Consequences for Evil Overflow

Ezekiel 20-21

ezek 20-17

Friday, March 24

In Ezekiel 20 God reviews Israel’s history.  Over and over God provided for His people, over and over He warned them to get rid of their idols, keep His commands and observe His Sabbaths.  Over and over Israel failed to obey God and experienced the consequences.  Over and over God was compassionate and loving and forgave His people and restored them to blessings.

Israel has repeated this history again.  They failed to get rid of idols, they failed to keep his commands and observe his Sabbaths, and now they were about to experience the consequences of their sins.  God would once again treat them with mercy, not as their sins deserved and restore them to their land.

Ezekiel juxtaposes God’s promise to be merciful and restore His people with the threat that His judgment is coming and that both the evil and the good will be cut off from the land and the city and the temple.  Yes, everyone will suffer the consequences of the evil behavior of some.

There is tension throughout Ezekiel.  The wicked will suffer for their sins and the righteous will not suffer, except that at first they will suffer for the sins of others.  Sometimes when God brings his judgment designed to bring people to repentance there is collateral damage.  Good people suffer when bad people sin.  It’s how it was then, it’s still how it is today.  God’s salvation is coming, earth will one day be restored and made whole and good, but in the meantime, good people will suffer alongside the wicked.  Christians are martyred in places like Pakistan and Syria.  Christians sometimes suffer persecution in the United States.  Trials may come to God’s people during times of judgment, but those who trust God and repent of their sins will be saved.

-Jeff Fletcher

(photo credit: http://w3ace.com/stardust/scripture/verse/Ezekiel_20:17)

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God of Mercy. God of Justice.

Ezekiel 17-19

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Thursday, March 23

God used the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar to enact His judgment against Israel.  He carried off King Jehoiachin and 10,000 nobles to Babylon and installed Zedekiah to act as his vice regent or king in Jerusalem.  The prophet Jeremiah warned Israel that this was God’s judgment and that the exiles would not return from Babylon until the people repented.  But the people didn’t listen and false prophets gave Israel false hope that Babylon might soon fall.  So Zedekiah broke his treaty with Nebuchadnezzar and made an alliance with Egypt.   This led to a revolt against Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar crushed the revolt.   Eventually, Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar and King Zedekiah and family were carried back to Babylon where they faced Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath.  Zedekiah had his eyes put out and his sons were executed.  Israel did not repent quickly nor easily, and because of her stubborn disobedience they continued to suffer.

In Ezekiel 17 God chose to use the allegory of an eagle plucking up the top of a cedar and then replanting it to depict His judgment against his people and to remind them of his power to build and His power to destroy.

In Ezekiel 18 God gives a very clear teaching to His people on the nature of sin, righteousness, judgement, repentance and forgiveness.  Each person is responsible for their own actions.  Parents are not held responsible by God for the sins of their children, and children are not held responsible by God for the sins of their parents.  Each person is responsible for their own behavior.  In the same way, you don’t get credit for your parents good behavior if you do bad.  Each person is responsible for their own sin and will be judged accordingly.

There is good news imbedded in Ezekiel 18.  God doesn’t take any pleasure in seeing wicked people die.  God wants to see people who do evil turn away from their evil.  God wants everyone to repent.  If an evil person repents, God will not punish them.  If a righteous person turns evil, they will be punished for their evil behavior.  God is a God of both mercy and justice.  He will punish unrepentant evildoers and he will forgive and restore those who repent of their evil.  This chapter is best summarized in the final three verses:  30 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

 

In Ezekiel 19, there is a lament for the end of the Messianic dynasty that came from David.  Since the time of David, his descendants, beginning with Solomon reigned as Kings over Israel.  But that has been brought to an end.  There were no more descendants of David serving as the Lord’s anointed over Israel.  Of course, we have the benefit of hindsight.  We live on this side of the New Testament.  After several hundred years of NOT having a descendent of David as King of Israel, one was finally born in Bethlehem and his name is Jesus.  One day, Jesus will sit upon the throne and rule over not only Israel, but all the earth.  In the meantime, we have a choice, we can turn away from our sins and turn to God, or we can face the judgment.  Jesus Christ is God’s provision for our salvation.  We go to him to get a new heart and a new spirit.

