Ezekiel lived through a brutal age in history as Babylonian siege works hammered the walls of Jerusalem. Denied access to trade routes and produce, starvation was bringing the city to her knees. As Judah’s children fainted in the streets from hunger and mothers cooked their own children for survival, the people muttered “God’s not fair”, demanding “Why should we pay for the sins of our fathers?” as they raised their fists to heaven and shouted “God is too harsh!”.
Instead of wiping out the angry city, God stepped down in love with a word to Ezekiel. God asked Ezekiel, “What do you people mean by going around the country repeating the saying, ‘The parents ate green apples, The children got stomachache’?”(18:2 MSG) Laying the axe to the Blame Tree, God clearly explained that each person dies for their own sin, not another’s.
Our life choices matter a great deal to God. If you have ever wondered what righteous living looks like, God gives a clear description of a principled life to Ezekiel:
“Imagine a person who lives well, treating others fairly, keeping good relationships– doesn’t eat at the pagan shrines, doesn’t worship the idols so popular in Israel, doesn’t seduce a neighbor’s spouse, doesn’t indulge in casual sex, doesn’t bully anyone, doesn’t pile up bad debts, doesn’t steal, doesn’t refuse food to the hungry, doesn’t refuse clothing to the ill-clad, doesn’t exploit the poor, doesn’t live by impulse and greed, doesn’t treat one person better than another, But lives by my statutes and faithfully honors and obeys my laws. This person who lives upright and well shall live a full and true life.” (18:5-9)
God enjoys the person who lives clean, faithfully honors and treats people fairly. God cares deeply how we treat one another. For God, good people are defined as those who live kind, don’t exploit, avoid idolatry and obey God’s laws. God promises that the person who chooses this path shall live a true and full life, even as the soldiers battered the walls of Jerusalem and their children wept from hunger.
With the grace of a master painter exposing the effect of light and shadow, the Lord further explained to Ezekiel the cost of a selfish violent greed-framed life:
“But if this person has a child who turns violent and murders and goes off and does any of these things, even though the parent has done none of them– eats at the pagan shrines, seduces his neighbor’s spouse, bullies the weak, steals, piles up bad debts, admires idols, commits outrageous obscenities, exploits the poor “–do you think this person, the child, will live? Not a chance! Because he’s done all these vile things, he’ll die. And his death will be his own fault. (18:10-13)
Own your choices, Ezekiel is told. If you walk in kindness and honor, you will reap honor. If you live selfish, violent and uncaring towards those around you, death is certain, for in sowing to selfish dishonest gain, you reap nothing good.
God outlines righteous and selfish choices as clearly as one travelling along a city highway. When you approach the 401 ramp in Southern Ontario, you must choose your direction and irrelevant of your emotional state, mental health or current needs, whichever direction you choose, that is the direction you travel.
God then explains the Turnaround Mercy Effect to Ezekiel:
“But a wicked person who turns his back on that life of sin and keeps all my statutes, living a just and righteous life, he’ll live, really live. He won’t die. I won’t keep a list of all the things he did wrong. He will live. Do you think I take any pleasure in the death of wicked men and women? Isn’t it my pleasure that they turn around, no longer living wrong but living right–really living?” (18:21-23)
Our God of grace builds ramps, opportunities in our lives to change direction and live in righteousness every day. God’s longs for His children to thrive in kindness, not die through selfish vain choices. God constantly calls His kids to turn around, to shift back into godly pursuit, to travel towards righteousness rather than hurtling down a sorrowful speedway in pursuit of power, crashing into barriers of heartache and loss along the way.
We are made for righteousness, for generosity, for caring for each other. Yet all of us can get turned around and head in the wrong direction:
“The same thing goes for a good person who turns his back on an upright life and starts sinning, plunging into the same vile obscenities that the wicked person practices. Will this person live? I don’t keep a list of all the things this person did right, like money in the bank he can draw on. Because of his defection, because he accumulates sin, he’ll die.” (18:24)
For a long time, Jerusalem had been travelling as far and as fast as they could away from their God. Earlier, Ezekiel was shown how the priests in the sanctuary were practicing demonic worship, how the nobility were worshiping the sun gods and the stars, how the people were bowing down to Baal idols in their bedrooms; all of Judah lived a double life, professing God in public and choosing any other option in private. You can have a car plastered in bumper stickers toting “Jesus as your Bestie” but if you are cruel and critical and oppress your family, you are still hurtling down hell’s highway, despite your pile of Bibles in the backseat. With bluntness, God informed Judah through Ezekiel that their choices created their current state of affairs, not God Almighty.
Mercy triumphs over justice with God, every time. Love stoops down to tenderly inform Ezekiel that every person in Jerusalem could make a turnaround and reach their God-breathed destination:
“The upshot is this, Israel: I’ll judge each of you according to the way you live. So turn around! Turn your backs on your rebellious living so that sin won’t drag you down. Clean house. No more rebellions, please. Get a new heart! Get a new spirit! Why would you choose to die, Israel? I take no pleasure in anyone’s death. Decree of GOD, the Master. “Make a clean break! Live!” (18: 30-31)
God is more than fair. A Loving Father, He holds out grace and mercy, bold beacons on life’s highway, offering reality to our denial, as He shines His Light and holds it steady until we see what He wants us to see and what direction we are truly travelling towards, life or death.
This passage provokes me. I look at the templates of righteous life or selfish living and cry out like the disciples, “Lord, what then, can we do to be saved?”
God answers this question in His word to Ezekiel: Get a new heart! Get a new spirit! Make a clean break! Live!
Let’s Pray: Father God, thank You for bringing truth to our lives, for marking Life’s highway with clarity, that we may know which direction we are heading, according to your Word. Holy Spirit, we ask that You would give us a new heart and a new spirit today, to live caring kind lives of honor as Your beloved children. Lord Jesus, because of You, we live. Where sin has abounded, grace abounded all the more. Thank You beloved Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the capacity to shift into righteousness through You. May we reckon our lives this day and turn as needed, we ask in Jesus’s Holy Name. Amen.
This Week’s Reading: Ezekiel 11-20
Next Week’s Reading: Ezekiel 21 – 35
- How does the Holy Spirit lead you to love people on purpose? What does that look like on a Saturday morning?
- Does it surprise you how much value God places on how we treat other people? Do you think loving God can remain simply vertical or must worship have practical application horizontally, interpersonally?
- Can we truly love God and not love people?
- Simon the Stylite was a man who lived 37 years at the top of a pole in a Syrian desert, devoting himself to prayer and solitude around 400 AD. How does a monastic existence fail to fulfill God’s mandate for righteous living? What was the dude at the top of the pole missing?
- What direction are you travelling in, towards God-led righteousness or self-made striving?
- How do you get a new heart and a new spirit? How does the Holy Spirit lead us into this reality?