DEFECTIVE LEADERSHIP Ezekiel 20–24
“See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood” (Ezek. 22:6).Leaders carry heavy responsibility. They set the moral tone of a nation or community, and are accountable for the flaws and failures of the people they rule over.
Israel’s history was one of rebellion (20:1–31), yet after punishment the nation would be restored (vv. 32–44). Ezekiel prophesied immediate judgment of fire (vv. 45–49) and sword (21:1–32), to descend on Jerusalem and her corrupt leaders (22:1–31). The people’s sin was portrayed in a famous allegory (23:1–49), and even as the siege of Jerusalem began in faraway Judah, Ezekiel announced the event (24:1–15). When Ezekiel’s wife died, he was told to “groan quietly,” even as the people of Jerusalem would be struck dumb in their grief (vv. 16–27).
Understanding the Text
“Confront them with the detestable practices of their fathers” Ezek. 20:1–31. In July/August of 591B.C elders of the people came to “inquire of the Lord.” The phrase means to consult the prophet about the outcome of plans they were considering. God would not even listen to them, but told Ezekiel to lay out clearly the charges against them. So Ezekiel demonstrated from history that the people of Israel had always been rebellious. And charged that the present generation defiled itself in the same way “to this day” (v. 31). The point of the passage was clear. It was time to repent, not to make plans! The elders of Judah formed committees and set up contingency plans, when what they should have been doing was calling the people of Judah to abandon idolatry and return to God. You and I too must put first things first. It’s fine to make careful plans for the future. But man’s first priority is his personal relationship with the Lord. If that relationship is wrong, whatever plans we may make are irrelevant. It is futile to ask God for guidance, or pray about plans we’re struggling to make, if serious sin has interrupted our fellowship with God. At such times repentance is a first priority. This was one of the most serious flaws in Judah’s leaders. They seemed totally unaware of their own and of their people’s spiritual condition. Insensitive leaders, out of touch with God, can only lead God’s people to disaster. “Afterward you will surely listen” Ezek. 20:32–49. God is as determined to pursue us as we ever are to escape Him! Judah would experience judgment. But there was no way that God would let His people stray permanently into idolatry and sin. (See DEVOTIONAL.) “I will draw My sword from its scabbard” Ezek. 21:1–17. The Old Testament frequently pictures enemy nations as a rod of discipline. Here Babylon was pictured as a “sword.” In Hebrew the word for sword indicates a “destroying instrument.” Thus Ezekiel cried: A sword, a sword, sharpened and polished— sharpened for the slaughter, polished, and flashing like lightning (v. 9). Judah had “despised the rod” of lighter punishments. Now she must bear the greater punishment inflicted by God’s sword. We see the same peculiar trait in some children. One child will respond to a stern glance or slight slap. Another will grimly endure a severe spanking, refusing to break or to give in. Stubborn Judah was like the strong-willed child, determined to have its own way despite correction. As a result, an anguished God must increase the intensity of the punishment. Judah must be taught to respond. “Mark out two roads for the sword of the king of Babylon to take” Ezek. 21:18–32. Ezekiel was told to draw a map on the ground, marking clearly the route from Babylon to Syria-Palestine. There, above Damascus, the road forks, with one route leading to Judah, and the other along the highlands across the Jordan to the land of the Ammonites. Ezekiel was told that the king of Babylon, reaching that fork in the road, would call on his wise men to divine for a sign showing him which people to war on. God would see to it that the omens directed him to Judah! The point Ezekiel made here was that the Babylonians did not have to invade Judah. God intervened to cause Nebuchadnezzar to select the Jews as his current victims. But why? The spotlight is on Judah’s leadership. The prince of Judah is “profane and wicked” (v. 25). In the coming judgment this exalted person will be stripped of the symbols of royalty, and they will not be restored “until He comes to whom it rightfully belongs” (v. 27). “Each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood” Ezek. 22:1–31. Again we see a recurring theme. Leaders are to serve God’s flock, not fleece it! Those who use power to treat “father and mother with contempt” and to oppress the alien and mistreat the fatherless are users, not servants. The sins of the