Forum Class #8


Sour Grapes (Ezekiel 16-19)

Chapter 16 is a long parable of Israel as a wayward woman--a grossly unfaithful wife. Though the chapter comprises a single unit, and should be read as such, it is possible to perceive that Israel -- here referred to by its capital city, Jerusalem -- is being viewed from the three time dimensions: past, present and future.

1. The past: Ezekiel receives this word from the Lord (16:1): it is a word about Jerusalem's 'detestable practices' (16:2). Jerusalem's father and mother are described as 'Amorites' (16:3,45), Canaanites who inhabited the city before it was finally conquered by David (2 Sam. 5:6-9), and the 'Hittites', non-Semitic residents of Canaan who had flourished in Asia Minor during the second millennium B.C. (Gen. 23:1-20; 26:34; I Sam. 26:6; 2 Sam. 11:2-27). Jerusalem is compared to an abandoned baby girl, with umbilical cord still attached and having been denied the rudiments of care: salting (a primitive form of disinfectant), rubbing or washing. But God decreed that she should live (16:4-6). God chose the city as his place of residence (16:7-8). He made it a city of great beauty and magnificence. She was like an attractive young woman in the prime of life (16:9-14). This is how things used to be. When a relationship turns sour, partners often reminisce about better days, about how things used to be.

2. The present: Jerusalem's conduct is described as prostitution. She used her fame to become a prostitute (16:15). It began in the days of Solomon, when he introduced sites for idolatrous worship into Israel (I Kings 11:1-10). Thereafter, Jerusalem slid further and further into idolatry (16:17-19), even to the point of participating in ritual child sacrifice (16:20-21; 2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 32:35). As time went by, she forgot God altogether and turned to foreign nations to protect her (16:22-29). In so doing she lost much that the Lord had given her (16:3134). What, then, is her present condition? "How weak-willed you are, declares the Sovereign Lord, when you do all these things, acting like a brazen prostitute!"' (16:30). Unrepentant adulterers, the apostle Paul assures us, will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

3. The future: This kind of behaviour in a marriage cannot be overlooked. Once it is out in the open, the consequences for the marriage are grave and often terminal. So it is here. God will cause Jerusalem's enemies to attack because of her unfaithfulness (16:35-37). She will be left 'naked and bare' (the Hebrew word for 'naked' is the same as that for 'exile'); it will mean the loss of her wealth (16:38-41). The Lord's fury will mean the desolation of Jerusalem (16:42-43). Jerusalem had forgotten 'the days of [her] youth' (16:43); consequently, God says to her, 'Then my wrath against you will subside and my jealous anger will turn away from you; 1 will be calm and no longer angry' (16:42). Jealousy is an integral part of any commitment. There are in fact two kinds of jealousy and only one of them is a vice. 'Vicious jealousy,' says J. I. Packer, 'is an expression of the attitude, "I want what you've got, and I hate you because I haven't got it." It is an infantile resentment springing from unmortified covetousness, which expresses itself in envy, malice, and meanness of action. It is terribly potent, for it feeds and is fed by pride, the taproot of Our fallen nature. "But there is another kind of jealousy, a 'zeal to protect a love-relationship, or to avenge it when broken'.' As R. V. G. Tasker puts it, persons 'who felt no jealousy at the intrusion of a lover or an adulterer into their home would surely be lacking in moral perception; for the exclusiveness of marriage is the essence of marriage '.' It is this jealousy, the jealousy of God to protect the marriage relationship, that is now threatened by this unfaithfulness on Jerusalem's part. She is compared to the cities of Sodom and Samaria (16:46-52). Their downfall had been brought about by materialism, arrogance and exploitation of the poor (I 6:49). Jerusalem in copying them and thereby justifying their behaviour, had broken the covenant and must face God's rejection (16:52-54).

Several observations are now relevant.

I. God's relationship to his people is described in this chapter as that of a husband. Marriage is an exclusive relationship. The love that joins husband and wife is necessarily a jealous love. Thai adultery is a violation of this covenant relationship is a principle enunciated in the Ten Commandments, when God gives his covenant law to his redeemed people (Exod. 20: t4). Later, God underlines it by revealing himself to Israel as a jealous God; his name is 'Jealous' (Exod. 34: 14). When Solomon, who had built the temple and dedicated it to the service of the Lord, ascended the Mount of Olives, immediately to the east of the Temple Mount, and dedicated an offering to Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, he broke the covenant relationship. In pleasing his Moabite wives, he displeased his Father in heaven. In bringing security to Israel by making treaties with foreign nations, he further provoked the Lord. The exclusive relationship of marriage is an idea that comes to full expression in the New Testament: "'Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved'" (Acts 4:12, NKJV). 'Jealousy' and 'zeal' are two possible translations of a single word in both Hebrew and Greek. God is zealous to protect his marriage and avenge any violations. This is why holiness on our part is so important. We are to stop behaving like 'brazen prostitutes' by constantly yielding to our sinful hearts.

2. The subtlety of Jerusalem's decline into unfaithfulness is worth noting; it is instructive of the way sin takes hold of our lives. Her fall was not sudden. It did not transpire overnight. It was her success that became her snare. She became more interested in the gifts than the Giver. It is interesting to recall that it was in Solomon's time, when Israel was at the height of her powers, that idolatry gained a foothold. It is humbling to think that immediately after the Reformation the church fell prey to superstition and idolatry. The same is true of the period following the Great Awakening. It is also true in our personal lives. Sin creeps up and entraps without announcing its presence loudly. Sin is shy to make any claim for itself. It is often the case that we realize our liaison with sin too late. Sin is deceitful (Heb. 3:13; Eph. 4:22; I Tim. 2:13-14). We are warned again and again 'not to be deceived' (Luke 21:8; I Cor. 6:9; 15:33; Gal. 6:7; Eph. 5:6). 'Sin ... will use a thousand wiles to hide from it the terror of the Lord,' said John Owen.

3. To whom much is given, of him much will be required. Israel had received the very finest of the Lord's blessings. She had responded with indifference and even contempt. Jesus warned the cites of Chorazin and Bethsaida that they too had shown remarkable ingratitude, seeing they had witnessed many of his miracles. On the Day of Judgment will be more tolerable for the pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon than for Bethsaida and Chorazin, Jesus warns them (Mall. 11:20-24). We are accountable for what we have received. Moreover, the more we know, the more accountable we become. When God asked Ezekiel to make a clay model of the city of Jerusalem, shielding his face with an 'iron pan' to display God's displeasure at the city, he says, 'This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the centre of the nations, with countries all around her. Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees...' (5:5). Those who have been given a trust must prove faithful (1 Cor. 4:2).

