The liar

One of the few descriptions of the devil in the Bible is found in John 8:44. Differentiating between those who are true children of Abraham and those who are not, it says, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lust of your father ye will do .He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for his is a liar, and the father of it.” Satan’s reputation as the father of lies implies that all lies originate from him. In the book of 1 Kings, there is recorded an incident in which a lying spirit was sent to the king of Israel (1 Kings 22:23-24). A conversation between God and the host of heaven suggested that king Ahab could be persuaded by a lying spirit to do something that would result in his own death.

At the time of the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem, the people were being told lies about their safety inside the city walls. Ezekiel was told, “They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they made others to hope that they would confirm the word” (Ezekiel 13:6). “Divination was a pagan parallel to prophesying…it seems probable that the diviners conversed with demons…Divination was one of man’s attempts to know and control the world and the future, apart from the true God” (7080). Even king Zedekiah participated in the deception of God’s people. His consultation with Jeremiah revealed that surrender was the only way to avoid death, and yet, Zedekiah chose to keep the information from the people and tried to escape secretly by night (Jeremiah 39:4).

In an attempt to make the truth known to his people, Ezekiel was given advance warning of king Zedekiah’s plot (Ezekiel 12:6) and was told to warn the people against false prophets (Ezekiel 13:2). God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth? Tell them therefore, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision. For there shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 12:22-24).

The connection between idolatry and lying divination was found in a sacrificial system that promised peace and prosperity at a price. In a sense, the false prophets were bribed to tell the people what they wanted to hear. Sacrifices to pagan gods were used as a front for the business of organized crime. It was illegal for the Israelites to worship other gods, and yet, idols were kept in God’s own temple (Ezekiel 8:12). God’s condemnation of the false prophets showed that his people were under their control and needed to be delivered from their dangerous practices. He said, “Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life: therefore ye shall see no more vanity, nor divine divinations: for I will deliver my people out of your hand: and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 13:22-23).

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The mark

In his divine judgment of the city of Jerusalem, God demonstrated his ability to exercise self-control, in spite of fierce emotions that caused him to destroy everything, including his holy temple. Before he undertook the action to kill everyone within the city walls, God ordered a mark to be placed on the forehead of every person who shared his disgust with the situation. Calling forth the seven guardian angels that protected his people, God gave instructions to set apart those who were faithful to him. It says in Ezekiel 9:4, “And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.”

The seventh angel, who was clothed in linen, carried a writer’s inkhorn with which he was to place the mark (Ezekiel 9:2). Although it is not specified exactly what type of mark was made, the Hebrew word translated mark in Ezekiel 9:4, tav or taw, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, specifies a signature. The signature may have only been represented by an X, but the implication was that the mark was a sign of ownership that was imprinted on the forehead. A similar marking is found in the book of Revelation where it says of the Antichrist, “And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive the mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:16-17).

God’s judgment of Jerusalem was in many ways the foreshadowing of God’s final judgment of everyone on earth. It says in Revelation 3:12, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” It is possible that the mark placed on the foreheads of those in Jerusalem at the time of the city’s destruction was linked to Christ and was the equivalent of receiving salvation. The remarkable thing about receiving the mark was the only  requirement was to sign or groan, as if in despair (Ezekiel 9:4).

Ezekiel’s visions of God allowed him to see beforehand the outcome of God’s judgment of Jerusalem. In spite of his lenient excusal of anyone that cried out in despair, it appeared that none would survive. After the order was given to slay everyone that did not have the mark, Ezekiel exclaimed, “And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord GOD, wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem?” (Ezekiel 9:8). God’s reply to Ezekiel’s question suggested there were none who believed and were willing to cry out to him for help. “Then he said unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness: for they say, The LORD hath forsaken the earth, and the LORD seeth not” (Ezekiel 9:9).

Recompense

In an attempt to prepare Ezekiel for the worst catastrophe that the Israelites would ever experience, God showed Ezekiel exactly what his motivation was for completely destroying the city of Jerusalem. As if to announce a death sentence on a guilty prisoner, Ezekiel was told, “thus saith the Lord GOD unto the land of Israel; An end, the end is come upon the four corners of the land. Now is the end come upon thee, and I will send mine anger upon thee, and will judge thee according to thy wages, and will recompense upon thee all thine abominations” (Ezekiel 7:2-3).

The Hebrew word translated recompense in Ezekiel 7:3, nathan (naw – than´) means to give (5414). Nathan has a very broad context and can be used to convey many types of actions where there is a transfer of possessions. In a technical sense, nathan means to hand something over to someone in order to satisfy a debt or as payment for services rendered. “This word is used of ‘bringing reprisal’ upon someone or of ‘giving’ him what he deserves” as in the punishment for sins committed. The Apostle Paul taught in his message to the Romans, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Once again, Ezekiel was transported by the spirit to see with his own eyes the abominations taking place in Jerusalem. It says in Ezekiel 8:3, “And he put forth the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lift me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy.” The image of jealousy was most likely a statue of Asherah, the Canaanite goddess of fertility. The presence of this idol in the temple of God suggested that the Israelites were intentionally provoking God’s anger.

