Sinners before the Face of an Angry God

Ezekiel 4-5

After being falsely accused of treason, therefore losing his fiancé, losing command of his ship, and being exiled to prison, all by his best friend, Edmond Dantes’ cry “God give me justice” is understandable. A cry for justice is well and good if one considers the need for justice from man to man, but God’s justice is another issue. God is infinitely just, and thus infinitely offended by sin.  Ezekiel prosecuted Israel for their defilement, thus he testified that God is just, and that his justice must be satisfied. This passage is a warning testimony to the nations and exiles that God is just.  

God gave Ezekiel four signs of Jerusalem in 4:1-5:4. These are the Picture of Siege 4:1-3, lying down bound bearing the sin of the people 4:4-8, defiled bread 4:9-17, the hair cut into thirds 5:1-4. These are pictures of God’s Justice being spent/satisfied by punishing those who rebel against him (5:13). God is just, and satisfies his justice in punishing sinners.

Interpreting the vision is simple. Ezekiel’s face represents God. “Face” is a synecdoche for presence. The old English “countenance” fits this meaning. Jerusalem signified the people of God who rebelled against his Covenant, v3! The “house of Israel” was punished. This is significant because it means that the people were sinners, and thus God is present among them in the Temple. They are before his face, but his presence is judgment, not mercy!

This prefigured Christ, as Jesus was the ultimate Temple (John2:20) who bore the wrath of God for his people; and so the cross speaks the same testimony as does this passage. God’s justice must be satisfied. Jesus satisfied that Justice for you.

Thesis for the passage: Because the Cross of Jesus testifies that God will satisfy his justice, then you must repent and heed that warning. This means God is angry with your sin! His infinite anger looms over sons of disobedience. This passage testifies to the Exiles, and the Pagan nations that God is just, and will satisfy that justice. Be warned!

The great danger which faces you is, since judgment has been delayed, we doubt that God will truly judge. Looking around the world and seeing the mistreatment in the world, one could digress and think, “There is no justice in the world.” However, the delay of justice does not mean justice will not come. Further, men always look for just desserts to fall on others, but not themselves. It is a frightful thing to think that we will not only be judged for our sins against men, but also against God the infinitely just one. Suddenly “eye for eye” does not seem so appealing when one looks down the barrel of the firing line.

How then should WE HEED THIS WARNING? There are three things we should understand about the shelter we receive from God’s justice and mercy in the Gospel. God will satisfy his justice. Second, in order to enter communion with God, one must be cleansed. Third, the true temple of God are those whom he has cleansed and who have devoted themselves ethically and ceremonially to him.

  1. God’s Justice must be Satisfied

There are two reasons God’s justice must be satisfied. First, god is angry. Second, God satisfied his justice here in our passage. 

First, the Tri-Personal God is offended because Israel broke his Covenant. Can God be offended? We do confess that God is impassible, and thus unable to be overcome or moved from the eternal perfection of his nature. Nor could we say ever that God is offended in his essence. That is just silly. Analogously, one would never say “Ooh that enrages my flesh/spirit composition. ” It is not essential humanity that is offended, but it is personal attributes which are. We get angry when people break contracts because we have a personal interest in them. Think on unfaithful spouses, broken campaign promises, etc.

God is angry because he is personal, and has entered into Covenant of personal interest with humans. They broke his Covenant.  God is independent of his creation, yet chose freely to enter Covenant. We offended him. Ezekiel therefore brings Israel into tGod’s courtroom and prosecutes them on the basis of that Covenant. In 5:5 he subpoenaed them, and summons them, 6-7 he presented his evidence, 8 the guilty verdict was pronounced, 9-10 the sentence was spoken, and thus God concluded with an oath in verse 11,  

“Therefore, as I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations, therefore I will withdraw. My eye will not spare, and I will have no pity.” (Eze 5:11)

It was the broken Covenant which was the reason for the anger of God. Of course this is an analogy, and it does not mean that God changes his mind, but in how he entered Covenant with men, and they broke his Covenant, he is moved to enforce-to dole out- Covenant justice. Therefore 5:13 calls him angry!

Second, God Satisfied his justice by pouring out his wrath. In 5:12 we see the nature of that wrath is the destruction of the people by the Babylonians. Verse 13 he describes his indignation. He also points out that he would “Never again” do this (5:9). This does not mean that he would never again destroy in exactly the same way, but is an idiom that means that his lust for justice is finished/spent/satisfied.  This wrath is not the superlative wrath of all history, but the wrath of God spent, or appeased by destroying his enemies.

This is a fearful thing. Do not think that because God has been gracious in allowing the world to continue that he will not judge. Do not think that you will escape. Jesus warned similarly:

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!  (Luk 12:5)

Fear him who kills soul! That is the warning in Ezekiel and from the lips of Jesus. God is truly angry, and will satisfy his anger! God does not countenance them without judgment. Sinners before the face of an angry God must be judged. This is what we seen when God said that he brought is upon them. Notice the God says [1cp(s)] in verse 5:16-17, I brought, sent cause to happen, etc. God brings about the judgment. Make not mistake. Further, the metal plate placed between Ezekiel and the Drawing of Jerusalem in 4:1-3 points to God’s countenance turning from his people. He does no smile upon them, but is angry, and when he is present he is pouring out wrath!

Do not doubt that judgment is coming because of the delay. It’s like the Chargers in the playoffs. You know what’s coming, but just don’t want to accept it. However, when the opponents defeat us soundly because we cave in upon ourselves, their fans are exceptionally pleased. So it depends upon what side you are on that determines your attitude toward one side surviving and the other losing (Do not worry. I will spare allegories of over-paid under-productive linebackers for another setting). 

