Have you seen this? Ezekiel 8


Today’s reading: Ezekiel 5-8.

“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

God used Ezekiel to show the exiled Jews why they would not be rescued by Jerusalem. The city and its temple were defiled and had to be destroyed. God gave Ezekiel a vision of one idol after another in the temple, and each time he said, “you will see things that are even more detestable.”

The idol at the north gate. It was probably an idol to Baal. Josiah had removed it and ground it to powder, but after his death the leaders replaced it.

The secret worship. God shows Ezekiel a secret chamber in the temple where 70 elders bow down, each to their own idol of “crawling things and detestable animals.”

He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land.’ ” Again, he said, “You will see them doing things that are even more detestable.” Ezekiel 8:12-13

The women’s idolatry. The women worshiped the idol, Tammuz, in public not privately, and mourned for Tammuz instead of mourning for their own sin or the destruction of their country. Tammuz was the Greek god, Adonis, relegated to the underworld for half of each year.

The idolatry of those who turn their backs to God. At the entrance of the temple, Ezekiel saw twenty-five men, probably priests, bowing down to the sun in the east with their backs to the temple.

God said each of these practices was worse than the one before. Those who worshiped idols in public were worse than those who worshiped secretly. It was worse for the women to worship idols than the men. It was worst of all when the priests turned their backs to God and worshiped the creation rather than the creator.

God made one more indictment of Jerusalem before he withdrew his spirit from the temple. The people, he said, had filled the land with violence. They were abusing each other. They began by forsaking God, which led to their abandonment of all laws and morals. And so it goes today. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Image by Jannemel on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

A watchman must warn: Ezekiel 3


Today’s reading: Ezekiel 1-4.

Hurricane Katrina made landfall near New Orleans at 5 AM on September, 29, 2005 and caused major flooding in the city. Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans at 10 AM on the previous day. Though many residents were unable to leave the city because they lacked transportation, and over 1500 people died in Louisiana, experts estimate that 90% of New Orleans’ 1.3 million residents evacuated. The warnings made a difference.

The watchman in the tower has a clear duty to look for danger and sound the alarm when he sees trouble coming. God made Ezekiel the watchman for the Jewish exiles in Babylon and charged him with a heavy responsibility.

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.” Ezekiel 3:17-19

God didn’t send Ezekiel out unarmed. He prepared him first, then commissioned him.

  • He revealed himself to Ezekiel through the vision of his glory, a miraculous moving throne surrounded by living cherubim.
  • He filled Ezekiel with his own word.
  • He made it clear that Ezekiel’s only task was to share the word. It was up to the Israelites to accept or reject his warning.

Ezekiel’s work began about six years before the destruction of Jerusalem. Two large groups of Hebrews had already been deported to Babylon. The people were looking for God to rescue Jerusalem and take them all back home, but God used Ezekiel to tell them that Jerusalem was doomed and they should get on with their new lives. I’m encouraged to see God’s faithfulness to the exiles. They had rebelled against his will, but he did not reject them. In spite of their hard hearts he kept reaching out to them.

Now we’ve been given the commission to reach out to people who have don’t know God or who may have rejected his will. We are the watchman in the tower with God’s word of warning. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Our duty is only to share the words. The responsibility of response lies with those who hear and the Holy Spirit who convicts them.

If ye be damned, I am innocent of your damnation, for I have told you plainly, that except ye repent, ye must perish, and that except ye put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is for you no hope of salvation. – Charles Spurgeon

Image by James Marvin Phelps on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

The high cost of sin: Lamentations 5


Today’s reading: Lamentations 3:37-5.

Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.

According to Charles Finney, sin is the most expensive thing in the universe. “If it is forgiven sin,” he said, “it cost God His only Son… If it is unforgiven sin, it cost the sinner his soul and an eternity in hell.” The people of Judah and Israel found out how expensive it is; they lost everything. Jeremiah saw it happen firsthand and gave a detailed description of sin’s high cost.

