There are parts of the United States, namely the Midwest that some people call “fly over country.” They call it that because they do not see the area as very exciting and you have to “fly over” it to get to other, more exciting places.
I think that there are some portions of the Bible that we might call “read over passages.” People like to read the stories in Genesis, and I & II Samuel, they like the Psalms and Proverbs, they might get into Isaiah because of his prophesies of the Messiah, but then we get into some very difficult prophetic books like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the shorter prophetic books. These are the fly over books. We don’t read them because they are difficult to understand and seem to have very little to do with our lives. So we fly over them and get right to the New Testament.
But… 2Ti 3:16 & 17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for doctrine, rebuking, correction, and training in righteousness, so that God’s servant may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
If these books are God breathed, and useful, we need to learn how to read them. So today’s message is all about how to read Ezekiel.
The Historical Situation of Ezekiel
Much of the Old Testament is about the relationship between God and the Jewish people. When God rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery, after 40 years in the wilderness, God brought them to the land that we now know as Israel. They were to come in, clear the land of the wicked people that lived there, move in and serve God in the promised land. The difficulty is that they had a habit of obeying God only partially, so Some of the people and many of the Idols were left in the land. And the Israelites relationship with God became one of struggling with worshipping and serving only him and Serving the local gods as well.
When the people beg for God to give them a king, he finally gives them Saul who starts well but ends really poorly. Then comes that glory years with David and Solomon as kings. Solomon’s son Rehoboam’s poor leadership splits the country between Judah in the South ruled by descendants of David, and Israel in the north ruled by Jeroboham and his descendants.
There is a long list of kings that do not serve God and a few who do. Israel worship the idol gods of the land from day one, and they commit all sorts of atrocities. They set up places of Worship for Ashera, and Ba’al, institute temple prostitution, have fertility orgies under oak trees, sacrifice their first born, and reject God’s moral and economic laws. We in North America are not that different with promiscuity, abortion and oppression of the poor. We’ve secularized all the sins that Israel committed in their religious practices.
In Deuteronomy 28-29 God tells the people of the amazing blessings they will receive if they stay close to him, worship him only and follow his law, He also lays out the curses that they will receive if they reject him and his ways. By Ezekiel’s time Israel has already reaped the curses for their deep sin and disobedience. The Assyrians came in 722 BC and carried the nation off in captivity.
Judah was spared because of the influence of righteous men like Isaiah. King Hezekiah brought spiritual renewal to Judah, but his son Manasseh and grandson Amon were such wicked kings that it took only two generations for the Jewish people to forget that God had even given them the law. Like children from Christian families who rebel and become worse than many who have grown up with no faith, these two kings led Judah into religious orgies, human sacrifice, and terrible oppression of the poor and weak in society.
Ezekiel tells them that they are worse than their sister cities of Sodom in the south and Samaria in the north
When Josiah, the son of Amon becomes king, he rebuilds Gods temple and they discover the books of the law that has been buried for two generations. He weeps and repents over what he reads and how different it is from the way Judah has been living. Josiah tries to lead the people back to God, but they refuse. They are happy to add God and his rituals to their religious pudding, but they do not want to follow the law, and they do not want to worship him alone.
Although it was the Assyrians that destroyed Israel, it is the Babylonians that invade Judah – three times. In the wars between Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt, Judah kept picking the wrong side. The first time Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon took a group of young nobles back to Babylon with him. This group included Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach and Abenego. When Israel rebelled again Babylon took a larger group into exile, this group included Ezekiel. Finally, in 588 BC, God has had enough of Judah’s rebellion, and so has Babylon, and they invade, destroy all the outposts, lay siege to Jerusalem and finally destroy it, killing many inhabitants and sending most of the rest into exile. It is out of this destruction and exile that the Jewish people finally turn their hearts to God and learn to serve him and him alone.
It is during this time that psalms like 137 were written
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill .
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
It is during the time leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction that Ezekiel prophesies.
Ezekiel’s Vision of the Glory of God – Ezekiel 1
1 In the  thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
2 On the fifth of the month-it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin- 3 the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi,  by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians.  There the hand of the LORD was upon him.
4 I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north-an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, 5 and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, 6 but each of them had four faces and four wings. 7 Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, 9 and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.
10 Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out upward; each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body. 12 Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. 13 The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. 14 The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.
15 As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. 16 This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. 17 As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about  as the creatures went. 18 Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.
19 When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. 20 Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21 When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
22 Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome. 23 Under the expanse their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. 24 When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty,  like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.