4. God gives us our hearts' desire. Israel had desired the attention of the gods of the world and this is what she received! It is humbling to realize that in spiritual things. we receive what we set our hearts on. Those who set their hearts on the Lord will find that the Lord reveals himself to them in his Word. But those who set their hearts on nothing of any spiritual significance will discover that this is precisely what they receive nothing of any spiritual significance. God gave them over to a reprobate mind (Rom. 1:28). The pleasure they craved became a curse which destroyed them. Today the gods of materialism, alcohol and sexual pleasure are what millions crave for. What they inherit is loneliness, disease and death. There is a chilling passage in Psalm 106:13-15 which describes this very thing. Following a description of what God had done for Israel in leading them through the wilderness, we read that 'They Soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his Counsel. In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test. So he gave them what they asked for, but sent a Wasting disease upon them.' This was what Moses had warned them to expect (Deut. 8: 19-20). We need to think about where our lives have been leading us. We need to ask ourselves what it is that we are aiming at. Are we surprised that our lives are so worldly if, in fact, it is the world that we live for? Humble yourselves or be humiliated

5. The question has to be asked, how God can give up on the church. We might not need to ask it if Scripture did not indicate to us over and over again God's promise never to abandon his people. After all, we take refuge in such promises as: 'I will never leave you nor forsake you' (Josh. 1:5); 'No one can snatch them [God's sheep] out of my Father's hand' (John 10:29); and the assurance that absolutely nothing 'will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Rom. 8:39). How can such promises be made when clearly passages like Ezekiel 16 -- indeed the greater part of the entire prophecy -- are designed to stress the very opposite? The answer lies in understanding that the promises of God are made to God's true people. They are not made to the entire membership of the professing church. It is possible to give some indication of belonging to the people of God, and to continue in that profession for a while, and then to fall away. It is also possible to profess one thing and display another in one's lifestyle. It is also possible for this to be true on a collective basis, for the entire church to move so far away from its moorings that it is no longer a church at all. This was how the Reformers perceived it: 'The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. '. God will always remain true to his covenant, though men and nations depart from it, either temporarily or in complete apostasy. Commenting on a remark made earlier by Ezekiel in 3:20, where 'A righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil', Calvin foresees an objection: 'How can the just turn aside, since there is no righteousness without the spirit of regeneration? But the seed of the Spirit is incorruptible (1 Peter 1:23), nor can it ever happen that his grace is utterly extinguished; for the Spirit is the earnest and seal of our adoption, for God's adoption is without repentance... But we must here mark, that righteousness is here called so, which has only the outward appearance and not the root: for when once the spirit of regeneration begins to flourish remains perpetually. And we shall sometimes see men borne along with a wonderful ardor of zeal for the worship of God, and to be urged to promote his glory beyond even the very best men; indeed we shall see this, but, says Paul, God knows those who are his own (2 Tim. 2:19)."

The covenant was capable of violation in a number of ways: the want of faith and obedience, forgetfulness of God's works, a spirit of ingratitude for God's goodness (Psalm 78:11; 89:31-34; 132:12; Jer. 11:6-8, 22; 22:9, etc.); such action was regarded as 'breaking the covenant' (16:59). The violation of the covenant by man would not ultimately affect the fulfillment of God's side of the covenant. 'For', as Calvin further explains, commenting upon 16:61, 'a contrast must be understood between the people's covenant and God's. He had said just before, I will be mindful of my covenant. He now says not of thine. Hence he reconciles what seemed opposites, namely, that he would be mindful of his own agreement, and yet it had been dissipated, broken and abolished. He shows that it was fixed on his own side, as they say, but vain on the people's side. When God 'gives up' on the church, it must always be understood that it is the outward, professing church that is meant. The true people of God who have experienced the grace of salvation are never cast away, though they, too, may experience the outward forms of punishment (Ezekiel, after all, found himself in exile). The outward church, at any time, is composed of those who are true believers and those who are merely hypocrites or those who are in possession of what the Reformers called 'temporary faith'. When such are deemed to be the majority, God brings down the rod of discipline in order to refine his church. Those who are truly his remain faithful; but those whose faith is only a mirage will be revealed for the hypocrites than they are. It is precisely this that Ezekiel was witnessing in Judah at the beginning of the sixth century.

6. God has a remnant. Though the church may become so corrupt that it no longer deserves to be called a church, the Reformers added an important rider: 'Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will.' That is something to bear in mind as we read this chapter, for after fifty-two verses exposing Jerusalem's sins, the chapter ends with a note of resounding triumph. Once again, God is going to spare a remnant of his people. He will not reject Jerusalem forever: her captivity will end (16:53) and God will re-establish the covenant with her (16:60-62), making her pure and secure (16:61), forgiven and righteous (16:63). Perhaps the most striking illustration of God's intentions was indicated by Ezekiel's fellow-prophet, Hosea, who was asked to take back his adulterous wife in demonstration of God 's love for the remnant of apostate Israel (Hosea 3). Israel had broken God's covenant, but God says he will 'remember' it (16:60).This calls to mind what God had said 800 years earlier when Israel had cried out to God under Egyptian bondage (Exod. 2:24).

7. In describing Jerusalem as an abandoned, newly-born, child, Ezekiel has not only used the figure of a betrayed husband, but also that of a forsaken father. It is interesting that Hosea, too, used this figure, suggesting that God leads his little son, Israel, out of Egypt, holding him by the hand and teaching him to walk (Hosea 11:3). His son's rebellion brings judgment, but the Lord cries out: "'How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath' (Hosea 11:8-9).

These prophetic pictures were meant to indicate an enormous privilege that God's children receive: that as sons, we are recipients of the Father's tender care and compassion. This is what we are meant to see at the heart of these otherwise harsh chapters. Though God is angry now, it is because of Israel's sin. They have despised God's promise to be gracious by 'breaking the covenant' (16:59). Palmer Robertson suggests that another translation is suitable here: 'They have nullified the covenant.' The point is 'not so much that the counsel offered is "broken", but that it is "frustrated" or "voided" because its promised success is not realized.' They had spurned God's love at every turn. Consequently, God has threatened punishment even though this means that his own true children win suffer. That is a lesson we need to learn very quickly. God seems to be saying in this and previous chapters that he will use the Babylonians. as he had used the Egyptians and Assyrians in the past, to discipline his own children. As we have noted already, Jesus, in describing the way God works in the lives of his people, used the analogy of the Father as a vine-dresser pruning the branches of the vine in order to make a rich harvest. Martin Luther suggested that God even uses Satan for this very purpose. He wrote that the Father says, 'Devil, you are indeed a murderer and an evildoer; but I will use you for my purpose. You shall be my hoe: the world and your following shall be My manure for the fertilization of My vineyard.'

