Chapter 16 of Ezekiel. "Again the word of the Lord came to me saying, son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations."
Now we have come to the longest chapter in this prophecy of Ezekiel. There's 63 verses. So tonight we're only going to cover two chapters. And chapters 63-- or not chapter 63. Chapter 16, along with chapter 17, just like last week, chapter 15, was a parable, a story that is told in allegorical form to tell us and show us the history of the nation of Israel, and in particular the city of Jerusalem.
Now, everybody loves a good story. And every culture is filled with storytellers, telling and retelling the story of that culture so that future generations can understand them. Stories, parables, are sort of like windows that help us to see a lot better the truth than we would ordinarily.
Jesus, of course, was fond of teaching in parables. And some of the prophets were as well. Ezekiel is well known for that. You might think of a parable as an earthly story that conveys heavenly meaning, an earthly story that conveys heavenly meaning.
One of the things that I love about the Bible is the way it was written. God is so creative, and our creative God communicates so creatively. You know, the Bible is not written like a systematic theology course. It doesn't say, this is the Book of Genesis and here are theistic evidences for the existence of a creator. It would be a cure for insomnia if it were written that way.
Rather, the Bible is varied in its approach, sometimes telling a direct story, sometimes written in poetry, sometimes pure history. At other times like this, parable stories are given. And it's that variety with which God communicates that makes reading the Bible one of the things that makes it so enjoyable. And it helps us to understand the truth in a more dramatic and a memorable way.
I heard about a high school in Virginia that was trying to advertise its course on home economics for boys. Nobody signed up with that name. I mean, what guy wants to learn about how to sew your clothes, and wash your clothes, and clean up, and do the books? It just didn't really come across very well and they didn't have many takers.
So the school thought, let's be creative. And they called it, though it was the same course the following year with exactly the same curriculum, they called it bachelor living.
And 120 students signed up for it.
Last week, after the study, we were in Chuck's office, a few of us, and he told us how he was in England at one time. He was teaching at a Keswick Conference. And one of the days, he was asked to go out to the streets where there was going to be an outreach. And they went out to the streets, and England is a very unruly place, especially these days, but also back in those days.
And he said as the crowd gathered, around the crowd gathered some hecklers, a motorcycle gang, a group of radicals. And, to make matters worse, the music that they had provided there in England was just really boring music. It wasn't the kind to really catch your attention and rivet the crowd. And the hecklers that were there, the motorcycle gang got a little bit more vociferous, louder, making fun, because these were a group of radical guys. So that was the setup for Pastor Chuck to go speak.
So Chuck thought, what way best to communicate to this crowd, but especially that crowd around this crowd? So he got up, and with that stroke of genius said, you know, Jesus Christ was a radical. He said radical things.
And he began to say some of the things that Jesus said, some of the claims of Christ, and how radical they were and that people in his generation thought he was a radical and didn't quite understand him. And that gang quieted down and listened. And Chuck said they were very polite in the way they listened and had a good response to that teaching.
Well, the crowd that Ezekiel was speaking to was the crowd that wouldn't listen to just a direct discourse. Jeremiah had tried that. They didn't listen. Now they're in Babylon, having been taken captive. They're a bit restless.
Ezekiel has spoken to them. He has also demonstrated the word of the Lord to them through these action sermons that he preached. And now he retells the story of Israel through these word pictures.
Verse 3. "And say to them, Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem. Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan. Your Father was an Amorite, your mother a Hittite."
What the Lord is going to do is reveal to them their own history, the skeletons that are in their closet. A lot of times people want to hide their backgrounds. They're ashamed of their past. They're ashamed of their family history. They're ashamed of their origins.
So they will go to great lengths to cover it up, and to just highlight just the best parts of their own history. What God is doing is taking the skeletons out of the closet, revealing the truth about their origins. Because, though they had a checkered past, as we will see, they boasted. They were arrogant. They were prideful.
So God will reveal their past. And he says, your father was an Amorite. Your mother was a Hittite. This sentence doesn't refer to Abraham and Sarah. This statement doesn't refer to the nation as a whole, but principally to the city of Jerusalem.
Now, the Amorites and the Hittites were the two principal tribal groups that inhabited the land of Canaan from way back. When Abraham entered the land of Canaan from Ur of the Chaldees, the Amorites were already there. They occupied that territory from about the second millennium BC. They had long been established in that land as a land of the Amorites.
Now, when Abraham was migrating toward that land, back in Genesis the Lord said to Abraham, your descendants are going to this land because the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. God was waiting for the inhabitants of Canaan to reach that high water mark of sin before he would judge them by displacing them and moving the children of Israel, starting with Abraham, into that land.
The Hittites, also a barbarous group of people, like the Amorites, they had migrated to the land of Canaan. They settled around and principally headquartered around the city of Hebron, just about 15 or 20 miles from Jerusalem. And they occupied that lower area of Judea.
