JERUSALEM CANNOT ESCAPE JUDGMENT EVEN IF THE MOST RIGHTEOUS MEN INTERCEDE
Context: God promising to bring 4 judgments upon Jerusalem – even the intercession of the most godly men could not avert that judgment; yet we want to learn from the example of these 3 men whom God picked out to emphasize their loyalty and righteousness. Remember that the context in Ezekiel 14 is not that of personal salvation – but we can speak to that by way of application:
EVEN THE MOST RIGHTEOUS OF MEN CANNOT JUSTIFY THE UNGODLY (BECAUSE OF THEIR OWN SIN) – ONLY THE PERFECT SON OF GOD CAN JUSTIFY THE UNGODLY
– All of us are bankrupt of any righteousness of our own in God’s sight that would justify us
“there is none righteous, no not one”
“all of our righteousness is as filthy rags”
– We need the righteousness of God applied to our account by personal faith
– You cannot rely on any godly association with family, friends, churches, prayers, etc.
– Jesus Christ alone is our righteousness – able to justify the ungodly
– Having received God’s righteousness we can now perform good works that glorify God – We should now be examples of loyalty and righteousness to others
Leslie Allen: How could one entertain theological rationalizations of deliverance in a situation that pointed so clearly to God’s punitive hand at work?
Douglas Stuart: In ancient Israel, as elsewhere in the ancient Near East, it was apparently rather common for people to think in terms both of guilt by association and righteousness by association. Ezekiel already had been called on to denounce guilt by association and to proclaim the principle of individual responsibility (3:16–21, etc.). Now he must expose the parallel folly of righteousness by association. . . They presumed that because Jerusalem and Judah still had in them good people (and they surely did in the person of such prophets as Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Obadiah, for example, or such godly people as Baruch, Jeremiah’s disciple and supporter) that God would never bring Himself to give the nation totally over to its enemies. Many probably had already concluded that the exile of 598 b.c. was the worst thing that would happen to Judah and that the little state had nowhere to go but up from now on.
Had they considered the stories of people like Noah and Job more sensibly, they might not have been so sanguine about Judah’s chances. After all, Noah’s righteousness did not prevent the extinction of his generation. And Job’s goodness covered not even his close associates (Job 42:7–8), let alone his original family. Abraham’s intercession for Sodom proved ultimately futile, as well. And the righteousness of Josiah could not sustain Judah beyond the time of his own death.
At any rate, the passage effectively drums in the point that Judah was beyond saving in the early 580s.
Iain Duguid: This section of Ezekiel’s prophecy focuses on the inevitability and justice of God’s decision to destroy Jerusalem. The oracle begins by introducing a hypothetical country that is unfaithful to the Lord. The implied universality of the principle is an important element supporting the justice of God’s actions: The rules are the same for any nation and have not been applied unfairly to Israel. However, behind the implied universality, the actual reference is clearly to Israel, for the phrase “by being unfaithful” (Ezek. 14:13) refers elsewhere to a breach of a covenant relationship. This may be through marital infidelity (Num. 5:12, 27), misappropriation of an object belonging by rights to the Lord, as in the case of Achan (Josh. 7:1), or other action that violates the covenant between God and his people (e.g., Lev. 26:40; Ezek. 17:20). Such a breach of the covenant inevitably brings on the offending nation (i.e., Israel) the curses attached to the covenant in Leviticus 26.
I. (:12-20) INEVITABILITY OF JERUSALEM’S DEMISE –
FOUR ARGUMENTS BASED ON DIFFERENT TYPES OF DIVINE PUNISHMENT TO PROVE JERUSALEM CANNOT SURVIVE
A. (:12-14) Argument Based on Divine Punishment by Famine
“Then the word of the LORD came to me saying,”
Leslie Allen: In the light of the contemporary references in the second half of the oracle, vv 21–23, the intention is to dismiss an expectation that the people of Jerusalem would survive the crisis that threatened them. The argument is presented four times in parallel, slightly different terms, like four heavy hammer blows that crash down on a precious object and smash it to smithereens. This argument is not directed specifically at the historical situation; it stands detached and relates to a hypothetical case that is transparent enough to let the exiles to whom the message is addressed (vv 22–23) realize its import. Each of the four presentations of the case has three sections:
– a basic hypothesis of (human sin and) divine judgment,
– development of the hypothesis,
– and a categorical conclusion that in three out of the four instances is emphasized by a divine oath (Schulz, Todesrecht 180).
