False Bible Teachers and Idolatry-Ezekiel 12-15

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Big idea: Why God's terrible judgment happens and God's glory departs: Bad Bible teachers/leaders (ch.13) and idolatry of the heart (ch.14, 8) which leads to delusion, self-deception and leading many astray.

"Your prophets, Israel, are like jackels among ruins" (Eze 13:4). "Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?" (Eze 14:3)

Questions:

  • What was Ezekiel's purpose in symbolizing the seige (12:1-9)?
  • Why did Ezekiel tell them about the exile of the prince (12:10-14)--Zedekiah, the last king of Judah?
  • What is the implication of eating and drinking in anxiety and despair (12:17-19)?
  • Why do the people say that God's word will not come to pass (12:21) or that it will be years in the future (12:27)? Is God's word irrelevant?
  • Why did Ezekiel prophecy against the false prophets [Bible teachers/leaders] (Ezekiel 13)?
  • Why would they promote lies and their own imagination and say that it is God's word (Eze 13:6-7)?
  • What does it mean to set up an idol in one's heart (Eze 14:3)?
  • How does one repent and turn from idolatry (Eze 14:5)?
  • How does God regard Bible teachers who condone idolatry (Eze 14:9-10)?
  • What is the relationship between the righteousness of parents and their children (Eze 14:16, 18, 20)?

[See outline below] Sign of the Siege (Ezekiel 12)

  1. Judgment is greatest for those with the richest spiritual tradition. Those with no ears or eyes may be forgiven for their indifference or oblivion. But in the face of God's lavish expressions of covenant grace and patience, the refusal to hear and see not only results in the further dulling of the senses; sooner or later the door of divine mercy will slam shut.
  2. God's word must be understood on God's terms. Like Ezekiel's audience we are often tempted to adjust divine revelation to suit our desires, rather than letting it shape us. By clever rationalization we transform messages of reproof and correction into illusory promises of hope.
  3. In the face of calamity God remains sovereign over history. When things fall apart we may despair that God is no longer in control. But his hand is present even in the direst circumstances. The goal of his discipline, as well as his benefactions, is that all may:
    1. acknowledge their sinfulness,
    2. confess his righteousness, and
    3. submit to his lordship.
  4. Judgment is always just in God's system of justice. Sodom and Gomorrah's violent end was on account of their own brutality (Gen 18:20; 19:24-25). But the Judge of all the earth (Gen 18:25) plays no favorites. When the land is filled with violence once again, it must be emptied, irrespective of the identity of its inhabitants. The coming judgment on Jerusalem serves as a solemn warning to those who call themselves his people, or consider themselves cultured but express their disrespect for God through violent and inhuman conduct.
  5. Even in times of crisis people may live under the illusion that all is well. Eating and drinking are necessary for physical health. But God taught his people during their years of wondering, which Jesus reminded the devil that people do not live by bread alone (Dt 8:3; Mt 4:4). Life is found not merely in physical sustenance but in following the example of Ezekiel -- finding nourishment in the revelation of God and living by it. To those who do so, God pronounces the sentence of life; those who refuse face the sentence of death.
  6. The certainty of the fulfillment of God's word is based on the person and character of God (12:21-28). The challenges of arrogant and rebellious people will not change the fact that when God speaks he acts. Within a few years of this utterance the cynics would be silenced by the terrible truth of his word. Also, God's method of reckoning time is different from ours, and we may be much nearer the day than we realize.

Counterfeit Prophets (Ezekiel 13)

13:1-16 serves as a warning to all who would claim to be spokespersons for the living God by identifying the marks of a counterfeit. What do false Bible teachers characteristically do and who are they?