So to say that your dad was an Amorite, your mom was a Hittite, was saying to Jerusalem, hey, you might boast in your strength, but I know something about your past, your mom and dad. Nothing to brag about. You have a checkered past. There are skeletons in the closet. And so God lets the cat out of the bag, tells the history of them.
"As for your nativity, your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you. You were not rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths."
When babies were born, there was a procedure that the midwives typically went through. The umbilical cord was cut. The baby was rubbed down with salt to firm up the skin, washed in water, and then oil was smeared over the skin of the baby to keep it moist. Then the baby would be wrapped up in cloths.
Every seven days that was repeated for 40 days. That was just the way that not only was the skin made firm, but the oil applied to the skin and then wrapped in the cloth to keep that treatment for a long period of time. That's how babies were cared for.
When my son was born, it's a day I'll never forget, because the doctor, after announcing to me that I was a proud father of a baby boy, handed me the scissors to cut the umbilical cord. Now, I had done work in hospitals. I had been in lots of surgeries. I love, I love watching the Surgery Channel. I love all that stuff.
But, still, the thought that I was going to cut this child free, give him his freedom in one sense, but also I knew the responsibility that was upon my shoulders to care for him, to raise him. But for this nation, for this city, Jerusalem, with a checkered past, it was like an abandoned child that nobody cared for, and nobody gave it those normal, caring characteristics that mothers and fathers or midwives would give. It was abandoned.
"No eye," verse 5, "pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. But you were thrown into the open field when you yourself were loathed on in the day that you were born." So, like an unwanted child of a mixed marriage, that's the picture that God paints of this city of Jerusalem and this nation of Judea. Abandoned and uncared for by parents.
It's a hard thought. Almost impossible for some of us to reconcile that a parent would abandon a child. That doesn't even cross our mind. In fact, there's a question that the Lord asks. Would a mother abandon her own child, God asked one of the prophets. Even though they would, the Lord says, I will never abandon you.
Now here, God paints this picture of Jerusalem, of Judea, like this child that was born, of a checkered past, abandoned, who had a difficult start, to begin with. But that God came along and eventually saw, and cared for, and nurtured, and brought all the way into adulthood. In ancient times, believe it or not, and I say in pagan ancient times, it was customary-- though unheard of in the days of Israel, when they lived and obeyed the laws of God-- it was a custom in ancient times for the father to decide the welfare, the future of the child, meaning even life or death.
In the Roman times, there was a Roman law known as the patria potestas, the absolute rulership and authority of the father. It was perfectly legal when a child was born to place that child at the foot of the father, and the father could decide if the child would live or die. And, typically, because males were preferred to carry on the family genealogy, a father would embrace the son by picking up the son, but if it was a daughter, at times he would command it to be discarded.
And I know that sounds outlandish, but we have fragmentary evidence, we have a letter from 1 BC where a man, a Roman soldier named Hilarion, writes to his wife Alis and says, if, good luck to you, you have another child, if it is a male, let it live. If it is a daughter, cast it out. And what would happen is these abandoned children would be taken to the forum, the square, the central marketplace in that town, and abandoned, to be picked up by slave traders who would turn them either into slaves or prostitutes.
So what a picture God is painting of Jerusalem and its origin. Abandoned. Nobody wanted it. Yet, or verse 6, "When I passed by you and I saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' Yes, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!'"
Here, then, is the picture of a struggling nation at its inception. A checkered past. Not a pedigree nation. Really a mutt nation. Mom and dad, Amorite and Hittite. And yet God saw and God cared for. They were so proud of themselves. So God shows them their genealogy, who they descended from.
They didn't descend from a great nation like Egypt or Babylon. In fact, nobody really cared much nor wanted Israel at the beginning. When Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldees and migrated into the land of Canaan, he was this outcast nomadic tribe that wasn't quite accepted at first. He was an outside group.
Later on, the children of Israel became a group of slaves in Egypt, and then a group of wanderers in the desert. Until God mercifully released them from Egypt and brought them into the land of Canaan, the land later called Israel. They wouldn't be alive, they never would have existed unless God said to the nation of Israel, live.
By the way, Israel couldn't exist today as a nation. Impossible. The odds are too high. Too many people have tried to destroy her for years. They couldn't have survived up to this point unless God said to them, live.
And so what a picture. God sees this abandoned child struggling in blood, unwashed uncared for, the cord uncut. And God saw her in her helpless condition, and the Lord declared, live.
Now, that's exactly how salvation is. God, in His grace, saw you, saw me, helpless, abandoned, no hope. No hope of ourselves, us pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, as some say we should. Really no future. And said to you, live.
In Romans, chapter 5, Paul says, "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." You and I were bankrupt. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, blessed, oh how happy are the poor in spirit.
Now, that's your condition, that's my condition, before we met the Lord. Poverty stricken in spirit. Blessed are those who know their own true condition. Israel had forgotten. Israel had forgotten its origin. Israel had forgotten the fact that God, in His grace, gave them life, gave them a land, gave them a heritage.