people of Jerusalem are listed (vv. 9–12), and rather than stand against such behavior the leaders conspire to profit from the situation (vv. 23–29). It is no wonder that God “will pour out My wrath on them and consume them with My fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done” (v. 31). Any person who accepts the role of a spiritual leader takes on dreadful responsibility. He or she must purge himself of every selfish motive, and stand before the Lord “in the gap [of the wall] on behalf of the land.” Spiritual leaders must be dedicated to standing before the Lord and to serving God’s people. No other commitment can preserve us from straying—and from judgment. “You will drink your sister’s cup” Ezek. 23:1–49. In an extended allegory Israel and Judah were likened to two adulterous sisters. Judah had not learned from the punishment of Israel, and so would suffer the same terrible fate. You and I can learn from both nations. They “have forgotten Me and thrust Me behind your back.” We remember the Lord daily, and keep Him and His Word always before us. “This very date” Ezek. 24:1–14. On January 15, 588B.C, Nebuchadnezzar began the siege of Jerusalem. On that very date in Babylon Ezekiel announced what was happening in the homeland, and likened Jerusalem to a pot about to be brought to a boil, and the inhabitants to meat that is cooked until all the water is gone from the pot and even the remains are charred and useless. “The time has come for Me to act,” God said: “I will not hold back.” God has fixed a date for the judgment of our world too. When that date comes, nothing can hold God back. “I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes” Ezek. 24:15–27. Before Ezekiel’s wife died, the prophet was warned, and told to make no outward sign of mourning. He was only to groan quietly. When the devastation ended in Jerusalem, and death took the sons and daughters of the few survivors, they too would be too stunned and crushed to mourn. Why should Ezekiel have to suffer the death of his wife? The best answer probably is, “Why not?” God’s dearest saint is not immune from the anguish that is common to all men. God’s most intimate friends often experience the darkest trials. During such times we sense our identity with the rest of humankind, and out of shared suffering often grows the most effective ministry. In our trials we, like Ezekiel, are often God’s sign to others, pointing the way to comfort, and to Him.
“It’ll Never Happen!”(Ezek. 20)
What is the most unlikely thing you can imagine? You walking on the moon? Being visited by little green men? Well, those are pretty unlikely, I confess. In fact, they probably fit into the same category with something God scoffs at in this chapter. The category of “Never!” We find the category in verse 32: “What you have in mind will never happen.” That “never happen” is one of the most comforting phrases in Scripture, especially for parents whose children seem to have abandoned the faith. You see, the people of Judah wanted to abandon God. They wanted to adopt other ways and be “like the nations, like the peoples of the world.” They were running away from God as fast as their legs could carry them. And despite this, God said, “What you have in mind will never happen.” We might paraphrase this way: “You don’t want to be My people, or live the good life I’ve chosen for you? Well, you can run—but I won’t let you get away. Even though you reject Me, I won’t reject you. You’re Mine, and I’ll never let you go.” God was determined to rescue His people from paganism in spite of themselves. This passage is comforting to parents whose children make unwise choices. A son or daughter drifts away from God, adopts a doubtful morality, makes mistake after mistake, and suffers painful consequences. It’s so easy then for parents to give in to despair. My child is lost. All hope is gone! But this passage tells us not to give up! Run away from God? “What you have in mind will never happen!” Abandon Mom’s and Dad’s values? “What you have in mind will never happen!” Make such a mess of life that there is no way back to God and goodness? “What you have in mind will never happen!” Oh, there will be the pain of discipline until the wanderer turns back. The people of Judah were soon to discover just how painful the divine discipline could be. But to be abandoned? Never! God is a ferocious Lover. He never gives up, but fiercely pursues His loved ones until they return to Him. And so if your children or mine make a bad turn along the road of life, let’s not give up hope. What they had in mind when they turned away from the Lord will never happen! God doesn’t let His loved ones get away.
Put your hope where your faith is. In God.