Ezekiel And The Destruction Of Jerusalem

Ezekiel, whose name means "God strengthens," had trained for the temple priesthood in Jerusalem, which he intended to enter at age 30. But he was carried into captivity by General (soon to be King) Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC (probably at age 25, Ezekiel 1:1,2)--along with a number of fellow countrymen including King Jehoiachin. He was a contemporary of Daniel, though a few years older at the time of their deportation. In fact Daniel, his three friends (Daniel 1), and 10,000 Jewish hostages had been taken to Babylon 8 years earlier in 605 after Nebuchadnezzar's defeat of the Egyptian armies at the Battle of Carchemish (Jeremiah 46:2). Shortly after reaching Babylon, Ezekiel found himself called by God to awaken the remnant of the Jews in exile, to comfort them, to make them fully aware of God's continuing purposes for Israel. He was also to remind them also of God's dealings with all the nations. Ezekiel's clear and dazzling visions of the glory and splendor of the presence of God are accompanied by warnings of impending destruction of the temple and the beloved city. His wife died in 597 as a sign from God that the siege of Jerusalem had begun (24:16-18). The prophets words came true in the final destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BC, however Ezekiel's work continued until his death about 570 BC.

The 8th through 12th Chapters of Ezekiel are revelations of what was malignantly wrong in Jerusalem. So serious and deep-rooted was the national idolatry that God could only move in judgment---violently destroying most of his covenant people. Ezekiel's knowledge of what was then going on in Jerusalem, several hundred miles away, came to him in a series of great visions. When he received the divine revelation described in Chapter 8, he was sitting in his house in exile with the elders of Israel with him, waiting for a prophetic word from God. There the Spirit of God caught him up by a lock of his hair and transported him to Jerusalem, so he could have a bird's eye view of what was happening in the temple itself.

The present-day equivalent of viewing the activities and idolatries at the temple site would be for us to be enabled, as Jesus was, to see into the hearts of men, to know their motives and to be able to read behind the scenes men's secret conduct, to see things as God sees them rather than forming judgments based on outward appearances. Thus, Ezekiel's vision gives us insights that enable us to judge the inner state of our hearts before God, and if necessary to submit ourselves to God's corrective open-heart surgery.

"In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord GOD fell there upon me (Ezekiel). Then I beheld, and lo, a form that had the appearance of a man; below what appeared to be his loins it was fire, and above his loins it was like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming bronze. He put forth the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my head; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, where was (located) the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes (God) to jealousy. And behold, the (Shekinah) glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the plain."

We are given the year of this vision, it was the fifth day of the month of Elul, or September 592 BC. God has exact dates on His calendar of world events, though He does not reveal them to us in advance. The name most frequently used for God in this passage is Adonai Yahweh, which means "Lord Jehovah."

The impressive figure of a man seen in this vision was probably The Angel of the LORD, that is, the Son of God, in one of his Old Testament preincarnate appearances which are known as "theophanies." The vision may be compared, for example, to that given in Revelation 1:12-16 where Jesus Christ in His present glory is pictured for us in similar imagery. The symbolism of gleaming bronze from the man's waist upwards speaks of judgment, and the fiery appearance of the rest of his body suggest the actual flames of destruction taking place.

The Shekinah, or Cloud of Glory, is here shown as the outshining Presence which accompanied the people of Israel in their wilderness wanderings---a Pillar of Fire by night and a Pillar of Cloud by day. The awesome Presence of the majesty and ineffable splendor of God at the time of the dedication of the First Temple by Solomon, 373 years earlier, is recorded in II Chronicles 7:1-3. In Ezekiel's time, the manifested presence of God as the Shekinah departed from the Temple (Ezekiel 10ff), to leave Jerusalem in stages, obviously with great reluctance.

However, in a yet-future day, the glowing cloud of the Shekinah will rest once again over Jerusalem marking the return of Messiah and the fulfillment of Israel's final destiny as chief among the nations, (Matthew 24:29-31, Isaiah 4:2-6).