It was God who said to them, live. "I made you thrive like a plant in the field." In other words, you grew like a weed. And you grew, matured, became very beautiful. "Your breasts were formed. Your hair grew. But you were naked and bare."
In time, that abandoned baby rescued by God grew up. She became beautiful. She became an adult. However, naked, without culture, without civilization, without identity.
This description seems to fit Israel in that beginning, that nascent stage of her growth, those 430 years that the children of Israel were out there in Egypt. They were growing. They were wild. And they grew quite rapidly. They were flourishing, but still naked and bare, having really no identity yet, no land.
Now, beginning in verse 8 down to verse 14, it would seem that the parable takes us from the time of the Exodus through the reign of King David in that parabolic form. "When I passed by you again and I looked upon you, indeed, your time was the time of love, so I spread my wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became mine, says the Lord."
When Israel, when this growing, budding woman came to that marriageable age, the Lord spread his wing, an indication of making a covenant with, spreading his garment over. In the book of Ruth, Ruth, a Moabitess, has her eye, because Naomi says, keep your eye on Boaz, who is a near kinsman, and who owned the fields in Bethlehem.
And one night, she uncovered his feet, and she said as he inquired, who is that down there? She said, I am your maidservant Ruth. Spread your wing over me for you are my kinsman.
What she was doing is asking him to propose, to get engaged to her. You are a near kinsman. You can redeem me as a wife bereft of her husband and all of the land that has been lost to us and our family. Spread your wing over me.
It's a symbol of betrothal. it's a symbol of protection. So God, at that time, made a covenant with these people, spread his wing, betrothed her to himself, took this nation under his wing to care for her, making Jerusalem the capital, the place where the covenant would be established.
"Then I washed you in water. Yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood. I anointed you with oil." That is fragrant oil, a perfumed ointment. "I clothed you in embroidered cloth. I gave you sandals of badger skin. I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk."
Interesting and beautiful way of putting the history of Israel. "I gave you sandals of badger skin." Now, you will remember that the tabernacle, that tent-like structure in the wilderness, the outer covering of that tent was a badger skin, for protection.
So the Lord is drawing this analogy of this abandoned child who grew up into a woman. God made a covenant with her, a covenant with the nation, dwelt with her in this tent in the wilderness made of badger skins, which was like, in a spiritual sense, a nuptial tent. God drawing close, being close to his people.
Here seen as sandals of badger skin and clothed you with fine linen, the silks and the linen. Covered you with silk. "I adorned you with ornaments. I put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck."
All of this was God. Israel couldn't have lived, couldn't have made it, couldn't have survived unless the Lord paused and said, live. So what is he doing? He's shooting down, dismantling the pride, the arrogance, of this people, that perhaps up to this point had boasted in her own glory, her own goodness.
You and I have a pretty rotten background, like the people of Israel. And being saved, you know that. You know what the Lord saved you from. You know your own history and how the Lord graciously said to you, live.
The Bible tells us that we were born DOA, Dead On Arrival. Born in sin, conceived in iniquity. David said, "In sin did my mother conceive me. I came forth from my mother's womb speaking lies."
Paul paints a dark picture of our background, of our history. He said, "And you hath he quickened," made alive, "who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience."
He says, "You are by nature the children of wrath, even as others." That's your background. That's your origin. So we can never say, you know, I'm amazing, Lord, and I can see why you chose me to be your child. None of us would ever dare boast that.
But rather, "Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling." We understand who we are. It was only by God's grace. That's why I love Ephesians. As it paints that black picture, Paul inserts two of the most important words that contain really the whole Gospel-- but God. "But God, who is rich in his mercy in which he loved us, has made us alive together."
It was God who has given us life. That's the statement, that's the testimony of every Christian.
Verse 12. "And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head." Those clipped earrings that the women would wear in those days, and God bedecked her like a queen.
"Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen silk and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out throughout the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through my splendor which I had bestowed upon you."
During the reigns of both King David and King Solomon, the nation was never at its strongest as they were during that era. David brought strength to it. Solomon made it even greater, expanding the borders, bringing financial wealth, taking the land allotment of Israel and broadening those borders.
And the fame of Solomon reached as far as Arabia, so that the Queen of Sheba came from afar because she heard of the wisdom of Solomon and how God had blessed that nation. The verses that we just read speak of the silver, the gold, the jewels. We read in Chronicles how that Solomon made silver and gold like pebbles, like rocks, like stones, in Jerusalem. They were so common. And he made these beautiful jewels, and gems, and metals as common in Jerusalem as stones.
So, so far, the history of Israel, from an abandoned child of a mixed marriage that people couldn't stand for and nobody really cared about, to this vibrant, beautiful queen of great stature, great beauty, great magnificence. If only the story ended there. If the story, If the parable did end there, it would be a classic rags to riches love story.
But here's where the story goes bizarre. There's a twist in it. This beautiful queen, treated so royally by a husband who loved her, God himself, is not satisfied with her husband, but commits spiritual adultery, worshipping other gods, turning from all the blessings, all of the magnificence that God had bestowed up to that point.
