Good Sheep – Ezekiel 34

We have looked at the difficulties of being a good shepherd – how about those of being a good sheep?

What are the qualities that make a good sheep?  Here we are referring to God-followers, or disciples, not the farm animal variety.

God has made pretty clear His two basic commands for us: 1) to love and obey Him and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, and 2) to love and serve others.  If shepherd or sheep will seek to do this with their life, they will be well on their way to pleasing and honoring God.

But what if we neglect to pursue either of these commands, focusing only on ourselves and on what we can grab today?  Ezekiel had a message from the Lord to share with the exiles in Babylon on this topic.

20 “Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. 21 For you fat sheep pushed and butted and crowded my sick and hungry flock until you scattered them to distant lands. 22 So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another. 23 And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!  Ezekiel 34:20-24 (NLT)

King David was the first and one of the few truly faithful kings of Israel.  His is the royal birth line in which the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would come.  After Israel’s false start with King Saul, David sought to lead the people along the path of righteousness.  He was not perfect by any means, and his failures are well documented in the scriptures.  But David’s faithfulness pleased God.  Though he died at a relatively young age, Ezekiel’s prophesy suggests that his service for the Lord is by no means done.

Prophecy interpretation may be literal, or it may symbolic.  We do not know for sure if this reference to the future prince David reigning once again over God’s people specifically refers to him or to someone in his line, such as Christ.  It may be both.

Just before Jesus went to the cross, He, too, had a message for the people regarding sheep that paralleled Ezekiel’s.  Jesus spoke about a coming judgment that will occur far into the future – long after the cross and His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven.  It will come at the time of Christ’s return- at the end of the Times of the Gentiles and after the suffering of the Great Tribulation described in Matthew 24.

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’  Matthew 25:31-40 (NLT)

God is serious about us investing our time, energy, and resources for the sake of those living in need around us. 

As we look at the day ahead or consider the one behind, we can ask the Lord, “Help me to be more loving, as You are.”

Reflection

With all of the deadlines, challenges, and responsibilities we may face, it is so easy to let the needs of others pass us by.  With God’s help, we can do a better job of noticing suffering around us, and in compassion, to do something, small or great, to help make the burden a little lighter.

Father, forgive me for all of the times I have failed to reach out to others in need with love.  Help me to do a better job going forward to be there, to assist them, and to honor and please You.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

The Divine Search – Ezekiel 34

While humans may often fail each other in their roles as shepherds and leaders, God will never fail us.

Whatever situation we may find ourselves in, whatever unfairness or hardships have come our way, or painful consequences of our own poor choices stare us in the face in the morning, the Lord has promised to never leave us alone in our trial.  He is right there calling out to us, the hurt and afflicted, seeking to bandage us up and bring us to a place of rest, healing, and peace under the shadow of His wing.

As Ezekiel wrote to the exiles in Babylon, God had not given up on them, either – far from it.  Even in God’s time of judgment, He was looking to restore, rebuild, and bring a complete freedom to them, a future without fear in the fullness of serenity and peace.

Ezekiel wrote of God’s loving heart:

11 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. 12 I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. 13 I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. 14 Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!  Ezekiel 34:11-16 (NLT)

Jesus is the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy.  When His hour of suffering had come, He was ready to go to the cross to lay down His life as a sacrifice to remove the sin that creates an insurmountable chasm between God and Man.  He came in love for all His sheep because there was no other way for them to succeed – we are helpless without Him.

As Jesus told His disciples:

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

17 “The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. 18 No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”  John 10:14-17,27-30 (NLT)

Trials and affliction will come to us all, but the Lord has promised to deliver us from them all as we respond in faith to His loving call.  Our window of opportunity to take a step of belief may come when we least expect it – it may simply be a strange feeling in the core of our spirit as we look up into the heavens one starry night and realize for the first time that the Creator of the Universe is real and loves and cares for us.  Another person may first experience God in a jail cell towards the back of a prison on a hot Saturday afternoon, when suddenly the prayers of a grandparent are answered in the appearance of a volunteer outside their jail cell, sharing a divine message of love right at the moment they were about to give up on life for good.