Along with the idols that were openly displayed, numerous objects were kept in the secret chambers of God’s temple. Ezekiel was asked, “Then he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery?  for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth” (Ezekiel 8:12). The idea that God was limited in his awareness of what his people were doing came from a distorted view of his deity. Much like a man, God was expected to behave in ordinary ways and was thought to be temperamental and easily provoked.

One of the objectives God expected to accomplish by punishing his people was to restore their respect and reverence for his position. As the sovereign LORD of the universe, God could do whatever he pleased. In order to reestablish a proper relationship with his people, God chose to put an end to sacrifices and burnt offerings, so that the basis of salvation would not be confused with earning God’s favor. Once God punished his children, he would be free to move on with his plan of salvation, which included the provision for all to be saved by his grace.

Divine influence

The explanation Ezekiel received for God’s punishment of his children was that they were to serve as a warning to the nations around them. God said, “So it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment unto the nations round about thee, when I shall execute judgments on thee in my anger and in fury and in furious rebukes. I the LORD have spoken it” (Ezekiel 5:15).

God intended to judge the nations surrounding Israel, but first he set an example by punishing the nation of Judah and more specifically Jerusalem because he said, “they have refused my judgments and my statutes, they have not walked in them” (Ezekiel 5:6). According to God, the people of Jerusalem had acted more wickedly than the nations around them by defiling his temple (Ezekiel 5:11) and would be reduced to cannibalism as a sign of their depravity (Ezekiel 5:10).

In a final symbolic act, Ezekiel was instructed to shave his head and beard (Ezekiel 5:1). Afterward, he was told, “Thou shalt burn with fire a third part in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled, and thou shalt take a third part, and smite about it with a knife: and a third part shalt thou scatter to the wind; and I will draw out a sword after them” (Ezekiel 5:2). These gestures signified the ways God’s people would be destroyed: famine, being killed in combat, and being scattered abroad.

The harsh treatment God’s people received was due to their continuous rebellion over a period of more than 400 years. Rather than give up on them completely, God wanted to show them they would not escape judgment if they refused to repent. God’s judgment of the nation of Judah was actually a one-time event that was never to be repeated (Ezekiel 5:9). The outcome would be a strong turning to a new course of action by God. He said, “Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted” (Ezekiel 5:13).

The Hebrew word translated comforted, nacham (naw – kham´) means to sigh or to be sorry. Nacham is also associated with repentance. “Comfort is derived from ‘com’ (with) and ‘fort’ (strength). Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action” (5162). God’s judgment of his people marked the end of his effort to get them to obey his laws. From that point forward, God would deal with his people as sinners that could only be saved by grace; through his divine influence upon their hearts.

Signs

The extreme measures God took to commission Ezekiel were necessary because Ezekiel was unwilling to serve the LORD as a messenger to a group of people he described as rebellious, impudent, and hardhearted (Ezekiel 2:3-5). Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel would face opposition that would be not only discouraging, but also maddening to the point he would not be able to do his job without God’s help. God told Ezekiel, “Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3:8-9).

God went so far as to tell Ezekiel he would not be able to speak any words except those that the LORD gave him. He said, “And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD: He that heareth, let him hear; and him that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3:26-27). In order to ensure Ezekiel’s messages would be taken seriously, God began his ministry with a series of symbolic acts that would serve as signs or attestations to the validity of Ezekiel’s prophecies (226).

The first sign that was given was a clay model that would portray the siege of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 1:3). Although Jerusalem’s destruction was imminent at the time of Ezekiel’s deportation, many believed God would intervene at the last minute and save his people from the Babylonian army. Even though king Zedekiah knew the truth, he led the people of Jerusalem to believe they would escape destruction and were safe inside the walls of the city (Jeremiah 28:11). Ezekiel’s model of the siege of Jerusalem clearly depicted the end result, a desperate situation in which the people would be forced to use human excrement as a fuel source (Ezekiel 4:12-13).

Perhaps, the most controversial of Ezekiel’s symbolic acts was the one through which he bore the sins of God’s people. Ezekiel was forced to lie on his side and was bound with ropes or chains in order to depict the bondage of sin, representing to God’s people their need for a savior. God told Ezekiel, “Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it…For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days…And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year…And behold, I will lay bands upon thee, and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another till thou hast ended the days of thy siege” (Ezekiel 4:4-8).

The total number of days Ezekiel would bear the iniquities of God’s people, 430 days, was significant because the period of silence between the last prophetic message the people received through the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ was 430 years (From Malachi to Christ). During that time, Judah was reestablished, but there was no king and the nation was subject to foreign rulers, until finally, Rome captured Jerusalem and the provinces became subject to Rome. Herod the Great, a procurator of the Roman Empire, was ruler of all the Holy Land at the time of Christ’s birth. God said that he had appointed one day for each year of his people’s rebellion. Through this prophecy, God was telling his people when their Messiah would come to rescue them.