And now the story goes downhill. It's such a sad story. Did you know that the rabbis, in ancient times, forbad, forbidded, however you want to say it, the reading of this chapter publicly? It was such a blot on the history of the Jews. It faithfully recounts their sin.
Verse 15. "But," and that's not a good word after all of the blessings that we have read, all of the magnificence we've read about, all of God's great favor. "But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it."
At the root of the problem was ingratitude due to forgetfulness. You'll see this as we go on. They forgot who they were. They forgot what God had done. And they forgot to be thankful.
Instead of saying, oh, Lord what a wretch I was, they became arrogant. We sing, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me." They forgot that. They probably would change the words. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like you. Me, I can understand why God would choose me. They have forgotten.
And Romans tells us, "Although they knew God, they glorified Him not as God. Neither were they thankful, but they became futile in their thoughts. Their foolish heart was darkened." And they turned from that beautiful place of intimacy to that horrible place of idolatry and spiritual adultery.
"You took some of your garments and adorned multicolored high places for yourself and played the harlot on them. Such things should not happen, nor be. You have also taken your beautiful jewelry from my gold, my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images and played the harlot with them. You took your embroidered garments and covered them, and you set my oil and my incense before them."
He calls it my silver, my gold, my incense, my clothing, because God gave those things to this nation. They were His. They were His blessings. Now they're squandering even God's blessings.
"Also my food which I gave you, the pastry of fine flour, oil and honey with which I fed you, you set it before them as sweet incense. And so it was, says the Lord."
Beginning with Solomon and carrying on through all of the successive dynasties, kingdoms, successions of kings, in both Judah and Israel, north and south, idolatry marked them. It began with King Solomon, who married foreign women and brought in the different gods and goddesses of those pagan nations. But it continued downhill.
Now, there were great times of renewal, great times even of revival, where you'd have a great king, like Hezekiah or Josiah, who would break down the images, bring in the reading of the law, call the people back to worship. But it didn't last. All it would take is another generation to forget the history, forget the grace of God, and plunge the nation deeper.
Moreover, "You took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter that you have slain my children and offered them up by causing them to pass through the fire?"
Now, therein lies the most hideous part of their idolatry, is that they took their own children, whom God says really were my children, and passed them through the fire, committed human sacrifice. It was a common practice of the Canaanites just east of the Dead Sea, the Ammonites, that huge tribe that once dominated the landscape.
The Ammonites would often sacrifice their children to gain the favor, the blessing, of their false god Molech. It was an abominable practice. Got said in the law, you shall not do that. You shall not be like these other nations. Something that was that heinous and hideous for which God booted the Amorites out of the land for, now God's own people, whom God treated so kindly, are acting just like the pagans around them.
Why did they do it? Because, again, they forgot. They had forgotten that the children God had given them were a blessing from God. Now, I think of our own culture. I think of fathers and even mothers who will abandon their own children, forgetting, denying, the blessing that these children are from God, being able to rationalize in their own minds why they will leave the responsibility of being a parent and raising them.
Or I think of the plight on our nation since 1973 in January, the Roe versus Wade declaration. That ruling, in 32 years, has cost 20 million lives. To frame that, that's greater than the entire living population of Canada, snuffed out since 1973. Forgetting that children are a heritage from the Lord, a gift from God, to be treated with love, with respect.
Heard a great story of a woman in our church who was so touched, moved, by the rate of abortion and the plague on our nation that she decided, after her first child was born, rather than picketing, rather than protesting, to visit some of the abortion clinics with her baby. And she just sat there all day long, baby in arms, cuddling it as the baby would coo. Calming it down, feeding it, and then turning to some of the young girls saying, boy, it's great to be a mom. Children are such a gift from God.
And she said, I saw so many of those young girls get up and leave. They saw the blessing of having children, they decided, we're not going to have our abortions. We're going to raise this child the way this child, and that love began to grow.
"And in all your abominations," verse 22, "and acts of harlotry, you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, struggling in your blood." You'll remember, I'm sure, back to Jeremiah, chapter 2, where God calls them to remember the days of their youth, when they were in the beginning stage as a nation.
He said, I remember the days of your youth, when you went after me in the wilderness. God was saying, I miss that. I miss the free spirit, that love, that abandonment, that you had for me, that wonderful closeness that we once shared. They had forgotten it.
Then it was so, "After all of your wickedness, woe, woe to you, says the Lord God, that you also built for yourself a shrine and made a high place for yourself in every street." Two woes are given. God is announcing judgment.
And here's the principle. When God reaches out in love, and a people or a person refuses to respond to God's love, then God is forced to act in judgment. Either way God will get his message across. He seeks first to reach out in love. But when that love is spurned, pushed away, now there is a shift in God's approach. "Woe, woe to you, says the Lord God."
