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.

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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.

 

Trouble makers

After the fall of Jerusalem, it says in Jeremiah 39:9-10, “Then Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard carried away captive into Babylon the remnant of the people that remained in the city, and those that fell away, that fell to him, with the rest of the people that remained. But Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard left the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.” Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan governor over the cities of Judah and had Jeremiah released from prison. “Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and dwelt with him among the people that were in the land” (Jeremiah 40:6).

Everything was fine until the captain of the forces which were in the fields, that had escaped with king Zedekiah when he tried to run away from Nebuchadnezzar, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah governor in the land (Jeremiah 40:7). The leader of the men, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, wanted to kill Gedaliah and take back control of Judah. Even though the captains of the forces tried to warn Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:13-14), it says in Jeremiah 41:2, “Then arose Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and ten men that were with him, and smote Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan with the sword and slew him, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.”

A power struggle between Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and Johanan the son of Kareah resulted in Ishmael escaping to the Ammonites and Johanan and all the military men that were with him looking to Jeremiah for advice about what to do next. Jeremiah was asked to pray to the LORD and was told that whatever God said, the men would obey his instructions (Jeremiah 42:6). Jeremiah received this message:

If you will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up: for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you. Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom ye are afraid; be not afraid of him, saith the LORD: for I am with you  to save you, and to deliver you from his hand. And I will shew mercies unto you, that he may have mercy upon you, and cause you to return to your own land. But if ye say, We will not dwell in this land, neither obey the voice of the LORD your God, Saying, No; but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread; and there will we dwell: and now therefore here the word of the LORD, ye remnant of Judah; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; If ye wholly set your face to enter into Egypt, and go to sojourn there; then it shall come to pass, that the sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt;  and there ye shall die.

Afterwards, Johanan accused Jeremiah of lying to him (Jeremiah 43:2). In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, it says in Jeremiah 43:5-7, “But Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces, took all the remnant of Judah, that were returned from all nations, whither they had been driven, to dwell in the land of Judah: even men, and women, and children, and the king’s daughters, and every person that Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Jeremiah the prophet, and Baruch the son of Neriah. So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: thus came they even to Tahpanhes.”

A coward

The kings of Israel and Judah had a responsibility as the earthly representative of God to defend and protect his people. In some instances, the king was considered a savior because God used him to deliver his people from their enemies (2 Kings 13:4-5). Like their Messiah, the king of Judah was endowed with special capabilities that enabled him to intercede for the people, and yet, many of Judah’s kings neglected their responsibilities and sought help from foreign kings (2 Kings 23:35).

King Zedekiah, the last king to rule over God’s people, had access to God  through the prophet Jeremiah. After Jeremiah repeatedly told the king and his people that Babylon was going to attack and destroy Judah, king Zedekiah began to seek counsel from Jeremiah secretly (Jeremiah 37:17). Although the king knew Jeremiah was telling him the truth, he had already made up his mind to disregard Jeremiah’s advice.

The reason king Zedekiah met with Jeremiah secretly was so that no one would know he planned to use the information Jeremiah provided to save himself from going into captivity. While the rest of the nation was deceived into thinking the king of Babylon was going to retreat as he had when the Egyptians came to assist Judah, king Zedekiah knew the end of his nation was nearing, and so, he distanced himself from Jeremiah to make it seem as though he wasn’t paying any attention to his message.

Jeremiah was placed in a dungeon and left for dead (Jeremiah 38:9), but king Zedekiah rescued him and arranged a meeting. It says in Jeremiah 38:14, “Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took Jeremiah unto him into the third entry that is in the house of the LORD, and the king said unto Jeremiah, I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me.” Zedekiah used his position as king to gain an advantage over the prophet Jeremiah. He wanted Jeremiah to reveal the future to him and Zedekiah intended to use the information for his own benefit.

Jeremiah told the king exactly what he needed to do to avoid Jerusalem being burned to the ground. The kings response showed his true motive for disobedience to God’s command was a lack of concern for anyone but himself. It says in Jeremiah 38:19, “And Zedekiah the king said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me.” Jeremiah assured Zedekiah he would be safe if he obeyed the LORD and encouraged him to listen to the voice of the LORD (Jeremiah 38:20).

In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, Zedekiah chose to keep the truth hidden and threatened Jeremiah with death if he told anyone else what he revealed to the king (Jeremiah 38:24). In the end, Judah’s army believed they could withstand Nebuchadnezzar’s attack and many of the people waited inside the walls of the city until it was too late for them to surrender and save their own lives (2 Chronicles 36:17).

A reliable source

The false prophets that assured the people of Judah there was no threat of war with the Babylonians made it difficult for Jeremiah to convince them God was about to destroy their nation. King Zedekiah in particular made a mockery of Jeremiah’s preaching. The king’s bad influence on the people showed evidence that the nation of Judah was beyond hope. It says of king Zedekiah in Jeremiah 37:2, “But neither he, nor his servants, nor the people of the land, did hearken unto the word of the LORD, which he spake by the prophet Jeremiah.” The Hebrew word hearken, shama means to hear with one’s heart. The king of Judah and his people were spiritually cut-off and no longer responsive to the Holy Spirit.

