, I felt so embarrassed, but Jesus was so gracious. And he said, hey, that's why I'm here. I'll clean up this mess. And he began to clean out that room of my mind and get rid of those things. But notice what these leaders were saying. These are leaders now. "The Lord does not see us. The Lord has forsaken the land."
That is the cry of so many people today. Oh, God doesn't see us. The deist who says, well, there technically is a God. But God wound up the universe then stepped back to watch whatever happens happen. Thus today God is incapable. He doesn't see.
The atheist says, there is no God. So since there is no God, God doesn't see because he doesn't exist. Sigmund Freud said that God is an infantile imagination that should be discarded. There is no God. God doesn't see. The German philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach, said God is simply a projection of our humanity. God doesn't exist. God doesn't see.
Well, we know that God does exist. We know that God does see. And for a leader, or for a Christian to live his life any other way is foolish. The healthiest way to live is what the Bible calls "in the fear of the Lord." The fear of the Lord is healthy. It vitalizes us when we realize, "The eyes of the Lord are in every place beholding the good and the evil," as it says in Proverbs.
The eyes of the Lord go to and fro throughout the entire earth. God sees absolutely everything we do and everything we think. And when we realize that-- when we get on our computers, when we turn on the television, when we open up a magazine-- the Lord does see. Young men and women when you go out on a date, realize the Lord sees.
Men, when you speak to your wives. Wives, when you speak to your husbands. Understand the Lord hears it all. He sees it all. And to have that in our minds as we live is so healthy. It's to live in the fear of the Lord.
"And he said to me, 'Turn again and you will see greater abominations that they are doing.' So he brought me to the door of the north gate of the Lord's house. And to my dismay, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz." This is the only place Tammuz is mentioned in the Bible.
Tammuz is one of the oldest forms of religious worship in the world. It dates back to 3000 BC. It was prevalent in Babylon. It spread later on into Persia, and through Phoenicia, and even into the Middle Ages. And even in some present parts of the world like Kurdistan.
Tammuz was regarded by the Babylonians as the God of vegetation, spring vegetation. And just as every year, there's the cycle of fall and winter. And that which is green dies off, and doesn't revive again till the spring. They said Tammuz controlled that.
In the pantheon of Babylonian worship Tammuz was considered the young husband, or the lover, and in even some accounts, the son of Ishtar. And every summer in July-- well, it was said that he died off in the fall. And in the winter went into the underworld, the netherworld, and was resurrected every spring.
So every summer there was this ritual where women would gather together as sort of a dirge celebration, lamenting his loss, and begging for him in worship to return. Imagine going into the temple and seeing women there lamenting this summer dirge for a false Babylonian god who they thought would be responsible for replenishing the land in the spring with crops. That's what he saw.
"And he said to me, 'Have you seen this, oh son of man? Turn again and you will see greater abominations than these.'" Now I mentioned that the worship of Tammuz is old. And there is still to this day, in Kurdistan, people who worship Melek-Taus, which most anthropologists believe is just a derivation of the name Tammuz.
And they worship him in an interesting way-- in the same way. This kind of a dirge. And women will get together, and they'll bake cakes and food. And they'll be gathering together in circles to resurrect him in the spring.
"So he brought me into the inner court of the Lord's house. And there, at the door of the Temple of the Lord between the porch and the altar, were about 25 men with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, and they were worshipping the sun toward the east."
The entrance to Solomon's temple was on the east toward the Mount of Olives. The Temple Mount-- on the western part of the Temple Mount was the holy of holies. So for these 25 men-- by the way, the 25 men represent the 24 courses of priests that served during the year, plus the high priest.
For them to worship toward the east, to worship the sun, they turned their back toward the holy place in the holy of holies, while they faced toward the eastern gate and the Mount of Olives. It was figurative of, I'm turning my back on God. It was an affront to God. And worshipping the sun, which the Egyptians did.
It was such an abomination, and the Jews knew it, that when they returned from the captivity-- and they celebrated every year the Feast of Tabernacles-- it was customary for the priest to go down to the Pool of Siloam and get water. And poor it at the base of the altar on the Temple Mount. And cry out, that with joy we will draw water from the wells of salvation.
They thought back to this time when these priests turned their backs on God. And they'll say that, or they said that when they came back into the land every year at the Feast of Tabernacles. They said, "Our fathers stood in this place. And their backs faced the temple, and they faced toward Jerusalem. But as for us, our eyes will ever be on the Lord." They remembered this. They recalled this. And it was their oath to never go back to this debased form of worship again.
"And he said to me, 'Have you seen this, oh son of man? Is it a trivial thing to the house of Judah to commit such abominations which they commit here? For they have filled the land with violence. They have returned and provoked me to anger. Indeed, they put the branch to the nose.'" That's an interesting phrase. Isn't it?
In Babylon there was a group of wise counselors around Nebuchadnezzar that became known as the Magi. And when the Magi would pray they would take certain branches and put them to the face, put them to the nose. So these priests of God were being compared to the Magi, these false religious leaders of Babylon.