25 Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. 26 Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire,  and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. 27 I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. 28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD . When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
It is this vision of the glory of God that calls and sustains the people of God – particularly the prophetic people. It is the beginning of ministry. Isaiah is overwhelmed by a vision of God’s glory in the temple before he responds to God’s question of who he will send with the response “Here am I, send me!” God reminds Jeremiah that it was he who formed him in the womb before he sends him out. Jesus comes from the very Throne room of God to the stable to start his ministry. The disciple walk with Jesus – the very glory of God before the Spirtit comes upon them and they go out and minister in power.
Ezekiel teaches us that we need to stay in touch with the glory and majesty of God if we are going to stay in the mission and ministry that he calls us to. So spend time worshiping God. Seek out his Glory. Ask him to show you his glory as Moses did.
Ezekiel’s Call – Ezekiel 2 & 33
Called to speak in the midst of adversity (2:1-8)
1 He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” 2 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.
3 He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. 4 The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ’This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ 5 And whether they listen or fail to listen-for they are a rebellious house-they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. 7 You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. 8 But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”
Even if they do not listen, we need to speak.
We need to do our best to speak and act in a way that is as acceble as possible for people. There are timres when we like to blame the people around us for our own ineffectiveness – we must not do that. But with our best effort and God’s power, people may still not listen – this must not stop us from proclaiming what God has called us to proclaim.
Called to “eat” the word of God (2:9-3:4)
9 Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, 10 which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.
31 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.
3 Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.
– Chew on God’s word
– Romans 12:22 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Called to be a watchman (33)
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: ’When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, 3 and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, 4 then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. 5 Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.’
7 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 8 When I say to the wicked, ’O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for  his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. 9 But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.
We are responsible for the community around us, to speak the truth in love.
If we really believe that what we believe is true, then we believe that the people around us who are not trusting God are in trouble. Are we telling them? “You’re in trouble is not an easy word to say or hear, but if danger is coming and we don’t at least invite people into the safety of a relationship with God through Jesus we are not living out the call of watchman.
Ezekiel’s Vision of Jerusalem – Ezekiel 16
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices 3 and say, ’This is what the Sovereign LORD says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. 5 No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.
6 ” ’Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!”  7 I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels.  Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare.
8 ” ’Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD , and you became mine.
9 ” ’I bathed  you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. 10 I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. 11 I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, 12 and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. 14 And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD .
15 ” ’But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his.  16 You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. Such things should not happen, nor should they ever occur. 17 You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them. 18 And you took your embroidered clothes to put on them, and you offered my oil and incense before them. 19 Also the food I provided for you-the fine flour, olive oil and honey I gave you to eat-you offered as fragrant incense before them. That is what happened, declares the Sovereign LORD .
20 ” ’And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? 21 You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them  to the idols. 22 In all your detestable practices and your prostitution you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, kicking about in your blood.
23 ” ’Woe! Woe to you, declares the Sovereign LORD . In addition to all your other wickedness, 24 you built a mound for yourself and made a lofty shrine in every public square. 25 At the head of every street you built your lofty shrines and degraded your beauty, offering your body with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by. 26 You engaged in prostitution with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, and provoked me to anger with your increasing promiscuity. 27 So I stretched out my hand against you and reduced your territory; I gave you over to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were shocked by your lewd conduct. 28 You engaged in prostitution with the Assyrians too, because you were insatiable; and even after that, you still were not satisfied. 29 Then you increased your promiscuity to include Babylonia,  a land of merchants, but even with this you were not satisfied.
30 ” ’How weak-willed you are, declares the Sovereign LORD , when you do all these things, acting like a brazen prostitute! 31 When you built your mounds at the head of every street and made your lofty shrines in every public square, you were unlike a prostitute, because you scorned payment.
32 ” ’You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! 33 Every prostitute receives a fee, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. 34 So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others; no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you.
35 ” ’Therefore, you prostitute, hear the word of the LORD ! 36 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because you poured out your wealth  and exposed your nakedness in your promiscuity with your lovers, and because of all your detestable idols, and because you gave them your children’s blood, 37 therefore I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see all your nakedness. 38 I will sentence you to the punishment of women who commit adultery and who shed blood; I will bring upon you the blood vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger. 39 Then I will hand you over to your lovers, and they will tear down your mounds and destroy your lofty shrines. They will strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry and leave you naked and bare. 40 They will bring a mob against you, who will stone you and hack you to pieces with their swords. 41 They will burn down your houses and inflict punishment on you in the sight of many women. I will put a stop to your prostitution, and you will no longer pay your lovers. 42 Then my wrath against you will subside and my jealous anger will turn away from you; I will be calm and no longer angry.