You see, God had called them to look back over their own history. Remember where you've come from. They had forgotten, willingly forgotten. And now God says woe to them, even as to the Church of Ephesus. The Lord calls upon them to remember their early days, their first years, the beginning of their relationship with the Lord.
He said, nevertheless, I have something against you. You have left that first love, that early relationship of intimacy, closeness, betrothal. God said, I have something against you because you have done that.
Every now and then, a couple will sit in a pastor's office, mine included, and it's sad when I performed their wedding. And I remember. They'd forgotten, I remember their wedding day.
You see, pastors have the best seat in the house when it comes to a wedding. They see the communication between the eyes of that couple, and she looks at him and it's, aww. And he sees her coming down the aisle and it's, wow.
And I remember those couples. I remember those weddings. But then to have a couple sit in front of you and look at each other with disgust, anger, animosity, and then to turn and say, I don't love her any more, I don't love him any more, I think, what has happened?
What happened to that young girl whose heart was beating on her wedding day, and that young man who was sweating in his tuxedo and so excited as she came down the aisle? They grew apart. They've forgotten. And because they forgot, they're now ungrateful, angry, and bitter.
That can happen in a relationship with God. A theologian said to his congregation in England one Easter Sunday, and imagine a theologian, a pastor, saying this to his flock. He said, God was, but is not today. And then he said, God does nothing. God says nothing. God means nothing.
I'll bet you he didn't start out that way. I bet at one time there was a young man who was reading the Bible, entered a seminary, which became a cemetery, burying his faith, challenging his faith, through the hallways of academia. And now he thought himself superior even to God. He had walked away. He had forgotten.
Perhaps, just perhaps, you look back to a time when you and God were close. You were like this. You couldn't wait to come to church, raising your hands during a worship service. You loved the Lord. Couldn't wait to read his word.
Now things have changed a little bit, perhaps. Perhaps, rather than being thankful and joyful, you're complaining a bit more these days. It's turned into anger at God rather than thanksgiving to God. And you're heading down that path as described and discussed in Romans, chapter 1.
We need to be careful. If so, let this tonight be that check, that red flag, that says, oops, stop that behavior. Stop that attitude. Remember, give God the glory. Give Him the thanks.
You built your high places. "At the head of every road you made your beauty to be whored You offered yourself to everyone who passed by and multiplied your acts of harlotry. You also committed harlotry with the Egyptians, your very fleshly neighbors, and increased your acts of harlotry to provoke me to anger. Behold, therefore, I stretched out my hand against you, diminished your allotment, and gave you up to the will of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior."
It was true. The Philistines had attacked them, and on several accounts diminished their territory. Their allotment got smaller and smaller.
"You also played the harlot with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable. Indeed, you played the harlot with them and still were not satisfied."
What a picture. They were not satisfied with the idolatry they started with, and so they spread it around from nation to nation, forming alliances with Egypt, forming alliances with Assyria, hoping that trusting in these nations would save them from the threat of the Babylonians.
In doing so, they also brought in the gods and goddesses and started worshipping them. They started out in such wisdom, and fell to such depravity. One of the saddest stories is that of King Solomon. He was a wise guy. He wrote songs, and he authored books, and he wrote thousands of proverbs.
And for his wisdom, God-given wisdom, he ended up so foolish in the women he chose to marry, and the gods and goddesses he chose to worship. And he brought the nation along with him. Gifted intellectually, but he failed morally.
It reminds me of that story, a true story, of Luke Goodrich. Luke lives up in San Jose, California. Luke decided to burn trash in his backyard in San Jose, California. It's illegal to do so in that city. The fire got out of control. It burned a hundred acres. 400 firefighters and six helicopters later, the fire was put out.
What is ironic is that Luke Goodrich is the captain of the San Jose, or was, San Jose Fire Department. Something terribly inconsistent about that. Something terribly inconsistent about Solomon, the other kings, and the entire nation, after all that God had blessed her with.
Moreover, it gets worse. "You multiplied your acts of harlotry as far as the land of the trader Chaldea, and even then you are not satisfied. How degenerate is your heart," that is, morally weak is your heart, "says the Lord God, seeing you do all of these things, the deeds of a brazen," that is, domineering, "harlot. You erected your shrine at the head of every road. You built your high place in every street.
Yet, you were not like a harlot, because you scorned payment. You are an adulterous wife who takes strangers instead of her husband. Men make payment to all harlots, but you made your payments to all your lovers, and hired them to come to you from all around for your harlotry. You were the opposite of other women in your harlotry, because no one solicited you to be a harlot, and that you gave payment but no payment was given you. Therefore you are the opposite."
Here's the principle. God is saying, you have managed to out-heathen the heathen. You're worse than those who were here before you. Yeah, your mom and dad were Amorites and Hittites. You have sunk to their level and below. Because, He says, it is typical of most prostitutes to be solicited by their lovers, who would pay for those sexual favors.
You, on the other hand, took all of the blessings that I have given you and you bribed, paid off, these nations with which you committed idolatry, spiritual adultery with, trying to pay off Egypt and Assyria for protection.