 

A visit from God

Ezekiel was a priest that was taken into captivity in 597 B.C. along with king Jehoiachin and several thousand citizens of Judah and Jerusalem. At the age of 30, Ezekiel saw visions of God while he was in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar (Ezekiel 1:1-3). It says in Ezekiel 1:3 that “the word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest…and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.” What that means is that Ezekiel’s message came directly from God; an intermediary angel was not used to deliver it.

Ezekiel described what he saw in graphic detail using words such as likeness and appearance to convey what he knew to be supernatural manifestations of spiritual beings. In his account of what took place, it is evident that Ezekiel was both awestruck and curious about the vision. The first image that was seen by Ezekiel was a giant cloud that was blown in by a stormy wind, and then four living creatures that looked like men came out of the cloud and stood before him, as if they were trying to get his attention (Ezekiel 1:4-5).

Ezekiel’s description of the four living creatures makes it clear that spiritual beings function differently than human beings and yet, there are similarities that make it possible for us to understand each other. The most obvious difference between angels and humans is that angels have wings and can move about in much more efficient ways than we can. Also, angels are able to operate in a unified manner. The four living creatures were separate individuals, but they moved in unison with one another, as if they were joined together like Siamese twins (Ezekiel 1:9).

Depending on which direction they wanted to go, each of the four living creatures faced forward toward the north, south, east, and west, and led the others to their desired destination without having to turn or go backwards. They each had four faces that enabled them to act according to their circumstances without changing their expressions. The angels’ faces and wings were designed to not only improve their mobility, but also to guarantee they would not be hindered in performing their assignments. It seems as though the four living creatures were tasked with guarding the entry way to God’s throne room, or acting as guides to direct the cloud in which the throne was located to its desired destination.

I think one of the most interesting and important aspects of Ezekiel’s vision was that it came to him while he was in exile in Babylon. The sight of his visitation, the Chebar river was no doubt a busy spot where both Babylonians and Israelites congregated to collect water. Although Ezekiel’s vision was communicated to him alone, the information was made public so that everyone would know God had visited him in Babylon. The remarkable thing about it being there was no place off limits to God, he could transport himself wherever needed to communicate with his people.

Repentance (Step 1)

The five-step process of repentance begins with an awareness of our need for forgiveness. Our ability to justify our own actions often prevents us from seeing the wrong we do to others. In particular, when we do something that offends God, we are likely to excuse our behavior because, after all, we are sinners by nature. The point we usually have to reach in order to really want to change is complete devastation, as some people say, we have to hit rock bottom.

For God’s people, the bottom fell out when they saw the city of Jerusalem lying in ruins. The question they had to ask themselves was, “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!” (Lamentations 1:1). It made no sense that God would arbitrarily destroy his own city and holy temple, so there had to be a reason for what happened beyond his people being the innocent victims of Babylonian tyranny. In actuality, the experience of losing everything was designed to bring God’s people to their knees, for them to ask the question, why is this happening to us?

At first, the people were merely overwhelmed with sadness. All they could think of was the tragedy of their loss. In a cry prompted by self-pity, they exclaimed, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger” (Lamentations 1:12). The focus of the people’s lament was what God had done to them. They felt as if they were the target of his wrath, but didn’t yet see their need for repentance.

The initial reaction of God’s people to his divine retribution was sorrow. The Hebrew word translated sorrow, mak’obah (mak – o – baw´) means anguish (4341). It is derived from the word ka’ab (kaw – ab´) which means to feel pain or to grieve (3510). Naturally, the people grieved over the loss of their loved ones, but it is a different king of sorrow that leads one to repentance. In 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, the apostle Paul talked about a type of sorrow that leads to repentance. He said:

Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For  godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

Godly sorrow is the type of sorrow that results from a feeling of conviction about our sin. For the most part, we never feel godly sorrow until after we come to know Christ. That’s why the process of repentance was ineffective in Old Testament times. Really, only those who had the Holy Spirit could feel such conviction, and he, the Holy Spirit, did not work in the lives of believers as he does now. In order for anyone to repent, he must first know that he is separated from God, and then, want his relationship with God to be restored.

An indication that the people of Judah and Jerusalem that went into exile were capable of repentance can be found in Lamentations 1:20 where it says, “Behold, O LORD; for I am in distress: my bowels are troubled;  mine heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled.” The phrase “mine heart is turned within me” means that the person speaking had a change of heart or had changed his mind about having rebelled against God. The Hebrew word translated turned, haphak can refer to transformation or being converted. One of the uses of this word is in 1 Samuel 10:6 where it says the spirit of the LORD would turn Saul into another man and in 1 Samuel 10:9 it says, “God gave him another heart.”