I read Ezekiel 16 yesterday. This must be one of the most heart wrenching and stomach sickening books in the Bible, and yet its end produces such a sense of amazement in me. Its end makes me want to fall down and worship the God of Heaven and Earth with my face to the ground. It simply takes your breath away.
Here is the Lord. Here are His people Israel whom He has loved and chosen not because of anything worthy in them. Here is why they are chosen: “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)…”
He loved them and He saw their smallness and He chose them. “…The Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you are above all peoples, as you are this day (Deuteronomy 10:15).” The electing love of God for them is as free and unconditional as it is strong. To “set his heart in love” on Israel is as to say that He joined Himself in love to them, He desired them, took delight in them, clung to them, longed for them. It is not an emotionless choice that He made of them; No He loved and loves them with intense passion and calls them His own bride.
In Ezekiel 16:1-5 the Lord describes how He found Jerusalem at the time when He showed His love for them. He describes them as a nation birthed by Pagan parents, who cared so little for them that their cord was not cut nor were they washed, but rather left on the day of their birth in an open field to wallow in their blood. No eye pitied them, nor did anyone have compassion and they were an abhorred by all.
“And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live’ (Ez 16:6).”
The text describes the nation as an abandoned child rescued by the Lord who grows into a mature woman, whom the Lord protects, makes covenant with, and says of her “you became mine (Ez 16:8).” He adorns her with fine clothing and jewellery, and feeds her with rich foods. He crowns her with renown and makes her beauty known among the nations because of the splendour that He had bestowed upon her.
But a startling and appalling thing happens in her heart. She who was to be set apart for her husband, took the beauty that He had given her and spent it on every other nation and man. She “played the whore” with every nation, and was “worse than a prostitute” because she required no payment but only freely gave herself to whoever would come to her. She became a prostitute at every corner and hill, of whom the Lord declares “Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband (Ez 16:32)!”
She took the jewellery bestowed upon her and melted it down to make “images of men, and with them…played the whore.” She took the rich foods her husband provided for her, and set them before idols. Worst of all, she gave herself so fully over to the love of idols that she gave not only herself and her glorious wealth, but also her children.
“And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter that you slaughter my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them (Ez 16:20-21)?” This is not just an analogy; these are events that truly took place. To show devotion, or to gain national or personal favour from false gods, many people would cast their children into the open mouth of a flaming idol as an offering. In this account, these children are borne of adultery yet look at what the Lord says. “You took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me…you slaughtered my children.” All children, yes even those in the womb, are God’s children. And they killed them. The Lord declares to them “I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy (Ez 16:38).” This is a fury you do not want to stand under.
The Lord is furious. He is jealous. He is full of wrath against His faithless bride and she deserves it all. The Lord punishes this people, in fact their city was destroyed, many of them were killed and many carried away into exile in Babylon. Divine wrath must be satisfied. “I will make you stop playing the whore, and you shall also give payment no more. So will I satisfy my wrath on you, and my jealousy shall depart from you. I will be calm and will no more be angry (Ez 16:42).” The Lord made those who survived to be ashamed of all of their sin, and to bare the reproach of it and the “penalty of (their) lewdness and (their) abominations (Ez 16:58).”
As had been earlier prophesied in Ezekiel 7:16 “And if any survivors escape, they will be on the mountains, like doves of the valleys, all of them moaning, each one over his iniquity.” Why should they mourn? Not just because of the punishment, but because of the realization of personal sin and horrendous offenses against the Lord God.
What do you think friends? Should the Lord divorce His bride Israel? Should He cast them off forever and make a full end of them? After all He is only “bring(ing) their deeds upon their own heads (Ez 11:21).”
But is the Lord’s electing love conditional? Will He only keep His promise to them as long as they are obedient? No. “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them (Hosea 14:4).” The Lord is faithful to reserve a remnant for Himself among the Israelites. At this point, right here in Ezekiel 16 God does something incredible. He looks at His people; He is determined to punish them for all of their whorings, and yet He looks ahead to a time when He will fulfill His every promise to them and redeem them. “I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you and everlasting covenant…you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you all that you have done, declares the Lord God (Ez 16:63).”
This is where I lose my breath. Do you see what the Lord is doing here? He has just pronounced judgement upon the despicable and hateful sins of Israel, and it is as if now He pauses and looks at them and says “I see your unfaithful heart and all that you have done against me; yet you are my chosen people and how can I give you up? Therefore I myself am coming and I will keep my promise to you. I will ransom for myself a people from you, when I come and die for all your sins which you have committed against me.” He will do it for the sake of His great name, that they have blasphemed among the nations.
How is Israel saved? How are they set apart as a holy people? “When I atone for you all that you have done.” Unbelievable. He says that there is a day in which He is coming to atone for their sins, and it happened in His Son Jesus Christ bearing their shame up on a cross. Divine wrath must be satisfied, and is satisfied in being poured out on the innocent Jesus Christ taking upon Himself the punishment for guilty sinners. There is still a day when “all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob’; ‘and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins (Romans 11:26-27).’”
Christ died in the hands of Jewish men, and a day is coming when they will recognize that it is their Lord whom they crucified.
Revelation 1:7 “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.”
Zechariah 12:10, 13:1 “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him who they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first born…On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.”
Christ will come. They will know who they have crucified. A day of salvation for the Jews will come and Jesus Christ will save them. I look forward to this with great anticipation and rejoice that God’s promises can never fail. In fact for us who have been grafted into the family of God and for the true Israel (see Romans 9:6) it is true that NOTHING “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).”
For just as He chose and predestined Israel in love, He has done the same for us. We are equally as undeserving, and yet He has saved us by His grace.
1John 3:1 “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God.”
1John 4:10 “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Ephesians 1:4-5 “In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”
I think it is fitting to end with some of the lyrics from Charles Wesley’s great hymn “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?”
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, should die for me?
He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus and all in Him is mine;
Alive in Him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the’eternal thrown
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.