God is infinite, so the many ways He may choose to come to us are as diverse and unique as He is.  The important thing for us is to be open to Him, to listen with sincerity and willingness, and in the words of the prophet, Samuel, to respond positively when He calls:

10 And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”

And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:10 (NLT)

God’s call does not depend upon our worthiness or track record.  He sees things in us that perhaps no one else can see.  We may be covered with the filth of a failed life of disobedience and immorality, and drenched in alcohol or drugs, but God sees through all of that.  Jesus is the remedy for whatever is holding us down.  He is the true Power greater than myself who will free us from our chains and forgive us for all that we have done in the past.  Are you ready for Him?

Reflection

Who have been good shepherds for you in your life?

Do you know of any relatives or friends who have prayed for you or are currently praying?  How has God answered their prayers?

Are you experiencing the reality of God in your life?  Honesty, openness, and willingness are the keys to beginning an adventure of joy as we take our first steps of faith.

Lord, open my eyes and heart to see where and how You have been searching for me in my life.  Then use me in Your search for others, today and always.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Faithful Shepherds – Ezekiel 34

A shepherd is a role of great responsibility.

Many of us live out the duties of a shepherd in one way or another – we provide the nourishment, guidance, and protection for another living being who is unable to do this for themselves.  This may be for a baby, child, or youth in our care.  For others of us, it may be for a beloved pet, a parent, or someone God has placed under our umbrella of concern for the time being.  Whether we chose to be in our leadership role or not, God expects us to execute our service fully, faithfully, and with love, just as He does for each one of us.  The Lord has promised to never abandon us or to lead us down a wrong path and is a living example of just how we are to try to care for others.

Serious problems arise when a shepherd begins to neglect or abuse their leadership duties and begins to focus on themselves and their own needs rather than on the needs of those whom they are responsible for.  This type of behavior greatly displeases the Lord.

Negligent shepherds angered the Lord even back in the prophet Ezekiel’s time, as delivered in this message to the Babylonian exiles:

1 Then this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.

“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey. Ezekiel 34:1-10 (NLT)

Many of us are familiar with stories of those who exploit their vital roles as spiritual shepherds to take advantage of their flocks – proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Corrupt religious leaders have long been the subject of movie and television roles, as well as the cause of sensational and disturbing news headlines.  But the problem is not a new one, as Ezekiel’s message illustrates.

Jesus had His own struggles with the religious leadership of His day.  In fact, they condemned Him, and were the means for Him to lay down His life for us on the cross.

What is the lesson in Ezekiel’s message for us today?

Perhaps it is to do our best to take care of those around us, especially those in our care or who need a little extra time, help or guidance.  As Jesus put it, to love others as we would love ourselves.  Easy to say, but often hard to practice.

What other lessons do you see?

Reflection

Who is God putting on my heart that I need to extend a little extra grace to today?

Father God, show me the people (or animals) that You want me to be a shepherd to today.  Grant me the grace to extend a little extra patience and longsuffering, and to go out of my way to meet the needs of another in love.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

A New Creation – Ezekiel 33

I recently heard from a person who became enraged by the failure of a product they had just purchased.  In their fury, they told a friend that they were going to drive back to the store and really vent their anger at the salesperson. 

The friend, a fellow believer, leaned over and quietly spoke, “We are not supposed to do that anymore”.  That put an abrupt end to their plan for retaliation.

When we come to Christ, we become a new creation.  As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NASB)

The old things do pass away, but unfortunately, we have a hard time getting rid of all of our old sinful nature.  Even now, we continually fail to measure up to God’s divine standards.  We need constant cleansing and forgiveness as we journey along life’s path to follow after Christ.

God’s standards are extremely high.  Any person trying to live up to them on their own without relying on God’s abundant grace and mercy has their work cut out for them.  It is hard enough live a righteous life with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we receive upon believing in Jesus.

In the Old Testament, Ezekiel spoke about the Lord’s holy requirements to his fellow exiles in Babylon:

12 “Son of man, give your people this message: The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins. 13 When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins.  Ezekiel 33:12-13 (NLT)

Wow, what a hard statement!  If we rely on our own righteousness and fall along the way, all of our contributions and work for God in the past will be forgotten!  As each one of us continues to have failures in our daily life, this may be one of the hardest statements in the Bible.

