If you have been reading along in Ezekiel during our series you may have noticed something about chapters 5 through 7. God seems, well . . . how shall we put this, . . . quite judgemental. Some would say the judgement of God is quite brutal. Some would say unfair even. Many look at God’s judgement to come at Christ’s return in much the same way. Should we ignore Bible passages about the judgement of God? Should the judgement of God give us reason to disbelieve? Quite the opposite, by looking more deeply into the judgement of God we gain some clarity about God and humanity. Let us consider what we can learn from Ezekiel 5-7.
The judgement of God is an expression of the faithfulness of God. The language of Ezekiel chapters 5-7 reflects the language found in the covenant promises of Deuteronomy chapter 28 and Leviticus chapter 26. There we find promises of things going well for the people if they keep the covenant and of things going rather poorly if not. God’s people ought not to have been surprised that they stood under judgement, for God is faithful to His promises. Looking ahead to the judgement to come, God will be faithful to His promises, all of them, even the ones we may not like.
The judgement of God demonstrates the patience of God. Some Bible scholars see in the instruction to Ezekiel to lie down for 430 days in chapter 4 an allusion to the 400 or so years that God had put up with His people since Solomon built the temple. Reading about that era in the Bible you do get the impression that they were less than impressive in their loyalty and commitment to God. In bringing judgement in Ezekiel’s day, and not before, we must be impressed at the patience of God. He is still patient:
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
The judgement of God reflects the reality in the hearts of people, and not some arbitrary punishment in the mind of God. The judgement we read about in Ezekiel chapters 5 through 7 reflects the situation on the ground. It is entirely fitting:
According to their way I will deal with them; according to their own judgments I will judge them. Ezekiel 7:27
Let us take as an example one of the most striking and brutal verses about what the people in Ezekiel’s day will experience in the judgement:
Surely, parents shall eat their children in your midst, and children shall eat their parents; I will execute judgments on you, and any of you who survive I will scatter to every wind. Ezekiel 5:10
The thought of cannibalism is horrid enough, but one’s children, or parents?! To understand this, please realize that we do not have a command of God, such as “as punishment parents must eat their children and children must eat their parents.” Rather, this is what the Lord knows will happen when He judges the people through the siege of the Babylonians. When the food becomes scarce, as happens for an extended time in siege warfare, the strong will eat the weak to survive. The strong, adult parents, will prey on the weak, their young children. The strong, adult children, will prey on the weak, their senior parents. In doing this the people have sunk very low and have wandered very far from God and from His law which was given to protect the weak and vulnerable from the strong, which was given to nurture love within families and society, which was given to provide proper guidance on morality including evil practices like cannibalism. In experiencing judgement, the people harm themselves by their own will having wandered far from the will of God. This is not God’s idea, this is what is in the hearts of the people.
When we think of the judgement to come, people will sometimes say things like “the punishment of hell does not fit the crime of disbelief.” However, here again we see that the judgement reflects what is in the hearts of people and not some arbitrary punishment in the mind of God. While the language of hell throughout the Scriptures paints a vivid picture of an experience no one would ever want, there is something approaching a clear definition of it in 2 Thessalonians 1:9:
9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 2 Thessalonians 1:9
The experience of hell is an experience of separation from God. When someone experiences separation from God at the coming judgement, they will be experiencing something they have not yet experienced, but have been ‘living towards’. When people have been rejecting God in their lives, in their minds, in their hearts, then will come a day the Lord will allow them to actually experience what they have wanted all along. The coming judgement will reflect what is in the hearts of people, and not some arbitrary punishment in the mind of God.
The judgement of God shines a light on the grace of God in Christ. The brutality we find in the language of judgement in a passage like Ezekiel 5-7 really impresses upon us how contrary to God’s nature sin really is. Sinful people and a Holy God necessarily mix like oil and water. Actually worse, because at least oil will sit on water. When we speak of Jesus dying on the cross for us, we often put it in a way that could be summed up like “Jesus took a bullet for us.” This is not deep enough. He did not just die. He bore our sin. He experienced the full weight of the judgement of God upon sin.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21
Let us be reminded of the coming judgement:
Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. 13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15 (emphasis mine)
That should be us! But in receiving Christ, we experience grace, the judgement having been experienced by Jesus at the cross, our names having been written into the “book of life”. The judgement of God shines a light on just how astonishing the grace of God in Christ really is.
The judgement of God sets the record straight. Chapters 5 through 7 conclude with words we find throughout the passage, indeed throughout the whole prophecy of Ezekiel:
And they shall know that I am the Lord. Ezekiel 7:27
If there was any doubt before, through judgement the record has been set straight. People may hear of the judgement of God, whether in Ezekiel, or in passages that speak of the judgement to come and say “God’s judgement is unfair,” or “God’s judgement is brutal”. On the coming day of judgement the record will be set straight and we will all be able to say “Your judgement, Lord, is excellent.”