Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works;
evil works do not make a wicked man, but a wicked man does evil works.
— Martin Luther (The Freedom of a Christian)
The first thing to notice at the start of chapter seven is the fragmentary nature of Ezekiel’s prophecy. Gone are logical, lengthy sentences; enter the harsh cry of a prophet shocked at what he has heard. The sky is falling. The end is upon you. An end!
Translators argue whether the words in this chapter should be interpreted as poetry or prose. One thing is certain: traditional literary conventions have been thrown away. The urgency of Ezekiel’s message breaks through the barriers of literature.
. . .
I feel the need to warn you. As we travel deeper into Ezekiel’s milieu, God’s messages get harder—not lighter. In the third part of the book, God will begin to give Ezekiel messages of hope. However, until we get there, there are a lot of harsh judgments to face.
We need to keep two things in mind as we pray and meditate on these verses:
- This judgment is not an isolated, capricious act of God. This is the culmination of centuries of God warning his people about the dangers of disobedience. At the end of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds Israel of the blessings and curses that come from obedience or disobedience. In judging Israel, God is being faithful to his word. Few things are more damaging to a child than a parent who threatens but never executes discipline. Ditto for God’s children.
- Sin is much more dangerous than we commonly recognize. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan wrote, “A man may cry out against sin of policy, but he cannot abhor it, but by virtue of a godly antipathy against it.” If you find yourself shocked at God’s actions, ask him to give you an idea of how much he hates sin.
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The heart of this judgment is found in God’s declaration, “I will judge you according to your ways” (v. 3, cf. 4, 8, 9, NRSV). Verse 4 could literally be translated, “I will put your ways upon you”. Take a minute to absorb the sheer terror of that line. Imagine how you would fair if God appeared to you and said, “I am going to judge you according to your works”!
This is where I cannot help but look forward some 600 years to the gospel proclamation. If any sin (disobedience, rebellion, etc.) against God earns us a death penalty, none of us would survive. The gospel offers death-row sinners this gracious message: If you turn from your sins, and trust Jesus to save you; God will judge you on the basis of Jesus’ works—not your own.
Is that fair? Not really—it’s something Jesus chose to do because he loves us desperately.
. . .
Gracious Father, thank you for not judging me the way I deserve. My own righteousness crumbles like moth-eaten rags before your holiness. Thank you for your grace and mercy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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