The image which provoked (God) to jealousy described was probably an obscene statue or image indicating the nation's open tolerance of sexual immorality. The "pillars" of Baal in the Old Testament were carved phallic symbols to remind the worshiper of unrestrained male virility associated with that pagan god. That such a symbol should be found anywhere near the temple, which was carefully marked off in zones of increasing holiness, should have been unthinkable to God's people. The worship of pagan deities such as Baal allowed the people of Israel to become sexually indulgent and permissive, to rationalize selfish behavior that was prohibited by the Law of Moses.

God continues to give Ezekiel a personal tour around the Temple Mount:

"Then he said to me, 'Son of man, lift up your eyes now in the direction of the north.' So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and behold, north of the altar gate, in the entrance was this image of jealousy. And he said to me, 'Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.'"

A holy God can not have fellowship and remain in communion and intimate relationship with an unclean and profaned people. The Apostle Paul instructs us,

"What partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? What accord does Christ have with Belial?...What agreement has the temple of God (our bodies) with idols?" (2 Corinthians 6:14,15)

Proverbs admonishes, "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for out of the heart are the springs of life." (4:23) Jesus elaborated on this principle teaching that, "...out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man..."(Matthew 15). Whatever we set our affections upon becomes our god---whether it be a girlfriend, a sports car, a challenging career, a football star we admire, love of money and power, or the girl in the Playboy centerfold. Romans Chapter One says that idolatry sets in when we cease to worship and serve the true and living God with all our hearts and minds and souls and might. Next Ezekiel gets a look into the "inner life" of the leaders of the land:

"And he brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, and behold, there was a hole in the wall. Then he said to me, 'Son of man, dig in the wall': and when I dug in the wall, lo, there was a door. And he said to me, 'Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here.' So I went in and saw; and there, portrayed upon the wall round about, were all kinds of creeping things, and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel. And before them stood seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah, ("Yahweh hears"), the son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the cloud of incense went up. Then he said to me, 'Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, every man in his room(s) of pictures? For they say, "The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land."' He also said to me, 'You will see still greater abominations which they commit.'"

The modern equivalent to these "rooms of pictures" would surely be television and movies. Taken together with pornographic literature, our secret fantasies, and the American macho male mythologies we live by today, these captivate us more fully than any statue of a golden calf ever could. In Ezekiel's day, "every man" had his "room of pictures"---his secret world of lustful fantasies, and inner idolatries which, though hidden largely from public view, reflected the condition of the hearts of the people towards personal and holy devotion to God. This passage is a reminder that whatever enters the "eye-gate" of man can have a special power to gain a grip on his mind and imagination. Jaazaniah's name ("Yahweh hears") implies he was aware that God hears all things, but evidently he had forgotten that God also sees all things, including the thoughts and intentions of the heart, (Hebrews 4:13). In his commentary, Ezekiel, (Intervarsity Press, 1969) John B. Taylor notes that Shaphan is probably to be identified with Josiah's secretary of state, and Ahikam, another of Shaphan's sons was an influential supporter of Jeremiah. Thus Jaazaniah evidently "was the black sheep of a worthy family."

"Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the LORD; and behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then he said to me, 'Have you seen this, O son of man? You will see still greater abominations than these.'"

The heart of all false religion in the world traces back to Nimrod and the Babylonian mystery religion. Tammuz was the divine child who died and was raised again, mentioned in connection with Semiramis, his mother, the wife of Nimrod.

