This section of Ezekiel begins with a lament for the princes of Israel and expresses just how wonderful and powerful they had been, yet how low their evil had brought them. What follows is a blistering indictment of all of the evil committed by Israel since the Lord had called them out of Egypt, and that even though they had done much wickedness, He would restore them, but not because of their goodness or evil.
God proceeds to trace back His journey with Israel, saying that coming out of Egypt, in the wilderness, and in the promised land, they continually blasphemed Him and profaned His name. He outlines the rules He gave to them in order that they might follow them and live, and said that though He was close to wiping them out, He refrained for the sake of His name. Chapter 21 begins with the Lord preparing to execute judgement against Israel – He is polishing His sword so that those who bore his name might not profane it any longer. Those who wish to follow idols may leave and do so, but they shall no long bear the name of the Lord.
Again and again, the Lord reveals to the reader that His motive for saving His people Israel and us today is not because of some merit on our part. Rather, it is because He promised to enact salvation for humanity and always keeps His word. His name is indicative of His character, which is always steadfast and always true. At first it may seem strange that the Lord is only doing this on account of His own name, but it points us to a couple of profound truths.
First is that we have the incredible opportunity to bear His name as His people. He would not have been concerned in the ways we see in these chapters if He did not exalt the lowly people of Israel to the position of Standard-Bearer for the God of all creation. While this is a great honour, it comes with great responsibility. It is God’s desire that we might all reflect His nature as His sons and daughters.
Second, it is a very comforting thing knowing that it is not on account of any of our own merits that the Lord saves us. If it were so, we would be torturing ourselves to continue these good works in order to remain in His good graces. But we know that it is not through works that we are saved, nor because of anything we have done, and that is Good News!
The Lord says in chapter 20 that those who desire to follow other idols may do so, but they will no longer be able to profane His name, for He will reject them. Only those who remember their transgressions and uncover their guilt and seek the Lord will be taken in hand. The rest, He says, are free to walk away.
These chapters served as a stark and genuine warning to the people of Israel which have echoed down through the centuries to you and I today. The warning translates today as “those of you who claim to follow my Son – do your lives truly resemble someone who has taken up their cross to follow Him? Do you claim to bear His name yet continue in your rampant wickedness? Do you call yourself ‘Christian’ yet ignore His words and continue to pattern yourself after the world?”
God speaks here against those of Israel who would continue to go through the motions of following His commands while their hearts and hands serve other masters at the same time. They do part of what God has commanded, yet also offer mystical sacrifices to idols and sacrifice their children in fire. Their mouths speak to Him but their hearts rebel, and that continues to this day. Let us examine ourselves and see if we truly walk the walk of Christ instead of just going through the motions.
Do you let the Bible tell you how to live your life? Do you let God define what is good and evil? Are you serious about following Christ with all your heart?
Lord, we all have divided hearts when we come to you. We are sorry for our lies and double lives, and ask that you correct us and teach us to live completely for you. Thank you for putting your Holy Spirit in us so that we might be changed bit by bit in the new life that you have purchased for us. We love you so much and want to live in a way that honours your Holy Name. Amen!
Song: But For You Who Fear MY Name - the Welcome Wagon
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.