8. Five times in verses 59-63 the covenant is alluded to, sometimes referring to the 'old covenant' (as in 16:59) and sometimes to the 'new', as in 'I will establish an everlasting covenant with you' (16:60). But had not David in his old age centuries earlier expressed his own sense of assurance in God's 'everlasting covenant'? (2 Sam. 23:2-5). If that covenant had been everlasting, how can God create another covenant which is also to be 'everlasting'? The answer seems to lie in the fact that essentially it is the same covenant that is being referred to. God's ultimate intention for his true people, the remnant, could hardly be clearer: it is that he might forgive their sins, by making 'atonement for' them (16:63). This is at the heart of what God has been doing since the very beginning, when he promised our first parents that he would send a Deliverer (Gen. 3:15). Throughout history, God has been showing us that his intention is to save a people through an atonement that he will provide -- namely his own Son, Jesus Christ. God's promise will be kept, despite all the changes and vicissitudes of life. God 'loved us from the first of time, he loved us to the last'.

9. What is startling in Ezekiel's prophecy is the mention of Sodomites and Samarians who are to be included within the covenant (16:61). If Sodom and Samaria had been corrupt, Judah was worse (l6:47-48). Sodom and Samaria will be first in the restoration (16:53,55). Ezekiel sees the nations of the world flocking into the kingdom of God. This is what God had promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:2-3; 17:5), and what David had expressed in many of his psalms (Ps. 67; 87; 117; 148). Isaiah had talked about a highway from Egypt and Cush and Assyria running right through to Jerusalem (Isa. 19:23-25; cf Jer. 12:14-17; 46:25: 48:47). The next chapter also alludes to this theme (17:23), No wonder this prophecy was to have the effect of shutting their mouths' (16:63)

Two eagles and a vine (17:1-24)

What we have in chapter 17 (as in chapters 15 and 16) is an 'allegory' or a 'parable' (17:2). Though commonly referred to as 'earthly stories with a heavenly meaning', essentially, parables cover a range of sayings and stories of all sorts. Commonly associated with the teaching ministry of Jesus, the parables have roots stretching back into the Old Testament. One entire Old Testament book is called 'Parables', though we know it as 'Proverbs' -- the Hebrew word for proverb is the same word that is translated elsewhere in the Old Testament as 'parable'. Here, the words 'parable' and 'allegory' are meant to convey the same thing. The allegory in Ezekiel tells the story of Judah's history from the time of the first exile in 598 B.C. to the second exile - still some four or five years in the future -- in 586 B.C. The parable itself covers verses 3-10 and the explanation, verses 11-21.

The allegory (17:3-10): Ezekiel tells of a huge eagle, with gorgeous plumage, which comes to Lebanon, landing in a cedar tree. The eagle promptly breaks off the topmost shoot of the tree and carries it away 'to a land of merchants, where he planted it in a city of traders' (17:3-4). The eagle is King Nebuchadnezzar, the 'land of merchants' is Babylon, and the 'shoot of the tree' is Jehoiachin. 'The king of Babylon went to Jerusalem and carried off her king and her nobles, bringing them back with him to Babylon' (17:12). The parable continues by saying that the eagle (Nebuchadnezzar) took 'some of the seed' and planted it in 'fertile soil' (17:5). The seed sprouted and grew into a 'spreading vine' of some size and health (17:6). The 'seed' represents King Zedekiah (17:13), whom Nebuchadnezzar established as his puppet king in Jerusalem.

'Another great eagle' now comes into the story; the vine is attracted to it (17:7). It represents the Egyptian Pharaoh (either Psammetichus II (595-598 B.C.), or Hophra (589-570 B.C.), with whom Zedekiah sought an alliance to rebel against Babylonian imperialism (17:15), and thereby break 'the covenant' with Babylon (17:18). History seems to record that Egypt proved a poor ally, managing only to sell Judah some 'horses', which proved useless against a siege of Jerusalem. The 'large army' which Zedekiah had hoped to get did not materialize. When the Babylonians came against Jerusalem, 'the east wind' of verse 10, and laid siege against the city (17:17), the vine was easily uprooted and destroyed.

But Zedekiah was not merely rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar; he was, in effect, rebelling against God (17:19). Nebuchadnezzar, indeed the entire Babylonian empire, was merely a tool in God's hand to chastise and punish Judah for their sins. Breaking the covenant with Nebuchadnezzar was only a symptom of the problem: Zedekiah had broken the covenant with God (17:19). There is no escape when God decides that our days are numbered. He throws out a net to capture Zedekiah (17:20) and his pathetic army (17:21). These defeated rebels would now join the rest of the Judeans in exile in Babylon.

But God's work is not finished. The chapter ends with a reference to God taking 'a shoot from the very top of a cedar' (17:22), and planting it on the mountains of Israel, where 'It will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches' (17:23). Who is meant by this shoot? That it must refer to a representative of the royal house of David is clear (17:3-4,12). It is not King Jehoiachin, for he died in Babylon. It cannot be King Zedekiah, who is described as the 'vine' that withered in Babylon. Who, then, is the 'shoot' from the very top of the cedar of Israel. under whose sprouting branches the 'birds' will make their nests and find shelter and refuge? 'This prophecy without doubt refers to Christ,' writes John Calvin, 'because ... what is here written was never fully exhibited except under Christ.' Since God had promised in the previous chapter that Israel's captivity would end and that he would remember his covenant with his people and re-establish it, providing a means whereby their sins were atoned for(16:59-63), it was always necessary to enquire how this might be brought about. What is the essence of the covenant that God makes? How is it possible for rebellious sinners to find peace with God? What possible hope was there for Judah as she wept in Babylon? (cf. Ps. 137). The answer to all these questions is in the provision of a Savior, God's only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. He it is who will be planted in Jerusalem and in his death and resurrection will draw sinners to himself from the four corners of the globe. Ezekiel's message, far from being one of mere 'doom and gloom', is a message all about the coming of Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners.

All this shows us that in the midst of all the comings and goings of this world, the Lord takes a peculiar interest in the establishment of his kingdom. In the last resort it is only his kingdom that will last: 'All the trees of the field will know that 1 the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish' (17:24). God is in control of history; nations rise and fall at his behest. This had been the source of encouragement to those in exile: '[God] changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.' 'The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed...1t will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but will itself endure for ever.' 'The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes' (Dan. 2:21; 2:44; 4:25). The key to understanding history is not military or economic, but rather a moral and spiritual one. What we see happening all around us is all part of God's great plan that will culminate in the return of Christ in triumph and glory. Seeing God at work in this way is a wonderful encouragement. Commenting upon this passage in a sermon, John Owen said, 'I know no better way of praising God for any work, than the finding out of his design therein, and closing with him in it'

