The book of Ezekiel is not as hard to read in a day as you might suppose. It is a bit long and there are a few apocalyptic visions, filled with pretty bizarre symbolic images, but most of the book is pretty straightforward. As you read you will probably notice that Jesus borrowed a lot of parables and metaphors from Ezekiel and the book of Revelation also borrowed a lot of language from Ezekiel as well. Ezekiel is a book of judgment and hope. It describes God’s plan to purge the evil from Israel and make them into a holy people forever.
Ezekiel, the Exile
Ezekiel was an exile in Babylon before the temple was destroyed in Jerusalem. He saw multiple visions, indicating that God’s glory had left the temple and the temple would be destroyed. There were all kinds of people during this time preaching false visions, saying they had received a message from the Lord, but it was really just their own imaginations.
Can you imagine if an enemy nation invaded your country, chained you up, put you on a boat, and shipped you far away? Can you imagine how desperate you would be for a message of hope? If someone told you, “This will all be over soon,” and someone else told you, “More death and destruction are coming because God is very angry with us,” to whom would you listen?
God told Ezekiel to sound the trumpet and give his people warning that more punishment, terrible punishment was coming. God told Ezekiel the people wouldn’t listen to his preaching; regardless, he should preach anyway.
How Sick Is Your Heart?
I will warn you, much of the book of Ezekiel isn’t appropriate for children. Yep, that’s right, there are books of the Bible that are PG-13 or greater. This is one of those books.
God describes his relationship with Israel with several different metaphors and parables. One of the most poignant stories describes Israel as a baby girl, all alone in a field. She is still covered in afterbirth because she had been cast out on the day of her birth. God found her and rescued her. She grew into a young woman and God married her and clothed her royally. But she “played the whore.” Throughout the book, God describes Israel and Judah’s idolatrous “whoring.” They worshiped idols and sacrificed the blessings God had given them to other gods.
But it wasn’t just idolatry in a traditional sense that was condemned as “whoring. It was also Israel’s lustful desire to be protected by other nations that God called “playing the whore.” When God’s people made military alliances with Egypt or Assyria, to be protected by them, they were showing God that they really didn’t trust in his divine protection. They lusted after horses, chariots, and soldiers. God was disgusted by their lust for military strength. He told them, “Because you did not hate bloodshed, therefore blood shall pursue you.”
Lust for military strength brings military strength down upon you. But the one who trusts in the Lord with all of his heart, and loves the Lord with all of his heart, will be delivered. That’s the lesson Israel needed to learn.
A New Heart
In spite of the harsh judgment God was pouring out on his people, he also promised he would one day gather them up from the nations to which they were dispersed. Like sheep that were scattered all over the hills, God would gather his people and be their shepherd. God promised to give them a new David to be their king, make an everlasting covenant with them, and bless them forever.
I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
God was not only going to fix their situation, he was going to fix the people. He was going to cleanse them from their sin and give them a new heart and put his own Spirit within them, so they would be an obedient people. Not obedient in an outward and ritualistic way, but obedient from the heart. They would do the right sorts of things, not because the law told them to, but because they love the Lord their God with all of their heart, soul, and strength.
Resurrection and Restoration
When we say Jesus is “the Messiah,” we are saying we believe he is the one who has fulfilled, is fulfilling, and will fulfill the visions of Ezekiel and the other prophets. We are saying Jesus has gathered up the lost sheep of Israel and also the Gentiles, who were sheep of another fold, and that he is shepherding us now and forever. We are also saying that Israel – and all humanity – were as dead as a valley of dry bones, but Jesus resurrected us and gave us God’s Spirit and a new heart.
But it’s more than that. Jesus has fulfilled and is fulfilling the visions of Ezekiel, but there is still a future hope. There is a future resurrection; a literal resurrection. And Ezekiel spoke about God’s people inheriting the land forever. God will destroy every city of wickedness and everything will be desolate and waste, but then his people will say, “This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden.”
The apostle Paul wrote that the followers of Jesus, both Jew and Gentile, are heirs of these promises. As he said to the church in Rome, “Abraham and his descendants received the promise that they would get the whole world” (ERV). All of creation and the children of God wait to be set free from our bondage to corruption (Romans 8:21). We wait for God’s glory to be revealed and to receive our inheritance.
Because of sin, everything will become desolate and waste, but then it will “become like the garden of Eden,” and we will be with our Lord forever. That is our hope.
I love you and God loves you,