Similarly, your side determines the way you react to God’s judgment. You will surely either be judged for you sins or judged by proxy in God’s son! God will cleanse you, either you will bear it or Jesus will! Believe in him! For, he promises, “If you confess your sin he is faithful and Just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness!” (I John 1:9).

  1. Communion with God requires cleansing, because men are sinners by nature, and sinners by choice.

First, sinners are so by nature. Notice the meaning of the signs given to Ezekiel in chapter four. They are hemmed in by the siege engines in 4:1-3. This refers to their bondage to their nature of sin. Men only do that which is according to their nature. Yes you have free-will, but it is only free insofar as your sinful nature is.

During the medieval era, Duns Scotus and William of Ockham argued that men’s wills were independent of their intellectual nature.  This is not only silly, but makes no sense. Ezekiel here shows how they do and get exactly what they want. They are hemmed in. This is further explicated in the next sign. Ezekiel was bound to lie down and bear the people’s sins, 4-8. God was the one doing the binding. Ezekiel had the sin of the people on him. The point here is the same as above.

Second, Sinners are so by choice. More indicting than all else, men are sinners use to that nature. You become accustomed to sin. You develop a taste for it. The Defiled Bread in 11-14 pointed to a defiled people. This defiled people is use to their sin! They develop an appetite for crap (human or animal)!

We who have tasted the age to come must develop a distaste for sin. Many translations in their pietistic zeal gloss over the command of Paul in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and do not sin.” The quotes of Psalm 4:4 means to be angry at sin!  The root of habitual sin is developing this taste for it. The way to uproot the same it by developing a distaste for it. Like Ezekiel say, No! I have no taste for this thing! It disgusts me!

I love cynicism. I love TV shows and comic strips that have cynicism. However, I realize my tendency toward a sinfully cruel cynicism. I had to learn to hate Dilbert’s Cynicism. This is simple, I know, but I struggle with this. I would imagine this is the nature of all sinful habits. One does not become a drug addict from an instance, but it is a lifestyle which accepts these things as right. It is a slow trickle of developing a palate for some sin. This text calls you, like God is, to be angry with sin.

  1. The True Temple is the Church, because

There are two things this passage teaches about God’s people. First, they are God’s dwelling place, and as such are a holy dwelling. Second, the destruction bears testimony to you as a warning to repent of your sins.    

First, the church is God’s Dwelling. In 4:3 Ezekiel clarified that “Jerusalem” referred to the people. He did so by calling them the “house of Israel.” Not only is this the dynastic people of God descended from Abraham, but signifies that the people of God are a “house,” i.e. God’s Dwelling

They are in Union with Christ, and as he is the Temple (John 2:20) the church is also called the Temple of the Holy Spirit (ICor 3:16). So, what is a Holy dwelling? 5:5ff, shows that the people should have been a people of Holiness to the Lord- that defined means Devoted to God ceremonially and ethically. The opposite of defiled is devoted.

Ethically: toebah means ethical abominations, 9, which is throughout the passage. The people used things of the temple for their own use. This applies to all you own, you devote to use for God’s service. All we have, all we rule, and all were are responsible to is to be devoted to God’s rule and use. This is the ethical dimension of holiness.

Ceremony: pigoal, refers to the defilement of ceremonial meat is the opposite of ceremonial devotion. This points to the incumbent necessity to devote ourselves, not only ethically in everyday life, but in the way we worship. Holy people, like you in God’s worship, making solemn Covenant oaths by way of baptism is God’s wa of laying claim upon you. These two dimensions were both implicit in the terms used in the text which describe the defilement and abominations of the people. God wants a holy dwelling.

Secondly, the Destruction Bears Testimony of Warning of God’s justice. Don’t miss this. This is his application. He warns both the Exiles who were Ezekiel’s audience, and Pagans who looked on.

Moreover, I will make you a desolation and an object of reproach among the nations all around you and in the sight of all who pass by. You shall be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and a horror, to the nations all around you, when I execute judgments on you in anger and fury, and with furious rebukes–I am the LORD; I have spoken–  (Eze 5:14-15)

God’s name would not be defiled as unjust, and he would prove it! He warns you. He is angry at your sin. Do not make excuse or try to flee, for that is the worst thing you could do. Instead, repent and believe in Jesus.

I must digress for a moment. This topic can become an emotional whirlwind and fear of instant retribution. For example, I use to be constantly I turmoil over my sin, and believed that it was directly related to whether my high school basketball team would win or lose. I had this sort of mechanistic view of sin. Frankly things are not so simple. Jack Handy catches the oversimplification.

“If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is “God is crying.” And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is “Probably because of something you did.”- Jack Handy

 A Judgment sermon can easily degrade into just leaving you guilty. I do not intend to leave you guilty and bound in Jerusalem.  The point of all this is that it is a gracious warning.  

In Conclusion: You need this warning for two reasons. First, Because you doubt that God judges, so you think you can escape the wrath to come. Secondly, because the Warning is gracious. This warning points to the Cross of Jesus as the greater warning. When god poured out his wrath on the Son of God he warned you, he will satisfy his justice. God will be satisfied, but he extends to you comfort in the Gospel.

In Dickens’ Christmas Carol (not the Bill Murray version) Scrooge is visited by his avaricious and dead former business partner, Jacob Marley. Jacob told Scrooge that if he did not repent of his sins then he would certainly tread the path he now treads, bound for all eternity to bear the punishment of his guilt. In reply to this Scrooge cried out “Speak comfort to me friend!” Jacob Marley answered, “Without these visits you cannot hope to avoid the path I tread!” The warning is terrifying, but the warning is merciful.

Christians, flee the wrath to come! Believe in Jesus and be sheltered under his mercy!