Summary: In these three chapters (15-17), three allegories have been presented: a vine, a wayward woman and two eagles. In all three the rebellious nature of Judah has been portrayed, together with their consequent judgment by the Babylonians. What Ezekiel has been presenting here was less than five years away; the wrath of God was imminent. What was the cause of this? God's people had 'nullified' the covenant. They had chosen to live for this world and their own selves. In doing so, they had turned their backs on God and would face the consequences. But throughout the impending judgments, Ezekiel has spoken of a remnant according to the election of God's grace who will be brought back to Jerusalem. And further into the future still, he sees the coming of Christ himself and the kingdom of God which will grow as a result of his coming. If Ezekiel warns of the outcome for the apostate church, he also assures his listeners that the true church has a wonderful and secure future. The future is as bright as the promises of God to those who live according to his Word! Calvin, following his comments on these verses in his fifty-third lecture on Ezekiel -- given a few months before his death and when he was in great discomfort and pain - offered the following prayer: 'Grant, Almighty God, since thou hast not only created us out of nothing, but hast deigned to create us again in thine only begotten Son, and hast taken us from the lowest depths, and deigned to raise us to the hope of thy heavenly kingdom -- Grant, I say, that we may not be proud or puffed up with vainglory; but may we embrace this favour with becoming humility, and modestly submit ourselves to thee, until we become at length partakers of that glory which thine only begotten Son has acquired for us. Amen.

The nature of the covenant

Covenant violation: As far back as Abraham, God had entered into a covenant with his people. The promised inheritance of a land in which to dwell was a gift on God's pan. It was not a reward for good behavior. Nevertheless, God asked of Abraham that he walk in the ways of God, as an example to all who followed him of what God expects from his people (cf. Gen. 17:1). The history of Israel, however, is a history of covenant unfaithfulness. One thing emerges quite clearly in the opening chapters of Ezekiel: the people have sinned grievously against God's covenant. 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant' (16:59, emphasis added). Israel had committed spiritual adultery; she had violated a marriage bond between God and his people (16:32). The people were to blame for this violation. The exile which they currently experienced was not due to any shortcomings in God's administration or provision for his people. Their plight could not 'be charged against the covenant'. , God would, however, always remain faithful to his covenant, though Israel chose to depart from it, either temporarily or, as now, in complete apostasy (3:20; cf. Isa. 31 :6; 54:8-9; 55:3; Jer. 21: 11-12). Covenant violation would not ultimately affect the fulfillment of God's side.'

The nature of God's covenant: Being in covenant with God involves certain conditions. On God's side, he binds himself to his people in grace and mercy -- to those whom he has chosen to bless. He pledges himself to be the God of his chosen people. But that docs not negate the requirement laid on his people faithfully to keep God's covenant Israel thought that God's promise to Abraham secured them in the land of Israel forever, no matter how they lived! But as Calvin comments on Micah 2:10, 'False confidence deceives you, as ye think that ye arc inseparably fixed in your habitation. God indeed has made such a promise, but that condition was added, "If ye will stand faithful to his covenant".' God's covenant, on the one hand, is a gratuitous, unilateral promise; on the other hand, there is a conditional (bilateral) clement involved. If the covenant depends upon man's fulfilling certain requirements in some way, docs this mean that salvation is no longer a matter of grace, but of works? Are we saved as a reward for our obedience to the requirements of the covenant? The solution to this problem lies in noting that the obedience that God requires is the evidence of a work of grace already brought about by his Spirit working in our hearts. The obedience he requires, as evidence of faith, is an obedience which God himself gives! Even the good works (hat are necessary on our pan are those that 'God prepared in advance for us to do' (Eph. 2:10). The kingdom that God establishes is of grace from beginning to the end. The faith and obedience which are a necessary plan of participation within the covenant arc evidences of life. Those who fail to obey God's law, like so many of Ezekiel's companions in exile, identify themselves as not being children of God, even though they may have been brought up within the sphere of the covenant community and be what Calvin calls 'flesh sons of the saint', who 'idly boast of the fatherhood of God on that account'.' This is one of the clearest warnings in Ezekiel: that it is possible to belong to the outward community of God's people and yet be a hypocrite.

The election of Israel: If God's election of Israel was an irrevocable predestination to life, and Israel was 'chosen as his special people', the problem is raised as to how they can be spoken of by the prophet as having fallen. Ezekiel docs not mince his words about the matter: 'I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant' (16:59). Calvin's response to this was to affirm 'two degrees' in the election of God. There is a general election of Israel as a nation and as a people, and with them God's covenant is made. But within this people was God's 'hidden' elect, 'individual persons whom God not only offers salvation but so assigns it that the certainty of its effect is not in suspense or doubt.' Commenting upon Ezekiel 16:21, Calvin adds: 'There was a twofold election of God, since speaking generally he chose the whole family of Abraham. For circumcision was common to all, being the symbol and seal of adoption ... this was one kind of adoption or election.

But the other was secret, because God took to himself out of that multitude those whom he wished: and these are the sons of promise." Thus those chosen may suffer the general chastisement of the nation (Ezekiel found himself in exile) but be exempt from the ultimate punishment of separation from God. The elect within the elect were spiritually regenerated and given new hearts and received the spirit of adoption. Others, who had shown ingratitude, were rejected and disowned as children.' All this can be applied to the New Testament church. There are those who grow up in the covenant community. They share in the privileges of worship. Nevertheless they are hypocrites. They are, in one sense, members of the visible church, and yet they are not members of the invisible church of true believers who may be assured of eternal glory (cf. Rom. 10:16) These can be one of three categories: children of believers who have grown up to despise the true nature of the covenant and are content with external things only: those who have joined the church by feigning piety; or those who are sincere enough but only have temporary faith. All these will slip away from the covenant The difference between these and backsliders (genuine believers who temporarily stray) is that in the latter case their inner seal remains (2 Tim. 2: 19) and they are restored to repentance. Their fall is not permanent.

Ezekiel 18:1 - 19:14

Following a prolonged discussion in the newspapers about the possible causes of society's ills, the public were invited to write with their own opinions as to what might be the root cause of all the trouble. G. K. Chesterton wrote the simple lines: 'Dear Sir, I am, Yours sincerely...' It could hardly have been more effective. The root cause lies within each one of us: it is indwelling sin. It is something for which each one of us is responsible. This is the theme that Ezekiel now takes up in chapter 18. People then, as now, were muddled over the nature and consequences of individual sin. Sin is one of the first things we need to learn about ourselves. Without this knowledge, the Bible will make no sense; for its message from beginning to end is an exposition of God 's answer to the problem of human sin. The self-excusing instinct is a strong one: it was, after all, what Adam and Eve both did in Eden -- Adam blaming Eve, and Eve blaming the serpent (Gen. 3:12-13). It was, apparently, what the exiles were doing too. Citing a proverb which they must have learned during their days in exile, they blamed their present troubles on the errors of previous generations -- not on anything that they them elves had done: 'The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge' (18:2).