"Therefore I will act in fury. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them." Wow. They had stepped over the line. They crossed the line. They were in the ministry. These were the priests in the temple. These were the leaders. And they were contributing to the most debased form of idolatry and deception.
Now understand something in the day and age in which we live. We have this umbrella that is called Christendom. And the umbrella of Christendom has underneath it true Christians and false Christians. Now the world doesn't understand the distinction. They just think that everybody in any kind of religious organization that has Christ in it at all, even if it's a cult, is a Christian. There is that umbrella.
More and more there is a blurring of the lines between truth and error. And those within so-called churches are doing damage to the name of Christ. There's a group, you've heard of it, called the World Council of Churches, which I think has contributed more to the demise of the true Church in Western civilization than probably anything else. They have made the way of compromising the truth.
I want to read you a statement. This is from a consortium of 25 theologians. Interesting that there were 25 in the temple, and these are 25 theologians that got together in Switzerland. And here's the statement that these churchmen made. Quote: "All religious traditions are ambiguous. In other words, they are a combination of good and bad. We need to move beyond a theology which can find salvation to the explicit personal commitment to Jesus Christ."
Here's a group of church leaders saying, let's not make it about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Let's quit making it about being born again. We're not that narrow. All religious traditions are good and bad. All roads lead to God. And that's from the World Council of Churches. Very similar in principle to these theologians that were in the temple in the time of Ezekiel.
Now chapter 9, we're going to see that glory once again take another stage in moving out of the city of Jerusalem. "He called out in my hearing with a loud voice, saying, 'Let those who have charge over the city draw near, each with a deadly weapon in his hand.'" So God is summoning now angelic messengers with weapons of destruction.
And suddenly six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces the north, each with his battle axe in his hand. One man among them was clothed with linen, and had a writer's inkhorn at his side. They went in and stood beside the bronze altar. We figure these are angels. Angels used for judgment.
Now to the human eye, and the eye of the prophet Ezekiel, these angels appear to be like men, as they so often do in even the New Testament. And the Old Testament. Abraham saw three messengers. One was the Lord. Two were angels.
In the New Testament, when angels appeared they looked like, in one sense, a gardener at the tomb. But they had the appearance of human beings in so many of their apparitions. Angels are used by God for judgment. Even Jesus predicted in Matthew chapter 13, "The son of man will send forth angels, and they will gather out of the kingdom all that offend and all that practice lawlessness." So it's safe to see these six men as angelic messengers ready to wreck destruction upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
But there's one special messenger here. One with the linen garment, which marks him out as different. And the linen represents a higher rank. Some see this as the Lord Jesus Christ in a pre-incarnate state. The Talmud sees this as the angel, Gabriel, which will appear later on to Daniel.
Now the glory of the God of Israel, mentioned there again, had gone up from the cherub where it had been to the threshold of the temple. And he called to the man clothed with linen that had the writer's inkhorn at his side. And notice its cherub singular, not cherubim plural.
Remember where God dwelt in the Old Testament in the holy of holies, atop the Ark of the Covenant, in-between the two angels, the cherubim? It's thought, because of this phrase, that the glory of God-- that visible manifestation, the shekinah, the schechina, which was the visible presence of God-- left that lid of the Ark of the Covenant, moved into one cherub, and then over to the other cherub before it went to the east gate. And then later on east to the Mount of Olives and then eventually departed. It's a sign of God's presence that is departing.
And the Lord said to him, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it." So some in Jerusalem were marked for preservation from the judgment. Who were they?
People who saw the sin and sighed over it. They were distraught and upset because of the sin-- the unrepented sin of the people of Jerusalem. The unmarked ones would be those who would be allowed to be killed during the Babylonian siege. Interesting-- the term "mark" is in Hebrew "tav." And tav is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. We say from A to Z. They would say from aleph to tav.
Now the modern day tav, the character in the Hebrew alphabet, looks sort of like a backwards capital N. But the original Hebrew script, the ancient Hebrew script, the tav looks more like our modern day T, or a cross. Interesting that they would mark on the foreheads sign of a cross that would preserve them. And if you tie that together with the blood that was on the lintels in the doorpost, and the cross that brings this life in the New Testament it's a wonderful tie-in. Mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.
Now I know that your mind has already gone forward to Revelation, chapter 7. You're thinking, ooh, this is where it first appears here in Ezekiel. Because there-- in Revelation, chapter 7-- during the tribulation period an angel is given the directive to mark out 144,000 before the judgment falls, and it comes upon the earth, and the sea, and every green thing. The angel is told, do not burn or harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.
It's always fascinated me that when people get to the Book of Revelation they're always interested in the anti-christ mark, the 666. The best one is this one, where those are preserved. God's mark is upon 144,000, and they are preserved from judgment. The anti-christ mark is simply a copy of God's mark of preservation.
"To the others, he said in my hearing, 'Go after him through the city and kill. Do not let your eyes spare nor have pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens, and little children, and women. But do not come near anyone on whom is the mark. And begin in my sanctuary.'" So they began with the elders who were before the temple.
