Ezekiel Bible Study (A New Heart)

Ezekiel 23-24, Don’t Look Back


God’s effort is to restore the hearts of his people back to himself. We have been reading through the book of Ezekiel and learning about how God was going to accomplish this restoration. God has been revealing the people’s sins but also showing the reason underneath the sinning that was happening in the nation. These pictures teach us much about the heart of God, the character of God, and how God cleanses and rescues his people. We come in our study to Ezekiel 23-24. If you have looked at these two chapters before you will know that they contain some confusing pictures and seemingly incomprehensible commands. But these pictures are really important to show us the essence of our sin problem and how we can overcome by God’s power.

Sin Addiction (23:1-49)

Ezekiel 23 tells a story about two adulterous sisters named Oholah and Oholibah. We are told in verse 4 that Oholah represents Samaria, which was the capital city of the northern nation, Israel. We are also told in verse 4 that Oholibah represents Judah, which was the capital city of the southern nation, Judah. Verses 5-10 then describe how Samaria refused to trust in the Lord. She is described as lusting after the Assyrians. Since they loved the Assyrians, loved their idols, and loved their protection God delivered them into the hands of the Assyrians (23:9). We know in history as well as through the scriptures that the Assyrians invaded and conquered Israel in 722 BC (cf. 2 Kings 17).

The younger sister, Oholibah which represents Jerusalem, is the focus in verses 11-35. Jerusalem saw all of this happen. But rather than learning from her older sister, she did worse than her older sister and became even more corrupt (23:11). She also lusted after the Assyrians rather than trusting in the Lord. Then, once the Assyrians were conquered by the Babylonians, she then lusted for the Babylonians (23:17). The language that God uses in verses 19-21 are words used for sexual excitement. You were so excited to be like the Babylonians. You wanted to have alliances with them. You wanted to have gods like them. You wanted to put your hope and trust in their power. They looked for the help to be from Babylon. They looked for their support from Babylon. They looked for their importance from Babylon. God is so disgusted by their adultery against him that he made the same decree as he did for the older sister. If you want Babylon, then you can have Babylon. Babylon will turn on you and make war against you (23:22-27). The rest of chapter 23 depicts both sisters as being so adulterous against the Lord that there was nothing left to do but pass judgment on their unfaithfulness and lewdness (23:35-49).

This chapter sets forward two important problems that led to the sinning of the people. There is a heart problem that needed to be addressed. Look at Ezekiel 23:21.

Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom and pressed your young breasts. (Ezekiel 23:21 ESV)

The Lord notes a problem that reaches all the way back to the days of Egypt. You will remember that Ezekiel showed us that people of Israel when they were in Egypt refused to get rid of their idols (cf. Ezekiel 20:6-8). This problem revealed itself when Moses led the people out of Egypt. The people kept wanting to go back to Egypt. Their hearts were firmly entrenched in Egypt even though their bodies had been set free from Egyptian slavery. They were ready to go back before they left the land (cf. Exodus 14:11-12). Once the people crossed the Red Sea, they were constantly complaining, desiring to go back to Egypt (cf. Exodus 16:3; 17:3-4) In Numbers 11:1-6 the people fondly remember their days in Egypt and all variety of foods they could eat, forgetting the oppression they were experiencing under the Egyptians. This all comes to a head in Numbers 14 where the people are prepared to stone Moses and Aaron to death, choose a new leader, and go back to Egypt. The heart of the people never overcame the desire to go back to Egypt. Now hundreds of years later, the Lord observes to Ezekiel that the people have the same heart and same desires as they did when they were in Egypt (Ezekiel 23:19-21). Rather than looking forward to what God had in store for the people, the people were always looking back at what they left behind. Their hearts never left Egypt. So then their hearts went to the Assyrians. They their hearts went after the Babylonians. This sin is expressed another way in verse 35.

Therefore, this is what the Lord GOD says: “Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you must bear the consequences of your indecency and promiscuity.” (Ezekiel 23:35 CSB)

Their sin was not a momentary forgetfulness of God. Their sin was willfully deciding to not put the Lord in front of their eyes. They would rather put the world before their eyes. They put Egypt before their eyes. They put other nations before their eyes. They put idols before their eyes. They put their desires and pleasures before their eyes. They refused to put the Lord in front of them. Instead, they cast the Lord behind their back and forgot him. They forgot what he did for them. They did not care about what the Lord did for them. All of God’s works and wonders were meaningless to them because their hearts were still looking back, longing for the world. We forget God because our hearts are still longing for the sins we left behind. We forget God because we still want to live according to the sins of our old life rather than be renewed in the spirit for a new transformed life. We refuse to move forward because we are stuck looking back at the old life. God is going to visualize this problem with a parable in Ezekiel 24.

