Ezekiel 33:30-33

It is December, 586 BC and Jerusalem has lain in ruins for three months.  It took that long for a lone fugitive to reach the exiled Jews in Babylon with the news.  The fall of Jerusalem was the pivot point in Ezekiel’s ministry and his book.  Up to the end of chapter 32, Ezekiel had been prophesying the end of Israel as a nation and explaining to the exiles why this had to happen.  It was because of their continual disobedience to the Covenant.  It’s not like they hadn’t been warned, because they had been.  For generations, prophets came warning the people to smarten up and start abiding by the terms of the Covenant.  But the more they were warned, the more stiff-necked they became; determined to go their own way, doing their own thing.

Verses 21 and 22 set the scene for what we are looking at in this study:

In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen!”  Now the evening before the man arrived, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he opened my mouth before the man came to me in the morning. So my mouth was opened and I was no longer silent.  (Ezekiel 33:21-22 NIV84)

So what we are reading is a message Ezekiel gave the evening before this fugitive arrived with the news.  It was a long series of messages, actually, that took a day to deliver.  Part of his sermon included a message to the small remnant of Jews that had survived the destruction of Jerusalem and was now living among its ruins.  And God’s message to these people was not good:

“Say this to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, those who are left in the ruins will fall by the sword, those out in the country I will give to the wild animals to be devoured, and those in strongholds and caves will die of a plague.'”   (Ezekiel 33:27 NIV84)

There is no escaping God’s judgment!  The people of God needed to judged – all of them – even those who had cleverly hid out in caves when Nebuchadnezzar’s army rolled over Jerusalem.  He didn’t find them, but others would – other armies, animals and sickness.  God’s judgment would be complete and it would be obvious to the exiles that He had spoken; that He had kept His Word.

But what about these exiles in Babylon?   They had escaped death and Ezekiel had been doing his best to set the record straight:  they were in exile because they had been rebellious; they had turned their collective backs on the Lord, and they were being punished.  They were spared death because they needed to see firsthand that when God promises He will do something, He does it.  But the truth is these exiles in Babylon were no better than any other Jew.  They were, as Bunyan said, “a saint abroad and a devil at home.”  In other words, at this point in Ezekiel’s ministry, he’s not dealing with out-and-out idolaters and obviously wicked people.  No, they’re worse than that.  The people Ezekiel is dealing with now actually seemed like him!  But they’re hypocrites.

Let’s look at them.

1.  How they treated Ezekiel

“As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’   (Ezekiel 33:30 NIV84)

There isn’t a pastor or minister who hasn’t experienced exactly what is being described here.  These people crowded around the prophet; they put on a form of Godliness as long as it served their own personal interests.   They assumed the role of God’s people; they did what God’s people would do.  But in secret the made fun of Ezekiel and mocked God’s Word.  The only time they exposed themselves God’s Word was when Ezekiel was preaching.  The only time they fellowshipped with God’s people was when Ezekiel was preaching.

This sounds a lot like modern Christianity.  How many Christians, do you suppose, flock to church on a Sunday, are entertained by their pastor, glad-hand all the members and talk to them like “best friends,” but have virtually nothing to do with them during the week?  The only Bible teaching they get comes from their pastor, whom they support when they are in church, but the rest of time is the object of their scorn or mockery.  They hear the Word but do nothing with it.

Given the state of the Church of Jesus Christ today, it seems like there are is a majority of “Christians” that behaves just like that.  They’re saved, but going nowhere.  They look the part, but lack the power.  And they are befuddled when their prayers seem to go unanswered.

The reality is, if Christians took their faith seriously, churches would be full.  If Christians took their faith seriously, their marriages would work and their children wouldn’t be all mixed up.  If Christians took their faith seriously, they’d elect officials with at least a Biblical worldview.  If Christians took their faith seriously they’d have peace, joy, contentment, a positive outlook, and all the things that “mysteriously” elude them.

Christian, you either believe the Bible or you don’t.  You either crave good Christian fellowship or you don’t.

2.  How they treated God’s Word

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.  (Ezekiel 33:31 NIV84)

These exiles put on a good show.  They did and said everything that was expected of them.  If it were possible to look back in time, you’d probably be very impressed with how these exiles were behaving.  They hear that Ezekiel is going to preach, and they tell their friends and neighbors and they hurry over to hear him.  They hung on his every word.  Ezekiel must have been an attractive preacher!

Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.   (Ezekiel 33:32 NIV84)

What a stinging indictment of God’s people.  But God sees into the hearts of His people.  Nobody can put on the dog-and-pony-show and expect God to buy it.  God is looking into your hearts right now.  He knows what you really think about the Bible, your church, your pastor, and He knows the true state of your soul.

These exiles seemed to be impressed with Ezekiel.  His wholly Scriptural messages sounded like music in their ears.  They just didn’t take them (or him) seriously.  They heard it with their ears, but rejected it in their hearts.  The prophet Isaiah said something very similar:

The Lord says:  “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”  (Isaiah 29:13 NIV84)

Isaiah is describing Israel, but he could easily be describing the modern Church of Jesus Christ.  How many denominations make up rules and change their own rules at the drop of a hat?   What was once unacceptable for a Christian is now acceptable.  What was once called a sin is now called anything but.   How many denominations try to appeal to the worst in sinful man rather than demanding the best?

Something you won’t hear from a lot of church pulpits today is that the Word of God never tries to accommodate your sin.  The Word of God insists that YOU change; that you conform to IT, not the other around.  When you treat the Bible like that you set yourself up as a hypocrite.  Jesus had a low opinion of hypocrites:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”  (Matthew 23:27-28 NIV84)

If you are a Christian, you’d do well to remember these words spoken by Samuel:

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.  (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV84)

The exiles needed to know the truth.  Jerusalem had fallen.  Ezekiel had been proven to be a genuine prophet of God.   Yet still the people refused to obey the Word of the Lord he gave them.  You don’t get tricked into unbelief; it’s wilful.  It’s not that you cannot accept what God says, it’s that you will not act on it.  The real problem that plagued the Jews is the real problem that plagues the church today:  we prefer our sin; we’d rather not change; we choose to hear the Word, but then choose to do nothing with it.

With God, it’s all about the choice.  God saves you, but then it’s up to you; you must choose to live for God.  God gave each of us a rational, thinking mind, capable to making the right choice.  Do it!  Use your God-given rational, thinking mind to make the only rational choice possible:  choose to devote yourself 100% to God.  Enjoy His blessing.  Enjoy the promises of God reaching their fulfilment in your life.

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24:15 NIV84)


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