-Jeff Fletcher

Spiritual Adultery

Ezekiel 14-16

ezekiel 16 14

Wednesday, March 22

Chapter 14 gives us a picture of the heart of God.  Elsewhere in the Bible it says that God is a jealous God.  God loves His people Israel as a husband loves his bride.  Israel turned away from God’s love, their hearts were no longer given to God.  God wants more than anything else to recapture the hearts of His people who deserted him to pursue idols.  God wants them to repent and turn back to Him.

God wants to have His people love Him exclusively.  He will not let them worship idols, yet still come to him for prophecy.  This would be similar to a woman who both goes to her lover but then comes to her husband as well.  God will have none of this, no two timing wife.  Israel must have a change of heart and that will only happen through judgment.  The prophets were not permitted to prophesy for people who were also consulting idols.  If the prophets did prophesy to those seeking idols, they too would be punished.

God tells Ezekiel that His judgment is certain and that no human being, no matter how righteous or faithful can stop that judgment.  He warns that even if such great men of faith as Noah, Daniel or Job sought to keep Israel from judgment that their righteousness would not be able to save Israel.

In Chapter 15 God promises to make Jerusalem as desolate and useless as a dried up vine that has been thrown into a fire.  Just as the vine will be totally consumed by the fire, so too, will Jerusalem be consumed by the fire of God’s judgment.

Chapter 16 is one of the most graphic passages in all of the Bible.  If the Song of Solomon was rated PG-13, Ezekiel 16 would probably be rated R or NC-17.  It is extremely disturbing to read.  God compares Israel to an unwanted, discarded child whom God rescued from its disgrace.  God later came along when Israel was old enough to be married, but she was naked and dirty.  God cleaned her up, covered over her nakedness, dressed her up like a princess and made her his bride.  Israel was blessed beyond imagination by God her husband.  But then, tragically, Israel turned to prostitution.  Here Idolatry is likened to a form of spiritual adultery.  Israel had brought great shame upon her husband.  In fact, she was worse than a prostitute in that she paid others her gold and silver to sleep with her.  It’s such a disturbing picture.  And it’s designed to give us a visceral reaction.  It’s a gut punch.

The fact that God must punish Israel for her spiritual adultery is not surprising.  Israel is only getting what they deserve.  What is surprising is that God is going to restore Israel.  Not because Israel deserves it now any more than it deserved it when God first cleaned her up and made her His bride.  God is doing it because God is faithful to His Covenant promises.  God made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants, Israel.  God does not forget His covenant or break his promises.  God is filled with steadfast love for His people.

After punishing Israel, God will then make atonement for them.  He will cover over their sin and guilt and forgive them and take them back.  Then they will remember their vows and be ashamed of their guilt and will become a faithful wife and turn away from idols.

As Christians, we have been grafted into God’s family and we are now included as God’s bride.  Through Jesus Christ God has found us in our sin, cleaned us up and made us His own.  Are we sometimes guilty of idolatry?  Do we ever act unfaithfully toward God and give our hearts to someone or something else instead of God?  Remember, Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to Love God with all your heart.  God wants All your heart.  God is jealous when we give our hearts to another.  May Israel’s spiritual adultery remind us that we must give our hearts fully only to God and no one else.  Otherwise, God may have to win our hearts back the way he did Israel, and we can see how unpleasant that process was for them.  Let’s always keep our hearts faithful to God alone.

-Jeff Fletcher

 

 

Has God Left the Building?

