“And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.” — Ezekiel 22:30
Screech! Thump! Looking out our front window, my husband and I saw a car had come around the corner too quickly, hit the curb, bounced up onto the sidewalk across the street, and slammed into our neighbors’ arborvitae hedge. Surprisingly, the vehicle was still operational and could be driven away. However, there was a gaping hole in the hedge, and it was years before the branches grew back enough to cover that empty spot. Since the hedge was there to provide a protective barrier, the gap in it defeated its purpose.
Today’s text describes a spiritual gap, and one that was of far greater consequence than a hole in a physical hedge. God enumerated for Ezekiel the sins of the Children of Israel. Their civic and religious leaders — their princes, priests, and prophets — had spurned Him and His commandments, and the people themselves had sorely transgressed His Law. Amid all this corruption and rebellion, God looked for someone who would bring strength, stability, and security to Israel. He looked for someone who would intercede for the nation — one who would, through prayer, stand in the gap left by those who had failed God, and whose prayers would hold back God’s judgment. Tragically, He found no one.
In our time also, God is looking for those who will purpose to step into the gap, and be a strong and prayerful witness in an ungodly world. He is looking for people who will determine to live for Him in schools and workplaces. One veteran in our church used to tell about a young man on the job whose life condemned his, and it was that testimony that eventually led him to a church meeting where he was saved. Another man tells how his secretary’s refusal to lie for him was a witness that ultimately led to his salvation.
God is looking for mothers who will say, “I’ll step into the gap. I will take time to read the Bible and pray with my children. I will make sure they know about God, and do all that I can to help them live for Him.” An elderly man who was not serving God when he was young says that he is glad his mother kept on praying. Her prayers ruined many “good times” he expected to have while following sinful pursuits, but those prayers paid off when he was saved. Now he says, “Where would I be today if she hadn’t stood for God?”
God is looking for fathers who will stand for Him, even if it means personal sacrifice. Years ago, a young father who owned a small farm in Eastern Washington
heard the Gospel message through some Apostolic Faith people who visited his town. Within two weeks, he sold his farm and all his equipment at a loss, and moved his family across the state so he could raise his son and two daughters in a church where the whole Word of God was taught. As a result, four generations of his descendants have followed him in serving the Lord.
God is looking for grandparents who will stand in the gap by praying for and with their grandchildren. One young mother in our congregation relates that she lived with her Christian grandmother for about a year after her parents divorced, and every morning and evening, they would read the Bible and pray together. She says, “I purposed in my heart that if I could be even a portion of what Grandma was for God, He would be pleased with me.”
Our examples and commitments matter! Whatever our roles in life, God has a place in His spiritual hedge for us. Will we purpose to fill it? Each of us has the opportunity to stand in a spiritual gap and be a strong and prayerful witness for Him.
Today’s text continues God’s message in chapters 20-23, which emphasized that His judgments against Israel were fair and righteous. In this portion of the message, God explained why Jerusalem’s judgment would come (verses 1-16), how it would come (verses 17-22), and who would be judged (verses 23-31). These are three separate oracles, each starting with the phrase, “And the word of the Lord came unto me . . .”
In the first oracle, recorded in verses 1-16, God inspired Ezekiel to enumerate the sins of Jerusalem, which God referred to as “the bloody city” (verse 2). The many crimes committed there showed disregard for human life. Beginning with verse 6, wicked leaders who had abused their power and put innocent people to death received a specific rebuke. They had dishonored parents and treated vulnerable members of society with contempt. The “stranger” (meaning travelers) had suffered extortion and fraud at their hands. Furthermore, they had disdained sacred objects and memorial celebrations (referred to as “sabbaths” in verse 8). Malicious charges and false testimony had been given with intent to murder.
In verse 9, the phrase “eat upon the mountains” refers to sacrificing and partaking in idolatrous feasts that included lewd sexual rituals and even incest. The final sin the leaders of Israel were condemned for was extortion committed against their own community.
In verse 13, God called for the punishment to start by smiting with His hand, a gesture indicating scorn and rebuke. He pledged to oppose these corrupt leaders of Jerusalem and purge away their uncleanness. Since they had forfeited the right to dwell in the land by their own sinful conduct, they would be dispersed (verse 15).
In the second oracle, beginning at verse 17, God compared the coming punishment to the refining of metal. The people of Israel had once been regarded as God’s precious possession. However, because of their sin and rebellion, God now regarded them as dross — the worthless impurities that come from the refining of metal. Verse 19 tells that the refining furnace would be in “the midst of Jerusalem.” Because Nebuchadnezzar practiced a scorched-earth policy as he marched toward Jerusalem, the people from throughout the countryside would flee to the walled city. In this manner, God would “gather” the people for a purifying process that would take place there. However, there was a glimmer of hope in this severe judgment. Just as the refining of silver or other precious metals is done to purify, God’s purpose was purification rather than irrevocable destruction.
Since all in the kingdom had contributed to the national guilt, the third oracle brought out that all in the land would suffer punishment. The guilty parties were noted. The false prophets of Israel had worked together in a conspiracy, taking from the people instead of serving them. They were responsible for the multiplication of widows in the land because the men had gone out to battle against the will of the Lord. The priests had disregarded God’s instruction to differentiate between the holy and the unholy, and had ignored desecrations, ultimately blurring the people’s perception of moral distinctions. Jerusalem’s princes were unjust in their judiciary and civic duties, having destroyed lives for profit. The false prophets whitewashed the seriousness of the situation with lying words, which were characterized as “untempered morter” in verse 28. Even the “people of the land” had participated in this universal corruption. The defilement was so widespread that no one could be found who would cause the Lord to reconsider His judgment.
Verses 30-31 indicate the importance of intercessory prayer. The sins of Jerusalem had become so prevalent that when God sought for one among them who would intercede for the sinful city, none could be found. Thus, He would move forward with His judgment upon the people. This reveals that even the prayers of one intercessor can bring a reprieve from God’s judgment against sin.
II. The condemnation of Judah and Jerusalem
D. The revelation of God’s dealings with Israel
3. The summary of God’s present dealings
b. The message of Israel’s judgment (22:1-31)
(1) The cause of judgment (22:1-12)
(2) The declaration of judgment (22:13-22)
(3) The object of judgment (22:23-31)
God is looking for people today who will stand in the gap and pray that His judgment will be held back. Will we do it?