Tammuz seems to have been virgin born without benefit of normal sexual intercourse in marriage. The cult of the mother-and-child was perpetuated in Egypt as Isis and Osiris, in Greece as Venus and Cupid, in Rome as Aphrodite and Eros, etc. Worship of the Great Mother and the nature/fertility rites of Canaan (Baal worship) are variations on this central idolatry of Babylon. Temple prostitution was common among the Canaanites whom the Israelites were supposed to have totally destroyed upon entering the land under Joshua. Instead the Israelites accommodated and incorporated Canaanite idolatries into the worship of Yahweh. The scene of women weeping for Tammuz seems to suggest the unfulfilled feminine longings of the women of Israel---their husbands and brothers and fathers were preoccupied elsewhere. The worship in the temple and its courts was not centered around marriage, family and interpersonal relationships, but around the private idolatries of individuals split off from God and from one another---to each his own. Left to himself man (and woman) seem to seek their sexual fulfillment everywhere else except in the one God-given relationship of marriage which God designed for our happiness and wholeness. The result is a sexual brokenness and confusion of sexual roles at all levels of society.

"And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD; and behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the LORD, and their faces towards the east, worshiping the sun to the east. Then he said to me, 'Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too slight a thing for the for the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence, and provoke me further to anger? Lo, they put the branch to the nose. Therefore I will deal in my wrath; my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; and though they cry in my eyes with a loud voice, I will not hear them.'"

The Temple in Jerusalem faced east to symbolize that hope and light and the eventual appearing of the Messiah would come from the direction of the rising sun. Open and deliberate sun worship (which was central to the Egyptian religion, for example) was a flaunting of the law of Moses forbidding the worship of the "host of heaven," that is the sun, moon, stars, or the angelic beings they symbolize. In turning their backs to the Holy of Holies in order to bow to the east, the twenty-four representative temple elders were turning their backs to God and to the sanctuary where God was to be served and revered. By their actions they were denying the very purpose for which the temple was built. The true temple of God today is the body of every believer, and true and proper service to God is to allow Him to put His temples to the holy uses He has made us for. Scripture reveals that violence and lawlessness in a nation are the results of spiritual decline and rejection of God and His ways. Taylor says, "When church leadership becomes corrupted there is no end of chaos that is caused to the life of the nation."

The euphemistic expression "to put the branch to the nose" perhaps is somewhat equivalent to our modern expression, "to thumb one's nose at someone." It probably means something even more vulgar, literally it is"to put forth a stench before the nose (of God)."

After ignoring repeated warnings from a long-suffering and patient, merciful God, there do come times in all our lives, and in national and corporate life as well, when judgment can no longer be averted. Ezekiel is given to see God's prompt action of judgment against all Jerusalem which is to be carried out for Him by angels sent for that purpose. The year, the month, the day, and the hour for judgment had arrived.

Our attention is called to the fact that judgment begins at the sanctuary. Perhaps this is the inspiration for Peter's word to the church,

"The time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God. And if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And 'if the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the sinner and ungodly appear?'" (1 Peter 4:17,18, Prov. 11:31)

The text in Ezekiel continues:

"Then he (the Lord) cried in my ears with a loud voice, saying, 'Draw near, you executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand.' And lo, six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, every man with his weapon for slaughter in his hand, and with them a man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his side. And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar.

"Now the
(Shekinah) glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherubim on which it rested to the threshold of the house; and he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his side. And the LORD said to him, 'Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.' And to the others he said in my hearing, 'Pass through the city after him, and smite; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; slay old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one upon whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.' So they began with the elders who were before the house. Then he said to them, 'Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go forth.' So they went forth, and smote in the city. And while they were smiting, and I was left alone, I fell upon my face, and cried, 'Ah Lord GOD! Wilt thou destroy all that remains of Israel in the outpouring of thy wrath upon Jerusalem?' "Then he (God) said to me, 'The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice; for they say, 'The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see' As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity, but I will requite their deeds upon their heads.'

"And lo, the man clothed in linen, with the writing case at his side, brought back word, saying, 'I have done as thou didst command me.'" (Ezekiel, Chapters 8 and 9)

The six men referred to are six angels. "Executioners of the city" is taken from a Hebrew verb meaning "to visit," i.e. with punishment. They are accompanied by a seventh recording angel who is instructed to mark the forehead of all in Israel who were sighing and moaning over her sins. The mark was Tav, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, probably written as an "X", that is, as a cross. Those so marked were to be protected from destruction since they were a remnant who lived in repentance and sorrow over the apostasy of their nation (Taylor).