"Now then, O harlot, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God. Because your filthiness was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your harlotry with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children with which you gave to them, surely therefore I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure," that is, those nations, "all around against you and will uncover your nakedness to them that they may see all of your nakedness."
God is saying, I will use these nations as instruments to humiliate you. "And I will judge you as women who break wedlock or shed blood are judged, and I will bring blood upon you in fury and jealousy. Then I will give you into their hand, and they shall throw down your shrines and break down your high places. They shall also strip you of your clothes, take your beautiful jewelry, and leave you naked and bare."
They're going to leave you in the same state I found you. I found you naked and bare. You grew up, you were still naked and bare. I was the one who made you what you were. I gave you the silver, the gold, and the clothing. All that you have gained you will lose by these endeavors to go out to other nations and commit idolatry.
Sin is deceptive. It begins, often, in closed situations, clandestine situations, closed doors. It's just you alone. You entertain certain things that then grow like a cancer and are manifest later publicly.
And all of the blessings of God can be, in a moment, squandered, taking you backward to that place where God found you. Oh yes, saved, no question. But empty. Alone. Looking now for God's mercy once again.
I was talking to a missionary who had a fruitful ministry on the mission field. I was new to Albuquerque. This was several years ago when I first arrived out there. And he was looking pretty forlorn. He told me a story that he had fruitful years of service but had gotten involved in sexual sin. It cost him his ministry.
And how he longed, he said, to be used of God once again, and was looking back with such remorse and bemoaning the fact that he was where God originally found him. Oh yes, he was starting all over again. Oh yes, God was merciful. Oh yes, God will use him again.
He was saying, Skip, it didn't have to be that way. And it was a warning to me in those early days. Israel failed to learn those lessons.
"They shall also," verse 40, "bring up an assembly against you, and shall stone you with stones and thrust you through with their swords. They shall burn your houses with fire and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women. And I will make you cease playing the harlot, and you shall no longer hire lovers. For I will lay to rest my fury toward you, and my jealousy shall depart from you. I will be quiet and be angry no more. Because you did not remember the days of your youth but agitated me with all these things, surely I will also recompense your deeds on your own head, says the Lord God. And you shall not commit lewdness in addition to all of your abominations."
From queen to prostitute. And now the punishment will fit the crime. She exposed herself to these nations. God will use the nations to expose her guilt and to destroy her. Now God compares, through the Ezekiel, three cities to three sisters, all of whom were prostitutes. They chose prostitution. Jerusalem, of course, Sodom and Samaria.
"Indeed, everyone who quotes proverbs will use this proverb against you. 'Like mother, like daughter.'" Boy, that's sad, because God said your mom is a Hittite. So like mother, like daughter. You have become like the nations I saved you from. "You are your mother's daughter, loathing husband and children. And you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and children. Your mother was a Hittite, your Father an Amorite."
Every mother should contemplate these verses in this sense-- the influence that you are able to wield on your children, your daughters and your sons. There's an old saying, and I think it's true. It says, the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.
A mom, a mother, has such influence. Look at Timothy's grandmother and mother. Great heritage. G. Campbell Morgan, who was a great preacher over in England at the start and early part of last century, had four sons. And at a family gathering somebody said-- all of them, by the way, all four sons were preachers, including their dad, G. Campbell Morgan.
Somebody at the gathering, family gathering, said, who in your family is the best preacher, Expecting one of them to say, well I am, or my dad is. But all the boys said, mother was the best preacher. They recognized that influence.
Charles Spurgeon used to say, before a child reaches seven, teach him all the way to heaven. And, better still, the work will thrive if he learns before he's five. It's estimated that 85% of a child's character is formed already by age five, principally due to the influence of parents, principally, by that time, the mother. So the saying, like mother, like daughter.
"Your elder sister is Samaria, who dwells with her daughters to the north of you. Your younger sister who dwells to the south of you is Sodom and her daughters. You did not walk in their ways, nor act according to their abominations. But as if that were too little, you became more corrupt than they in all your ways.
As I live, says the Lord God, neither your sister Sodom nor your daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom. She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and the needy."
When we think back to the sin of Sodom, we think of sexual promiscuity or homosexuality. That's what the city is known for. But that was not its root sin. That was not its root problem. The root problem was the problem at the root of all of us-- pride. And that pride eventually translated into idleness, ease, because of the resources that she had.
If you remember, Sodom could have been spared had Abraham been able to find just a few righteous people in the city, right? Lord, would you spare the city for 50, 45, 40, et cetera. Just a few, God said, you find just a few righteous, 10, and I'll spare the city. And then five.
God said to Jeremiah, if you can find one righteous in Jerusalem, I'll spare the city. Jeremiah, chapter 5. Run to and fro through the city and see if there is anyone who executes judgment. I'll spare the city. God didn't spare the city. None were found.
