The Holy City and the beautiful Temple have fallen.
We are in Ezekiel this week, watching as God's indignation and wrath spring to life in the amazing word pictures and object lessons of this creative prophet. Instead of the message of "Repent!" that we've spent so many weeks reading up to this point, Ezekiel brings us a message of lament over Judah's imminent judgment mixed with harsh condemnation of how she has squandered God's abundant grace time.
In 591 BC, five years before the fall of the Temple and yet well into Babylon's siege on Jerusalem, some of the leaders of Israel come to Ezekiel with the intent to inquire of the Lord for mercy - but it's far too late for that.
Thus says the Lord God, "Do you come to inquire of Me? As I live," declares the Lord God, "I will not be inquired of by you." Will you judge them, will you judge them, son of man? Make them know the abominations of their fathers.
God goes on to review the history of His relationship with Israel, from the Exodus to the bestowing of His Law to the conquering of the Promised Land. He reminds them of their disobedience in each situation - their refusal to cast away the gods of Egypt, their failure to uphold His commandments, and their rapid collapse into paganism. Each time, He repeats one statement:
Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them, to accomplish My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made Myself known to them by bringing them out of the land of Egypt.
Then I resolved to pour out my wrath on them in the wilderness, to annihilate them. But I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, before whose sight I had brought them out.
So I resolved to pour out My wrath on them, to accomplish My anger against them in the wilderness. But I withdrew My hand and acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out.
When I was initially reading this chapter, it sounded to me like God was justifying His wrath - trying to explain that He had to punish Israel in order to uphold His perfect justice, and that there was no more hope for mercy.
Then I read the rest of the chapter and reached verse 39:
"As for you, O house of Israel," thus says the Lord God, "go, serve everyone his idols; but later you will surely listen to Me, and My holy name you will profane no longer with your gifts and with your idols. For on My holy mountain, on the high mountain of Israel," declares the Lord God, "there the whole house of Israel, all of them, will serve Me in the land; there I will accept them and there I will seek your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your holy things. As a soothing aroma I will accept you when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you were scattered; and I will prove Myself holy among you in the sight of the nations. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, into the land which I swore to give to your forefathers. There you will remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for all the evil things that you have done. Then you will know that I am the Lord when I have dealt with you according to My name's sake, not according to your evil ways or according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel," declares the Lord God.
Far from rationalizing His anger or giving reasons for exacting justice, my God responded to His inquirers with a case for His grace.
In effect, He says simply, "You deserved to be annihilated three times over, and yet you're still here - why? Because I am merciful, and I've dealt with you according to My name's sake."
How easily we default to thinking God needs to explain His justice, to give us justification for His wrath - forgetting that it isn't His wrath that's so radical.
It's His grace.
We are all idolaters, rebels, blasphemers who have spat in the face of a holy and righteous God. His wrath is perfectly understandable. But His grace? The fact that we are not annihilated, but that He annihilated His Son in our place? That demands an explanation.
And this is the one He offers:
"I acted for the sake of My name."
My God's actions uphold His perfect and incomprehensible character - every time. He guards His testimony fiercely, and yet just when it looks like I should be destroyed for my part in tarnishing it, He puts me in my place: "My actions are governed by WHO I AM, not by who you are."
And who God is changes everything about who I am.
Ezekiel: God of Visions
Total read time: 4 hours