43 ” ’Because you did not remember the days of your youth but enraged me with all these things, I will surely bring down on your head what you have done, declares the Sovereign LORD . Did you not add lewdness to all your other detestable practices?
44 ” ’Everyone who quotes proverbs will quote this proverb about you: “Like mother, like daughter.” 45 You are a true daughter of your mother, who despised her husband and her children; and you are a true sister of your sisters, who despised their husbands and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. 46 Your older sister was Samaria, who lived to the north of you with her daughters; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you with her daughters, was Sodom. 47 You not only walked in their ways and copied their detestable practices, but in all your ways you soon became more depraved than they. 48 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD , your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done.
49 ” ’Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. 51 Samaria did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they, and have made your sisters seem righteous by all these things you have done. 52 Bear your disgrace, for you have furnished some justification for your sisters. Because your sins were more vile than theirs, they appear more righteous than you. So then, be ashamed and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous.
53 ” ’However, I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and of Samaria and her daughters, and your fortunes along with them, 54 so that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all you have done in giving them comfort. 55 And your sisters, Sodom with her daughters and Samaria with her daughters, will return to what they were before; and you and your daughters will return to what you were before. 56 You would not even mention your sister Sodom in the day of your pride, 57 before your wickedness was uncovered. Even so, you are now scorned by the daughters of Edom  and all her neighbors and the daughters of the Philistines-all those around you who despise you. 58 You will bear the consequences of your lewdness and your detestable practices, declares the LORD .
59 ” ’This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant. 60 Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. 61 Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you receive your sisters, both those who are older than you and those who are younger. I will give them to you as daughters, but not on the basis of my covenant with you. 62 So I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the LORD . 63 Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign LORD .’ ”
God’s offence at our sin
– He is more than the jilted lover, he is the white knight who has not rescued the princess from the dragon, but has taken the homeless waif who nobody wants and turned her into a princess. Instead of returning this true love, the princess becomes a prostitute and a killer of children flaunting her evil behavior in front of her husband. Finally, although he loves her, he says enough is enough, and he says you cannot act this way and continue to be my wife.
We have been taught that there are certain sins, that as long as we do them in secret and no one is hurt, it isn’t that bad – what we forget that when we go running after those things we are cheating on the one who loves us with a perfect love. What Ezekiel tells us is that after a while the patience of this all loving God runs out, and at that point the loving thing to do is to say you are finished with me until you stop this horrendous behavior.
But that is not the end of the story – even the judgement is not designed to just punish – it is given in the hope that the judgement is what draws Jerusalem back into her husbands loving and forgiving arms. In fact, Chapters 25-32 let us know that even in the midst of Judging Jerusalem and Judah, God still holds to his promise given to Abraham and his descendants: that those who bless you I will bless and those who curse you I will curse. The nations pounce on Judah in her destruction like a pack of wild dogs after the smell of blood, and God judges them for it.
Ezekiel’s Hope – Ezekiel 37, 48:35
The night before a refugee from the ruined city of Jerusalem comes to tell the exiles that their loved city is destroyed, Ezekiel changes his tune and begins to speak a message of hope.
Can you imagine how the exiles felt – their greatest hope was to return to Jerusalem – false prophets promised them that they would see it’s walls again, now it is gone, destroyed. It is as if astronauts on a space ship, light years away would hear that there is no earth to return to. The Israelites are in a place they don’t belong, and now the place where they do belong – the place they long to be no longer exists, and this is the word that Ezekiel gives (37:1-14)
1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “O Sovereign LORD , you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ’Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD ! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath  enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD .’ ”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise,
a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ’This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet-a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ’Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ’This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD , when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD .’ ”
Israel thinks that they are worse than dead, but God promises to raise the up to new life!
The book ends with these amazing words about the new Jerusalem:
And the name of that city from that time on will be: “THE LORD IS THERE”
Learn the lesson of Ezekiel
What Israel and Judah teach us is we can’t have it both ways – we can’t serve both God and our sinful desires.
We also learn that if the carrot doesn’t work, that God can bring out the stick – he brings hardship into our lives so that we take a good hard look at ourselves and allow him to turn us around.
Do you need to hear Ezekiel’s word to Jerusalem?
Ezekiel teaches us to be people of God whether it is popular or not, He reminds us that we are watchmen on the wall for our friends, for our city and for our nation. We need to be faithful on our watch – to look out for trouble and sound the alarm for people we love.
Stay close to the glory of the Lord
“Eat” the Word.