Perhaps they cited the words added to the second commandment: 'For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation' (Exod. 20:5), which taught that children certainly are affected by their parents' sin. Children often repeat what they see their parents doing. But each child is responsible for his or her own actions. Ezekiel's companions, on the other hand, had drawn a quite different conclusion. The fault, they concluded, lay entirely with their forefathers; it had nothing to do with them. There is nothing new here. Each one of us attempt to wriggle free from personal responsibility for our actions. Politicians, workers, schools, parents, even the church - all attempt to shun their accountability. But blame-shifting is something God will not allow; he holds us personally responsible for our actions. It was true that previous generations had sinned and brought about the judgments of God, including the present exile in Babylon.' Nevertheless, the ones who endured the exile were not guiltless. They, too, were sinners and they must face up to it. God therefore forbids them to use this proverb any more (18:3). What follows is a carefully reasoned account of the individual's responsibility.

The principle of individual responsibility illustrated

1. The case for individual responsibility: The penalty for sin is death, no matter who it is that has sinned. God will not treat father and son differently: if both have sinned, both will die (18:4). But other computations are possible. Taking three generations -- grandfather (I 8:5), son (18: 10) and grandson (18: 14) -- the prophet imagines the case of a 'righteous' grandfather who has 'a violent son'. Notwithstanding the father's righteousness, the son will 'surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head'. His father's righteousness will not save him; the son remains responsible for his own actions (18:10-13). But if, in turn, the violent man has a son who turns out to be honest, this son will live because of his integrity. He will not suffer the penalty that his father's sins deserved. His father, though, will be called to account for his actions (18:14-18). In each case individual responsibility is being underlined: 'The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him' (18:20).

2. The ultimate penalty for sin is death: 'The soul who sins is the one who will die' (18:4, 20). Throughout the Bible death, in both its physical and its spiritual aspects, is viewed as God's penalty for sin. Sin's employees are paid with the wages of 'death', Paul tells us (Rom. 6:23). When God told Adam, 'When you eat of it (the tree of knowledge] you will surely die' (Gen. 2:17), the primary reference was to physical death (see Gen. 3:19), a threat which was confirmed in Adam 's eventual death (Gen. 5:5). All of us share in this curse by virtue of our solidarity with Adam (I Cor. 15:22). However, when Paul speaks, in Romans 5:12-21, of the 'many' being delivered from the death in which Adam had involved them, he has something wider in mind: justification (vv. 16-19) leading to a restoration of 'life' (vv. 17-21).]n other words, the death which Adam received included a spiritual dimension: he died to fellowship with God -- a fact confirmed by his eventual expulsion from the garden in Genesis 3:23.

3. Sin is a state of condemnation: Every sinner -- and that means everyone! -- stands under a death sentence. The catalogue of sins listed in these verses, which include sexual immorality (18:6,11), robbery and exploitation (18:7, 12-13), false religion (18:11) and indecency (18:8), is similar to those which the apostle records in Romans 1:29- 31, and of which he says, 'Those who do such things deserve death.' Unless a way of forgiveness can be found, every sinner is condemned to die, both physically and spiritually.

4. There is a way for man to avoid the condemnation: It is to walk in accordance with God's ways. 'But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die' (18:2]). Repentance to a life of obedience to God's covenant is something Ezekiel has stressed before (3:19) and will do so again (18:23,27: 33:12,14, 19). It must be made clear that in all these examples, Ezekiel is not suggesting that the 'righteous' man obtains the reward of life on the basis of what he has done alone. In order to follow a life of obedience, Ezekiel makes it clear that man needs a 'a new heart and a new spirit' (18:31). Before Jesus ever told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again, or 'from above', in order to obtain the life that the kingdom of heaven offered, the Old Testament prophets had spoken of the very same necessity. The fact is that those who demonstrate a life of obedience, and are therefore assured of tic life of glory, are those who have 'turned' from their sin to God (18:21). 'When we discuss the cause [of salvation],' adds Calvin, ' we must look nowhere else but the mercy of God, and there we must stop.'

An insight into the heart of God: All this talk about the punishment of the wicked might create the wrong impression. For a start, it might imply that God might take some pleasure in their destruction. This is emphatically not the case. Putting the matter in both a negative and positive form, God says, 'Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?' (18:23); 'For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord' (18:32; cf. 33: II). The translation of verse 23 misses something of the force of the original, which could be rendered: 'Taking pleasure in, do I take pleasure in?' The answer is equally emphatic: 'I do not by any means desire the death of a wicked person. '

1. The sovereignty of God in Ezekiel: Although the doctrine of predestination does not figure very prominently in Ezekiel, it does occur at various points. In the preceding chapters, Ezekiel has underlined the point that Israel's salvation was nothing to do with any merit in themselves (16:1-8). Indeed, the covenant that God entered into with Israel was a sovereign one from beginning to end (16:8). B. B. Warfield, citing this verse together with Ezekiel 17:22, comments: 'No means are left unused to drive home the fact that God's gracious election of Israel is an absolutely sovereign one, founded solely in his unmerited love, and looking to nothing ultimately but the gratification of his own holy and loving impulses, and the manifestation of his grace through the formation of a heritage for himself out of the mass of sinful men, by means of whom his saving mercy should advance to the whole world." Added to this is the fact that the opening chapter, with its vision of the throne of God, was designed to reinforce the truth that God has a plan, one which he is determined to fulfill. Ezekiel's God is the 'Sovereign Lord', something that Ezekiel points out 217 times! If, then, all things do in fact happen under the direct dominion of God -- the coming of the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem, the return of the remnant in the time of Cyrus the Persian, the coming of the Savior as promised at the end of the previous chapter -- does this not have a bearing upon the identity of those who will be saved and those who will not? After all, if God is sovereign, does he not already know the identity of the 'remnant '? And if God does know their identity, as he most surely does, then how can he express a desire for all men to repent and live? There is a sense in which it is right to let passages such as these speak for themselves, without the encumbrance of other passages which might seem to convey another point of view. Certainly, we must not allow other considerations to dilute the force of what is being said here. Equally, however, the fact that we believe the entire Scriptures to be inerrant means that we must not interpret one passage so as contradict another. What is said here may well appear to be at odds with sovereign election; but it only appears to be so. There are doctrines in the Scripture which cannot be reconciled by a finite mind: God's sovereignty and man's responsibility being two such truths. No amount of reasoning can fully understand how both can be true; and yet both are true. Like the twin tracks of a railway line, they lie alongside each other, stretching out into the foreseeable distance. We tamper with either one at our peril.