1. (:13) Illustration of Divine Punishment by Famine
“Son of man, if a country sins against Me by committing unfaithfulness, and I stretch out My hand against it,
destroy its supply of bread,
send famine against it,
and cut off from it both man and beast,”
2. (:14) Impossibility of Deliverance —
Three OT Examples of Loyalty and Righteousness –
Even the Most Righteous of Men Cannot Justify the Ungodly
“’even though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job were in its midst, by their own righteousness they could only deliver themselves,’ declares the Lord God.”
What can we learn from these three godly examples?
NOAH – LOYALTY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS WHILE PROCLAIMING GOD’S COMING JUDGMENT TO AN UNGODLY WORLD AND GRACIOUS OFFER OF DELIVERANCE – BUT NO ESCAPE APART FROM REPENTANCE
a. Danger He Faced = Wrath of God poured out in worldwide flood; Pressure and Persecution from a corrupt and wicked society
b. Deliverance God Provided = Ark of Salvation
– exclusive path of salvation
– urgency to enter the ark before God shut the door
c. Devotion to God in Loyalty and Righteousness Exemplified
– fellowship with God
– family leadership
– bold testimony – continued to preach to those around him
– hero of faith – took a long time to prepare the ark; had never seen a
– hard worker – labored for many years to build the ark
Gen. 6:8-9 “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord . . . Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.”
7:1 “for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.”
Heb 11:7 “By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”
2 Pet 2:5 “and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly”
DANIEL – LOYALTY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS WHILE FAITHFULLY MAINTAINING A TESTIMONY TO THE TRUE GOD IN THE MIDST OF THE PRESSURES OF EXILE IN A FOREIGN LAND
a. Danger He Faced = Lion’s Den for unwillingness to worship the king; Envy and Jealousy of king’s counselors who were trying to incriminate Daniel
b. Deliverance God Provided = Shut the mouths of the lions
c. Devotion to God in Loyalty and Righteousness Exemplified
– Maintained personal physical discipline – did not eat the unhealthy
– Maintained personal spiritual discipline — Practiced daily devotions –
prayer and worship
– Maintained walk of separation from sin and idolatry – No compromise
– Grew in Wisdom and Knowledge
– Blessed with Administrative Skill
Known for his wisdom (Ezek. 28:3) “you are wiser than Daniel”
Dan. 6:26-28 “I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; For He is the living God and enduring forever, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. And His dominion will be forever. He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. So this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.”
JOB – LOYALTY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS WHILE ENDURING THE EXTREMES OF SEVERE SUFFERING THAT MIGHT SEEM INCONSISTENT WITH THE GOODNESS AND FAITHFULNESS OF GOD
a. Danger He Faced = Direct Attack by Satan to try to make him renounce his allegiance to God; Coupled with unwise counsel from his wife and friends who wrongly interpreted his sufferings as evidence of sin and God’s displeasure
b. Deliverance God Provided = Endurance and Subsequent Blessing
c. Devotion to God in Loyalty and Righteousness Exemplified
Job 1:1 “that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil”
(1:8 – testimony of God to Satan about Job’s character)
1:21-22 “’Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”
2:3 “And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.”
2:10 “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”
34:5 “For Job has said, ‘I am righteous, but God has taken away my right’”
James 5:10-11 “As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.”
Leslie Allen: The insistence that such moral heroes could save no one but themselves seems to be attacking a counterclaim made by the exiles, appealing to a solidarity of virtue that could outweigh the liability of sinners to punishment. Abraham’s plea that Sodom be spared if fifty or even ten good persons could be found there (Gen 18:22–33) presupposes such a beneficial solidarity, and the Decalogue (Exod 20:5; cf. 34:7; Deut 5:10) reinforces it. Here the oracle simply rules such a possibility out of court, as inappropriate at this juncture of Israel’s history. The ensuing verses repeat the basic “no” again and again. Ezekiel’s message is that “there are no party tickets to deliverance” (Taylor 128). In God’s name the prophet sized up the situation and categorically denied such a soft option; in the three remaining cases the denial is reinforced by a divine oath. A straight and inevitable line led from sin to punishment, and no reprieve was possible for Jerusalem and Judah. The political inevitability of the fall of Jerusalem was matched by a theological inevitability. Discussion of other possibilities was a monstrous irrelevance, like that of the theological society in hell to which the bishop belonged in C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce.
B. (:15-16) Argument Based on Divine Punishment by Wild Beasts
1. (:15) Illustration of Divine Punishment by Wild Beasts
“If I were to cause wild beasts to pass through the land, and they depopulated it, and it became desolate so that no one would pass through it because of the beasts,”
2. (:16) Impossibility of Deliverance
“’though these three men were in its midst, as I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘they could not deliver either their sons or their daughters. They alone would be delivered, but the country would be desolate.’”
