7.16 Ezekiel -- the Hard Face of God
Ezekiel's portrayal of God's character is harsh: exasperation, betrayal, abhorrence, anger. In one word, God is the Judge of Israel and the nations, and of individual human behavior. This is the God modern man does not know. In his simple pieties of universal peace and benevolence, the 21st century citizen denies the very existence of Ezekiel's God -- the wrathful deity who is both judge and executioner. The pillar of modern morality is freedom without accountability, which, if you read Ezekiel carefully, is exactly what God accuses Israel of. Whoops! Could we as individuals and as a civilization possibly be sitting in the same hotseat? Surely not. Though the list of Israel's sins is very similar to our own, we know that No One is keeping score against us, let alone pulling the strings of history to cause devastation and turmoil. Such is the easy conscience of our times. Israel put its ultimate trust in the solidity of the Temple, which showed God's irrevocable commitment to their survival. We have no Temple -- late Western civilization tore down the religious core of society -- but we still have the same sense of self-righteousness and moral complacency: "the United Nations will save us." "We are too big to fail."
In this context, it is appropriate for us to consider the nature and extent of the judgments God pronounced through Ezekiel. Ezekiel introduces Jehovah-makkeh, "the Lord who strikes" (Eze 7:9), a shock to those who knew Him as Jehovah-jireh (Gen 22:14) and Jehovah-nissi (Ex 17:15):
"The Lord who had provided and protected was about to strike (Taylor 93).
In Eze 14:12-20, the Lord describes four judgments that He sends against nations: sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague; in v. 21, He confirms that all four would be sent against Jerusalem. In Eze 5:1-17 He divided the city’s inhabitants into three groups:
a. One third will die inside the walls, during a prolonged siege, of plague or famine or even cannibalism (Eze 5:10-12, Eze 7:15). These deaths are symbolized by fire (Eze 5:2, Eze 15:7, Eze 19:14). The siege, enacted in chap 4, is described as a gathering of disgusted former lovers come to strip away Judah’s pretensions and expose her shame (Eze 16:37-41, Eze 23:22-30). The Lord made His prophet aware of the precise day (Jan 15, 588 B.C.) on which the siege began (Eze 24:1-2).
b. Another third will be killed by the sword outside the city, when they emerge to fight or to flee. The Lord Himself wields the sword, which is Babylonia (Eze 21:3-5, Eze 21:19, Eze 30:24-25). The Lord makes Babylon "the ruler of the nations" (Eze 31:11), and will give them the plunder of Egypt as a reward for their work for Him (Eze 29:18-20).
c. A final third will be scattered to the winds of exile (Eze 5:2-12, Eze 12:15). The east wind represents Babylonia (Eze 17:10, NIVStudy Bible p. 1264). This group will be pursued by sword famine, plague, and wild beasts, but a remnant will survive. This is a fulfilment of threats made by the Lord ever since the days of Moses (Eze 20:23, Lev 26:33, Deut 28:64).
This combination of judgments is described in apocalyptic terms: it is "the end," "doom" (Eze 7:1-7). The worst aspect of judgment was the Lord withdrawing the favor of His presence: "I will turn my face away from them," He says (Eze 7:22, Eze 39:23-24). In a powerful and chilling vision, He showed Ezekiel the "utterly detestable" acts of idolatry "that will drive me far from my sanctuary" (Eze 8:6), and then proceeded to leave: His glory moved from the Holy of Holies to the door of the Temple, the east gate of the Temple compound, and finally the Mount of Olives outside the city (Eze 9-11). This withdrawal of the Presence of God was the ultimate judgment, because it was the loss of the real Treasure that Israel possessed.
We started this section by observing that Ezekiel's God is harsh and judgmental. This is true, but that only emphasizes the necessity of reading the rest of the Bible. Ezekiel is only one facet of the diamond -- other books highlight other aspects of God's nature. We cannot deny any of them, but we must not absolutize just one of them either. We have to consider both the context and the progressive nature of revelation. We know that other books, particularly in the New Testament, show the mercy of God. But mercy only appears miraculous when seen against a backdrop of the truly desperate situation of our moral failure. The Book of Ezekiel is harsh and unforgiving, but it is reality...it shows the end result of prolonged rebellion, "the wages of sin."