Jeremiah’s situation was becoming dangerous because he refused to lie to the people. It says in Jeremiah 37:11-12, “And it came to pass, that when the army of the Chaldeans was broken up from Jerusalem for fear of Pharaoh’s army, then Jeremiah went forth out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin, to separate himself thence in the midst of the people.” Because he left the city, Jeremiah was accused of deserting and was beaten and put in prison. While Jeremiah was in prison, king Zedekiah came to him secretly and asked him, “Is there any word from the LORD?” (Jeremiah 37:17). Even though Zedekiah didn’t believe Jeremiah’s message, meaning he didn’t act according to what Jeremiah said, the king still wanted to know what was going to happen.

Jeremiah taunted Zedekiah by asking the question, “Where are now your prophets which prophesied unto you, saying, The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land?” (Jeremiah 37:19). In spite of his lack of faith, king Zedekiah knew Jeremiah was speaking the truth. His own fear over and distrust of what he was being told made the king seek a reliable source of information. In order to ensure Jeremiah would remain available to him, Zedekiah placed him in a safe location. It says in Jeremiah 37:21, “Then Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah into the court of the prison and that they should give him daily a piece of bread out of the bakers’ street, until all the bread in the city were spent. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.”

 

Spiritual manipulation

One of God’s key characteristics is the reliability of his word. Jeremiah frequently used the phrase “thus saith the LORD” to indicate God’s authority over what he said. As in the creation of the world, God speaks things into being and can cause something to happen by merely saying that it will. Therefore, God only says things that are consistent with his will. God does everything he promises to, because to him, saying and doing are essentially the same thing.

The commandments that were given to the Israelites were like a contract between God and his people that bound their actions together so that an obligation existed whenever obedience or disobedience occurred. If the Israelites kept the commandments, God rewarded them, and if they didn’t, he punished them. So, over time, the Israelites learned how to get what they wanted from God.

Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, was told to become a servant to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11). Instead of submitting himself to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority, Zedekiah continually resisted and fought against going into captivity. In his attempt to change the outcome of his situation, Zedekiah used one of God’s commandments to manipulate God’s behavior. Zedekiah made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to let their Hebrew slaves go free (Jeremiah 34:8-9).

Zedekiah’s interpretation of the law was correct in that he understood it was wrong for the Israelites to make slaves of their own people, but the law of liberty or year of jubilee did not mean that letting the people go free would prevent Judah from going into captivity. And yet, God recognized Zedekiah’s  action and told him, “And ye were now turned, and had done right in my sight, in proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbor” (Jeremiah 34:15).

Unfortunately, Zedekiah wasn’t sincere in his effort to follow God’s commandment. When he saw that Pharaoh’s army was coming from Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar’s army stopped attacking Jerusalem (Jeremiah 37:5). And so, it says in Jeremiah 34:11, “But afterwards they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and handmaids.”

As soon as Zedekiah thought he got what he wanted, Nebuchadnezzar stopped attacking Jerusalem, he did an about face and recanted his promise to let the Hebrew slaves go free. God responded to Zedekiah’s broken promise by sending Nebuchadnezzar’s army back. He told Zedekiah, “Behold, I will command, saith the LORD, and cause them to return to this city; and they shall fight against it, and take it, and burn it with fire: and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without an inhabitant” (Jeremiah 34:22).

The last king

King David’s reign began a 400 year monarchy in Israel that ended with king Zedekiah in 586 B.C. Initially, David was told his kingdom would be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:16), but when Solomon became king, God established a conditional covenant with him that stated, “If thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart, and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded thee, and wilt keep my statutes and my judgments: then I will establish the throne of thy kingdom upon Israel for ever, as I promised David thy father, saying, There shall not fail thee a man upon the throne of Israel” (1 Kings 9:4-5).

After Solomon’s death, Jereboam rebelled and was given rulership over 10 of the tribes of Israel which became the northern kingdom of Israel. The southern kingdom of Judah was left to the descendants of David. The LORD said, “he shall have one tribe for my servant David’s sake and for Jerusalem’s sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel…Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in mine eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments” (1 Kings 11:32-33).

About 588 B.C., king Zedekiah went to Jeremiah and said, “Inquire, I pray thee, of the LORD for us; for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon maketh war against us: if so be that the LORD will deal with us according to all his wondrous works, that he may go up from us” (Jeremiah 21:2). King Zedekiah was hoping for a miraculous deliverance from Nebuchadrezzar’s army. Because God had stepped in at the last moment numerous times in Israel’s history, Zedekiah thought it might not be too late to ask him for a miracle. Unfortunately, Zedekiah hadn’t been paying attention to the prophecies Jeremiah had been sharing for more than 30 years.

Zedekiah had actually been appointed to his position of king of Judah by Nebuchaddrezzar (2 Chronicles 36:10). Initially, Zedekiah paid tribute to Nebuchadrezzar, but later rebelled against him and must have thought God would come to his aid. The response to Zedekiah’s petition for help indicated God had switched sides and would be fighting against his own people. Jeremiah stated, “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the king of Babylon, and against the Chaldeans, which besiege you without the walls, and I will assemble them into the midst of the city. And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath” (Jeremiah 21:4-5).