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.

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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.

 

Egypt

Jeremiah received a message from the LORD about the fate of all the nations that were enemies of Israel. The first kingdom to be dealt with was the one that had been a continual stumbling block to the descendants of Abraham. Egypt had been a refuge that the Israelites often retreated to during difficult times. Egypt was the eventual destination of Jacob and his sons when a famine wiped out all life sustaining crops in the region of Mesopotamia (Genesis 43:12).

The descendants of Jacob spent 430 years in Egypt as slaves of Pharaoh as the result of their dependence on a foreign economy to sustain themselves. During their time in bondage, the Israelites learned the culture of the Egyptians and were influenced by their pagan worship system. One of the key factors in the downfall of the nation of Israel was their worship of the two golden calves made by king Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:28). A turning point for the nation of Judah was the death of king Josiah who was killed by Pharaoh-nechoh king of Egypt in the valley of Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29).

The message Jeremiah received pronounced an end to the reign of Pharaoh-nechoh. Jeremiah declared, “They did cry there, Pharaoh king of Egypt is but a noise; he hath passed the time appointed…Egypt is like a very fair heifer, but destruction cometh; it cometh out of the north…And I will deliver them into the hand of those that seek their lives, and into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 46:17, 20, 26). Josiah king of Judah had tried to intervene in the battle of Charchemish and was unsuccessful. God intended to end Egypt’s age-long claims to power and pretensions once and for all. The defeat of Egypt by the king of Babylon in the battle of Charchemish brought and end to Egypt’s dynasty.

Jeremiah was assured that Babylon’s destruction of the Egyptian empire would not mean the end of Judah also. He was told, “Fear thou not, O Jacob my servant, saith the LORD: for I am with thee; for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee: but I will not make a full end of thee, but correct thee in measure; yet will I not leave thee wholly unpunished” (Jeremiah 46:28). God would impose the penalty against his people for breaking his Ten Commandments, but he would not abandon them completely. Once they were purged of their idolatrous habits, God would bring his people back to their homeland.

The vision

The vision Habakkuk received of the punishment that would come to the people of Judah by the Chaldeans (Habakkuk 1:5-10) was so distressful that Habakkuk couldn’t comprehend that God would actually carry out such a plan against his own people. Habakkuk questioned God’s motives and asked, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13). Habakkuk didn’t understand how a God that couldn’t stand to see his people sin could tolerate such an injustice as was described to him.

The vision Habakkuk received was intended to be a final warning to any who would be willing to put their trust in God before it was too late. It says in Habakkuk 2:3-4, “And the LORD answered me, and said, write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it, for the vision is yet for the appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not lie. Though it tarry, wait for it’  because it will surely come; it will not tarry.” God’s  instruction to make the vision plain meant that it should be obvious to everyone that it was definitely going to happen. It was not a matter of if, but when the end would come to the nation of Judah.

The end that the LORD was referring to was not just an end to the political and religious structure that kept the nation of Judah functioning, but an end to the Old Covenant that promised salvation through the keeping of the Mosaic Law. Habakkuk was given an advance presentation of the New Covenant when he was told, “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him, but the just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). Many in Jerusalem at the time of its destruction thought they would be saved, but God told Habakkuk only those who had faith, believed that God would do what he said he would (530), would remain alive and be taken into captivity.

In contrast to the promise that the just would live by their faith, Habakkuk was told that the unrighteous or nonbelievers would suffer a terrible death and eternal punishment (Habakkuk 2:5). Five woes were pronounced, similar to those recorded in Isaiah 5:8-23. In the New Testament, Matthew addressed the religious leaders who were referred to as “scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 23:13) and pronounced woes upon them. Matthew labeled these teachers of the law as hypocrites, men who acted as if they believed in God, but in actuality they were depending on their knowledge of God’s rules and regulations to condemn others instead of examining their own hearts to see if they were guilty of any sin.

Recompense

God intended his children to be different than everyone else. He rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gave them the Promised Land so they could prosper and live there for ever. When the Mosaic Law was implemented, God made a way for his people to be forgiven of their sins and again to prosper even though they had made mistakes. As a result of their special treatment, the Israelites became wicked, and selfish, and took advantage of God’s mercy toward them (Jeremiah 5:27-28). In some ways, God’s people acted as if the LORD was their servant, instead of the other way around. God asked Jeremiah, “Do they provoke me to anger? do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces? (Jeremiah 7:19). In other words, God was saying that the people had lost sight of who they were and why he had delivered them from slavery.

The main thing the people of Judah had forgotten was their responsibility to do the will of God. The LORD reminded Jeremiah, “But this thing commanded I them saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you” (Jeremiah 7:23). Just because their sins were forgiven didn’t mean God’s children were exempt from suffering the consequences of their wrong behavior. In effect, God had told the Israelites from the beginning that it would go well for them if they obeyed his commandments, but if they didn’t, they would be punished (Deuteronomy 28:15). In condemnation of their wrong choices, the LORD stated, “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsel and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward” (Jeremiah 7:24).