  1. They claim divine authority, even when they speak only from their own inspiration. Their perspective was simply private opinion that was politically motivated to gain the approval and control of their audience. Expert training, oratorical gifts, a charismatic personality, long tenure and a wealth of experience may qualify one to lecture or perform or entertain, but these aptitudes alone do not authorize one to stand behind the pulpit. The message of those who claim to speak for God must have his signature. Does our proclamation declare the message of God as revealed in the Scriptures?
  2. They proclaim messages that people want to hear, especially when the truth is painful. For the exiles and the Jerusalemites no word would have been more welcome and at the same time more deadly than to hear that all was well. Reassurances of well being serves neither the community nor individuals in moral and spiritual decline. For many the illusion becomes the reality. They live in the land of "all is well" even when nothing is.
  3. They are more interested in their own status than in the welfare of the community. They are like jackels (Eze 13:4), scavenging among the ruins for personal advantage, capitalizing on the calamity of others. Frauds assume no responsibility for the fate of the people; they look out only for themselves.
  4. They pass away. Only the word of the Lord endures (Isa 40:7-8) and achieves its life-giving objectives (Isa 55:10-11).
  5. They stand under the judgment of God. One who is self-inspired to claim to speak for God is the height of arrogance, and to seduce gullible people with flattering words or threats is utter folly. But God is not mocked. What leaders sow, that they will reap.
  6. They occupy positions of power but they will answer to God for the manner in which they exercised their authority. The leadership exercised by the women (13:17-23) was reprehensible in two ways: their motives were parasitic, and their methods were sinister. They were interested only in their own status. Such problems continue to plague the community of faith. Men and women enter the ministry of the church, driven more by a hunger for power than passion for the people, and they exercise power in ways often indistinguishable from the world outside. But the kingdom of God is offered to the meek, not to the arrogant and self-assertive. Whoever would truly be a leader at all must be a servant of all.
  7. They exploit the vulnerable especially in times of crisis. Difficult experiences may leave one doubting God's presence and power. Peter personalizes the power behind evil, describing him as an adversary, the devil, prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet 5:8). But the believer must know that God has provided all the resources needed to resist the malevolent world (Eph 6:11-12). Ultimately, the kingdom of light and life will triumph over the kingdom of darkness and death (Jude 24-25).

Idolatry Condemned (Ezekiel 14:1-11)

  1. Idolatry is a matter of mind/heart (Eze 14:2). God is directing his charges against his people not at images but at the deluded hearts and minds that have been seduced or deceived. True religion is essentially a matter of the heart (Dt 6:5; 10:12, 20). Thus, we are always to search our hearts (Ps 139:23), circumcise our hearts (Dt 10:16; 30:6; Rom 2:29) and to guard our hearts (Prov 4:23). 
  2. Syncretism is always a threat. Ezekiel's compatriots--as they have been doing throughout their history--are "hopping between two opinions" (1 Ki 18:21). Externally, their appearance before the prophet and their inquiry appears commendable (Eze 14:1). But internally, their hearts were not centered nor focused on God. They may camouflage their hypocrisy and deceive humans, but they will not escape the scrutiny of God (Eze 14:2-4).
  3. God does not respond to those who demonstrate no covenant faithfulness in their daily lives. To receive a favorable answer from God one must come with sincerity, honesty and on his terms, which includes his exclusive right to one's devotion (Eze 14:5). God tolerates no rivals.
  4. Positions of privilege do not bring immunity from prosecution (Eze 14:9-10), but impose even greater accountability before our God and Judge. The prophet's task is to announce the truth and to call people to repentance for their sin (Eze 14:6), not to satisfy their lusts with false assurances of peace. True leaders are known by the divine authority of their message (Eze 14:4a, 6a), not by the popularity of their pronouncements. Thus, leaders who acquiesce before the flattery and seduction of hypocritical inquirers become accomplices in their crimes and receive the same punishments (Eze 14:10).
  5. God is gracious and merciful to all who repent of their sin. Warnings of imminent judgment are often veiled signs of divine mercy. God's appeals to repentance offer specific hope of finding a sensitive ear with him. But the cry for mercy must be combined with a commitment to a new way of life (Eze 14:5, 11). 
  6. In judgment God is not arbitrary, capricious, moody nor random. God's responses to human sin are consistent with his immutable character, and they have as their goal the transformation of sinful human beings into a covenant people, pure and exclusive in their devotion to him (Eze 14:5, 11).

Judgment will not be averted by the righteous few (Ezekiel 14:12-23)

  1. Each person is responsible for his or her own welfare (Eze 14:14, 16, 18, 20). Children may not bank on the piety of their parents, nor an entire church depend on one or two righteous persons. However, there is hope and mercy for all who are righteous by God's standards, even for those who appear to be outsiders to the community of faith.
  2. God is just in all his ways. The carnal mind struggles with the justice of God in the face of human tragedy. But the eyes of faith will recognize behind all tragedies the hand of God. God's people recognize that he does not operate arbitrarily or without cause. His actions are always according to his immutable principles of justice and righteousness. If people experience his wrath, it is because the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).