You see, those idolatrous priests in the temple would be the first to experience judgment. The New Testament tells us, must begin at the house of God. And he said to them, "Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go out." And they went out and killed in the city.
You know that in Judaism the presence of a corpse indicates defilement. And so all of these slain priests were defiled, because the corpse bring defilement. "So it was that while they were killing them I was left alone. I fell on my face and cried out and said, 'Ah, Lord God. Will you destroy all the remnant of Israel in pouring out your fury on Jerusalem?' And then he said to me, "The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. And the land is full of bloodshed. The city full of perversity. For they say, the Lord has forsaken the land and the Lord does not see."'"
That's what the people were saying. God has forsaken us. God doesn't see what is happening. Rather than attributing these calamities to their own sin, and the judgment for their sin, they are blaming God for the calamity. So typical. God doesn't care. God was simply responding to their move, to their actions, to their attitudes, and judging.
"As for me also, my eye will neither spare nor will I have pity. But I will recompense their deeds on their own head. Just then, the man clothed with linen who had the inkhorn at his side, reported back and said, 'As I or I have done as you have commanded me.'" Now we'll get next week to that glory of God visibly departing from Jerusalem.
And so the prophet, Ezekiel, telling the people in exile he will tell them what he sees in Jerusalem. Warning them, telling them judgment is inevitable. Paul writes to the Corinthians and says, "Therefore, knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men. Judgment is coming. God is on the move. All the while to every human being he extends that hand of forgiveness, but he'll never force it upon us. But he offers it."
In Kilgore, Texas-- true story-- a man was in an automobile accident, rendered unconscious, taken to a nearby gas station. He woke up at the gas station. And whatever he saw caused such a fright that he began to tremble uncontrollably. He was taken to the emergency room. And when he came to full consciousness he told the story. He was taken to a gas station. It happened to be a Shell gas station, and the S had fallen off the sign.
So you can imagine after an accident waking up, and seeing that sign-- hell open 24 hours.
He thought, oh, no. It was a wake-up call. You know what? Hell is open 24 hours. The devil doesn't keep 9 to 5 hours. It's open 24 hours. And people are going there every second. But heaven is also open 24 hours. And God is in the business of keeping people out of hell and taking them to heaven. And he's paid the way through the precious blood of his son.
Satan loves to kill, steal and destroy. But Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly." God has a big eraser. And he's willing to wash away all of the sins of the past if you will come to him, and ask him to.
Heavenly Father, we've uncovered more lessons of your justice meted out in your judgment. But that reflect your mercy because of what it would do eventually to these people in purifying them, and restoring that desire to be close to you. And to walk with you. Lord, that's our desire. We want to walk with you. We want to please you.
Lord, I pray that as we walk in intimacy this week with you, that we would experience what you wanted to give to the Church of Ephesus. That deep, abiding presence of your spirit with us. I pray we'd experience it this week as we walk in fellowship with you. And then Lord, as we use the opportunities we have to persuade men and women to come into relationship with the living God. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Shall we stand? It's a rather sobering thought to realize that all of us here tonight will spend eternity either in heaven or in hell. Two destinations, eternal destinations for all men. Where we spend eternity is determined solely on our relationship with Jesus Christ, whether or not we have a genuine relationship or a phony relationship.
With something as important as eternity, I do not want to leave my destiny in a question mark. I think that's foolish. The Bible says, "Make your calling and election sure." That's wise. Know where you will spend eternity. Be assured of where you will spend eternity.
The Bible tells us that we can know that we have passed from death into life. And you need to know that. If you don't know it I would encourage you to seek the Lord until you have that assurance, and you do know without a doubt that you're going to be eternally with him in his kingdom.
Throughout the Bible, we are warned concerning self-deception. Be not deceived. Over and over the Bible tells us, don't be deceived. Again, I don't want my eternal destiny something that I am deceived about. Here were the people saying the Lord has forsaken the earth. The Lord doesn't see. They were deceived. And there are many people today that are deceived.
And that is Satan's task-- the deception. Making you feel that you are all right, when in reality you are not. I wouldn't rest until I was sure that I'm going to spend eternity with our Lord in the Kingdom of God.
The pastors are down here tonight. They're here to pray for you. I don't know what your needs are. The Lord knows your needs and the Lord is able to meet your needs, whether they be spiritual, whether they be emotional, whether they be physical, he's able to meet your need.
And I would encourage you to spend some time seeking the Lord before you go home. Open your heart to what God is wanting to do in your life. It's important. Very important. So as soon as we're dismissed you are welcome to come on down to the front just to seek the Lord. Open your heart to him and let God work in your life-- his work of love and grace.
Sing hallelujah to the Lord. Hallelujah to the Lord. Sing hallelujah to the Lord. Sing hallelujah. Sing hallelujah. Sing hallelujah. Sing hallelujah to the Lord. Sing hallelujah to the Lord. Sing hallelujah to the Lord. Sing hallelujah to the Lord. Sing hallelujah. Sing hallelujah. Sing hallelujah. Sing hallelujah to the Lord.