Week One- Introduction to the Book of Ezekiel Part 2
The book of Ezekiel is not only a picture of the discipline of God but also a foreshadowing of the final restoration of all things to the faithfulness and loyalty of the throne of God. The temple, which is a representation of the presence of God within the nation, was destroyed by the Babylonians but one day it would be restored.
An important point: Ezekiel does not only speak to his own time; he speaks to the first coming of Christ, and to the future second coming of Christ. Ezekiel also speaks into the future Millennial Reign of Christ.
Chapters 1-24 speak of judgment. Chapters 25-32 are about the judgment of other nations (God may have used more evil and wicked nations to judge Israel but they too would be punished). Chapters 33-48 will be all about the hope and restoration for captives (both physical and spiritual).
Ezekiel was about 25 years of age when he and his people were ushered to the Chebar Canal in the land of the Babylonians (or Chaldeans). He was from the lineage of Levi and would have entered into the priesthood at the age of 30. But God had different plans.
Ezekiel prophesied from 593 to 562 B.C. He was called to ministry during the exile of King Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:8-17) by King Nebuchadnezzar. Because of lack of defenses, Jehoiachin surrenders to Babylon. The poorest in Judah are left behind while 10,000 craftsmen, educated and learned men including Ezekiel are marched off into exile.
The following is a timeline of events leading to the exile. Remember that at this time, Israel was divided into two kingdoms: the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Southern Kingdom of Judah because of Jeroboam’s rebellion (1 Kings 11:33).
- 722 B.C. Assyria destroys the Northern Kingdom of Israel
- 612 B.C. Assyria falls to Babylon and Medes
- 609 B.C. Egypt comes to Assyria’s aid. King Josiah tries to intercept Egypt but dies trying. King Josiah’s son Jehoahez becomes king but only for 3 months as he is captured by the Pharaoh Neco and exiled to Egypt. Egypt then installs his brother Jehoakim as king.
- 605 B.C. Babylonians overwhelm Egyptians. Nebuchadnezzar accepts Jehoakim’s allegiance only to be stabbed in the back when Jehoakim assists Egypt in battle against Babylon. He is forced to pay tribute to Babylon.
- 597 B.C After his death, Jehoakim’s son Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah in the bible) becomes king of Judah. He continues to do evil in the sight of the Lord. He only reigns for three months.
- 597 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar seized Jerusalem and exiles 10,000 Jews including Ezekiel. Jehoiachin is also imprisoned in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar elevates Zedekiah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, to the throne but he too rebels against his rulers.
- 586 B.C. Jerusalem and the Temple is plundered and burned to the ground.
The Northern Kingdom had already been in exile over 100 years before the Southern Kingdom (Judah) fell. The last national revival in Judah would be during the reign of King Josiah in 622B.C. The revival of King Josiah’s time in the Southern Kingdom shows us that God was willing to show mercy and postpone his judgment towards His people. The revival began simply because the teenage king was willing to seek God. True worship was restored and repairs began in the Temple of God. The scrolls of the Book of the Law that were literally lost were found and read to the people. A rediscovery of the word of God is what many of us need today. It is the only thing that could bring revival.
It took a long time for God to finally execute his judgment and exile his people. How many times in the book of Judges do we read, “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”? Every return to God was brief. There was always something wrong with the repentance of Israel. It was never deep and sorrowful. They feared God’s discipline more than they feared Him. Because they were the people of God, they became arrogant and believed that God would not punish. It wasn’t just that the people worshipped Baal; they worshipped Baal and Jehovah. The kept on with the rituals in the temple, the sacrifices and prayers. However, they worshipped and offered sacrifices to many other gods. Idolatry was prominent among the people of God. Even all their worship to the true God was no worship at all. They worshipped a god formed in their imaginations, a god that would accept the worship of a people whose hearts were far from him.
We also read in Nehemiah that the people returned to the Lord when they once again were made to understand the laws of the Lord. In Nehemiah 8:8-11, the Levites took the time to explain what was being read. The word of the Lord is spiritually discerned therefore preachers need to take the time to teach and expound on scripture and make sense of it. We see that once the scriptures were explained, the people wept and mourned and fell on their faces. Why were these emotions expressed? Because they were convicted in their hearts! But it did not end there. Nehemiah and the Levites quieted the people and encouraged them to rejoice. Conviction is not the only goal; worship and praise will be ascribed to the Lord at the hearing of the knowledge of God.
The bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. A.W. Tozer once preached, “The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions”. Many people believe that since God does not immediately punish for sin that he must not punish at all. “God is too loving to punish”, they say. This is arrogance. Arrogance kills! Arrogance believes that destruction will never come. Arrogance like this one leads to indifference to God.
They forget an important aspect of the character of God; God is longsuffering! 2 Peter 3:15 tells us that we should “count the patience of God as salvation”. God is longsuffering with his people. God is also the source of longsuffering. He is longsuffering. He is the originator of longsuffering. It is who he is. To be long suffering does not just allude to a godly attitude in the face of suffering and difficult circumstances but also to be in control of your anger. Longsuffering is not retaliatory or quick to issue consequences but is merciful and hopeful for change. Longsuffering also means slow to wrath and restrained in temper. God bears long with sinners and is slow to execute judgment upon them. The Lord is longsuffering because he doesn’t want any men to perish. In all the years it took Noah to build the ark, the people were being warned of the impending judgment of God. That is the longsuffering of God. His patience is extended so that man might be led to repentance. God is always waiting, ready to pardon. In his longsuffering, he extends his forgiveness while deferring his judgment. Even when he disciplines, his discipline is mild for what we truly deserve is death.
Furthermore, he is longsuffering for the sake of his faithful followers. He is growing, maturing, leading and refining us with his gentle patience and deals with our sinful nature with much mercy and grace. God is also longsuffering in rounding up his elect to save them from the wrath to come. I thank God that he displays his long suffering to me day after day.
God is so longsuffering that many believers have even scorned and mocked the promise of the Second Coming of Christ as spoken of in 2 Peter 3:3-4. The Pulpit Commentary says of these verses that “Self-indulgence often leads to skepticism.” Because they have forsaken the knowledge of God and given over to every lust and evil desire, they doubt God’s promises. Since they don’t believe in the judgment of God, they are free to mock every prophecy.
Do you want to see God’s judgment and rebuke upon the people of God? All you have to do is depart from the teaching of scripture. However I want to make good use of history. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun”. History repeats itself. History can make for a good assessment tool of where you are and are going if you are willing to look intently at it. But let’s not turn down our noses to the people of Israel. Men’s hearts have not changed. They continue to give into the same worldliness and idolatry. If it wasn’t for the mercy of God through his Son Jesus, we too would be caught on the same downward slide of immorality and backsliding. We can only go forward, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2)
- Who was the first prophet to warn of the impending judgment of God towards the people of Israel for their sins?
- Read Psalm 103. What are some of the characteristics of our longsuffering God?