Ezekiel's lament (that all of his people would surely be destroyed if God persists in his slaughter of men, women and children without pity or without sparing) continues, "Ah Lord GOD! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?" (Ezekiel 11:13) According to the Bible judgment is "God's strange work." God is long-suffering and reluctant to judge, yet as a Just God, He must inevitably deal with human evil:

"For the Lord will not cast off for ever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men. To crush under foot all the prisoners of the earth, to turn aside the right of a man in the presence of the Most High, to subvert a man in his cause, the Lord does not approve. Who has commanded and it came to pass, unless the Lord has ordained it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come? Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?" (Lamentations 3:30-39)

In response to his prayers, an answer from God comes, granting a great promise which would come to pass in the distant future to bless all of Israel,

"And the word of the LORD came to me: 'Son of man, your brethren, even your brethren, your fellow exiles, the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those of whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, 'They have gone far from the LORD; to us this land is given for a possession.' Therefore say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary in small measure (or, "for a little while"), in the countries where they have gone.' Therefore say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: I will gather you from the peoples, and I will assemble you out of the countries where they have gone.' And I will give you the land of Israel.' And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things, and all its abominations. And I will give them a new heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will requite their deeds upon their own heads, says the Lord GOD." (Ezekiel 11:14-21)

The Destruction of the First Jewish Temple 9th of Av, 586 BC

The Destruction of the Second Jewish Temple 9th of Av 70 AD

God's Strange People the Jews (RCS)

The Angel of the Lord

Mankind's Downward Spiral

Idolatry Notes

Israel My Glory

Israel is the Key to World Peace

Canaanite Religion

The Death of a Nation, by Ray Stedman

False Religion

Sex and Worship

In Canaan Land

Israel the Template Nation

Israel is destined to become chief of all the nations
—Jesus Christ, King of kings headquartered in Jerusalem.

And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there will be no Rain and the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the LORD strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.  In that day “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” shall be engraved on the bells of the horses. The pots in the LORD’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yes, every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holiness to the LORD of hosts. Everyone who sacrifices shall come and take them and cook in them. In that day there shall no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts.“ (Zechariah 14:16-21)

Notes from Ray Stedman: According to the Scriptures, the darkest days for Jerusalem lie yet ahead. It shall become a burden to the nations, a grievous stone of stumbling, the prophetic scriptures say. The peoples of the nations shall be gathered together about the city and Zechariah tells us that God will not allow himself to be ignored. He vows that he will break through into human consciousness and it will come about this way (verses 9, 10):

"And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn." (Zech12:9-10 RSV)

Isn't that amazing? Israel in its blindness refusing its Messiah refusing to recognize the one that God sent, never realizing that the one whom they pierced is coming again And when he comes. he will speak these words (chapter 13 verse 6): "

And if one asks him, 'What are these wounds on your back?'" [or, as other versions say, "in your hands"] "He will say, 'The wounds I received in the house of my friends.'" This ties in with the vivid, descriptive sequence in chapter 14 (verses 1-4):

Behold, a day of the LORD is coming, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in the midst of you. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives... (Zechariah 14:1-4a RSV)

You remember that was the place that Jesus stood on this earth He went out with his disciples on the Mount of Olives and as they watched him he was taken up out of their sight into the heavens and an angel standing there said to them, This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven " (Acts 1:11 ).