Our skin is hot as an oven, feverish from hunger. Women have been ravished in Zion, and virgins in the towns of Judah. Princes have been hung up by their hands; elders are shown no respect. Young men toil at the millstones; boys stagger under loads of wood. The elders are gone from the city gate; the young men have stopped their music. Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning. The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, for we have sinned! Lamentations 5:11-16

We lose what we hold dear. Family, friends, home, work – all these and more can be lost due to sin. It separates us from God’s blessings. It exposes us to Satan’s attacks. It alienates us from those we love.

We suffer poverty. Sin is expensive because it makes everything else cost more. For the people of Jerusalem, all of their basic necessities – food, water, wood – became costly or unavailable. Today, it might mean you pay out more for rent, alimony, medical expenses, or lawyer’s fees.

We find no rest. Guilt from within, and the attacks of those we have harmed from without, will chase away our sleep and rob us of leisure until we repent.

Our sin harms our children. Though God doesn’t hold children accountable for the sins of their parents and grandparents, those younger generations can still suffer the consequences of their elders’ mistakes. Broken families, emotional trauma, poverty, depression, and shame are some of the costs children must pay because of the sins of others.

We become enslaved. We lose control of our lives. Addictions become our master, or sometimes the court system takes over and tells us what to do. When whole nations sin, it can lead to repressive governments or domination by foreign countries.

We lose our joy. The singing and dancing stop. The music in our homes and in our hearts goes away. In its place there is mourning.

Our health suffers. Sin causes poor health directly and indirectly. It can be as direct as damage from drugs or sexually transmitted disease, or as indirect as the slow decay of shame and guilt. It can bring discipline from God or attacks from Satan that weaken us. Jeremiah saw faint hearts and eyes that grew dim.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it was one man’s reality. Neither Jeremiah nor his countrymen could afford the high price of their sins. You and I can’t afford the price of our sins. They are infinitely expensive because, ultimately,they are sins against an infinite God. Even so, Jeremiah remained hopeful. He believed in the grace of God, and saw a coming day when the LORD would restore and renew his wayward people. We know that God paid that infinite debt of sin by the sacrificial death of his own son. Unfortunately, we forget that Jesus’ death doesn’t stop the consequences of sin. That cost remains a debt that all sinners, and those close to them, must still pay.

Image by Globovision on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

Therefore I have hope: Lamentations 3


Today’s reading: Lamentations 1-3:36.

“Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.” George Iles

Parade magazine told the story of self-made millionaire Eugene Land, who was asked to speak to a class of 59 sixth-graders. He wondered how he could change the lives of these predominantly black and Puerto Rican children, most of whom would drop out of school. Throwing away his prepared speech, he told them, “Stay in school and I’ll help pay the college tuition for every one of you.” Suddenly the students had hope. As one student said, “I had something to look forward to, something waiting for me. It was a golden feeling.”

Jeremiah maintained his hope in spite of the terrible ordeal of Jerusalem’s siege and fall. He witnessed famine, cannibalism, cruelty, and personal attacks against himself. Yet he still clung to his faith in God and the belief that good would return.

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:19-24

Jeremiah’s hope wasn’t groundless, but based on God’s character. The third chapter of Lamentations spells out these character traits.

The Lord’s mercy. God doesn’t give me the punishment I deserve; that’s mercy. For all the terrible things that happened to his brothers, Jeremiah knew that it was less than they deserved for breaking their covenant with God. It came only after a long forbearance on God’s part. He repeatedly gave them opportunities to repent and escape the worst part of his judgment. God had proven his mercy in the past and Jeremiah knew he could count on it in the future.

His compassion. God had shown his love for the Jewish people by the way he blessed them and nurtured them in the past. This word, compassion, describes a strong emotion coming from the deepest part of a person’s being, and that’s the way God loves his people.

His faithfulness. God remained true to his word and to his people, even though they had disregarded their covenant with him.

The Lord was Jeremiah’s portion. God’s resources are infinite, limitless in time and amount. His supply cannot be exhausted, and he desires to bless us.