C. (:17-18) Argument Based on Divine Punishment by the Sword
1. (:17) Illustration of Divine Punishment by Famine
“Or if I should bring a sword on that country and say, ‘Let the sword pass through the country and cut off man and beast from it,’”
2. (:18) Impossibility of Deliverance
“‘even though these three men were in its midst, as I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘they could not deliver either their sons or their daughters, but they alone would be delivered.’”
D. (:19-20) Argument Based on Divine Punishment by Plague
1. (:19) Illustration of Divine Punishment by Plague
“Or if I should send a plague against that country and pour out My wrath in blood on it, to cut off man and beast from it,”
2. (:20) Impossibility of Deliverance
“‘even though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in its midst, as I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘they could not deliver either their son or their daughter. They would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.’”
II. (:21-23) JUSTICE OF JERUSALEM’S DEMISE –
JUSTIFICATION OF DIVINE PUNISHMENT AGAINST JERUSALEM
A. (:21) Unleashing of a Variety of Divine Judgments
“For thus says the Lord God, ‘How much more when I send My four severe judgments against Jerusalem: sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague to cut off man and beast from it!’”
Iain Duguid: The repetition of the four cases in which the sentence and the outcome are the same, while only the form of the judgment is different, underlines the inevitability of Jerusalem’s destruction (14:21). Her situation is worse on two counts than that of the hypothetical land of 14:12–20. Not only does she lack such righteous men as Noah, Daniel, and Job, but in addition she is faced with not one kind of judgment but all four at once. The statement “How much worse will it be …” is obvious; the inevitable outcome to be expected is that none can survive.
B. (:22a-23a) Unrighteous Survivors Prove the Lord’s Case
“Yet, behold, survivors will be left in it who will be brought out, both sons and daughters. Behold, they are going to come forth to you and you will see their conduct and actions; then you will be comforted for the calamity which I have brought against Jerusalem for everything which I have brought upon it.
Then they will comfort you when you see their conduct and actions,”
Iain Duguid: Yet the next verse introduces a surprising twist. Indeed, unexpectedly, some will survive the catastrophe. There will be sons and daughters brought out of the ruins (14:22). Their survival, however, is not due to their own righteousness or to the righteousness of relatives imputed to them. Indeed, they are not “saved” (nāṣal) from the city but “brought out” (Hophal of yāṣāʾ) from it, a term that focuses on them as prisoners of war rather than trophies of grace. The purpose of saving this remnant is not for their sake but to “console” those already in exile by allowing them to see the extent of Jerusalem’s depravity. When the exiles see the impious behavior of this “unspiritual remnant,” then they will know that the Lord has not acted without cause (14:23). Justice will not only be done; it will be seen to have been done. Every mouth will be stopped by a recognition of just how bad Jerusalem had become, and therefore how clearly God had no other choice but to act.
John Taylor: At first sight it is hard to imagine how the sight of evil men suffering punishment will console you (av comfort). The word is an unusual one. At its heart, the Hebrew root nāḥam means ‘to breathe a deep breath’. In the form in which it is used here, traditionally translated by the words ‘comfort’ and ‘console’, it means to soothe, to calm down, to cause someone to breathe slowly and deeply. Such comfort is imparted by bringing good news (as in Isa. 40:1) or by giving adequate reasons to explain what would otherwise be disturbing (as here). As Snaith has pointed out, the word in Hebrew means not to comfort in sorrow, but to comfort out of sorrow, i.e. to bring new facts to bear upon a situation so that the hearer’s attitude of mind is changed. It is with this very purpose in view that the unrighteous survivors of Jerusalem’s overthrow were to be allowed to escape. Only then would the embittered exiles see the justice of it all.
C. (:23b) Ultimate Vindication for the Lord
“’for you will know that I have not done in vain whatever I did to it,’
declares the Lord God.”
Lamar Cooper: Ezekiel, like Jeremiah (Jer 44:27ff.) and Amos (Amos 9:8, 11–15), spoke of total annihilation but also predicted the survival of a small remnant (Ezek 14:22). The appearance of the remnant would be a cause for consolation (cf. 11:14–20 in response to 11:13). The comfort would not come “in the midst” of judgment but “out of” (v. 22) or “by” it. Encountering the wickedness of those who escaped the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 b.c. would enable the exiles to see that judgment had been deserved and necessary to produce a righteous remnant (v. 23). The older captives would take comfort in this fact since it would teach them that by loyalty to him they could escape a similar fate. Comfort would come only after judgment had been fully exercised.