The Sword Is Drawn (21:1-32)
Ezekiel 21 begins by declaring that the Lord has drawn his sword against Jerusalem and against the temple. The sword has been removed from its sheath (21:3-5) and the sword is sharpened and polished for slaughter (21:8-12). The point God makes is that a person does unsheathe his sword and sharpen it without the intent to use it. The sword is going to fall on Jerusalem and it is going to be devastating in its effects (21:14-17).
God then shows how he is going to accomplish this through the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar (21:18-23). The king of Babylon is going to stand at a fork in the road, trying to decide if he should attack Jerusalem first or attack the city of Rabbah of the Ammonite people. In verse 21 we read that Nebuchadnezzar will use pagan divination rituals to seek an answer for what he should do. But God is going to make the answer in his right hand be Jerusalem (21:22) and will therefore attack it first.
This is an important picture about how God operates in the world. From a human perspective, we would look at a king who used pagan techniques to determine his fate as foolish and empty. We might receive news of such an event and think because these are worldly actions that God was not behind them. We might say that it was random or bad luck. But God proclaims that he will use that to cause the king to do his will. Just because something is not miraculous does not mean that God is not at work in it. God could have had the heart of the Babylonian king turn to Ammon. But God says that he will make the answer be Jerusalem. The sword is drawn. The sword is sharpened. The sword is polished. It is time for the sword to fall.
God gives a summary reason why the sword must come. The details and full explanation for the coming of the sword is revealed in chapter 22, which we will look at in a moment. But Ezekiel 21:24 gives us the summary reason. Here is what has happened: you keeping making God remember your sins. Your sins are public. Your sins are exposed. Your sins are proclaimed so that God has to see them. You do not even try to hide your sins. Not that hiding your sins will do any good since God knows all and sees all. But the point God is making is that you are uncovering your sins and your guilt for everyone to see. This sounds like our culture today. Now are sins are no longer hidden. Rather, they are proclaimed with pride. They are shown in commercials now. They are common in television shows and movies. We saw God say at the end of chapter 20 that he would not act according to their corrupt ways. But here is the problem: we keep making God remember our sins because we are so public and so blatant with them. So ruin is coming.
Why the Sword Is Drawn (22:1-31)
Now let us look at why the sword is drawn. Let us look at why judgment must come. The first four verses of Ezekiel 22 reveal that the people are filled with violence. Blood is being shed in the city. Verse 6 says that the people are bent are shedding blood. But in particular, verse 6 says that the leaders are using their power to kill people. Look at verse 7. Father and mother are treated with contempt. The foreigner is oppressed. The orphans and the widows are wronged and mistreated. The people have despised the holy things of God (22:8). They slander to shed blood. They commit lewdness in the city (22:9). They uncover their fathers’ nakedness and violent women during their menstrual period (22:10). They defile the neighbor’s wife, their daughter-in-law, and their sisters (22:11). They take bribes. They extort each other (22:12). The sins of the people are staggering and yet they sound much like our culture today.
But there is more. The spiritual leaders are also a large part of the problem. Look at verse 25. The prophets and leaders are conspiring to devour human lives, killing them for wealth. Look at verse 26. The priests are doing violence to God’s law and God’s teaching. They are not making any distinction between the holy and common, between the clean and the unclean. Verse 28 continues by telling us that the prophets are giving proclamations that are just making everything look good. Rather than preaching against the sins, they cover up the sins. Rather than proclaiming the need for holiness and upholding God’s holiness, they disregard what God has said about his holy ways and holy things. What I want us to see is that the sinning has filled the nation from top to bottom. The leaders are selfishly sinning. The prophets are lying and proclaiming false things, rather than what God said. The priests are not teaching what is holy, but erasing those distinctions God made. The people are sinning, filled with violence, idolatry, and sexual immorality of every kind.
What happened? How did this happen? These are supposed to be the people of God! These are to be a people who are God’s set apart people who did not act like the world! What happened? Look at the end of verse 12. “You have forgotten me, says the Lord God.” Look at verse 18. “The house of Israel has become dross to me.” Israel has been put into the fire and there is nothing pure in them. There is nothing valuable in them. There is nothing redeeming in them. We ruin ourselves and render ourselves useless when we forget God. We become filled with sins when we forget God. We will talk more about the problem of forgetting God in the next chapter. But in chapter 22 this is all setting up what God was looking for in the midst of this culture where the leaders, teachers, and people have all forgotten God and are full of sins. Look at verse 30.
What God Looked For (22:30)
And I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. (Ezekiel 22:30 NRSV)
This is an amazing visual that God provides. God pictures the people as broken down walls. The walls are broken down because the people are full of sins. The people have forgotten God. The spiritual leaders are not spiritually leading. They also are full of selfishness and sinning. So God says that he looked around to see who would rebuild the wall and stand in the gap on behalf of the land. Notice that God is looking for someone who will stand up and do the work so that God does not have to bring judgment. But notice the chilling words at the end of verse 30. “But I found no one.” This is reminiscent of God looking for righteous people so that he would not have to judge Sodom and Gomorrah. But God could not even find 10 righteous people to prevent its destruction. God was looking for someone to rebuild the walls. God was looking for someone to stand in the gap. Rather than repairing the walls, the leaders are hurting others for selfish gain. Rather than repairing the walls, the prophets are covering over their sins, claiming to proclaim God’s word when they are full of lies.