On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward. And the valley of my mountains shall be stopped up, for the valley of the mountains shall touch the sides of it; and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. (Zechariah 14:4-5a RSV)

God…chose them to be a representative nation, to be a working model of what a nation ought to be, in order that other nations might share that knowledge. He set them out as a sample, an example nation, to indicate by visible demonstration what God wants to be and to do with all the other nations of the world. Israel, therefore is not a unique, select people, but rather is a people chosen to demonstrate the kind of relationship that God wants to have with every other people on earth. They are intended to demonstrate how any nation can be blessed and fulfilled and find prosperity and peace and harmony and happiness if they discover the secret of their relationship to God. That is Israel's purpose and there was a time in their developing history when it was partially fulfilled. In the days of David and Solomon there was a demonstration to the world of their day of what God would do with a nation which was in right relationship with him. It was a partial demonstration, never complete, never full. But even that partial realization was a magnificent model of what God could do with any nation. In the days of David, and especially in those of Solomon who followed, the world beat a path to Israel to see what God was doing….

You remember the story of the Queen of Sheba who, as Jesus had said earlier this very day, came "from the ends of the earth" Matthew 12:42) because she had heard of Solomon's glory and she wanted to find the secret of this man's prestige and power and wisdom and majesty. She was no inconsiderable monarch herself. She wasn't just Queen for a Day. She was a great queen in her own right. And she brought with her a great retinue bearing exotic spices, gold, silver, precious stones, beautiful cloth, an amazing array of presents for King Solomon. These were the best she had to offer. But when King Solomon met her he began to give presents to her, and his outweighed hers by far. She reviewed all the glories of the kingdom of Solomon and was amazed and staggered by what she saw. Then she asked him for the secret and Solomon took her to the temple and there he showed her the worship of Jehovah, showed her how this nation was related to the God of glory and that it was their understanding of God which produced the magnificence she had seen. And the queen's heart melted and she said, "I didn't believe the reports until I had seen all this with my own eyes, but the half has never been told me," (1 Kings 10:7).

Now that is God's plan for the nations -- to provide a working model in the nation Israel. This is what we human beings need. We never can understand anything until we see it demonstrated before us. That is why it is not enough to preach the gospel to people; you must also live it. It is not enough to mouth great words like love and joy and peace and forgiveness; you also have to demonstrate them, or people will never believe the gospel, never accept it, never receive it. So the secret of world peace is wrapped up, bound up, in this strange nation, Israel. Only when Israel comes again into its right relationship to God is it ever possible to have world peace.

I hope that this is clear to the many of you, especially those of you who are younger, who are earnestly and zealously and quite dedicatedly trying to pursue world peace. It is right that you should pursue it. Nations are right to try to solve their problems and reconcile their differences. There is nothing wrong with that at all. But, nevertheless, the Scriptures tell us that the secret is hidden from men until it be revealed through Israel. When our Lord came into the world and came to Israel he found that this treasure had been lost to the world. For more than four hundred years Israel had been an obscure, tiny little nation. There was no voice of God in their midst, no prophet speaking forth from God. The nation's glory was gone. It was now subject to the Romans, crushed under the heel of an iron-hearted oppressor. And our Lord found the nation in bondage, the temple overrun with moneychangers, commercial charlatans making a fast buck by preying upon the worship of the people. He found poverty and misery stalking the land. When he found it, what did he do? He uncovered it.

That is the story of the gospels. He revealed for a brief flash of time the glory that was Israel. He declared it in great messages like the Sermon on the Mount. And then he demonstrated it by healing the multitudes, by driving the moneychangers out of the temple, by feeding the thousands with bread and fish, and by rebuking death and evil everywhere he went. In the short course of the three and a half years of our Lord's ministry he uncovered the treasure of Israel, the secret of this nation's life. But you know what happened. The nation would not have it, would not have him, and they rejected him. So according to the parable he hid the treasure again.

