by Pastor Mark Hudson
This chapter follows the chapter describing and condemning the false prophets in chapter 13. This is another aspect of the corruption of the elders that we read about in chapter 8. Idolatry is rampant in Jerusalem (hence the judgment that their sin provokes). This idolatry is not relegated to a few people, but the elders of Israel are leading this worship of idols, turning their backs deliberately on God. Idolatry pervades the nation and is an affront to the holiness of God.
Yet, these idolatrous elders are seeking to consult God. Many, if not most, people assume anyone can pray to God and He listens. That is His “job” isn’t it? Some consider approaching God an act that God should almost reward. Is that what God thinks? Consider the following:
John 9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.
Prov 28:9 If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.
I Pt. 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
We should not teach that a person can continue in their rebellion and think they can ask God for help that way a child of God can ask God for help. God does not listen to the prayers of idolaters who persist in their rebellion. In verse 6, the first word God says to these “elders” is “Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” Of course, God tells them to stop. What evil to put anyone or anything above God.
Why is God so upset with idolatry in this passage? In verses 3-4 says they have taken their idols into their hearts and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face. Idolatry is both heart-felt and intentional. The idols are called a multitude of idols in v. 4. Idolatry is no small, insignificant, or outward issue. Idolatry concerns the heart and of all the battlefields of the world as massive as they are, the tiny battlefield of your heart is what God concerns Himself about. We think of homes, families, careers, boats, etc. God looks at the heart. Prov 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life.” As we read in I Samuel 16:7, “. . . the Lord looks on the heart.”
This is where God puts His finger on in our lives. Not our cars, our bodies, our wealth, or our things of any kind. He looks at the heart. We try to hide our heart, cover it up, and whitewash it but God sees our heart. He wants a heart full of love to Him, bent on obedience which produces deep and satisfying joy.
What is God attempting to straighten out in Ezekiel 17? In v. 5, “that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel who are estranged from me through their idols.” These were people who still were involved with the temple. They were mixing the worship of Yahweh and the worship of their idols. They wanted both. But God was having none of it. They are estranged from God like a child may be to his parents when they haven’t spoken for years. Like a husband who left a wife. They do not know God. They are strangers to one another. Yet, these idolaters think they can come before a holy God any time they want.
We have no intrinsic or inherent right to approach a holy God. In fact, in this passage, vs. 7-8, God responds by stating, “I the Lord will answer him myself. And I will set My face against that man. I will make him a sign and byword and cut him off from the midst of my people.” In verse 3, God asks, “Should I indeed let myself by consulted by them?” The reader should supply a resounding “NO!”
In vs 12ff we read of three men: Noah, Daniel, and Job who are repeatedly used to expose the wickedness of the nation. This is unusual for a few reasons. Noah and Job are ancient figures. Daniel is a contemporary so Daniel must had quite a reputation. Second, in covenantal thinking, the man or parents include the children. When Noah went on the ark so did his family. When Lot left Sodom, he included his family. When Rahab was spared so was her family. But not in this case. The people are so bad, God is suspending the normal way He deals with his people. In this case, only the individual, and only the rarest of believers will be spared. So, you are safe if you are as righteous as Job, Noah, or Daniel. How do you think you stack up against one of those men?
The future does not look good for Jerusalem. Normally those inside Jerusalem are safe. Not this time. Why? At the end of the chapter, we read this verse, “and you shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, declares the Lord GOD.” They deserve the exile and the destruction of the temple. In fact, they almost asked for it.
Dear heavenly Father, look again at our dark, sinful hearts. Apart from You, there is no good thing in us but only death, sin, and rebellion. Cause us to turn to You the Giver of life, the Light of life, and the true Word from God. Keep pointing out our sin. We welcome You into the places we are ashamed of and try to conceal. Come Holy Spirit, cleanse and purify. In Christ’s name, Amen.