Saturday, January 5, 2013

Judgment on the Idolaters (Ezekiel 9)

The following quote is taken from
"Kill Men, Women, and Children - "Then I heard the LORD say to the other men, "Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked.  Show no mercy; have no pity!  Kill them all – old and young, girls and women and little children.  But do not touch anyone with the mark.  Begin your task right here at the Temple."  So they began by killing the seventy leaders.  "Defile the Temple!" the LORD commanded.  "Fill its courtyards with the bodies of those you kill!  Go!"  So they went throughout the city and did as they were told."  (Ezekiel 9:5-7 NLT)

These verses are part of a larger vision that the prophet Ezekiel had.  You can read the entire chapter here:

            In Ezekiel chapters 1-24, God sent his message of doom against the nation of Judah; those who were not killed during the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians were going to be taken into captivity, and Jerusalem (including the First Temple, the one built by King Solomon) would be destroyed.  Ezekiel received these messages only about 7 years before the Babylonian captivity (which occurred circa 586 BCE).  In Ezekiel chapter 9, Ezekiel was given a vision of the destruction that would occur when the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem.
            The reason for the Babylonian captivity is because the people of Judah had completely turned away from God, choosing to worship idols instead, and had even defiled God's Temple by placing idols inside of it and worshipping them there (Ezekiel 5-8).  On top of that, the people were constantly committing murder, foolishly thinking that God did not see or care what they did (Ezekiel 5:5-7, 7:23, 8:17-18, 9:9-10).  "Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations.  Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again" (Ezekiel 5:8-9, NIV).
            The charge of idolatry is a very grievous sin, which God does not take lightly (see Exodus 20:3-6, 23; 23:13, 23-24; 34:17; Leviticus 19:4; 26:1; Deuteronomy 4:15-28; 5:7; 6:14-15; 8:19; 12:31; 17:2-7; 27:15; 29:17-18).  God warned the Israelites on several occasions that if they committed idolatry, it was a crime that warranted the death penalty.  The Israelites' covenant with God demanded that they worship and serve him only.  They were not supposed to worship other gods or fashion idols for themselves.  God had warned them that if they did these things, it would lead to their destruction: "If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed" (Deuteronomy 8:19, NIV).  
            Why is idolatry considered such a serious crime?  The severity of the judgment, capital punishment, is due to the severity of the sin.  God is the only God, the Lord and creator of all the universe.  When anyone bows down and worships or pays tribute to a false god or idol, they are taking credit away from God and giving it to something undeserving of that credit.  "I am the LORD; that is my name!  I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols" (Isaiah 42:8, NIV).  The crime of idolatry was so serious that it was often referred to as adultery against God (Ezekiel 6:9).
            With all of this in mind, the many verses in Ezekiel that describe the death of the people, including women and children, are shocking and cause for grief.  The people of Israel and Judah had been given multiple warnings by God through many prophets over the course of nearly 300 years, and they still did not repent and turn to God for forgiveness.  If they had, they would have been spared, and all of the death and destruction could have been avoided.  "If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned" (Jeremiah 18:7-8, NIV; see also Jonah chapter 3).
            As in previous passages, it should be noted that God does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and he takes no pleasure in the death of anyone (Ezekiel 18:32).  However, there comes a time when his patience runs out and he abandons those who have rejected him to their fate.  The conquest of Judah by Babylon was such a time.