Everywhere in scripture only one thing arouses God’s anger: sin, and only one thing perpetuates it: impenitence in the face of sin.
— Victor Shepherd (Seasons of Grace)
Open your mind to these images:
- Starving women cannibalizing their own children who are dying of malnutrition in a besieged city
- One third of the population of an entire nation killed by ravaging diseases
- One third of the population of that same nation—men, women, and children—murdered by bloodthirsty invaders
- The final third of the population running from their homeland to escape the destruction, only to find the sword of the invaders still in pursuit
- Wild animals chasing down and feasting on the carcasses of the escapees
- Surrounding nations mocking and laughing at the former great nation’s abject weakness
Are you feeling disturbed yet? There is one more terrible truth, and it will dwarf all of these images: God did it. In his words, “I will cut you down; my eye will not spare, and I will have no pity” (Ezekiel 5:11, NRSV). How could this be? When we suffer day-to-day trials, we are quick to call out to God and ask him for help. These people could not even pray! God had turned his sword on them.
What could possibly cause God to behave like this?
. . .
The root of God’s anger is made clear in vv. 5-6:
This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. But she has rebelled against my ordinances and my statutes, becoming more wicked than the nations and the countries around her, rejecting my ordinances and not following my statutes. (NRSV)
God always intended Israel to be a shining example of godliness in the middle of the ungodly nations. Back when God called Abram, he told him that all nations would be blessed through him. Abraham and his kids repeatedly fell short of that ideal. In fact, they became the exact opposite of God’s intentions: they were more wicked than the surrounding nations. God’s plan to bring all the nations of the world to him through Israel was failing fast—precisely because of Israel.
. . .
I see a similar call for all believers in the gospels:
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16, NRSV)
We, the church, have been given the same role that Israel abdicated. We are called to be shining examples of godliness in the middle of our culture. Are we acting like Israel?
I am not saying this to cause us to fear. I don’t believe that God is on the verge of destroying us like he devastated Israel. In fact, some God’s words to Israel can even be a source of comfort to us: “Because of your abominations, I will do to you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again” (v. 9, emphasis mine). The main question, however, still exists: are we acting like ancient Israel?
. . .
We have not yet heard God’s specific indictment of Israel—only his judgment. In the chapters to come we will begin to see the reasons why God was unleashing his judgment.
If you’re shocked by these words to Ezekiel, don’t give up on God. He is not some bloodthirsty warmonger who enjoys seeing his creatures squirm. He is the Creator of all, who knows how best to bring all of his creation back into relationship with him. God is always just, and in this case, the overwhelming sin of Israel forced God into action.
. . .
Mighty God, help me to be a shining example of you. Use me as your own body—your city on a hill. Let people see your glory when they look at my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.