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God Marks the Righteous and Shows Mercy to the Undeserving

August 30, 2007

I read a very sobering passage of Scripture this morning from the book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 9):

9:1 Then he cried in my ears with a loud voice, saying, “Bring near the executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand.” 2 And behold, six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his weapon for slaughter in his hand, and with them was a man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his waist. And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar.

3 Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. 4 And the Lord said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” 5 And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. 6 Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house. 7 Then he said to them, “Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out.” So they went out and struck in the city. 8 And while they were striking, and I was left alone, I fell upon my face, and cried, “Ah, Lord God! Will you destroy all the remnant of Israel in the outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?”

9 Then he said to me, “The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. The land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice. For they say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see.’ 10 As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; I will bring their deeds upon their heads.”

11 And behold, the man clothed in linen, with the writing case at his waist, brought back word, saying, “I have done as you commanded me.”

This is simply staggering. God goes through in this chapter and kills those who are worshiping things other than God. As I thought about these sobering words, I saw that I deserved to be among the unmarked masses. I did not deserve death any less than those God kills in this passage – I was among the idolaters, and am still tempted to worship other gods.

Another point I saw is that it was God who does the choosing here. He doesn’t consult with those he is marking, but simply notes that they are different than those worshiping other gods. How are they different? They are appalled by Judah’s embrace of other gods. They are passionate about God’s name. I am grateful that God has saved me, and I should be just as passionate that God’s name be praised, and just as appalled when it is not.

We also see that Ezekiel is saddened by God’s judgment, but doesn’t question it. “Will you destroy the remnant of Israel?” he asks, and you can hear the sorrow in his voice. He cares for his people, even though he knows they are sinning. He wants to see them restored, and does not want them to be wiped out entirely.

There are many times when we see injustice and sin in this world, and just want God to wipe it all out. We are grieved by sin, but then we allow that grief to turn into a self-righteous anger. There are many times I just would rather not deal with the sin of humanity, but just want to see the guilty given what they deserve, not tempered with the mercy shown to me. Ezekiel instead turns it into sorrow. He wants God’s people to live, not die. This should be our desire – to see our nation restored to God, not to see our nation judged.

God is a righteous judge in this passage, and answers Ezekiel as a judge, but two chapters later, Ezekiel asks the same kind of question. “Then I fell down on my face and cried out with a loud voice and said, “Ah, Lord God! Will you make a full end of the remnant of Israel?”” (Ezekiel 11:13b) God answers in the following way (Ezekiel 11:14-21):

14 And the word of the Lord came to me: 15 “Son of man, your brothers, even your brothers, your kinsmen, [2] the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those of whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, ‘Go far from the Lord; to us this land is given for a possession.’ 16 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while [3] in the countries where they have gone.’ 17 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ 18 And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 21 But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will [4] bring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord God.”

We serve a God who judges, yes, but we also serve a God of mercy. He plans to bring his people back to him. He gives them a new heart, taking away their heart of stone, and giving them a heart of flesh. In the New Testament, Christians are compared with those who have hard hearts – we are told not to have hardened hearts, but to respond to the Lord. One cannot help but think that this scripture was in the mind of the authors of the New Testament when they talked of hardened hearts among unbelievers.

Let us pray that God softens the hearts of the unbelievers of this nation – that he turns their hearts into hearts of flesh. Let us also have the heart of Ezekiel – who, despite his job of telling Israel of their sin, cared for them and did not want their destruction, but rather their salvation.

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