But there is good news.  Jesus Christ came and suffered a sacrificial death for us because none of us can live up to God’s difficult standard of holiness.  The Old Testament law was hard enough to follow as it was written in the Ten Commandments.  Then Jesus raised the bar by telling us that if we even desire to break the law, that is as bad as actually doing it!

The good news is that in Christ, we receive the gift of His divine righteousness, which always greatly exceeds our own.  Our righteousness will not save us because we will always fall short of divine purity.

There is a more encouraging side to God’s holy standards – the principle of complete forgiveness when there is heartfelt repentance.  Ezekiel continues:

14 And suppose I tell some wicked people that they will surely die, but then they turn from their sins and do what is just and right. 15 For instance, they might give back a debtor’s security, return what they have stolen, and obey my life-giving laws, no longer doing what is evil. If they do this, then they will surely live and not die. 16 None of their past sins will be brought up again, for they have done what is just and right, and they will surely live.  Ezekiel 33:14-16 (NLT)

Many a prison inmate has had an encounter with the living God during their incarceration, and many of these have gone on to live new and changed lives.  These have discovered the wonderful promise of being a new creation in Christ, a promise that is extended to us all.

God’s standard for repentance was also seen in Christ’s time.  As Jesus was passing through the city of Jericho, He searched out a person who had been stealing from those around him.  Jesus saw something good in this person, something that perhaps even this individual had not recognized.

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and he was unable due to the crowd, because he was short in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree in order to see Him, because He was about to pass through that wayAnd when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down, and received Him joyfully. When the people saw this, they all began to complain, saying, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner!” But Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I am giving to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I am giving back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  Luke 19:1-10 (NASB)

As Jesus came searching for Zaccheus, Zaccheus recognized his own emptiness and need for Christ’s forgiveness.  Jesus is also searching for you and I today, and He desires to make us into new and forgiven creations.  What will be our response?

Reflection

What thoughts and actions in my life are leading me away from a love for God and others?  God is reaching out for me in unconditional love and mercy – today is a good day to come to the cross to become a new or renewed creation.

Father, we bring all of our sins and shortcomings to the cross of Christ.  You continually do for us what we could never do for ourselves.  Thank You for loving me in a way that overwhelms and overcomes all of my failures and unrighteous behavior.  Help me to move forward, cleansed and forgiven, to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.  In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Being a Watchman – Ezekiel 33

Being a watchman is a stressful job.

One must be awake and alert at all times so as not to miss the critical moment when the enemy might appear, often when least expected.  A prompt warning of an attack is required to allow proper defenses to be raised.  The job is so important that in some places, if a watchman falls asleep on the job, they may even be subject to capital punishment.

God appointed the prophet Ezekiel to be a spiritual watchman for the people of Israel being held in exile in Babylon.  Ezekiel probably did not relish the job, but it was important, and God trusted him with this vital responsibility.

1 Once again a message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land choose one of their own to be a watchman. When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.’  

“Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me. If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. But if you warn them to repent and they don’t repent, they will die in their sins, but you will have saved yourself.  Ezekiel 33:1-9 (NLT)

Wow, a tough job indeed!  But there are a few spiritual concepts that we can take away from Ezekiel’s difficult assignment.

First, people do not always want to hear warnings.  If their anger flares, they may choose to shoot the messenger rather than to take on the true enemy.

Second, a watchman does not really have the option of withholding a warning.  If they see it, they must speak it.  Having one’s warnings be rejected is an unpleasant experience, but it is far preferable to bearing the blame for someone else’s failure to respond to a warning we did not pass along.

The sobering fact is that people are dying all around us.  Sometimes physically, sometimes spiritually, often in both ways.  Just as in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, we come across all sorts of people in our lives that are battered, bruised, and robbed of the joy of life.  They may be trapped in an addiction that has sapped away their health, home life, or finances.  They may be drowning in a sea of hardships, not knowing which life-ring to grab onto.  Perhaps they have totally rejected God up to now for one reason or another yet have never needed Him so desperately as they do now.