"And they were haughty and committed abomination before me. Therefore I took them away as I saw fit. Samaria did not commit half of your sins, but you have multiplied your abominations more than they, and have justified your sisters by all the abominations which they have done. You who judge your sisters, bear your own shame also, because your sins which you committed were more abominable than theirs. They are more righteous than you. Yes, be disgraced also and bear your own shame, because you justified your sisters."
And having announced the sin of Jerusalem, God-- and this is a typical pattern in the prophets-- now gives words of consolation and hope. "When I bring back their captives, the captives of Sodom and her daughters, the captives of Samaria and her daughters, then I will also bring back the captives of your captivity among them, that you may bear your own shame and be disgraced by all that you did when you comforted them. When your sister Sodom and her daughters return to their former state, and Samaria and her daughters return to their former state, then you and your daughters will return to your former state."
This seems to refer to the restoration of all three of these cities, that entire area. It hasn't happened yet. It will happen during the millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth. Sodom has been destroyed. It is barren. It's a desert. At one time it was lush. The Bible tells us that.
During the millennial kingdom, the deserts will be turned into verdant gardens. Isaiah, chapter 35 will give you the details. Today the deserts are expanding, but imagine going out toward Barstow and seeing just beautiful palm trees and grassy hills. It's not going to happen this week, but it will happen one day during the millennial reign of Christ, when these cities are restored.
"For your sister Sodom was not a byword in your mouth in the days of your pride before your wickedness was uncovered. It was like the time of the reproach of the daughters of Syria and all of those around her, and the daughters of the Philistines, who despise you everywhere. You have paid for your lewdness and your abomination, says the Lord.
For thus says the Lord God. I will deal with you as you have done, who despise the oath by breaking the covenant. Nevertheless, I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you."
Notice that God says, you didn't remember. Twice He says it in this chapter, verse 22 and verse 43. But here God says, I will remember. You'll forget. I'll never forget. Isn't that beautiful? As God writes to Timothy through Paul, 2 Timothy, chapter 2. "Though we are faithless, the Lord is faithful. He cannot deny himself."
"Then you will remember," future tense, "your ways and be ashamed when you receive your older and your younger sisters, for I will give them to you for daughters, but not because of my covenant with you. And I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth any more because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all that you have done, says the Lord God."
Now, we have just a minute to cover the next chapter. I believe we could do it in about two or three minutes.
"And the word of the Lord came to me saying, son of man, pose a riddle and speak a parable to the house of Israel." The root word for riddle means something sharp that would poke or jab. It's a word that means to stimulate the emotions and the intellect. And so a riddle would heighten the emotions when the story was told, a parable meant to excite and incite the truth.
"And say, thus says the Lord God. A great eagle with large wings and long pinions full of feathers and various colors came to Lebanon, and took from the cedar the highest branch, chopped off the topmost young twig and carried it to a land of trade. He set it in a city of merchants.
He took some of the seed from the land and planted it in a fertile field. He placed it by abundant waters, and set it like a willow tree. It grew and became a spreading vine of low stature, its branches turned toward him. But its roots were under it, so it became a vine, brought forth branches, and put forth shoots."
The analogy here, briefly, the parable here is between two eagles taking two branches. The first eagle is Nebuchadnezzar, who would sweep down and take Jehoiachin the king out of the land of Israel, depose him to Babylon, putting in Zedekiah in his place. Zedekiah will be convinced that Egypt can help.
Pharaoh Hophra is the second eagle, who will persuade the king, the vassal king Zedekiah, hey, we can help you. Trust in Egypt. Which will make Nebuchadnezzar angry and will cause Babylon to move not only against Jerusalem, finally taking it, but also against Egypt ultimately and destroy it.
"But there was another great eagle," verse 7, "with large wings and many feathers. And, behold, this vine bent its roots toward him, and stretched its branches toward him from the garden terrace were it had been planted, that he might water it. It was planted in a good soil by many waters to bring forth branches, bear fruit and become a majestic vine.
Say, thus says the Lord God. Will it thrive? Will he not pull up its roots, cut off its fruit and leave it to wither? All of its spring leaves will wither. And no great power or many people will be needed to pluck it up by its roots. Behold, it is planted. Will it thrive? Will it not utterly wither when the east wind touches it? Will it wither in the garden terrace where it grew?
Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me saying, say now to the rebellious house, do you not know what these things mean? Tell them, indeed, the King of Babylon went to Jerusalem and took its kings and princes, and led them with him to Babylon. Then he took the king's offspring and made a covenant with him, and put him under oath.
He also took away the mighty out of the land, that the kingdoms might be brought low and not lifted up, but that by keeping his covenant it might stand. But he rebelled against him by sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and many people. Will he prosper? Well he who does such things escape? Can he break a covenant and still be delivered?
As I live, says the Lord God, surely in the place where the king dwells, who made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he broke, with him in the midst of Babylon, he shall die. Nor will pharaoh," that is Pharaoh Hophra during that time, "with his mighty army and great company, do anything in the war, when they heap upon a siege mound and build a wall to cut off many persons. Since he despised the oath by breaking the covenant, and in fact gave his hand, and still did these things, he shall not escape.