God uses our trials to strengthen us. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

God does not cast us off forever. Jeremiah realized that God may bring grief for a season, but his compassion will return because his love for us is so great.

“Notice that, in all his sorrow, this man still had hope. His soul was humbled, and therefore he had hope. I think that, in the New Zealand language, the word for hope is ‘swimming thought’ — the thought that swims when everything else is drowned. Oh, what a mercy it is that hope can live on when all things else appear to die!” -Charles Spurgeon

Image by Rafa Bahlense on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

Surrender or Fight? Jeremiah 52


Today’s reading: Jeremiah 51-52.

“I wish it to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender my rifle.” Sitting Bull

We idolize those warriors who fight to the finish and never give up. We call them heroes, though sometimes they are dead heroes. Is it always best to fight, or are there times when it is wiser to surrender?

Today’s devotional is a tale of two kings. First, there is Zedekiah, Judah’s final king. Jeremiah counseled him to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, but he fought to the end. When defeat was certain he still didn’t give up, but tried to run.

…the Babylonian army pursued King Zedekiah and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered, and he was captured. He was taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he pronounced sentence on him. There at Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes; he also killed all the officials of Judah. Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon, where he put him in prison till the day of his death. Jeremiah 52:8-11

Zedekiah didn’t suffer alone. Nebuchadnezzar also killed the chief priest, the next priest in rank, the doorkeepers, the officer in charge of the fighting men, seven royal advisers, the officer in charge of conscripting people, and sixty of his assistants.

Then there is King Jehoiachin. He was king of Judah just before Zedekiah, eleven years before the destruction of Jerusalem. He served only three months before he surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar’s army. He lived in obscurity in a Babylonian prison for thirty-seven years, but then his fortune changed.

In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin king of Judah and freed him from prison on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. Jeremiah 52:31-33

After so much emphasis on the disasters that engulfed Jerusalem and its people, it seems a little odd for Jeremiah’s book to end with this account of a forgotten prisoner. It sets up a contrast, however, between those who fight and those who surrender – those who fight God’s discipline and those who surrender to his will. The distinction doesn’t have anything to do with Babylon, who was only God’s agent. It has everything to do with how a person responds to God’s declaration of their sin. Zedekiah and Jehoiachin were both sinful men, but Zedekiah resisted God’s judgment totally. It appears that Jehoiachin accepted it.

God calls us to account for our sins by his word, by his spirit, and sometimes by our friends. If we’re wise we feel the conviction of our error and repent. Many don’t repent, however, and face the hard consequences of a life opposed to God’s will. It’s a prison of our own making, full of deprivation and self-torture. We hold the key to the prison door – it’s called grace. When we surrender to God’s will and turn away from our sin the prison door falls open.

When Zedekiah asked for Jeremiah’s advice, he told the king, “Obey the LORD by doing what I tell you. Then it will go well with you, and your life will be spared.” In the end the king was too afraid to surrender his control and trust God. You and I should learn by his example and not make the same mistake.

It seems ironic that here (Jericho), at the very spot where Israel first set foot on the Promised Land, the last of the Davidic kings was captured and his monarchy shattered. Here, where Israel experienced her first victory as the walls of Jericho fell before unarmed men who trusted God, was the scene of her last defeat. -Dilday

Walls will fall: Jeremiah 50


Today’s reading: Jeremiah 49-50.

The historian Herodotus claimed that the walls around ancient Babylon were 300 feet high and 80 feet thick, wide enough for two chariot teams of four horses each to pass one another. Another less impressive wall ran inside the great outer wall. Herodotus may have exaggerated, but he accurately represented the awe with which outsiders viewed the strength of Babylon. Yet what is Babylon today but a pile of rubble in the desert south of Baghdad? Jeremiah prophesied the fall of Babylon’s walls many years in advance, even before the fall of Jerusalem’s walls.