Ezekiel 10-13

Ezekiel 10 4

Tuesday, March 21

 

“Elvis has left the building.”   That’s what they used to say to the throngs of screaming fans after one of Elvis Presley’s concerts back in the day.  They would rush Elvis out the back door into his waiting car or bus and whisk him off to safety.  Hopefully, the fans would calm down after they knew he was no longer there… there would be no more encores for this performance.

In Ezekiel ten- YHWH has left the building.  The building in question was the Temple of Jerusalem.  Since the time of Moses and Aaron in the wilderness when Israel worshipped in the Tabernacle, to the time of Solomon and beyond, when they worshipped YHWH in the Temple of Jerusalem, YHWH was present with His people.  They knew that there, in the holy of holies, the shekhinah glory of God was present with his people.  Yes, there was a veil which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple, and only the high priest was permitted to enter into the presence of YHWH once a year to atone for the sins of the people, yet they could always look up to the tabernacle or later Temple atop Mt. Zion and know that God was with them.  But no longer.  Ezekiel saw a vision of God’s glory leaving the Temple.  Because of their extreme disobedience and their worship of idols, God could no longer remain among his people.  It was a time for judgment, and God had to leave.  How sad that must have been for Ezekiel, to watch God leaving.

In Ezekiel eleven, judgment is proclaimed against Israel’s leaders.  “You haven’t obeyed my laws” YHWH complains.  “You’ve conformed to the standards of the nations around you.”

God is gracious, even in the midst of judgment, he promises to bring some of them back from exile and give them back the land which he had given to their forefathers.  God promises to bring about change in their hearts.  vs. 19 “I will remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”  God still loves His people and offers them hope in the midst of judgment.  Ezekiel shared this vision with the exiles so that they would understand the consequences of their sins.

In Ezekiel twelve,  God warns that even their ruler would be forced into exile.  They kept hoping that this would happen in the distant future, but God assures them that judgment is coming soon.

In chapter thirteen, God turns his judgment from the leaders to the false prophets.  These people told lies in the name of YHWH.  They said “thus saith the Lord” when God didn’t say it.  God condemns them for leading their people astray.  They “whitewashed” over the truth about God’s coming judgment against sin and substituted their lies about a false peace.  “you encouraged the wicked not to repent”.  He blames the false prophets for the sins of the people, therefore, they will come under God’s harsh judgment.

Israel had a wonderful building in which to worship, they had clear rules to follow, they had leaders to teach them, they had priests to offer sacrifices, they had prophets to bring them words from God- and yet that wasn’t enough.  They were not content to live as God’s holy and separate people and act as a witness to the rest of the nations around them.  Instead, they worshipped the false gods of their neighbors, they ignored God’s laws, their prophets failed to warn them for their sins and assured them of false peace when God was preparing to bring his judgment.  It seems not much has changed.  One would be tempted to see the same kinds of things going on today.  How many buildings today allow idolatry and false gods to be worshipped?  How many people falsely claim to be speaking God’s word when they are instead peddling the words of men?  Some days we might even wonder “has God left the building” when we follow the sinful standards of the world rather than remaining faithful to God’s holy word?  We’d like to think judgment is far away just as they thought then… but perhaps it’s much closer than you might think.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

 

Graphic Material

Ezekiel 5-9

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Monday, March 20

This portion of Ezekiel is, admittedly, difficult to read.  It’s a pretty graphic account of God impending judgment against the city of Jerusalem and his people, Israel.  God tells Ezekiel to shave his head and beard.  This would have been an act of mourning for most people, but it was double disturbing for Ezekiel, since he was a priest and normally forbidden from shaving his head or beard.  Ezekiel was told to burn, take a sword to, and scatter his cut hair.  This was to symbolize what was to happen to Israel.  A few hairs were kept back, symbolic of the remnant who would not be destroyed.

God accuses his people, Israel, the chosen nation, of being worse than the other nations.  They broke the law more than the nations that did not have the law.  God was bringing his judgment against His own people.  The description of the siege almost defies comprehension, including cannibalism of both parents and children.  This was to serve as a warning to the other nations: if this is how God treats his own people for their idolatry, beware of what he will do to you.

