Ezekiel has been in a vision seeing the sins that are going on in Jerusalem and in the temple of the Lord. Ezekiel has seen the leaders worshiping idols and graven images and weeping for idols in the temple complex (Ezekiel 8-9). In chapter 10 we watched the glory of the Lord leave the Holy of Holies and move to the gates of the temple complex. God is leaving because the people do not want a relationship with him. God is leaving because sin is staying in their lives as they have turned their backs on God, desiring idols more than him. As we look at chapter 11 we will notice that Ezekiel is still in a vision seeing things that are going on in the temple of the Lord.
Now we noted in the last lesson that God proclaimed that his name would remain in Jerusalem and at this temple forever. Yet we are watching the glory of the Lord leave the temple. So there is a big question that looms over the text. How is God going to come back and thus fulfill his promise? He said he would remain at this place. How will God be able to accomplish his plan and fulfill his word when the people have turned their backs on him? In this lesson we are going to see how God can return and stay with his people even after their prolific sinning.
More Sin Problems (11:1-13)
Ezekiel continues to see what is going on at God’s temple. In Ezekiel 11:1-2 we see 25 men, some of whom are leaders of the people, who are plotting evil and giving wicked advice to the people of the city. The leaders are plotting on how they can commit sins and do evil. Further, they are giving wicked counsel to people who live there. In verse 3 we are told what they are telling the people. They say, “The time is not near to build houses. The city is the pot and we are the meat.” Now this is a confusing statement. What we do know is that God says they are giving wicked counsel and God is going to have Ezekiel prophesy against them. So what do they mean by these sayings?
When they say that the city is the pot and we are the meat, they are proclaiming to the people of Jerusalem that all is safe and well with Babylon and with God. They are saying that they are the good meat that is protected in the pot from danger. They think they are the spiritual good stuff and those who have been captured and exiled into Babylon were the sinful ones. They had to be purged. They had to be judged for their sins. But we who remain in Jerusalem are secure and safe. We who remain in Jerusalem are the good people that God is protecting. So the message regarding the houses is to carry on with life. Carry on with your normal life schedules because we are safe because we are good meat. Those who are captured may have to build houses in Babylon. But that is not us! We do not have to build houses. It is not the time for us to do that because we are the good meat.
God gives his answer to this false thinking in verses 4-12. Listen to verse 5. God says he knows the things that come into your mind. Let that settle in your hearts for a moment. God knows what you are thinking. God knows what you are thinking right now. God knows your motives. God knows your desires. God knows your heart. God is not deceived by your actions. He knows your heart. But notice that their actions are not any good either. In verse 6 God says that he knows their violent actions. So God reverses the wicked counsel of these leaders. This city will not be your pot and you will not be the meat inside (11:10). You are going to be taken out of the pot and judged for your actions (11:7). The sword is going to come for you for killing the innocent. Listen to verse 12.
“And you will know that I am the LORD, for you have not followed my decrees or kept my laws but have conformed to the standards of the nations around you.” (Ezekiel 11:12 NIV)
You are not getting away with anything. You are not the privileged remnant. You will fall for your sins. Did you see the reason why? The reason is because you conformed to the standards of the nations around you. You did not follow what God said. You followed what the world said. You agreed with their rules. You followed their moral standards. You conformed to their way of thinking. Judgment is deserved on God’s people when they conform to the moral standards of the world.
Then God proves his point in verse 13. While Ezekiel is prophesying these words, on of those leaders who is devising evil and giving wicked counsel suddenly dies. Notice what Ezekiel asks at the end of verse 13. Is this going to be the end of the nation? Are you going to wipe everyone out? Everyone is deserving God’s judgment. All of us are full of sins. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. There is no one who is righteous, no not one. What are you going to do, Lord?
God’s Restoration Hope (11:14-25)
Notice the set up for what God is going to proclaim. In verse 14 God says that he knows what they are thinking and saying. He knows their arrogance. The people of Jerusalem are saying the captured are the ones who were far from God and the land is for the holy ones who remain. You are so arrogant! You think you are so much better. You think you are so different. So God begins his message in verse 16. Though God removed people far away to Babylon, God has been a sanctuary for them. God tells the people that they are wrong. Actually, God is with the people who are in exile. God has become a refuge and sanctuary for them in exile. Please underline this point that God is making. Suffering does not mean you are far from God. Suffering does not mean God cannot be a sanctuary in your life. God will be a refuge to those who belong to him.