You cannot read the Gospel stories without seeing that there came a time in our Lord's ministry when he began to change his message and turn away from the proclamation that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, that he was there in their midst. As opposition began to mount against him and resistance to his message increased, our Lord withdrew from Jerusalem and went out into the desert. He refused to go into the capital city again until his appointed hour had come. And the crowds who had followed him, the multitudes who had hung upon his words faded away. "Many turned back," the record says, "and no longer walked with him," (John 6:66). Eventually he came again into the city and there he pronounced solemn and serious words of judgment against the nation. You can read them in Matthew 23 in the sharp series of woes that he pronounced against the Pharisees and the scribes. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" he said (Matthew 23:13, et al). Earlier he had pronounced judgment on the outlying cities:

"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! -- for if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon [which were pagan communities], they would have repented long ago. But you have refused," (Matthew 11:21, Luke 10:13).

Jesus had entered Jerusalem in what we call the triumphal entry. He would never have called it that. He went into the city riding upon an ass in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah, "Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass," (Matthew 21:5, Zechariah 9:9). Instead of being received by the rulers and leaders of the people he was rejected. A crowd of children and humble folk were the only ones who recognized him and went ahead of him waving palm branches and crying,

"Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9, John 12:13).

He lamented over this recalcitrant city and said,

"O Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'" (Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34).

Then, as you can read in Mark's Gospel, our Lord went into the temple and he stopped the sacrifices. He ended them, and then he said to the people, "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation that will bring forth the fruits of it," (Matthew 21:43)

By that he indicated that the privilege of demonstrating the grace of God would he taken from Israel and given to the church. The church would thereafter demonstrate before men the healing grace of God as we will see in our next study together. Finally Jesus left the city once more and went out to his death. But the wonderful thing the Lord tells us here is that he has not given up his purpose. God has not forgotten Israel. In this little parable he reveals that he came and found this treasure, the secret of world peace and prosperity, hidden in this nation. Yet they had lost the secret of their own lives. So he unfolded it and unveiled it again. Then he covered it over again when it was rejected by the people. But then the parable says, "Then in his joy the man went and gave all that he had and bought the field." And in those words, "he gave all that he had," the mystery of the darkness of the cross of Jesus Christ is implied. They bring to mind the words of Philippians 2:

"Though he was equal with God he did not count it a thing to be held on to But he emptied himself, disenfranchised himself, pauperized himself -- he gave all that he had -- and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross," (Philippians 2:8).

In the dying of Jesus there, one element of what was accomplished was that he might finally purchase the right to set Israel again among the nations as a model nation so that the world might learn how to live in peace. And in that we can see revealed the heart of God who looks at this broken and fragmented world, with all its injustice, heartache, sorrow, violence, and slaughter, and yet has not forgotten his purposes and has preserved the secret of world peace in a treasure hidden among the nations which he shall someday bring forth again. Yesterday I spent a few hours with Dr. Billy Graham. He was in Israel not long ago. And he was telling me how divided among themselves the Israelis are and how they are separating into squabbling bickering groups, fighting each other, and into many political parties vying for power. Though they are surrounded and ringed by enemies armed to the teeth who are vowing to wipe every Jew off the face of the earth, Nevertheless, as is obvious, they do not understand the secret of their own life and are trying to produce peace and stability by democratic methods and consensus and compromise. They have not yet grasped again the lost secret of their nation -- that the nation which walks in right relationship to him, God will heal.

I have never forgotten something I learned years ago when in Hawaii. It is recorded in the motto of that fiftieth state. This motto is a result of the work of the early Christian missionaries who came from New England in the 19th century. It is: Ua mau ke ea o ka aina ika pono, which I am sure you understand means, "The life of the land is preserved by righteousness."

And you and I are making a great mistake if, as Americans, we think that this country is being held together by the Constitution of the United States or by the Declaration of Independence. Thank God for those documents, but they have no power to hold us together as a people, to preserve our national liberties or our national life. The life of this land, like that of any other land, is preserved by righteousness. That means obedience. That means a recognition of his healing power, and of the fact forgiveness is available for all the injuries and mistakes and wrong doings of our past. That means a change of mind, repentance, turning again to God and recognizing his presence in our midst. That is what keeps a nation strong. If our country forgets that, it will lose its ability to stand as a nation among the other nations of the world. And the nations of earth will never learn this righteousness finally, until Israel stands once again as a nation before God, recognizing the presence of God in their midst and providing a working model of how every nation ultimately shall be run by the provision and power of God. This parable tells us that. Our Lord came and he bought the whole field so that someday he might use the treasure hidden in it to make the world blossom with glory.