In Ezekiel six God makes it clear that their judgement is upon them because of their idolatry. However, there is a remnant that will be spared and live in captivity and will come to repentance.

In Ezekiel seven, a special emphasis is made regarding their idolatrous attachment to gold and silver.  This wealth that they turned to and fashioned into idols will be unable to save them from the coming judgment.  All the money in the world can’t save you from judgment.

In Chapter eight Ezekiel has a vision of the temple in Jerusalem.  This includes the “Idol of jealousy” which we discover is the pagan god Tammuz.  Tammuz was the Sumerian god of food and vegetation.  At the summer solstice there was a period of mourning as the people saw the shortening of days and the approaching drought.  Sacrifices were made to Tammuz at the door of the Jerusalem Temple.  This was an absolute abomination to Israel’s God, YHWH as He made it clear that He alone was to be worshipped as God (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

In Chapter Nine an angel is sent out to put a mark on all of the people of the city who did not commit idolatry and worship Tammuz.  They would be spared.  But then all those who did not receive a mark would be destroyed.  This is reminiscent of the story of Exodus, when the doorposts of the Israelites were to be marked with the blood of the sacrificial lamb, and those with the mark were spared their firstborn sons dying when the Angel of Death passed over their houses.  It also points to the future (See Revelation 13) when the beast will cause people to have a mark on their forehead or they would not be able to buy or sell.  This is contrasted with those in Revelation 14 who have the name of God and of the lamb on their foreheads.

God is a God of love and mercy.  God has provided a means for us to be rescued from the consequences of sin.  There is a way for each of us to be spared the final judgment of God that is coming.  Jesus Christ, the lamb of God is the only means by which we can escape judgment.  Along with God’s mercy is His holiness.  God will not allow sin and rebellion to continue on earth forever.  A day of judgment is coming for all the earth just as it did for the nation of Israel.  God tolerated their sin for only so long, and then came the time for judgment.  Mercifully, God spared those who repented by placing His mark upon them.  God has been tolerating sinful rebellion on earth, but a day is coming when He will destroy sin and sinners who have not repented and turned away from their sins and turned to him through Jesus Christ.  Ezekiel’s harsh imagery should remind us that we must not forget that God’s wrath is coming from which we all need to escape, and we need to warn others.  This won’t make us popular, but doing God’s will is seldom popular among the rebellious.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

(Photo Credit: http://w3ace.com/stardust/)

God’s Watchman to A Generation

Ezekiel 1-4

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Sunday, March 19

Ezekiel was a priest in Israel during a tumultuous time in their history.  The Northern kingdom had been decimated by the Assyrian empire and its people scattered and assimilated resulting in a complete loss in their identity as a distinctive people of God.  The Southern Kingdom of Judah was now being systematically taken apart by the Babylonians.  Ezekiel was among the early members of Judah’s elite leaders who were taken captive to Babylon.  Ezekiel was now a priest living in a foreign land where he had no access to the temple of Jerusalem and the religious symbols that helped shape his life and give him meaning and purpose.

In today’s readings God comes to Ezekiel in a series of visions.  These visions  are recorded as a type of scripture known as apocalyptic- where something is revealed or unveiled.  In addition to portions of  Ezekiel there are apocalyptic passages in the books of Daniel, Isaiah and Joel.  God reveals what is going to happen as He brings an end to the present age preparing the way for the age to come or coming Kingdom of God.  You will notice some similarities between Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 1 and 4.

Ezekiel’s description sounds like something in a science fiction movie- 1:27-28 says: “ I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.  Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.  This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”

Imagine if, for a brief instant, God permitted you to have a vision of himself in all of His glory.  You would probably struggle to find the right words to communicate what you saw.  So it is with Ezekiel.  He is overcome by the glory of God and he falls on his face.