2. God's desire and his secret decrees: Since it is evident that some will not repent, does this not pose a problem -- that God longs for something that will not happen; that God sometimes expresses a desire for the fulfillment of certain things that he has not decreed in his inscrutable will to come to pass? 'This means,' comments John Murray. 'that there is a will to the realization of what he has not discretely willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree. This is indeed mysterious, and why he has not brought to pass, in the exercise of his omnipotent power and grace, what is his ardent pleasure lies hid in the sovereign counsel of his will" Is God sincere when he expresses such emotions?

This dilemma comes into sharp focus in the incarnate ministry of God 's Son, for when Jesus beheld the city of Jerusalem, he longed to gather them under his protection' as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings' (Matt. 23:37). 'But,' he adds, 'you were not willing.' He longed for the conversion of Jerusalem's inhabitants, but this evidently did not occur. Jesus' will seems in opposition to the will of God's decree. It might be objected that these words form merely the human desire of Christ, and not the desire of God himself. But it is erroneous to set the human will of Christ against his divine will. These words, as all of Jesus' words, were spoken in his capacity as Messiah. Jesus spoke these as the God-man, the incarnate Lord. They are a rejection of the pathos and sadness in God himself at the death and condemnation of the unrepentant. 'My teaching,' he asserts, 'is not my own. It comes from him who sent me' (John 7:16). The same teaching is to be found in 2 Peter 3:4, where Peter recalls scoffers who say, 'Where is this "coming" he promised?", to which the answer is given: 'The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance' (2 Peter 3:9). The word Peter uses, 'patient' (makrorhymei), means 'long-suffering' (AV). The apparent delay of Christ's Second Coming, Peter says, does not mean that the Lord is slow or forgetful of his promise, but rather that he is long-suffering towards us; it is evidence of this grace that he gives us time to repent and believe upon his Son. The Lord does not wish any to perish.

Calvin hears someone asking, 'Then why do any perish, if God desires that they be saved?', to which he replies: 'No mention is made here of the secret decree of God by which the wicked are doomed to their own ruin, but only of His loving-kindness as it is made known to us in the Gospel. There God stretches out His hand to all alike, but He only grasps those (in such a way as to lead to Himself) whom He has chosen before the foundation of the world." What Jesus desires, God desires. Jesus is the' Word' of God. He who has seen him has seen the Father. 'No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known' (John 1: 18). Jesus 'has made him [God] known' (Literally, exegetes). Everything that we see and hear in Christ is an expression of what God is essentially like. There is no unchristlikeness in God.'

We must not therefore dilute the longing expressed in these verses: God desires the repentance of those whom he has not decreed to save. He yearns for them to be saved. It is partly this that gives us the warrant to preach the gospel to everyone. We are entitled to say to everyone, whoever they may be, 'God longs for you to be saved.' The grounds upon which Christ is offered to the world have nothing to do with election. Four reasons tell us why we should call upon everyone to repent and believe the gospel:

1. Everyone is sinful and needs him (Rom. 3:19-26; Acts 4:12). 2. Christ is a perfect and sufficient Savior for everyone who believes in him (John 3:16; Acts 13:39; Rom. 1:16; Heb. 7:25). 3. Christ invites all who are needy to come to him (Matt. 11:28; John 6:37) 4. God commands that everyone who hears the gospel should repent and believe in Christ (Acts 17:30; I John 3:23). Evangelism is not be carried out under speculative notions of whether folk are elect or not. That is something we are not given to know. We evangelize because God tells us to. If someone asks: 'How can such an invitation on our part, or for that matter a desire on God's part, be bonafide?' ,the answer, in brief, is that we do not know. The truth of God's sovereignty should not affect the necessity, or the urgency, of evangelism on our part. The secret will of God is, to put it bluntly, but truthfully, none of our business. And if election does not affect the role of the evangelist, neither ought it to affect the responsibility of the one being evangelized.

The whole point of this chapter is to underline the fact that each man is accountable for his own actions. 'Everywhere in Scripture,' writes J. C. Ryle, 'it is a leading principle that man can lose his own soul, that if he is lost at last it will be his own fault, and his blood will be on his own head. The same inspired Bible which reveals this doctrine of election is the Bible which contains the word, "Why will ye die, O house of Israel?" -- "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life" - "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (Ezek. 18:31; John 5:40, 3:19). The Bible never says that sinners miss heaven because they are not elect, but because they "neglect the great salvation", and because they will not repent and believe. The last judgment will abundantly prove that it is not the want of God's election. so much as laziness, the love of sin, unbelief, and unwillingness to come to Christ, which ruins the souls that are lost." Calvin further comments: 'We hold, then, that God wills not the death of a sinner, since he calls all equally to repentance, and promises himself prepared to receive them if they only seriously repent. If anyone should object -- then there is no election of God, by which he has predestined a fixed number to salvation, the answer is at hand: the Prophet does not here speak of God's secret counsel. but only recalls miserable men from despair, that they may apprehend the hope of pardon, and repent and embrace the offered salvation. Who, then, is to blame if a person is not saved? The answer is not God but the sinner! The following passage underlines the fact that no one can blame God's sovereignty for his or her lost condition.

It's not fair!

Suppose a man lives a blameless life and then, at the end, commits evil. Will he be condemned for that evil? For Ezekiel's listeners the answer must surely have seemed to be negative; but they are mistaken. 'Because of the sin he has committed he will die' (18:26). Suppose, then, that a really wicked person lives a life of evil for the duration of his life, and then repents at the end of it. Will he be accepted by God? Again, Ezekiel's listeners expect the answer to be negative, and once again they are mistaken. 'He will surely live; he will not die' (18:28). This seems to Ezekiel's hearers inherently unfair: 'The way of the Lord is not just,' they object (18:25). The problem with Ezekiel's listeners is a failure to comprehend the nature of grace! The point about our salvation is that it is wholly undeserved. Neither person in these two illustrations deserves salvation. The fact that the one who repents gains life is due to the fact that he acknowledges the fact that his acceptance is nothing to do with him, or what he docs. His works do not come into it. He is a sinner and he knows it. All he docs is to plead for mercy something that the Lord is only too pleased to grant to those who ask him. Salvation is not simply an inventory of the good deeds we have accomplished. The fact is that no one has lived' a blameless life' none that is apart from Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:26). Nor is this contradicted by the assertion in verse 30 that God will judge each man 'according to his ways'. This judgment includes the appraisal of whether the man has repented and turned to the Lord for salvation.

