"In the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God, Is it to inquire of me that you come? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you. Will you judge them, son of man, will you judge them? Let them know the abominations of their fathers, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: On the day when I chose Israel, I swore to the offspring of the house of Jacob, making myself known to them in the land of Egypt; I swore to them, saying, I am the Lord your God. On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. And I said to them, ‘Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.’ But they rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. “Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt."
“For on my holy mountain, the mountain height of Israel, declares the Lord God, there all the house of Israel, all of them, shall serve me in the land. There I will accept them, and there I will require your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your sacred offerings. As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the country that I swore to give to your fathers. And there you shall remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves, and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name's sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.”
Ezekiel faced a terrible task. As a prophet, God calls him to call his own people to repentance of their rebellion and sin. He was to speak of why they, as God’s people, were experiencing catastrophic judgment by being forced into exile and pronounce greater judgement to come should they not turn from their evil. The Israelites were no strangers to trauma and catastrophe in their history.
God, through Ezekiel, is calling out their wrong interpretation of their circumstances. They see their situation as not really deserved at all and that God was being unfair or incompetent, or both. Some of them had a naive optimism that it would all soon be over and they would return to Jerusalem and yet again be delivered by God’s mighty power. "It’s not my fault"; "God’s not fair"; "It’s beyond our control" - these are misconceptions that have led to fatalism, apathy, and a lack of personal responsibility.
In our text, Ezekiel has elders (lay spiritual leaders) in front of him. They have come to consult with God. Ezekiel has his orders: “judge them...let them know”. The words of our text are the words designed by God and Ezekiel to counter their misconceptions - to shatter them ruthlessly with the hard rocks of reality. The reality was their generations of ceaseless sin, idolatry, and breaking of their covenant obligations to Him.
When we understand the size of Ezekiel’s task, we can appreciate his style of allegory, shocking imagery, and street theater like actions that he used for maximum impact. According to the book of Ezekiel, the hearers of these prophecies and appeals are hostile, apathetic and described as having stiff faces, hard hearts, and brazen foreheads. His rhetoric had to sting and shock in order to pierce through their steel like resistance.
Ezekiel retells the history of Israel (God’s people; the Hebrews/Jews). God had formed these people to be a blessing to every nation - to be central in His plan to redeem His entire creation - to put Him on display among the nations - to be His people that are in covenant relation with Him, the Creator of all things.
If you could summarize this sermon in one sentence, it would be: The World Revolves Around God.
Ezekiel 20 is a retelling of the history of God’s people up to the exile. In this retelling of their history, their rebellion, sin, unfaithfulness, and idolatry is the focus.
Four different periods are depicted:
- Israel in Egypt (verses 5-9)
- First generation in the wilderness (verses 10-17)
- Second generation in the wilderness (verses 18-26)
- From conquest to exile (verses 27-31)
Ezekiel points out the pattern of actions:
- God’s grace, provision, and promise
- Israel rebels
- God’s anger
- God gives grace to protect His name
The pluralism of their worship is detestable to God. They practice the worship of God alongside the worship of false gods - even performing child sacrifice as if God had required it in the law. They had institutionalized and glorified rebellion under the banner of choice. They wrongly thought that the world revolved around them. We are called to accept the truth that the world revolves around God. What matters is not what we think about God but what He thinks of us.
Rebellion is not against an abstract God but against the personal God of grace. Like he did to Adam and Eve, Satan always seeks to persuade us that God is a harsh taskmaster who will exploit us and abuse us if we allow Him. He convinces us that God seeks to deny us things that are good (Genesis 3:1-6). The reality is exactly the opposite for them and us. Their area of personal freedom was large, the restriction was minuscule - but they were deceived into seeing the minuscule restriction as bondage. After giving into temptation, they discovered what true bondage was.
In the midst of Israel’s miserable bondage, God offered them a way to total freedom with pure worship. However, they sought only half freedom. They wanted freedom from the unpleasant circumstances, but not freedom from the sin itself.
The World Revolves Around God.
As much as judgement and death are certain consequences to adopting popular cultural idols, Ezekiel 20 should also fill modern Christians with profound optimism. Israel’s continual history of sin will not thwart God’s plan of redemption. Verses 33-48 declare that the Lord will gather His exiled people, call them together, judge them, and all will know that He is God. He will accept those that repent and restore them and continue to do HIs work in and through them.
God is showing that the first exodus (out of Egypt) did not bring to fruition His purpose of a pure, worshipping people, but the second exodus will. The second exodus started when Jesus came proclaiming the good news of liberation (Luke 4:18-19). The goal of the exodus and kingdom that Jesus inaugurated is “so that they may know that I am God and so they can worship”. Ezekiel describes pure worship in Old Testament terms (sacrifices offered in a restored temple). The fulfillment of Ezekiel’s worship is found in Jesus Christ - who said true worshippers “will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). The “new age” of worship has dawned - we are His redeemed community worshipping in the presence of God Himself (Hebrews 12:22-24).
The end of the age will be the restoration of all things. His kingdom will be on earth as it is in heaven. His kingdom will be fully established. Meanwhile we live in the “already but not yet” tension - blessing others as we display foretastes of His Kingdom that He will one day fully establish.
The World Revolves Around God!
Our Via Communities are our primary discipleship tool. This section is to help you as you discuss the sermon with others in your life. It is designed for communities to utilize but can be used to facilitate a conversation between spouses, good friends, co-workers, etc., as we live to be faithful to God’s mission in his world.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
The Gospel is powerful. The good news of Jesus changes us. This section is to record the ways you are noticing the good news of Jesus transforming your life. Jot notes to help you remember.
As we examined God’s Word, in what ways was His Word examining you?
Describe how Jesus is becoming more central in your life.
What does trusting in Jesus look like for you this week?