This is what Paul tells us in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters of Romans. You will never understand what God is doing in history unless you understand those three chapters because they make clear God's relationship with this strange and wonderful people, Israel. There Paul too tells us that God is not through with Israel. He has but hidden them away again. For 1900 years Israel was utterly lost among the nations, dispersed. When our Lord covered the treasure over it was hidden completely in the field of humanity again. But in our own time we are facing an amazing wonder, one of the most remarkable things that has ever taken place in the annals of men, and one of the most dramatic demonstrations of the truth of the Word of God! God has gathered this nation together again, brought in the people from the outlying countries of the world, gathered his dispersed from the four corners of the earth, and brought them back into the land. There they stand ready, being prepared right now to discover again, finally, the secret of their life. They have not found it yet. But when they do, Paul tells us, they will cause the earth to blossom and the world will move into its promised inheritance. Listen to these words from Romans 11. Paul says of Israel,

So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? [That is, Israel had obviously stumbled at that time, but have they fallen completely?] By no means! But through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. [That is, when God set Israel aside, he allowed his delivering word to go out directly to Gentile peoples everywhere so that they might be the visible demonstration of how God can heal and fulfill human life, and Israel was watching -- at least individual Jews have been, all along.] Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! [That is, when Israel comes back into its right relationship with God, how much more blessing will this world understand and realize when they see worked out before their eyes what a nation can be with God in its midst!] (Romans 11:11-14 RSV) And in Verse 15 Paul says, For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15 RSV)

This is a dream and a vision that men have long held. Politicians have struggled for centuries to try to find the secret of world peace. Years ago I was struck by the closing words of a great address that Winston Churchill gave at Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1950:

What prizes lie before all the people if they are worthy of them: peace, food, happiness, leisure, wealth for the masses never known nor dreamed of, the glorious advance into a period of rest and safety for all the hundreds of millions of homes where little children play by the fire, and girls grow up in all their beauty, and young men strive and win in the free enterprise of life. Around us the storms may gather, but let us not shut out the hope that the burdens of fear and want may be lifted for a glorious era from the bruised and weary shoulders of mankind. What a beautiful dream. But is it only a dream?

No! The Lord Jesus says that he came and uncovered for a brief time the secret of world peace and prosperity. But he hid it again. And then he went and gave all that he had and bought the field in which it is hidden. God is in control. He bought the field in order that someday he might use that treasure to cause the whole world to blossom and to fill the earth with peace and happiness. When the world sees again a visible manifestation of what God intends a nation to do, then the nations will learn world peace. They will come and study this little nation of Israel in which the secret of world peace has always been hidden, the strange, chosen nation for which our Lord gave his life. And do you know that all this is not without its application to us as individuals as well? For Israel, even in rejection, even in failure, is still an example to the people of the world. If you want to see how God will act with you as an individual then look at the way he has been acting with Israel as a nation. This is why this nation is here. It is a visible example to all mankind of the way God deals with humanity.

So, if there are some among us here, who, like Israel, have temporarily turned away from God and have been walking away from him, who may, like Israel, once have had sweet fellowship with the Lord but lately have been resisting, have turned aside and gone back, have lost faith and now are wandering in perplexity, puzzlement, and bewilderment, in obscurity, weakness, and defeat, nevertheless God's promises to you are just as sure as they are to Israel. God has said that if you will turn back to him, as Israel will some day, he stands ready to heal, ready to forgive, ready to wipe out all the failures, all the transgressions, and to begin in your experience to cause your life to blossom and to come into abundance. If there is anyone here in that condition, remember that this is God's promise to you, and that he has given a visible demonstration in the life of this nation. --Ray Stedman Library

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