Repentance: The fact that all are equally guilty sets forth the response that all men need to repent. This chapter of the Old Testament provides us with the evidence that genuine repentance had taken place. The first fruits of repentance were to be obedience to the ways of the covenant. Included within this was the notion that they had rejected the ways of ungodliness. This was a truth that Ezekiel has already preached so powerfully (3:19) and now repeats again (18:21,23,27; cf. 33:12,14,19). If a man turns from his wicked ways he will discover that repentance leads to life (18:21 -23). What is of interest is to note the basis upon which Ezekiel issues his appeals: 'Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel?' (18:31). When Jesus upbraided Nicodemus for his ignorance of the Old Testament teaching on the new birth, saying, 'You are Israel's teacher, and you do not understand these things?' (John 3:10), he undoubtedly had passages such as Ezekiel 18 in mind. As though to underline the fact of individual responsibility, the next chapter of Ezekiel contains a funeral dirge lamenting the decline and fall of Judah. If the Babylonian exiles were not to blame previous generations of Judeans for their condition, neither were they to look to present Judeans to rescue them. In a sense they were on their own before God. They were responsible for their condition; they were equally responsible to turn and seek the Lord's mercy. No help would be forthcoming for their deliverance from Judah. She was already as good as dead.

A funeral song (19:1-14)

Chapter 19 is different from the preceding chapters. It is written in the style of a song. Actually it is a dirge lamenting the state of things in the royal household during the final days of Judah's decline before the nation succumbed to Babylonian take-over. Three kings are considered in turn: Jehoahaz, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. Songs such as these, revealing a distinctive pattern, were often composed and sung at funerals (cf. David's funeral lament for Saul and Jonathan in 2 Sam. 1:19-27). The poem begins in melancholy mood with a command to lament (19:1). Though Ezekiel suggests this poem is going to be about princes of 'Israel'. specifically, it is understood that he has Judah in mind. It is quite probable that Ezekiel sang this song in the hearing of his audience. It would soon become obvious to his listeners that he was speaking about Judean kings. The dirge begins with a reference to King Jehoahaz, who had ruled for just three months in 609 B.C.

Lions (19:1-9): The story of how King Jehoahaz n was captured and exiled into Egypt where he eventually died (2 Kings 23:21-34) is told in the form of an allegory of a mother lion (Israel, i.e. Judah) who gave birth to two young whelps. One of them (Jehoahaz) grew to be a young lion, with all the typical features of ferocious lions (19:3-4). The reference to Jehoahaz is unmistakable from the line: 'And they brought him with chains to the land of Egypt, (19:4, NKJV). The history behind this tale involves Pharaoh Neco, who led an expedition into Palestine to regain Egypt's once great empire. Having removed Jehoahaz out of the way, he was then able to install Egypt's puppet king, Jehoiakim, in his place. Passing quickly by the story of Jehoiakim, and his successor, Jehoiachin, Ezekiel now mentions the other lion cub: 'She took another of her cubs' (19:5). This section of the poem probably refers to Zedekiah, who was, of course, still alive and reigning in Jerusalem at the time Ezekiel spoke these words 'The lament forms a prediction of Zedekiah's downfall. The fact that both Zedekiah and Jehoahaz had the same mother, Hamutal (2 Kings 24: 18) further makes sense of this song with its mother lion and two cubs (19:2,3,5). This funeral dirge was then somewhat different: it was a funeral song for someone who had not yet died' Zedekiah's days are numbered. Make no mistake about it, he 100 will be brought to Babylon. What this dirge did was to remove from Ezekiel's companions any hope that they were going to be rescued by their companions in Judah. All hope in man's ability to deliver them is taken away. They arc being systematically closed in to the mercy of God alone to deliver them from their captivity. This may, at first sight, appear to have been cruel on Ezekiel's part. Surely we need hope in difficult times and to remove it like this was harsh. But this is a short-sighted way of looking at things. Only when all false avenues are closed off can we be sure of finding ourselves on the true road. Israel's young lions may have appeared to have great strength, but in reality they were mice! To place all our confidence in human resources is al ways a mistake. It is not Judah's lions, but the Lion of Judah who will deliver these people from their bondage. These verses continue the lament, but with a different image: that of a vine and its branches: 'Your mother was like a vine in your vineyard' (19:10). (The reader should note that the theme is quite different from the allegory of chapter 17 and the transplanted vine.) The mother of the last kings of Israel, literally Hamutal, though Judah is probably is in mind. was like a vine planted 'by the water' (19:10). The vine grew abundantly, sprouting branches and tendrils and bearing fruit. These branches represent the twenty-two kings that appeared from David's day to Zedekiah's day. But this vine has been pulled up and left lying on the ground, its roots exposed (19:12). Dried by the east wind from the desert, its strongest branches shriveled and were burnt. The fact that grape wood was used for firewood was something Jesus alluded to, warning his disciples of the consequence of not 'remaining' in him (John 15:6). What happened next to this vine, now only ashes, seems impossible: it was planted in a 'dry and thirsty land' (19:13), that is, Babylon. Even assuming that such a thing might be possible, any vestige of hope is removed at a stroke: the vine catches fire, consuming its fruit. Zedekiah's rebellion against the Babylonians in the late 590s B.C. brought about the collapse of Judah (2 Kings 24:20); the nation was defeated. Ezekiel was giving a glimpse of what lay ahead for Judah in the not too distant future. In a few short years, Judah had fallen. This dirge was her song of lament. To place one's hope in the royal family of Judah was misguided. God's message to his people in this chapter is designed to make sure that their confidence is in him alone. We arc reminded of the psalmist's words: 'Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them the Lord, who remains faithful for ever' (Psalm. 146:3-6).

What can we conclude from this chapter? At first glance it appears cruel to tell these exiles that Judah is going to be destroyed in a few short years. We tend to want to reassure folk that some hope remains, no matter how dark the circumstances might be. Few of us would tell a friend suffering from terminal cancer that he has no hope. That would be cruel. So why does Ezekiel rob his hearers of what was to them the only source of comfort? The answer lies in the fact that this was not their only source of comfort' Their delivery lay, not in the power of Zedekiah or anyone else in Judah; it lay in the power of God to rescue them from their bondage. Sovereign grace was the source of their deliverance, and nothing else! This is a lesson that needs repeating again and again. For what saves us from our sin is not ourselves; nor is it the combined resources of other sinners. 11 is the power of God in the gospel, the operation of the sovereign Spirit of God at work in our hearts (cf. Rom. 1:16). We need to be shut in to the utter futility of every other means of rescue so that we might turn to the Lord and seek his mercy. That is what Ezekiel was doing here. Far from being cruel, it was an act of mercy in itself. There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin; He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in."

Summary: The exiles blamed their situation on the sins of others rather than their own. They also sought for deliverance from the wrong source. Ezekiel has to correct both these errors, for both were fatally flawed. Before we can be made right with God we must learn and acknowledge that we are sinners and that we are morally culpable. It is equally essential to know that Christ alone is the source of our deliverance from sin's curse and bondage. These basic truths have been behind these two chapters. On President Harry S. Truman's desk was a hand-lettered sign which read, 'The buck stops here.' Blame-shifting could go no further than the president himself! When it comes to our sins, we have no one to blame but ourselves. And when it comes to our salvation we have no one to whom we may turn but Christ. The knowledge of these truths, together with that of God's wonderfully yearning heart, should drive us into his arms for mercy. That is precisely what the evangelist Ezekiel was of a mind to do.