So what is God going to do to have a people where his name can dwell forever? First, God is going to gather them from where they have been scattered and give them the land again (11:17). God is going to doing another exodus, freeing his people from the exile that they are in, and bring them back to the promised land. Based on God bringing his people back to him, the people will remove all their idols, detestable things, and abominations (11:18). Freeing the people from exile and bringing them back altering being far away was to cause the people to want to purge the idols from their hearts. Second, God is going to give the people one heart (11:19). The idea is that the people will no longer be double-minded. The people will no longer have their hearts torn between God and the world. They will no longer be half for God and half for their sins. They are going to have an undivided heart. They will have a single minded commitment for the Lord. Their hearts will no longer run for sinful things. Third, God is going to give the people a new spirit (11:19). The people’s desires will now run toward God, not away from him. They will have a whole new way of life that comes from inside out. They are not going to obey externally but have hearts that are still in the darkness of sins. God’s people will be transformed inside out so that they have new spirit that leads to a new life. Fourth, God will change their stubborn hearts (11:19). Their hearts of stone will become hearts of flesh. This means that God’s people will listen to his word and listen to his ways. God’s people will be teachable. They will have sin and error exposed to them and they will have hearts that will listen and change. They will not be stubborn. They will not be dogmatic. They will not cover their ears. They will have hearts that want to listen and change. Fifth, the result of God doing these restoration acts will cause the people to follow God’s statues and commands (11:20). The people will want to obey God’s laws. God’s laws will not seem to be an obligation. They will be so radically transformed by the Lord that they will follow his commands. Notice the other result of God’s work at the end of verse 20. “Then they shall be my people, I will be their God.” God will restore the relationship with his people. God is going to act so that he can have his people. This is the way that he will have a people and have his name dwell in his temple forever. We will be temples to the living God because we have been radically transformed because of what God has done to bring us back to him.
But notice an important warning in verse 21. Those whose hearts still go after idols and detestable things will have their deeds brought on their own heads. To those who do not respond to God’s work, they will be the ones who must experience judgment. This is confirmed by the final image of the chapter in verses 22-25. The glory of the Lord lifts up from the middle of the city of Jerusalem and moves to the mountain east of the city. God has left these people. God is no longer with his people. God leaving the temple and city means that the city has been left for judgment because these people were not transformed by what God had done for them when he rescued them from slavery in Egypt.
Now before we move to the big application, I want us to see something very important. This prophecy was not merely looking at when the people would leave Babylonian exile and return to the land under the leadership of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. This return was a foreshadowing of the greater reality that would happen when Jesus arrived on the earth. In Matthew 23 Jesus pronounces woes and condemnations on the Jerusalem leaders. In fact, Jesus passionately cries out that he had come to gather his people to him, but they refused (23:37). Look at what Jesus says next. “Look, your house is left to you desolate!” (23:38). Jesus is talking about God’s house. Jesus is referring to the temple and tells them that God is not there. God has left the temple just like he did in the vision that Ezekiel saw. In Ezekiel’s vision we see the glory of the Lord leave the temple and move to the mountain to the east of the city, which is the Mount of Olives. Look at what Jesus does in Matthew 24. In the first three verses of Matthew 24 Jesus proclaims judgment on the temple, that not one stone will be left on another. But where does Jesus go? In verse 4 Jesus goes to the east of the city, to the Mount of Olives, just like in Ezekiel’s vision. The glory of the Lord has left the temple and has moved to the mountain to the east, symbolizing judgment because the people did not have transformed hearts but continued to follow their own detestable practices.
When God Returns and Stays
So we noted in our last lesson that when sin stays, God leaves. This is the visual for Ezekiel 8-11. This is also the visual that Jesus is giving when he walked the earth. He was leaving because sin was staying. So when does God return and stay? God stays when we allow him to change us to having one heart and a new spirit so that we seek him and obey him. What is supposed to change these idolatrous hearts? What is the catalyst? God said to Ezekiel that when he gathers his people who are far away and brings them back to him, that will cause his people to purge their idols and have a single devoted heart to God that is no longer stubborn for sin.
12 At that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In his flesh, 15 he made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that he might create in himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death. 17 He came and proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So, then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:12–22 CSB)
You were far away and exiled from God, separated because of sins. But in Christ God has brought you near and is proclaiming the good news of peace to you. You are now brought to the land because you are fellow citizens, not foreigners and strangers. You belong to God’s household and have access to the Father. But listen to Ephesians 2:21-22. God has returned to be with his people and the visual he uses is the visual of Ezekiel. You are being put together into a holy temple in the Lord so that God can live with you. God returns and stays with people who are transformed by this picture. God returns and stays with people who cast away their worldly desires and listen to the Lord because they have been transformed by the mercy and grace of God found in the blood of Jesus. God returns and stays when you allow him to remove that idolatrous heart of stone and replace it with an obedient heart of flesh. In this God keeps his promise. God will keep his name in his city and keep his name on his temple forever because we are the new Jerusalem and we are the temple to the living God. God leaves when sin stays. But God returns when stubborn sinful hearts leave and a transformed heart and spirit stays in us. Let God love and reconciliation of our relationship with him forever change our hearts to be lovers of him and faithful followers of him.