The whole of Ezekiel is surrounded by the image of a holy God.  But God’s people, Israel, have been disobedient to God.  Ezekiel is appointed by God to serve as his “watchman” (3:17) for the people Israel in captivity.  His mission is to warn God’s people of their sins and to call them to repentance.  Ezekiel 2:7-8: “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious.   But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you.”

The job of a watchman is to stay awake, keep one’s eyes open, and warn if anything dangerous or illegal is taking place.  It might also include a warning to those who are tempted to trespass.  Ezekiel’s job was to warn God’s people about the consequences of their sins and the coming judgment of God.  God tells Ezekiel essentially: “you need to warn the people about my coming judgment.  If they don’t listen to your warning, then they will suffer the consequences, but if you fail to warn them, then I’ll hold you responsible for their sins.”  God was letting Ezekiel know that he had a mission, to share God’s word with people.  If the people didn’t listen or heed the warning, it was on them, but if he refused to give the warning it was on him.

As followers of Jesus Christ today, we are called to be priests in this world.  Like Ezekiel,  we are living in an age where much of Christianity has been decimated by a massive turning away from God and people are scattered and assimilated into the world resulting in a complete loss in their identity as a distinctive people of God.  And like Ezekiel, we are to keep watch and issue warnings to the people of the world.  As with Ezekiel, sometimes we will warn people and they won’t listen.  If that’s the case, it’s on them.  But if we fail to do our job and give the warning, then it’s on us.  People won’t always like what we have to say- prophets and priests are sometimes labelled as intolerant and not very popular, but that should not prevent us from doing the work God has given us to be His watchmen to our generation.  (Note: our job is not to be the judge, it’s not our place to condemn the world, but to tell them what God tells us to tell them, which is the Gospel.)

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

My name is Pastor Jeff Fletcher.  I’m one of the old guys.  I first attended what is now FUEL (then it was called National Camp) back in 1977 and I’ve been a camper or on the staff for most of the past 40 years.  I’m a graduate of Oregon Bible College, (Now ABC) and I’m completing a Master’s Degree from Eastern Mennonite Seminary.  I’ve pastored Churches in Illinois, England, Louisiana, South Carolina and now Virginia.  My wife Karen and I have eleven children and 4 grandchildren and my daughter, Karee Anne is getting married this Saturday, March 25.  In addition to pastoring a Church I also work as a hospital chaplain.  I am passionate about bringing the message of God’s loving presence to people who are hurting and in need of hope and purpose in life.

Even in the Midst of the Heartbreak

Lamentations 4-5

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Saturday, March 18

Jeremiah is recounting a lot of the rough times that Judah had faced. At the end of this desperate passage (in chapter 5), Jeremiah asks God to restore the people of Judah. I love, though, that even in the midst of the heartbreak, he doesn’t forget to praise and adore God:
 
19 But Lord, you remain the same forever!
    Your throne continues from generation to generation.

Then Jeremiah is raw and honest with God again about his frustration:
20 Why do you continue to forget us?

    Why have you abandoned us for so long?
But he is still hopeful and believing in God and his promises:

21 Restore us, O Lord, and bring us back to you again!    Give us back the joys we once had!
Jeremiah included praise and petition in an honest prayer to God. I know that sometimes I feel silly being “honest” with God, letting Him know what I am really thinking… but he is GOD, and He already knows all my thoughts and feelings! We can with confidence humbly pray to our Lord and offer our requests and concerns, making sure to give thanks and praise to Him. There are a lot of good books to read on prayer. (My most recent favorite is “Fervent” by Priscilla Shirer.) I encourage you to read up… and of course, pray up! That is my personal challenge for myself and for you! Will you join me?! Here are a few verses on which to meditate as you focus on seeking God today:
Hebrews 4:16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Philippians 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
-Rachel Cain
(Photo Credit: http://www.verseoftheday.com/en/09212015/)