Jeremiah warned the people  of Judah of terrible days to come. He described the scene of a great slaughter that would take place at a sight known as the “valley of the son of Hinnom” where children were burned in a fire pit as a sacrifice to pagan gods (note on Jeremiah 7:31). As if he was paying a recompense to the unfortunate children that had been killed there, the LORD said he would turn the valley of Hinnom into a cemetery when the people of Judah were slaughtered there by the Babylonian invaders. He said, “Therefore, behold, the days will come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Himmom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet till there be no place. And the carcasses of the people shall be meat for the fowls of heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away” (Jeremiah 7:32-33).

Backsliding

A constant problem for God’s people while they were living in the Promised Land was backsliding. The prophet Jeremiah declared “The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every  high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot” (Jeremiah 3:6) The Hebrew word translated backsliding , meshubah means backturning (4878), as in turning your back on someone. Another translation of meshubah is the word faithless. In other words, the people of Israel lacked faith. They did not believe in God and would not repent of their sins against him.

God used the northern kingdom of Israel as an example of his judgment when he sent them into captivity in 722 B.C. In spite of the fact that the northern kingdom ceased to exist after that, the southern kingdom of Judah followed down the same pathway to destruction. Jeremiah remarked, “And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole hart, but feignedly, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:10). The Hebrew word translated feignedly, sheqer (sheh´ – ker) refers to an untruth or sham (8267). Sheqer defines a way of life that goes contrary to the law of God. Sheqer is a relational term signifying ‘”one’s inability to keep faith” with what one has said or to respond positively to the faithfulness of another being.”

It could be said that Judah had become desensitized to sin. It no longer bothered the people when they made sacrifices to idols. They were like prostitutes that perform sex acts for money. It was just a way to earn a living. The LORD declared, “Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have you dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:20). The strong language used to describe Israel’s betrayal indicated that it was intentional act. The people treated God as if he were their enemy and could not be trusted with the truth. The people of Judah no longer considered themselves to be children of God, but instead were acting like children of the  foreign god Baal.

Even though the situation with Judah seemed hopeless, God did not intend to abandon them as he had the northern kingdom of Israel. God said to them, “Return ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings” (Jeremiah 3;22). In order to cure his rebellious children of their backsliding, God would turn them over to the Babylonians so that they could experience life apart from him. The objective of their Babylonian captivity was to remind God’s people of what slavery was like. It had been hundreds of years since the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt. Over the course of seventy years, God expected the people of Judah to come to a point where they would say:

We lie down in shame, and our confusion covereth us:  for we have sinned against  the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God. (Jeremiah 3:25)

A legal case

Jeremiah’s message to Judah began with the presentation of a legal case against God’s people. According to the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were forbidden to worship any other God besides YHWH, the name of God translated into English as LORD. God chose this name as the personal name by which he related specifically to his chosen or covenant people (3068). The first three commandments of the Mosaic Law stated:

  1. Thou shalt have not other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
  3. Thou shalt not bow down thyself  to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children  unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. (Exodus 20:3-5)

The first three of the Ten Commandments given to the children of Israel dealt with idolatry because the covenant between God and his chosen people depended on a relationship existing between the two parties of the agreement. In some ways, the Ten Commandments were like a marriage contract that specified the terms for a divorce to take place. It was implied that both God and his people would be faithful to each other and remain in the relationship for ever. The reason why idolatry was off limits for them was because like adultery, it undermined the intimacy that was necessary for a loving relationship to exist. The only way the Israelites would trust God and depend on his provision for them was knowing God and God alone could take care of all their needs.

God’s issue with his people was not so much that they had broken his commandments , but that they had abandoned him for worthless idols. Speaking through Jeremiah, the LORD declared, “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns; broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). A cistern was a man-made storage tank designed to capture rain and make it available throughout the year. The cistern was representative of an idol because it was cut or carved out of stone and signified man’s ability to live independent of God’s ongoing provision. God’s reference to broken cisterns that could hold no water was meant to highlight the fact that a cistern was useless without rain, which God still had to provide.

The Israelites’ desire for independence was seen by God as being the same as an unfaithful spouse. Particularly in the book of Hosea, God’s people were likened to “a wife of whoredoms” (Hosea 1:2). Rather than being thankful for what God had provided, the Israelites preferred to fend for themselves (Jeremiah 2;25) and to worship whomever they pleased (Jeremiah 2:31). In spite of their flagrant idolatry, God’s people claimed to be innocent of the charges God brought against them. It was only because they refused to repent that God proceeded with his judgment. Jeremiah declared the truth about the people’s attitude when he said, “Yet thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me. Behold, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned” (Jeremiah 2:35).