Ezekiel 20-23
(History of Corrupt Leadership 101)
August 30th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward the south; preach against the south and prophesy against the forest of the southland. Say to the southern forest: ‘Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to set fire to you, and it will consume all your trees, both green and dry. The blazing flame will not be quenched, and every face from south to north will be scorched by it. Everyone will see that I the Lord have kindled it; it will not be quenched.’”

- Ezekiel 20:45-48 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

This group of chapters reviews the history of Israel’s corrupt leadership from their beginning days in Egypt up until the time of Ezekiel. In previous chapters Ezekiel had told the exiles not to be optimistic about the immediate future. Months later a group of representatives from the exiles came back to him to ask if it’s time to be optimistic yet, perhaps hoping that Judah’s alliance with Egypt will turn the tide.

The verses do not reveal these questions, but instead the LORD makes clear that he knows why they have come to talk to Ezekiel. He tells Ezekiel to review with them the history of their disobedience.

The people had clung to their idols in Egypt prior to the Exodus, but the LORD took pity and led them out safely to the desert. He gave them a set of laws so they could create a moral society and serve as an example to others. They rejected these laws, so he denied the first generation’s access to the Promised Land. The children were allowed to enter that land, but they also rebelled.

The people of the current generation wanted to be like other nations, worshipping wooden idols and making up their own laws, but the LORD would not allow it. Instead he declared that he would punish them.

The LORD then told Ezekiel to prophesize regarding a great fire that would consume the southern forest (Judah), but no one understood what Ezekiel was talking about (they thought he was just talking in parables).

Chapter 21 describes the ways in which Babylon would serve as God’s sword of judgment. The LORD said that the king of Babylon will come to a fork in the road and will have to choose between attacking the Ammonites and attacking Jerusalem. All his divination tools will point towards attacking Jerusalem. Subseqeuntly, he and his skilled warriors will lay siege and conquer the Holy City. Therefore, the LORD tells the king of Jerusalem to remove his crown, because “’ ‘the lowly will be exalted and the exalted brought low’ (21:25).”

In chapter 22, the LORD reviews the ways that the current leaders defiled God through oppression, disrespect, and idol worship. The LORD looked for one who could defend and lead Jerusalem, but found no one:

Chapter 23 describes Samaria and Judah as two adulterous sisters. The text includes very graphic descriptions of how they offered themselves to Egypt and Assyria, leading to the embarrassment and punishment of Samaria (Oholah) at the hands of the Assyrians.

The other sister, Oholibah (Judah), could have learned from her sibling’s mistakes, but did not. She carried on with the Babylonians and then dumped them for the Egyptians, so she too was handed over to her former lovers for punishment.

Reflection and Application

God knows our questions before we ask them, so we should not be surprised when he gives us an answer before we ask. This is one of the reasons that it’s important for us to always be listening for what God might be saying to us.

The first generation of Exodus Israelites were afraid to take the land that the LORD had given them, because they did not trust in the LORD’s power, as explained in Numbers chapter 13. At other times they were influenced by their neighboring countries. Perhaps at first, after the Exodus, they adopted the practices of other nations because they liked what they thought they saw in the lifestyle.

It might be hard to imagine what someone might have envied in another culture when Israel was a powerful nation under David and Solomon. However, part of the fallibility of human nature is that the grass always seems greener on the other side – until we are forced to eat it.

When the kingdom split into two and began losing power, the people may have adopted other cultures rituals because they wanted an ally or because they had become subservient. What can we learn from all of this? Whether we believe our nation and culture is in a position of strength or a position of weakness we should be turning to God in humility, asking for help in staying true to his commandments.

Chapter 21 describes a vision of the king of Babylon approaching a fork in the road and a decision to make regarding which nation to attack. The American baseball player Yogi Berra (12 May 1925 - 22 Sep 2015), who was known for eccentric statements, had a famous quote regarding these types of scenarios, “When you come to a fork in the road – take it!” In other words, you have to make a decision. In the game of baseball, the ball is coming to the plate and you have to decide to swing or not swing. At the cash register in the grocery store, it's paper or plastic. On the road of life, it's a choice to follow God or not follow him.

When the king of Babylon had to make a decision he consulted various divination devices, including an animal liver. God intervened so that these instruments provided the answer he wanted, but that does not mean he approves of divination. In fact, he explicitly denounced it in Deuteronomy.

Yogi Berra’s quote tells us that we should not stand there debating which way to go, but should choose a path and see what happens. God wants us to consult him when we come to major forks in the road of our lives and he will help us decide. Maybe we do need some time to meditate on God’s word and try to discern what he would want, but at a certain point we have to choose.

The LORD made a statement regarding the reversal of fortunes in verse 21:25: "The underdog will be promoted and the top dog will be demoted (MSG)." This phrase foreshadowed one that Jesus would use often, in various forms, for example in Luke 13:30, when he said “There are those who are last that will be first, and first who will be last (NIV).” This is a reminder for us to be humble and not to exalt ourselves, regardless of any apparent material success.

The LORD needed a few good men, or just one to be a leader in Jerusalem, but there was no one, so he wiped the slate clean. One day we may be called to be leaders and will have to “stand in the gap” to represent our people. If our lives go down that path then we need to ensure that we are leading in a way that reflects the LORD’s laws, treating people fairly, giving credit to the right source for success, and taking responsibility for our own short-comings.

Chapter 23 is probably one of the most sexually explicit chapters in the Bible. It might be difficult for us to understand why God would want to include something like this in a holy book. Maybe he knew that there were some people for whom this would get their attention while the other analogies and parables would go in one ear and out the other. God used a variety of facts of life to explain his view, some from nature, some from commerce, and some from human relationships. How should we make use of this passage? Perhaps the best thing we can do is pray for guidance.

We can learn from the mistakes of the people in the Bible or people that we know. Not that we should be overly judgmental, but we should be observant and try to avoid the same kinds of behavior that led to trouble for others, or we will soon find ourselves in the same hot water.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What are some of your favorite non-Biblical quotes?
    2. What instruments do we use to help us make decisions when we come to a fork in the road?
    3. What are the leadership skills that God has given you?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we have given us many chances to follow your instructions. Help us to make the choice to be loyal to you.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Teachers welcoming back students this week

    Looking Ahead
    Tomorrow's reading: Ezekiel 24 (Parable of the Cooking Pot)

    Comments and Questions
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