Now I want to ask an important question. Why do you think no one was willing to repair the wall? Why was no one willing to stand in the breach? Why do you think no one would stand up and tell the people the truth about their sinning? I think the answer is easy and obvious. The reason why no one repaired the walls was because it was not popular. Remember that Jeremiah is back in Judah and he is being persecuted, even by his own family, because he is trying to repair the wall. Jeremiah was trying to stand in the gap but things were so bad that God told Jeremiah not to even pray for these people. Eventually Jeremiah saw this truth because they would throw him in cisterns and desire to kill him because he proclaimed God’s word. Why will no one stand in the gap? Why will no one repair the wall? Because you were going to get in a lot of trouble if you did. No one will repair the wall because your life is going to be miserable if you do.
I want us to think about our time and culture. I want us to think about God looking down on our nation and wondering if there are people who will be willing to repair the walls and stand in the gap. First, who will cry out, “Thus says the Lord?” Who will say that sin is still a sin, even in the face of an avalanche of negative public opinion and hatred? Did you hear what happened to Candace Cameron Bure? She is a relatively famous actress from family tv shows of the past and she calls herself a Christian. She moved to a new channel, away from the Hallmark channel. She was asked if this new channel, Great American Family, was going to include LBGTQ movies. This was her response. “I think that Great American Family will keep traditional marriage at the core.” For this answer, she has publicly ran through the coals and has been canceled by the mainstream media. Friends, that was all that she said. She was just asked about how she is handling all this on a podcast on February 8. Bure said that she wished Christians would stop apologizing for being Christian.
The reason people do not rebuild the wall is because it is not popular. Doing so will bring problems to your life. So God looks down and wonders if anyone wants to stand up and rebuild the wall. Think about how many people in the scriptures who had to try to rebuild the wall and stand in the gap during dark days. People like Noah who was righteous in a world of wickedness. People like Abraham in an idolatrous society. People like Moses and Joshua who called for the people to serve the Lord. People like Elijah and Elisha when their lives were on the line. People like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego who were willing to be cast into a fiery furnace before bowing down to an image. People like Daniel who would not stop praying for 30 days and was thrown into a den of lions. People like John the Baptizer who died for telling Herod he had an unlawful marriage. People like Stephen who died for telling God’s message of judgment to the religious leaders. God is always looking for his people to rebuild the walls.
Will we look at our culture, look at our nation, look at our community, look at our neighborhood, and look at our relationships in such a way so that we are thinking about how we can repair the wall? When the world is full of sin, will God be able to look down and see us doing our part to repair the wall? I am afraid that too often our temptation is to run away from the work. We look around, see the darkness, and think that rather than repair the wall, we need to just live somewhere else where things are not so bad. We will find another wall to live by rather than repairing the wall where we are. Friends, the light needs to shine where you work. The light needs to shine where you live. The light needs to shine in your current relationships. Do not remove your light. Repair the wall. Live your life so that you can put another stone back into the wall.
Second, stand in the breach. Not only do we see the people of God living righteous lives in the darkness, but we also see them standing in the gap. What do I mean? Standing in the gap means interceding on behalf of the people. Abraham prayed on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses prayed on behalf of his idolatrous people. Elijah prayed for the nation. Daniel prays for Jerusalem even though the sins continued and the people had not turned back to the Lord (Daniel 9:15-19). Stephen prayed for the leaders who had him stoned to death. Jesus prayed for the people as he hung on the cross. Friends, not only do we need to repair the wall, but we need to stand in the gap. We must be the people offering prayers on behalf of the nation and community. Let’s cry out for God’s mercy toward us because we are worthy of judgment. Pray for God’s patience. Pray for the people’s repentance. Pray for a great revival and awakening of the nation spiritually. Rather than looking with distain at our culture, look to our culture with a desire for none to perish but all to come to repentance.
Finally, there is one more need God was picturing by observing our need. Go back to Ezekiel 21:27. God says that he will make the temple and kingdom be in ruins “until he comes whose right it is; to him I will give it” (NRSV). Who is God talking about? Some think that this is talking about the coming of Nebuchadnezzar in judgment. In fact, translations like the ESV and CSB read this way. But I do not think this is the right idea because it says that the kingdom will be in ruins until he comes. Nebuchadnezzar was the one who put the kingdom in ruins by God’s power. Nebuchadnezzar was not the restorer. So the picture shows that the kingdom will be in ruins and the crown will not be restored until the one comes to whom it rightfully belongs (NIV, NRSV, NASB, NET, NKJV, NLT).
This is why when John the Baptizer comes on the scene, his proclamation is very simple: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2 NRSV). The one who will rebuild the walls has come. The one who will stand in the gap and intercede for the people has come. The one who will restore the kingdom has come. Jesus has come and restored the crown and kingdom so that we can be workers in his kingdom, repairing the broken walls and standing in the gap on behalf of the world (cf. Isaiah 61:1-4).