“Take up your positions around Babylon, all you who draw the bow. Shoot at her! Spare no arrows, for she has sinned against the LORD. Shout against her on every side! She surrenders, her towers fall, her walls are torn down. Since this is the vengeance of the LORD, take vengeance on her; do to her as she has done to others.” Jeremiah 50:14-15

God condemns Babylon chiefly for its cruel treatment of Israel, but goes on to list a number of other sins:

  • She rejoiced while pillaging God’s people.
  • She opposed the LORD.
  • She defied the LORD.
  • She was arrogant.
  • She was full of idols.

Jeremiah summed up Babylon’s fate by declaring that God was doing to her what she had done to the nations around her. The Babylonian empire ended about fifty years after the destruction of Jerusalem when Cyrus conquered the city. The city itself lay ruined and abandoned within another 400 years. So it remains today. A good candidate for the dustbin of history, right?

Unfortunately, Babylon rises out of its ashes before the end of time. I don’t know if it will be the same city on the same river Euphrates, or if it is another city or a world system that embodies all the worst of ancient Babylon. The apostle John saw it in his Revelation, and also saw its final destruction.

“Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.” Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery: BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. Revelation 17:1-6

Ancient Babylon was built in the same area and on the same principles as the tower of Babel. Babylon of the end times will mirror the sins of the ancient city: opposing and defying God, exalting itself in pride, filling itself with idolatry, and seeking the destruction of God’s people. One new element in John’s Babylon is the power of her commerce, which draws in the entire world. Yet for all its power and strength, the future Babylon will fall utterly and completely never to rise again. Let that be your encouragement as you face walls of opposition to your Christian faith. Those walls are bound to fall. Your eternal safety is secure in God’s hands.

Image by Tim Lucas on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Why mourn for Moab? Jeremiah 48


Today’s reading: Jeremiah 46-48.

Jeremiah is often called the weeping prophet because of the persecutions he suffered and for his authorship of Lamentations. He cried out for a fountain of tears (Jeremiah 9:1) so that he might grieve for his countrymen who would die at the hands of the Babylonian invaders. But Jeremiah was an equal opportunity mourner. He also cried for the people of Moab, Judah’s sometimes ally and often enemy.

Therefore I will wail for Moab, even for all Moab will I cry out; I will moan for the men of Kir-heres. More than the weeping for Jazer I will weep for you, O vine of Sibmah! Jeremiah 48:31-32

Moab was located to the east of the Dead Sea in what is now Jordan. The flat plain along the Dead Sea rose sharply to a fertile elevated plateau. The people were descendants of Lot through his incestuous relationship with his daughter, and therefore they were also descendants of Abraham’s father, Terah. As the Israelites entered the Promised Land after their desert wanderings, they skirted around Moab. God told them not to attack their kinsmen, but Balak and Balaam returned the favor by seducing the Israelites into idol worship. Chemosh and Baal were the false gods of Moab, and Israel might have been destroyed before it ever began if Phinehas had not stepped in to stop the defections.

Moses died and was buried in Moab on Mt. Nebo. Perhaps most importantly, Ruth was from Moab, and therefore Moabite blood flowed through her great-grandson David and all those in David’s lineage. In the years after Israel settled in Canaan, Moab was sometimes a friend but more often an enemy. Still, Jeremiah mourned for Moab even as he listed the reasons why God would judge and destroy the nation.

  • Because Moab trusted in its own works and treasures rather than God (v.7)
  • Because God would discredit Moab’s false god, Chemosh (v. 13)
  • Because Moab magnified himself against God (v. 26)
  • Because Moab was proud (v. 29, 30)

Moab fell to the Babylonians shortly after Judah was destroyed. It has never returned as its own nation, and now Jordan occupies the land once inhabited by Moab. Jeremiah’s prophecy against Moab closes with a teaser, however, one last prophecy declaring that in the “latter days” God will “restore the fortunes” or “return the captivity” of Moab. Will the nation be reestablished with the descendants of Lot living in their former land, or is this a prediction that God will shine his favor on them by saving them through faith in the Messiah? All we can know for certain is that the return of Moab will glorify God and be the result of his grace.