OK, you could be wondering about the “end of grace”. How could that be? you might be thinking. I need to be clear, this is not about any sort of new salvation by works theology. It is about the truth that part of God’s grace to Israel (and to us) has been His great patience, bearing with Israel (and us) under the great and inflaming weight of their (and our) sin, neglect, and rebellion. And it is also about the truth that God’s patience isn’t unending. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.
It’s possibly too easy, after reading page after page of a prophet of doom, such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel mostly are, to get the misimpression that that these prophets were little more than “Negative Nellies”. But this lamentation and the Lamentations of Jeremiah should help us understand that these prophets weren’t happy about these things — these prophets would have given their right arms to have told different news. But the painful truth is that the truth is sometimes painful, and ignoring it or neglecting it doesn’t make it go away or cease being real. It is said that the famous Steve Jobs tried to ignore the necessity of surgery to deal with his cancer diagnosis for 9 months. According to his biographer he regretted that neglect, because it would have extended his life considerably. Those with serious drinking problems often attempt to escape their painful reality in their drunkenness; but as anyone who has ever known such a person knows, it never, ever makes the problem go away. So also with spiritual, moral things: Israel wanted to believe that things would be alright and they closed their ears to the words of the prophets. The words of the prophets came to pass, while those who ignored the prophets simply passed away — often with sword or other punishments. The prophets didn’t like declaring Israel’s diagnosis and prognosis than any doctor likes giving a cancer patient their diagnosis and prognosis. It was an unpleasant and tearful experience that they repeated more often than they wanted in hopes that some would hear and heed.
“For the sake of My name”
Here’s a phrase that comes up a lot in Ezekiel 20 as the prophet recounts the history of Israel — “But I acted for the sake of My name.” Again and again Israel had been unfaithful and God had wanted to punish, “But I acted for the sake of My name.” He offered grace in the form of patience. God didn’t want the world around to think that God was unservable and harsh — and His name “not be profaned in the sight of the nations, before whose sight I had brought them out.” But there did come a time when the patience of God had finally come to an end, when He absolutely needed to act for the sake of His name. Don’t be fooled into thinking God’s patience in your own life is unending. If we continue to live in sin, if we continue to be unrepentant, there does come a time when the patience ends.
A sign between Israel and God
Although some Christian religious groups preach and practice the observance of the Sabbath, the passage here in Ezekiel (20:12) really clarifies that it was to be a sign between Israel and the LORD. New Testament passages tell us that Christians are no longer required to observe it: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” Colossians 2:16-19, NAS95.
A reason to groan
Ezekiel 21 is full of prophecy about the unsheathed sword of the LORD. Part of what Ezekiel was commanded to do was to groan aloud, so that people would hear him and ask him why.
““And when they say to you, ‘Why do you groan?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming; and every heart will melt, all hands will be feeble, every spirit will faint and all knees will be weak as water. Behold, it comes and it will happen,’ declares the Lord GOD.”” Ezekiel 21:7, NAS95.
When the LORD does finally decide to punish, it isn’t pleasant. With regard to them or us or the enemies of God.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.