“Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols.” — Ezekiel 14:4
Sometimes things are not what they seem to be. A good example of this is the peanut, which is not actually a nut. It is a legume and is in the same family as beans, lentils, and peas. Another example is the banana tree. Would you be surprised to find out that it is not really a tree? Botanists tell us it actually is a large herb that is distantly related to ginger. A third example is the cucumber. Most people think of the cucumber as a vegetable, but it is, in reality, a fruit in the cucurbit family and is related to watermelons.
People can appear different from what they really are as well. There was a time in my life when I wanted everyone to believe I was a Christian. However, God was not first in my life. My heart loved the things of the world more than the things of God. I was a hypocrite, putting on a false appearance of outward virtue. I am so thankful that God brought me to the place that I sought Him for mercy. He forgave me and made me His child, and from then on, there was no more pretending. What I appeared to be was what I was!
Our focus verse is about the elders of Israel who were not what they represented themselves to be. They supposedly came to inquire of God’s prophet for advice, but in reality, they were worshipping idols in their hearts. They made regular visits to the Temple where they brought sacrifices to God, but they were not sincere. However, no matter how they appeared on the outside, God knew their hearts. Through Ezekiel, God said that He would punish these deceitful elders by giving them over to their idolatry. Because they were determined to follow false gods, that was the punishment they deserved.
God still knows the hearts of every individual, and each person is responsible for his or her own relationship with God. As Christians, we must always be careful to maintain our allegiance to God and keep Him first in our lives, not allowing anything to weaken or replace our devotion to Him. When we do that, His blessing will remain upon our lives.
In this chapter, the leaders of the exiles came to Ezekiel as if to hear some message from him, and in response, Ezekiel instructed them to repent of their idolatry (verses 1-11). While nothing would save the nation from God’s judgments, a few people possibly would survive. When those few arrived in Babylon, the exiles already there would come to understand that God’s judgment was well deserved and would be comforted by the understanding of God’s justice (verses 12-23).
Previously, Ezekiel had spoken against the idolatrous and rebellious leaders in Judah and Jerusalem. In today’s text, God instructed him to condemn the leaders who were with him in exile, and revealed to Ezekiel the secret idolatry of the leaders’ hearts even before they spoke. The phrase “setteth up” in verse 4 denoted an exaltation above all else. While these leaders had portrayed an outward allegiance to God, they had taken idols into their hearts and esteemed them so highly that the idols had become a “stumbling block of . . . iniquity” to them, governing their lives and causing them to disobey God’s dictates. God’s summary of the false prophets’ behavior was collective, but He would respond to each man according to the abundance of that man’s own sins.
In verses 6-11, God directed the elders to repent and turn from their idolatries. The “prophet” mentioned in verse 7 was not a reference to Ezekiel specifically, but to prophets in general. When the elders hypocritically inquired of any prophet — whether real or false — concerning God, God would answer their question with fury and wrath in judgment. The phrase in verse 9, “I the LORD have deceived that prophet,” was a Hebrew idiom indicating that God allowed the false prophets to be misled as a punishment for their own deception of God’s people. Such individuals would experience God’s judgment along with those who had sought their advice. Although these judgments were severe, the purpose was to teach Israel to never again go into idolatry.
Some Bible scholars view verses 12-21 as a reply to a question in the elders’ minds: Would not God spare Jerusalem because of the prayers or lives of the righteous people who remained? However, the four judgments in these verses had been established in the Law as punishments for disobedience (see Leviticus 26). Famine, ravaging wild animals, war, and disease would be the response for “trespassing grievously” (verse 13). For each judgment, God repeated that even if righteous Noah, Daniel, and Job were in Jerusalem, His judgment against the city would not be withheld, though the righteousness of these men would protect them individually.
Verse 22 indicates that a remnant would escape the city alive for the purpose of their witness. When they would join the exiles in Babylon and tell of the disease, deprivation, starvation, cannibalism, violence of war, and desolation of the land, the elders and people there would recognize the judgments pronounced in Leviticus 26. Their spirits would be broken, and they would acknowledge the justice of God’s judgment and be “comforted.”
II. The condemnation of Judah and Jerusalem
C. The cause of Judah’s destruction
2. Messages of Judah’s condemnation
c. The message against the elders (14:1-23)
(1) The inquiry of the elders (14:1-11)
(a) The inquiry and response (14:1-5)
(b) The instruction to repent (14:6-11)
(2) Judgment unavertable through prayer (14:12-23)
(a) The principle illustrated (14:12-20)
(b) The principle applied (14:21-23)
God wants us to be true and faithful worshippers of Him. When God is first in our lives, we can be assured of His blessing upon us.