“Jerusalem Must Fall”
by Robert Lee
Termites can be insidiously destructive. The most familiar species live in dead wood. Structures built from lumber can be vulnerable to these insects that eat the wood and create tunnels to expand their nests. Eventually the lumber is destroyed by this hollowing process, rendering the building unsafe and useless. It must be torn down before it falls down. Unlike a tornado or explosion that suddenly brings down a structure from without, the lowly termites quietly and slowly, but relentlessly, destroy from within.
Similarly, by 600 B.C. the spiritual strength and moral integrity of the nation of Judah had been eaten away by ungodliness. God ordained the Babylonian army to demolish the rickety shell that remained. During the years of these invasions against Judah, Ezekiel wrote revelations which powerfully explained what God was doing. This major Old Testament prophet revealed the sins that had ruined the nation and how God’s purposes for holiness would be accomplished.
The Sins of the People
Much of the first 24 chapters of the Book of Ezekiel is devoted to enumerating the transgressions of Judah. Chapter 2 records the prophet’s call by God. In this short chapter the Lord calls his people “a rebellious house” five times (verses 3, 5-8) and also describes them as “stubborn and obstinate children” (verse 4). Clearly God takes their choices as personal rejection, an accusation he repeats later in the book (3:7-9; 12:1-3, 25). He considers them to be “unfaithful” (15:8; 17:20), at times more obedient to the surrounding nations than to the pure and holy Law of God (11:12).
One of their most grievous sins is idolatry (6:13; 20:8, 16; 22:3-4), which had even invaded the temple area itself (8:5-13). God also accuses the nation, especially the privileged classes, of arrogance (7:20, 24; see also 16:49-52). God hates the oppression of the poor, needy and sojourners (18:12; 22:7, 29). Violence seems to be common (9:9; 11:6; 18:10; 22:9, 27), sometimes as the result of idolatrous practices (16:21; 20:31; 23:37) and sometimes for dishonest gain (22:13). Other sins specifically mentioned are adultery (18:11); robbery (18:12), failure to restore a pledge (18:12), usury (18:13; 22:12), dishonoring parents (22:7), profaning the Sabbath (22:8), lewdness (22:9-11), and taking bribes (22:12).
No wonder God judges the sins of Judah as worse than those of Sodom and Samaria (16:44-58). A major contributor to the moral decay and spiritual weakening of the nation was the false teaching that plagued the land (13:1-23). Dishonest teachers claimed to speak for God but actually spoke messages based more on what the people wanted to hear.
The Purposes of God
Through Ezekiel God expresses great love for this nation. In the extended metaphor of chapter 16, Jerusalem is pictured as an abandoned baby, helpless and facing death. God is the benefactor that not only saves the child (the nation), but then lavishes gifts on her (16:1-14). These verses express God’s desire to have a deep and exclusive covenantal relationship with this people (16:8), i.e., to be “married” to them. The anger God feels toward his people (5:13) is the result of being grievously betrayed by those who yield their hearts to idols instead of him (14:5).
God wants to be truly known by the people he loves. One of the most often repeated phrases in this book expresses this desire. God says, “Then you will know that I am the Lord” (6:7, 14; 7:4, 27; 11:12; 12:15; 13:9, 14; 20:38; 22:16). God also desires to defend his name that is being tarnished by their unfaithfulness (20:9, 14). What would it take for us to know that God is the Lord he claims to be? God calls on his children to repent of their sinfulness. “‘Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God. ‘Therefore, repent and live’” (18:31-32). In mercy God invites each individual to turn away from sin and to be in right relationship with him. That same invitation is offered to each of us today through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Actions of God
It is difficult to read descriptions of the harsh discipline that God brings upon this people to remove their idolatry and to make them a holy nation. Ezekiel is told to build a replica of siege works to portray the invasion that God will allow to come against Jerusalem (4:1-8), and he is to make and eat defiled bread to show the harsh conditions that are coming (4:9-17). In chapter 5 Ezekiel is told to burn and cut up hair from his head and his beard to illustrate that people will be dying by plague, famine and the sword, and some will be taken away into captivity. They will be delivered into the hand of strangers (11:9). The land is to become desolate (12:19-20). God will not show pity on them (5:11; 7:4, 9; 8:18; 9:10) because they are being punished for extreme disregard of their covenantal relationship with him (16:35-42).
Yet even as God pours out his anger on this unfaithful people, he still offers hope. God anticipates the day when his people will have a new spirit. Their heart of stone will become one of flesh. They will be obedient. “Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God” (11:19-20). God is working toward this end, as revealed more fully in the last part of the book. God was tearing down the compromised and tottering national structure to rebuild one that would glorify him in faithfulness. Ultimately this grand vision is fulfilled in the redemption achieved through Jesus Christ. May we rejoice to be part of the house that God is now rebuilding.
—Robert Lee began his continuous ministry with this congregation in 1976.