Therefore thus says the Lord God. As I live, surely my oath, which he despised, and my covenant, which he broke, I will recompense on his own head. I will spread my net over him, and he will be taken in my snare. I will bring him to Babylon and try him there for treason which he committed against me. All his fugitives, with all of his troops, shall fall by the sword, and those who remain shall be scattered to every wind. But you shall know that I the Lord have spoken."
It says that the first eagle swept in and took a branch from a cedar in Lebanon, although it refers not to Lebanon but the city of Jerusalem. Why? Because the temple-- according to Eusebius, the early church historian-- the temple in Jerusalem was nicknamed Lebanon by the Jews who lived there because of the Cedars of Lebanon that that edifice was built from. So it was called Lebanon.
And so the analogy of the eagle taking a top branch, that is, the leader of Jerusalem, taking him to another land, leaving a vassal, Zedekiah, who trusted in Egypt, leaving the doors wide open for Nebuchadnezzar to not only destroy finally, 586 BC, the Jews, but then eventually the Egyptians.
Now we close on a high note. The doom is over. The doom is now tempered with the promise of restoration of the Messiah.
"Thus says the Lord God. I will also take one of the highest branches of the cedar and set it out. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and will plant it on a high and prominent mountain," a reference to Mount Zion.
"On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it, and it will bring forth boughs and bear fruit and be made a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort. In the shadow of its branches they will dwell. And all the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree and exalted the low tree, dried up the green tree and made the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken, and have done it."
The tender twig is the Messiah, who will come forth from the line of King David, bringing salvation at His first coming, bringing total restoration at His second coming. He was described as such in Isaiah, chapter 53, saying, "He will grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground."
None of those two eagles, Nebuchadnezzar or the pharaoh in Egypt, were able to offer protection, hope, and salvation that they hoped for. Only this tender twig that will come and establish His kingdom will be able to offer them full salvation and hope.
You and I, like Jerusalem, like Judah, were born outside the family. We were adopted, as God paused and saw us in our blood and said, live. And we have flourished.
Don't trust in anything else. Don't trust in any other eagle, that majestic bird, those leaders that they look to. Whatever it might be, other than the Lord, it's futile for you to trust him. We need to look to the Lord, our God.
Heavenly Father, we're lost without you. The world offers us no hope. The world doesn't really care about us, our future. Like those cast off and abandoned, you saw us in our state of spiritual poverty, and you told us, live.
We were dead in trespasses and sins. You spoke to us, and we have been born by the spirit. Lord, I pray that none of us would trust in a covenant with anyone or anything else, but our trust would be fully in you, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Shall we stand. We're full. I was noticing there at the last of chapter 17, where the Lord said, "I the Lord have spoken, and have done it." When you go to the 37th chapter, again in verse 36, "I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it."
The certainty of the word of God. And I think that it's important that we recognize that God's word will stand. Jesus said, "Heaven and earth may pass away. My words will never pass away." Important for us to know what God has said he will do.
All the way through we've been hearing, "I the Lord have spoken it." And then we hear that, when it shall come to pass, "You will know that I am the Lord."
The word of God is one of the strongest proofs that we have for the existence of God, the fact that God's word has spoken with such accuracy. And here in the prophecies that we were looking at tonight, as God did declare it would happen, so it did happen.
Zedekiah turned to Egypt for help. Zedekiah was taken as a captive to Babylon. And though it said he would never see Babylon, he didn't. His eyes were put out before he got there.
God said that he would trust in Egypt, but God would destroy Egypt, that Egypt would not be the help. "I the Lord have spoken it. I have done it," he said. "I the Lord has spoken." I will do it, make sure that you know God will keep his word.
That to me is a great comfort, to know that God keeps his word. We put our trust in the word of God, but he who puts his trust in the Lord will never be ashamed.
Tonight, God sees you. He knows all about you. And, as Pastor Skip was sharing, even as with the people of Judah, who God had taken, and taken from certain death, and watched over and developed them, and lavished His love upon them. And yet how they turned from God, and how they became so far from being what God would have them to be.
Maybe that's not just the story of Judah. Maybe that's the story of some of you tonight. You've once known the blessings of God. You've once known the riches that God bestowed upon your life, but somehow, someway, you're no longer in that same kind of a relationship with him. You've more or less prostituted the things, the gifts, that God has given to you.
And tonight is the night that God is calling you back to a real commitment to Him. The pastors are down here at the front to minister to you tonight, to pray for you, and to help you to come back to that place where you once were, enjoying the blessings and the riches of God's love that he bestows upon your life.
It may be that you have other needs, and you'd like someone to pray with you for some other need tonight. They're here to pray for you, and to pray with you. So, as soon as we're dismissed, we would encourage you, make your way forward. Come on down, and these pastors are down here to pray for you this evening that you might experience the help and the work of God in your life tonight.
[SINGING] Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.