A metaphor (Ezekiel 15)

  1. The claim to divine election is no substitute for covenant faithfulness. Israel's false claim to security is based on their being the royal vine, the privileged people of God. However, they must respond to the call of this high role with willing obedience to the divine King who has called them to himself. Grace places high demands on its recipients. Unless one matches one's claims with adherence to his will, one may well wake up one day to the reality that far from being his or her protector and patron, God has actually become the adversary (Eze 15:5).
  2. The judgment of those who do not match profession with faithfulness is severe. Jesus likewise warns his disciples to bear the fruit of obedience to God (Jn 15:1-2, 6, 8-17).

 

Ezekiel's Vision of God's Departure from the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8-11)

  1. Preamble to the first temple vision (8:1-4).
  2. The abominations in the temple (8:5-18).
  3. God's response to the abominations in the temple (9:1-11).
  4. The burning of Jerusalem and God's departure from the temple (10:1-22).
  5. The pot of stew (11:1-13).
  6. The gospel according to Ezekiel (11:14-21).
  7. Epilogue to the temple vision (11:22-25).

Prophecies of Woe against Israel (Ezekiel 12-24)

  1. Signs of the Times (12:1-20)
    1. Packed for exile (12:1-16).
    2. A pantomime of horror (12:17-20).
  2. Prophecy -- True and False (12:21-14:11)
    1. Two oracles against cynics (12:21-28).
    2. Two oracles against counterfeit prophets (13:1-23).
    3. The oracle against prophetic abuse (14:1-11).
  3. The High Price of Treachery (14:12-15:8)
    1. A lecture on divine justice (14:12-23).
    2. A metaphor on divine judgment (15:1-8).
  4. The Adulterous Wife: Trampling Underfoot the Grace of God (16:1-63)
    1. The call for Israel's arraignment (1-3a).
    2. The indictment of Jerusalem (3b-34).
    3. The sentencing of Jerusalem: The Ssuspension of grace (35-43).
    4. Like mother, like daughter: Jerusalem's disqualification from grace (44-52).
    5. The double ray of Hope (53-63).
  5. Messages of Sin and Retribution (17-22)
    1. The eagle and the vine: A fable (17).
    2. Disputing the justice of God (18).
    3. A "lament" for the Davidic dynasty (19).
    4. Rewriting sacred history (20).
    5. The avenging sword of God (21).
  6. O Oholah! O Oholibah! (23)
    1. The introduction of the accused (1-4).
    2. The historical background of the case (5-35).
    3. The case against Oholah and Oholibah (36-49).
  7. The Boiling Cauldron (24:1-14)
    1. Preamble (1-3a).
    2. The popular saying (3b-5).
    3. The dispute (6-8).
    4. The counterthesis (9-13).
    5. Conclusion (14).
  8. The End of an Era (24:15-27)
    1. The end is prefigured: The death of Ezekiel's wife (15-24).
    2. The end is in sight (25-27).

New Bible Commentary

  • Jerusalem's idolatry and its punishment (8-11).
  • An acted message: exile foretold (12:1-16).
  • An acted message: Israel to tremble (12:17-20).
  • Prophecy will be fulfilled ... and fulfilled soon (12:21-25, 26-28).
  • Condemnation of false prophets and prophetesses (13).
  • Condemnation of idolatry (14:1-11).
  • Judgment on Israel will not be averted by the righteous few (14:12-23).
  • Jerusalem the useless vine (15).
  • Jerusalem the unfaithful and promiscuous wife (16).
  • Eagles, cedars and a vine -- a political parable (17).
  • The accountability of the individual (18).
  • Lament for the princes of Israel (19).
  • Israel's persistent rebelliousness (20:1-44).
  • Judgment by fire (20:45-49).
  • Judgment by the sword (21:1-7).
  • The sword is sharpened (21:8-17).
  • The sword of the king of Babylon (21:18-32).
  • The sin of Jerusalem (22:1-16).
  • The smelting of Israel (22:17-22).
  • Injustice in the land; corruption at every level (22:23-31).
  • Oholah and Oholibah -- adulterous sisters (23).
  • The parable of the pot: Jerusalem beseiged (24:1-14).
  • The death of Ezekiel's wife and the significance of his grief (24:15-27).

References:

  1. Block, Daniel I. The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 1-24, NICOT (New International Commentary on the Old Testament). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1997.
  2. Wright, Christopher J.H. The Message of Ezekiel, BST (Bible Speaks Today). IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 2001.
  3. McGregor, L. John. Ezekiel, New Bible Commentary, IVP, Downer's Grove, IL, 1994.

 

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