Series on Ezekiel, I The Fall of Jerusalem, C Four Dramas of Punishment, Text: 4;1-5:17, Title: Crime and Punishment

Introduction

In chapters 1-3 of Ezekiel the prophet has experienced a vision  of God that displays both his righteous judgment and his redeeming love. In other words, God has not abandoned them, but they have experienced his holy judgment. Then Ezekiel is commissioned to preach a message to them that they do not want to hear, They deserve what they got. If they did not accept responsibility, then they could not be healed. Chapters 4:1-5:17 show us four dramas of punishment intended to teach them and us that there are temporal consequences to disobeying God. This is the same that Christians are taught in Hebrews 12: 5-7, And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? Consequently we have here in these four dramas the characteristics of God’s judgment against his people. They are: faceless, fair, forsaking, and full.

I Faceless

The first drama is in verses 1-3, “Now, son of man, take a clay tablet, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the house of Israel. With the destruction of Jerusalem portrayed on the tablet, the iron pan is used to hide the scene from the prophet’s face. This indicates that God’s face was turned against them in this judgment. God is casting His people from His sight. This does not mean that he has utterly cast them away, but it does mean that his face is turned away, and the face of God means blessing as in Psalm 4:6, Let the light of your face shine upon us, and in Numbers 6:24-26 in  the Aaronic blessing, The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. The temporal judgment of God upon their sin appears to have changed his attitude and made Him faceless. The prophecy of Habakkuk is an extended lament over the judgment of God on His people, but the prophet is assured that eventually God would judge the idolators that had, by God’s direction, enslaved His people.

II Fair

In the second drama in verses 4-8 Ezekiel is to lay on his side bearing the sin of the people that brought this judgment, “Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel. After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege. The timing is crucial. The side for the Northern kingdom, Israel, is much longer because from the day of its establishment it was idolatrous. It was carried off by the Assyrians and never returned. Judah, the Southern kingdom’s sins were of a shorter duration. However the total days are 430, and we cannot help but be reminded that Paul says in Galatians 3:17 that the bondage inn Egypt was 430 years. Thus they are reminded that the bondage they escaped by the grace of God is now visited upon them because of their disobedience. The bared arm of Ezekiel is also a reminder of this because when they were in Egypt God delivered them, as He says in Exodus 6:6, by the greatness of his outstretched arm, but now that arm is bared in punishment.

III Forsaking

The Babylonian siege of Jerusalem had yet to come. The People had been deported twice, but the actual destruction of the city and temple would be accompanied by terrible famine in verses 16 and 17, He then said to me: “Son of man, I will cut off the supply of food in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair,  for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin. The first thing we observe in verses 9-17 is that hunger is a punishment. The same God who had fed them manna in the wilderness when they had no other visible means of support now sends them starvation. Starvation is a terrible judgment. Cannibalism is reported in Jerusalem by Flavius Josephus during a later siege that resulted in the second destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70AD. Ezekiel reports this as taking place in his time in 5:10, Therefore in your midst fathers will eat their children, and children will eat their fathers. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds. The second thing we observe in  these verses is a masterpiece of irony. Ezekiel objects to God’s command that his meagre food be cooked over human waste. He was a priest and this was a clear ceremonial violation of the law. God relents, but the message is clear. The people have rejected God and His laws. Once they were in a position to obey, but they chose to disobey. Now they are in a situation where they cannot obey. In Romans 1: 28 and 29 we learn that God’s judgments may bring men into greater sin and disobedience so that they are not able to obey, Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. This is intended to frighten them into repentance.

IV Full

The last portion in 5: 1-17 is clearly described in verses 1-4, “Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair. When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair with fire inside the city. Take a third and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind. For I will pursue them with drawn sword. But take a few strands of hair and tuck them away in the folds of your garment. Again, take a few of these and throw them into the fire and burn them up. A fire will spread from there to the whole house of Israel. The completeness of God’s judgment is portrayed. Nobody escapes. There are just three thirds of the hair: one is burned, one killed by the sword, and the last is scattered to the wind. That’s everybody. To make the point even stronger Ezekiel is to take a little and attach it to his garment as if a remnant would be spared, but then he is to burn them too. They are apparently safe in the garment, but then they too are snatched and destroyed. Let us all learn that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God who is a consuming fire. Israel presumed upon its election and despised the grace of God. We must be sure to make our calling and election sure. That which is holy to the Lord, if found unholy, will be severely judged. And so we read in 5: 5-7, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees.” Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “You have been more unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you.” The author of Hebrews warns us in 12: 25,28 and 29, See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,  for our “God is a consuming fire.”