It is often so hard for us to know exactly what to say or do.  If God has truly put us into this situation, we, as watchmen, know that we must try to offer something.  We do it prayerfully in love as the Holy Spirit leads, trusting God to make up for our lack.  We may risk being totally rejected by someone in anger, but we ask for the courage to take a step forward in compassion anyway.

Life is busy and we have many demands to fulfill at almost every stop in our day.  But perhaps God is calling us to focus more on the people around us, to listen to them, and to try to meet their needs as we are going about our own business. 

If we encounter someone going through a difficult time, that may present an opening for us to offer to pray for them.  We listen for the prompting of the Holy Spirit and ask for the courage to speak, to say something of eternal consequence when we sense that the time is right.  It should not be as difficult to do this as it seems to be, but with God’s help, we can fulfill our side of the watchman’s contract.  The one that says, “Yes, God, I will try to obey You and love others today.”

Reflection

Who in your life have you sensed the Holy Spirit is leading you to be a watchman for?

Father God, we desire to share You with those around us who are empty and hurting, but it can be so difficult to do so.  Forgive me for the countless times I have neglected to notice others in need or failed to engage them in love when I did.  Grant us clear guidance and the courage to listen and to share divine truth.  Help us to be faithful and alert watchmen as we go about our day today.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

A Covering Cherub – Ezekiel 28

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”  
Hebrews 13:5 (NIV)

What if we humans ever possessed everything that we might possibly desire – what would come next?  There is Biblical evidence to suggest that our next desire would be to become like, or even greater than, God.  That actually happened to two powerful leaders, the kings of ancient Tyre and of Babylon.

The king of Tyre had achieved the pinnacle of material success and worldly power.  Every precious stone or valuable possession was at his disposal, granted to him by the hand of God.  Yet, there was spiritual rot and unrighteousness within his being, and these led to his ultimate downfall.  The prophet Ezekiel writes of him:

11 Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 12 “Son of man, take up a song of mourning over the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord God says:

“You had the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering:
The ruby, the topaz and the diamond;
The beryl, the onyx and the jasper;
The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald;
And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets,
Was in you.
On the day that you were created
They were prepared.
14 You were the anointed cherub who covers,
And I placed you there.
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.
15 You were blameless in your ways
From the day you were created
Until unrighteousness was found in you.  Ezekiel 28:11-15 (NASB)

The greatness of this king was not just limited to an earthly realm.  He had also been given spiritual honor as an anointed covering cherub, serving at the level of an angelic being attending to the needs and work program of God.  With all this great power and authority comes great responsibility.  Unfortunately, the internal character flaws of Tyre’s king prevented him from following through on his duties, and God ultimately removed him from his position.

A parallel between the tragic fates of the king of Tyre and the king of Babylon is found in writings by the prophet Isaiah, who lived many years before Ezekiel.  Isaiah writes of the king of Babylon:

12 How you have fallen from heaven,
You star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who defeated the nations!
13 But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 Nevertheless you will be brought down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit.
16 Those who see you will stare at you,
They will closely examine you, saying,
‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble,
Who shook kingdoms,

17 Who made the world like a wilderness
And overthrew its cities,
Who did not allow his prisoners to go home?’  Isaiah 14:12-17 (NASB)

Some have interpreted these passages as a dual reference to the fate of the devil, the enemy who tempted Jesus after He fasted forty days in the desert wilderness, and later taunted Jesus as He was dying upon the cross.

But these words also have application for us today.  A persistent desire for more will invariably lead us away from the path intended for us by God.  Acceptance, contentment, and serenity are the blessings God gives to help balance our natural ambitions and desires to achieve a better life.  When gain becomes the sole objective and craving for more our constant companion, we are unable to truly enjoy what the Lord has already provided. If we seek God’s help and guidance with life’s journey and recognize His generous hand along the way, He will open many doors of opportunity for us, consistent with His will.

