Ah, soiled, defiled,
It has listened to no voice;
it has accepted no correction.
It has not trusted in the LORD;
it has not drawn near to its God.
The officials within it
are roaring lions;
its judges are evening wolves
that leave nothing until the morning.
Its prophets are reckless,
its priests have profaned what is sacred,
they have done violence to the law.
— Zephaniah 3:1-4, NRSV
Now it gets personal.
It’s easy to criticize other people. We see it in politics: Liberals attack Conservatives; Conservatives attack the New Democrats. We see it in homes: children vent their angst against parents; parents blame their children. We see it in music stores: rock fans attack country artists, folk fans mock classical junkies. At times feels like the tension between social groups is the energy that keeps this globe spinning!
Criticizing others comes easy, but challenging your own social group is much more difficult. This is what Ezekiel does here. In the first 39 chapters of Ezekiel, this is the only place where Ezekiel turns his prophetic lens inward and criticizes his own caste: the Priests.
In the first 16 verses of this chapter, God indicted Israel for her crimes. In 22:17-22, God delivered his verdict. Here God explains why he declared so serious a punishment.
. . .
Ezekiel used the pattern of Zephaniah 3:3-4 to explain himself. Zephaniah blames four different groups of people:
- Officials: They acted like wolves, destroying lives for dishonest gain.
- Judges: They are greedy extortioners who prey on human lives.
- Prophets: They whitewashed themselves (Jesus would take up this call in Matthew 23), and declared God’s word when he had not spoken.
- Priests: They completely lost sight of God’s holiness, and treated sacred things like they were common.
. . .
To sum up God’s comprehensive criticism of Jerusalem, he said:
I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. (v. 30)
When I read verse 30, I hear a challenge. Let me point out a couple things:
- God searched for “anyone among them”. After criticizing those four groups of people (officials, judges, prophets, and priests), he says that he would have gladly used anyone to save Jerusalem. The application is clear—I’m “anyone”. Today, God can and will use anyone to do his work and save his people.
- The task (that no one would do) was to stand in the breach before God on behalf of the land. That is the clearest description of intercession that I’ve been able to find in the Bible. In that one simple line, God gives us the freedom to change the course of history! We have the ability and opportunity to stand before God and pray to him about people we care for, fully assured that God may change his plans after hearing our prayer.
. . .
Gracious God, snap us out of our lethargy and embolden us to stand before you on behalf of our friends, family, neighbours, and even enemies. In Jesus’ name, Amen.