Monday, September 12, 2011

Ezekiel 14: Righteousness

Chapter 14 of Ezekiel from Sunday's M'Cheyne reading has several fascinating elements in it. As usual, D.A. Carson has a brilliant devotional on the chapter in his book For the Love of God, and his thoughts are far more worthy to ponder.

The thing most striking about Ezekiel 14 is the list of names given: Noah, Daniel and Job. We know them as righteous men God used for significant historical purposes, but what is so surprising is that Daniel is listed among Noah and Job. Genesis says "Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:9). Job was "blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil" (Job 1:1). When Ezekiel was in service to the Lord, the Scriptures speaking of Noah and Job were already written. But Daniel was a contemporary, living in Babylon as Ezekiel wrote his scrolls. Through the Spirit's inspiration, Ezekiel knew that Daniel's righteousness was in the same league as Noah and Job. We know in hindsight, by God's recorded Word, that Daniel was faithful to the end (Daniel 6:28). Part of the surprise is that another faithful hero of old wasn't named, such as Moses or David. Perhaps Daniel was even more righteous than these men, as there are no recorded events where Daniel stumbled in his life.

Another peculiar statement in Ezekiel 14 is, "they would deliver neither sons nor daughters." This is used three times in the chapter (Ezekiel 14:16, 18, 22). This evokes thoughts of what Noah and Job endured. Noah did deliver his sons and daughters from the global flood. But Job's sons and daughters were lost despite (or perhaps because of) his righteousness. The Bible does not speak to whether or not Daniel had any children, but his biography reads as if he lived a bachelor's life. Regardless, Jerusalem has become so wicked in Ezekiel's day that no others besides these men would survive, apparently not even their family members. That could be interpreted a few ways:
  • God showed grace to Noah's family in saving his children through the flood even though they may not have had the same righteous heart toward God as Noah. After the flood subsides, the behavior of Ham was not blameless (see Genesis 9:20-27), though neither was Noah's.
  • The culture of wickedness was so extreme in Jerusalem that it may have swayed the children of these men despite their own righteous lives and teaching. After all, Noah was able to convince at least his family to join him on the ark. Perhaps his three children, and any others among Job and Daniel, would have succumbed to societal pressures.
  • The most likely meaning is that God would not spare Jerusalem for the sake of a few righteous citizens. God would deliver the righteous to safety, thus preserving a remnant, and the rest would be swept away in judgment (devastatingly complete judgment through beasts, war, disease and famine).

The last interpretation would remind the reader of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 18-19). God determined to destroy those cities for their wickedness; he would not relent despite Abraham's intercession. Abraham knew his nephew Lot lived in Sodom, but Lot was the only [or least un-]righteous man living in the city. God rescued Lot and his family, and the cities were destroyed in a fiery hailstorm. I believe God is saying that he would not have spared Lot's family if they had been living in Jerusalem in Ezekiel's day, for Lot's wife certainly did not trust in the Word of God (Genesis 19:26), and Lot himself would not have been righteous enough to spare his own life or Jerusalem's. Indeed, a while later, God calls Jerusalem Sodom's older (and more evil) sister, "As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it" (Ezekiel 16:48-50).

Do we presume upon God's kindness, forbearance and patience? Can you think of any nation that has pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but does not aid the poor and needy? Do we defend the indefensible?

"Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations" (Ezekiel 14:6 ESV).

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