Most everyone would like to achieve a little more prosperity in the coming year than we had in the last.  God knows that – He designed us this way.  And it is my prayer that each one of us would achieve this and be able to enjoy it with our families, remembering to return a portion back to the Lord and His kingdom in gratitude.

Proverbs 3 gives good guidance on how to lead a balanced life.


Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones.
Honor the Lord from your wealth,
And from the first of all your produce;
10 Then your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine.  Proverbs 3:5-10 (NASB)

May we all enjoy the blessings of life which God has provided as we live under the shadow and protection of His wing.

Reflection

Lord, help us to fulfill our spiritual duties and responsibilities as we pursue our earthly ones.  Anoint us to be like the cherubs who help others see You in the midst of their trials and struggles.  Help us to keep our eyes upon You as we follow our earthly aspirations and keep us close to Your will each step of the way.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Success Without God? – Ezekiel 27

Can we achieve success “without” God?  Many have believed so.  But God expects us to eventually recognize and acknowledge His role in our achievements, or we may find ourselves in jeopardy of losing all.

Two Biblical writers foretell the ultimate demise of two mighty maritime trading nations.  The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel describes the coming fall of ancient Tyre and the apostle John predicts the future downfall of “Babylon the Great” in the New Testament book of Revelation. 

The island fortress of Tyre fell two hundred years after Ezekiel’s writing, but John’s prophecy about Babylon has yet to be fulfilled almost two thousand years later.

What was the reason for the Lord’s judgment against these two merchant nations?  Among other reasons, it seems to be accumulating their great wealth and power without ever acknowledging the blessing of the true God who made it all possible. 

The leaders of both of these nations were arrogant and proud, having gained their abundant wealth through a global trade network which also enriched their trading partners.  These giants possessed all the luxuries of the world at their fingertips yet failed to acknowledge the God who made it all possible, and even worked in opposition to Him.

Tyre was arrogant enough from their success to believe that they were not only humans, but gods.  This was a serious problem in their perspective.  As Ezekiel wrote:

1 The word of the Lord came again to me, saying, “Son of man, say to the leader of Tyre, ‘The Lord God says this:

“Because your heart is haughty
And you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of gods
In the heart of the seas’;
Yet you are a mortal and not God,
Although you make your heart like the heart of God—

By your great wisdom, by your trade
You have increased your riches,
And your heart is haughty because of your riches—

Therefore this is what the Lord God says:

‘Because you have made your heart
Like the heart of God,
Therefore, behold, I am going to bring strangers against you,
The most ruthless of the nations.
And they will draw their swords
Against the beauty of your wisdom
And profane your splendor. 
Ezekiel 28:1-2,5-7 (NASB)

Ezekiel describes the lamentations of the merchants who watched Tyre’s destruction, and would no longer be able to enrich themselves from their trading partnership.

29 All who handle the oar,
The seamen and all the sailors of the sea
Will come down from their ships;
They will stand on the land,
30 And they will make their voice heard over you
And cry out bitterly.
They will throw dust on their heads,
They will wallow in ashes.
31 Also they will shave themselves bald for you
And put on sackcloth;
And they will weep for you in bitterness of soul
With bitter mourning.
32 Moreover, in their wailing they will take up a song of mourning for you
And sing a song of mourning over you:
‘Who is like Tyre,
Like her who is silent in the midst of the sea?
33 When your merchandise went out from the seas,
You satisfied many peoples;
With the abundance of your wealth and your merchandise
You enriched the kings of the earth.
34 Now that you are broken by the seas
In the depths of the waters,
Your merchandise and all your company
Have fallen in the midst of you.
35 All the inhabitants of the coastlands
Are appalled at you,
And their kings are horribly afraid;
They have a troubled look.
36 The merchants among the peoples hiss at you;
You have become terrified
And you will cease to be forever.  Ezekiel 27:29-36 (NASB)

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John gives a similar vision of future lamentations for world merchant Babylon the Great by its grieving trading partners.

