In chapters 12-14, Ezekiel continues the theme of false hope, dismissing the false sources of confidence.
What false hopes do people today have that make them think they won’t be judged by God?
In Ezekiel 12:1-14 , Ezekiel acts out the fate of the people left in Jerusalem (see also 12:15-20).
The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people. Therefore, son of man, pack your belongings for exile and in the daytime, as they watch, set out and go from where you are to another place. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious people. During the daytime, while they watch, bring out your belongings packed for exile. Then in the evening, while they are watching, go out like those who go into exile. While they watch, dig through the wall and take your belongings out through it. Put them on your shoulder as they are watching and carry them out at dusk. Cover your face so that you cannot see the land, for I have made you a sign to the Israelites.’
So I did as I was commanded. During the day I brought out my things packed for exile. Then in the evening I dug through the wall with my hands. I took my belongings out at dusk, carrying them on my shoulders while they watched. In the morning the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, did not the Israelites, that rebellious people, ask you, “What are you doing?”‘
‘Say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: This prophecy concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the Israelites who are there.” Say to them, “I am a sign to you.”‘
‘As I have done, so it will be done to them. They will go into exile as captives. The prince among them will put his things on his shoulder at dusk and leave, and a hole will be dug in the wall for him to go through. He will cover his face so that he cannot see the land. I will spread my net for him, and he will be caught in my snare; I will bring him to Babylonia, the land of the Chaldeans, but he will not see it, and there he will die. I will scatter to the winds all those around him—his staff and all his troops—and I will pursue them with drawn sword.’
In 2 Kings 25:1-16 we read that Zedekiah and the people rebel and so are besieged. Zedekiah and the army break through the wall (hence Ezekiel 12:5, 7 and 12), but are captured and exiled to Babylon. Zedekiah himself has his eyes put out (hence Ezekiel 12:13).
1. False hope in delayed judgment
Ezekiel 12:21-25 highlights the first source of the Israelites’ false hope: the belief that judgment hasn’t come and so won’t come.
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, what is this proverb you have in the land of Israel: ‘The days go by and every vision comes to nothing’? Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to put an end to this proverb, and they will no longer quote it in Israel.’ Say to them, ‘The days are near when every vision will be fulfilled. For there will be no more false visions or flattering divinations among the people of Israel. But I the Lord will speak what I will, and it shall be fulfilled without delay. For in your days, you rebellious people, I will fulfill whatever I say, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”
In Ezekiel 12:26-28, God counters the idea that “judgment won’t come for ages so don’t worry.”
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, the Israelites are saying, ‘The vision he sees is for many years from now, and he prophesies about the distant future.’ Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: None of my words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled, declares the Sovereign Lord.’
Some people say that because the final judgment hasn’t come yet, it won’t come at all – it isn’t for real. How does Peter respond in 2 Peter 3:3-10?
Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
2. False hope in prophecies of peace
Ezekiel preaches to preachers. The false prophets proclaim peace – and those are the preachers people want to listen to. But they are like cowboy builders who put up a flimsy structure and hope a coat of paint will make it okay. When the storms come it will be swept away. Ezekiel 13:1-2 and 10-12 say:
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!…Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,”when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?”
God will punish those who only listen to what they want to hear … by giving them what they want – false prophecies!
Ezekiel 14:7-9 says: “When any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing in Israel separate themselves from me and set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet to inquire of me, I the Lord will answer them myself. I will set my face against them and make them an example and a byword. I will remove them from my people. Then you will know that I am the Lord. And if the prophet is enticed to utter a prophecy, I the Lord have enticed that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and destroy him from among my people Israel.“
Who are the contemporary ‘prophets’ who tell people what they want to hear? And what about in the church? Are there times when people look for teachers who will tell them what they want to hear? 2 Timothy 4:1-5 says:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
How do you respond to teachers who ‘correct and rebuke’ you (2 Timothy 4:2)?
3. False in hope in magic charms
Ezekiel 13:17-19 says:
“Now, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people who prophesy out of their own imagination. Prophesy against them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the women who sew magic charms on all their wrists and make veils of various lengths for their heads in order to ensnare people. Will you ensnare the lives of my people but preserve your own? You have profaned me among my people for a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread. By lying to my people, who listen to lies, you have killed those who should not have died and have spared those who should not live.”
Resorting to magic charms looks like a pretty desperate measure. But there are plenty of contemporary parallels even in so-called sophisticated Western societies.
When our false hopes are dismantled, what are we left with? To whom can we turn? Pray through Romans 15:13:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is an extract from Explore, daily Bible reading notes published by our friends at The Good Book Company. Explore is published quarterly worldwide. Download the Explore App here, or purchase a copy from one of these Good Book Company online shops: UK, US, Australia, New Zealand.