[Selected Notes on Ezekiel 16-19 from God Strengthens, by Derek Thomas, Evangelical Press, UK, 1993].

Ezekiel 17-19

17:1 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 "Son of man, pose a riddle, and speak a parable to the house of Israel, 3 "and say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "A great eagle with large wings and long pinions, Full of feathers of various colors, Came to Lebanon And took from the cedar the highest branch. 4 He cropped off its topmost young twig And carried it to a land of trade; He set it in a city of merchants. 5 Then he took some of the seed of the land And planted it in a fertile field; He placed it by abundant waters And set it like a willow tree. 6 And it grew and became a spreading vine of low stature; Its branches turned toward him, But its roots were under it. So it became a vine, Brought forth branches, And put forth shoots. 7 "But there was another great eagle with large wings and many feathers; And behold, this vine bent its roots toward him, And stretched its branches toward him, From the garden terrace where it had been planted, That he might water it. 8 It was planted in good soil by many waters, To bring forth branches, bear fruit, And become a majestic vine."' 9 "Say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "Will it thrive? Will he not pull up its roots, Cut off its fruit, And leave it to wither? All of its spring leaves will wither, And no great power or many people Will be needed to pluck it up by its roots. 10 Behold, it is planted, Will it thrive? Will it not utterly wither when the east wind touches it? It will wither in the garden terrace where it grew."'" 11 Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 12 "Say now to the rebellious house: 'Do you not know what these things mean?' Tell them, 'Indeed the king of Babylon went to Jerusalem and took its king and princes, and led them with him to Babylon. 13 'And he took the king's offspring, made a covenant with him, and put him under oath. He also took away the mighty of the land, 14 'that the kingdom might be brought low and not lift itself up, but that by keeping his covenant it might stand. 15 'But he rebelled against him by sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and many people. Will he prosper? Will he who does such things escape? Can he break a covenant and still be delivered? 16 'As I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'surely in the place where the king dwells who made him king, whose oath he despised and whose covenant he broke--with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die. 17 'Nor will Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company do anything in the war, when they heap up a siege mound and build a wall to cut off many persons. 18 'Since he despised the oath by breaking the covenant, and in fact gave his hand and still did all these things, he shall not escape.'" 19 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "As I live, surely My oath which he despised, and My covenant which he broke, I will recompense on his own head. 20 "I will spread My net over him, and he shall be taken in My snare. I will bring him to Babylon and try him there for the treason which he committed against Me. 21 "All his fugitives with all his troops shall fall by the sword, and those who remain shall be scattered to every wind; and you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken." 22 Thus says the Lord GOD: "I will take also one of the highest branches of the high cedar and set it out. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and will plant it on a high and prominent mountain. 23 "On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell. 24 "And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, have brought down the high tree and exalted the low tree, dried up the green tree and made the dry tree flourish; I, the LORD, have spoken and have done it."

18:1 The word of the LORD came to me again, saying, 2 "What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying: 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children's teeth are set on edge'? 3 "As I live," says the Lord GOD, "you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel. 4 "Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father As well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die. 5 But if a man is just And does what is lawful and right; 6 If he has not eaten on the mountains, Nor lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, Nor defiled his neighbor's wife, Nor approached a woman during her impurity; 7 If he has not oppressed anyone, But has restored to the debtor his pledge; Has robbed no one by violence, But has given his bread to the hungry And covered the naked with clothing; 8 If he has not exacted usury Nor taken any increase, But has withdrawn his hand from iniquity And executed true judgment between man and man; 9 If he has walked in My statutes And kept My judgments faithfully-- He is just; He shall surely live!" Says the Lord GOD. 10 "If he begets a son who is a robber Or a shedder of blood, Who does any of these things 11 And does none of those duties, But has eaten on the mountains Or defiled his neighbor's wife; 12 If he has oppressed the poor and needy, Robbed by violence, Not restored the pledge, Lifted his eyes to the idols, Or committed abomination; 13 If he has exacted usury Or taken increase-- Shall he then live? He shall not live! If he has done any of these abominations, He shall surely die; His blood shall be upon him. 14 "If, however, he begets a son Who sees all the sins which his father has done, And considers but does not do likewise; 15 Who has not eaten on the mountains, Nor lifted his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, Nor defiled his neighbor's wife; 16 Has not oppressed anyone, Nor withheld a pledge, Nor robbed by violence, But has given his bread to the hungry And covered the naked with clothing; 17 Who has withdrawn his hand from the poor And not received usury or increase, But has executed My judgments And walked in My statutes-- He shall not die for the iniquity of his father; He shall surely live! 18 "As for his father, Because he cruelly oppressed, Robbed his brother by violence, And did what is not good among his people, Behold, he shall die for his iniquity. 19 "Yet you say, 'Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?' Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and observed them, he shall surely live. 20 "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. 21 "But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 "None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live.
23 "Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" says the Lord GOD, "and not that he should turn from his ways and live? 24 "But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die. 25 "Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not fair.' Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair? 26 "When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies. 27 "Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. 28 "Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 29 "Yet the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not fair.' O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair? 30 "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways," says the Lord GOD. "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. 31 "Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? 32 "For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord GOD. "Therefore turn and live!"

19: 1 "Moreover take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel, 2 "and say: 'What is your mother? A lioness: She lay down among the lions; Among the young lions she nourished her cubs. 3 She brought up one of her cubs, And he became a young lion; He learned to catch prey, And he devoured men. 4 The nations also heard of him; He was trapped in their pit, And they brought him with chains to the land of Egypt. 5 'When she saw that she waited, that her hope was lost, She took another of her cubs and made him a young lion. 6 He roved among the lions, And became a young lion; He learned to catch prey; He devoured men. 7 He knew their desolate places, And laid waste their cities; The land with its fullness was desolated By the noise of his roaring. 8 Then the nations set against him from the provinces on every side, And spread their net over him; He was trapped in their pit. 9 They put him in a cage with chains, And brought him to the king of Babylon; They brought him in nets, That his voice should no longer be heard on the mountains of Israel. 10 'Your mother was like a vine in your bloodline, Planted by the waters, Fruitful and full of branches Because of many waters. 11 She had strong branches for scepters of rulers. She towered in stature above the thick branches, And was seen in her height amid the dense foliage. 12 But she was plucked up in fury, She was cast down to the ground, And the east wind dried her fruit. Her strong branches were broken and withered; The fire consumed them. 13 And now she is planted in the wilderness, In a dry and thirsty land. 14 Fire has come out from a rod of her branches And devoured her fruit, So that she has no strong branch--a scepter for ruling.'" This is a lamentation, and has become a lamentation.


Class Notes and MP3 audio:
March 7, 2004