The Defiled Pot (24:1-14)

Ezekiel is told to tell a parable about a pot. Now you might remember that the people thought that they were the choice meat in a pot, protected by God (cf. Ezekiel 11). So God is going to borrow from their thinking in chapter 24. A pot is put on the fire and choice meat is put into the pot. But then the cry in verse 6 is that there is corrosion in the pot. We should not read this to say the pot itself is corroded but that the choice meat that was put into the pot has become corroded (see Block, New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Hilber, A Focused Commentary for Preaching and Teaching). It is not that the pot is full of rust which to us indicates the age of the pot. Rather, the pot is encrusted with filth due to the filth of the meat. The meat is spoiled and has no value (24:6). But something more has happened. The meat has caused defilement to the pot. The corrosion of the meat has transferred to the pot and the pot needs to be deep cleaned (24:9-11). The people are not the cream, like they think. They are the scum in the pot. So God says he will stoke the fire hot to burn the pot to such a high heat to consume the corrosion. But the problem is that the corrosion will not come out of the pot (24:12). Every effort has been made to clean and burn the corrosion out of the pot. But nothing will work.

I am sure you have experienced this picture as I have. Food gets cooked into a pan or pot and it burns into the pot to such a degree that no amount of soaking, soap, or scrubbing can get the pot clean. The pot is forever stained. Sometimes the filth is so bad that the pot it ruined. This is what God is picturing has happened to Jerusalem and to his people. No cleaning effort has worked. This might refer to the restoration efforts of Hezekiah and Josiah. But none of those cleansing efforts stuck. The people failed to change. So the pot is ruined. God says that he will not cleanse them any longer until his wrath has come on them (24:13). The pot cannot be cleansed because the people continue to look back. They continue to look back and go back to their sins and idols. I want us to think about how God is teaching us about the problem of defilement.

And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among our members. It stains the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:6 CSB)

And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 1:22–23 ESV)

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; (Hebrews 12:15 ESV)

God desires a holy people and a holy temple. The problem is that the people refused to be cleansed. God is trying to scrub the sins off of us. But we hold on tightly to our sins, refusing to remove them from our lives. This picture is given to us through the apostle Paul to the Corinthians. We have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:11). We are a temple of the Holy Spirit. We are not our own but have been bought with a price. Therefore we must glorify God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). To state this another way, the problem is not the defilement. The problem is that God is scrubbing the defilement off of us but we keep putting more defilement back into the pot. The apostle Peter says it like this:

20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:20–22 ESV)

What is happening? God’s people are escaping the defilements of the world only to look back and return to them.

Do Not Cry Over Your Loss (24:15-27)

The final picture of this judgment occurs at the end of Ezekiel 24. It is a hard picture to see because Ezekiel’s wife is going to die suddenly and Ezekiel is not allowed to publicly mourn or sigh over his loss. He is not allowed to participate in any of the mourning or funeral procedures as a sign to the people. Now we should note that it was tough to be a prophet of God. God often made his prophets go through extreme and extraordinary events to teach his people. This is one of those times. The delight of Ezekiel’s eyes is taken away because the delight of the people’s eyes, which is the temple in Jerusalem, is going to be destroyed. But notice the message is the same. The people are not to wail or mourn for the loss of the temple (24:22-23). Why? The reason is not directly expressed. But based on the context of what God has been teaching in these two chapters I believe we can draw a reasonable conclusion.

Do not mourn over losing the temple when the reason you lost it is because you did not want it. God has been telling the people how they have turned their back on him and forgotten him. The people have longed for anyone else but God. They have devoted themselves to seeking the nations and following their desires through their idols. If you had wanted the relationship with God that the temple symbolized, then you would not have been going after your idols and trusting in the nations. You would have trusted in the Lord and not looked back to the sins of the world.

In the same way, we cannot be sorrowful over being separated from God for eternity when we are showing by our constant looking back to the world that we do not want a relationship with God. If we do not want to spend time with God now, then why would we expect God to allow us to be with him for eternity? We are telling God what we want. When we look back to our sins and defilements longingly, we are telling God that we do not want him. When God cleanses us only for us to return to our defilements, we are telling God that we do not want him. We are casting God behind our backs, forgetting all that we has done for us. God has scrubbed off your filth. Do not run back to the filth. If we continue to allow the filth to remain stuck to our lives, God has nothing left to do with us but to bring judgment on us. God will give us over to our heart’s desires (cf. Romans 1:24-32).

Friends, we cannot forget the grace of God by expending our time and energy seeking our own desires. God has called us out of those sinful desires, cleansed us by the blood of his Son, and set us before him clean as his children. The problem with our sins is that they become deeply ingrained and grooved into our lives that no amount of scrubbing can remove them. We are enslaved again. We are addicted again. We are captured by our sins and become stuck in them. Do not return back to the vomit of the world. Let God’s cleansing stick in your life. Stop looking back to what you did and look forward to God’s new work and purpose for your life.

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