11 “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargo any more— 12 cargo of gold, silver, precious stones, and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk, and scarlet; every kind of citron wood, every article of ivory, and every article made from very valuable wood, bronze, iron, and marble; 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, perfume, frankincense, wine, olive oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, and cargo of horses, carriages, slaves, and human lives. 14 The fruit you long for has left you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and people will no longer find them. 15 The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, 16 saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls; 17 for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’ And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and all who make their living by the sea, stood at a distance, 18 and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’ 19 And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich from her prosperity, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’ 20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.”  Revelation 18:11-20 (NASB)

What are the lessons for us from these two divine judgements?  One is that it is vitally important for us to acknowledge the protection, care, and favor of our Creator, no matter our level of success.

It is common for those who achieve great material success to take full credit for their good fortune.  After all, much hard work, sweat, and toil has gone into it.  Often long hours of sacrifice, perseverance and study have been required to begin to achieve and maintain some measure of success.  More hardships are endured to build up a business or a nation of businesses to obtain ever-increasing wealth and riches.  Why not be proud of all the work that went into these endeavors, especially when the results are bountiful enough to create an overflow of wealth that is shared with one’s merchant partners around the globe?

The important ingredient that is often missing is humility.  Being humble rather than proud means acknowledging the contributions of God in our lives as well as our own.  We are easily tempted to overlook the many provisions, protections, and opportunities that have come to us which allow us to achieve our best. 

Support for our advancements came in the form of the family or friends who provided us with food, shelter, and a loving environment of encouragement.  Education has often been available to us through the hard work of our teachers and mentors, leading to successful personal growth and employment opportunities.  Even in the hardest times God has made a way for us to survive and thrive, coming through our challenges stronger and wiser by His hand and favor.

In Luke 12, Jesus told a parable about a rich man with a successful harvest that was much larger than his barns could hold.  Congratulating himself on his accomplishments, he planned to tear down his barns to build bigger ones that could handle the coming bounty, then to retire and enjoy all of his riches himself.  But in Jesus’ parable, the man would die that evening, rich in a wealth that he could not enjoy, and poor towards the things that are important to God.

God does not condemn wealth – only He makes wealth possible.  Rather, He asks that those who receive anything from His hand remember to acknowledge Him, the Giver, and to share of the bounty with those who are in need for His glory and for the growth of His kingdom.

Reflection

How do you define success?  Has God made this possible in your life?  What do you need from the Lord to complete the picture?

Father, thank You for the countless blessings you have given us each day.  Thank you for bringing us through all of our trials and hardships.  Grant us protection and favor today and always and help us to remember and acknowledge Your many gracious gifts and miracles.  Grant us the good things we seek that are in line with Your perfect will for us and acceptance when Your answer is “No” or “Not now”.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

A Rock in the Sea – Ezekiel 26

The great ancient city of Tyre was located on an island just offshore of the current city of Tyre, Lebanon.  This global powerhouse was once the center of commerce for Phoenicia, dominating trade on the seaways of the Mediterranean and beyond, perhaps even to England and West Africa.  Centuries before the empires of Greece and Rome came on the scene, Tyre had a corner on the maritime trade.  But Tyre was blocked from achieving dominance on land by Judah, which possessed the crossroads for the land trade routes.

God’s judgement of Jerusalem through King Nebuchadnezzar presented a new opportunity for Tyre – it would now be able to move in to absorb Israel’s abandoned land trade routes, as well.

But Israel was still the apple of the Lord’s eye.  His judgement was meant to correct them, not to destroy them.  Other nations that sought to capitalize on God’s judgement to enrich themselves at Israel’s expense would find themselves under an even harsher wrath.  Ezekiel writes of this:

1 On February 3, during the twelfth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, Tyre has rejoiced over the fall of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Ha! She who was the gateway to the rich trade routes to the east has been broken, and I am the heir! Because she has been made desolate, I will become wealthy!’

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am your enemy, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the waves of the sea crashing against your shoreline. They will destroy the walls of Tyre and tear down its towers. I will scrape away its soil and make it a bare rock! It will be just a rock in the sea, a place for fishermen to spread their nets, for I have spoken, says the Sovereign Lord. Tyre will become the prey of many nations, and its mainland villages will be destroyed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord.

14 I will make your island a bare rock, a place for fishermen to spread their nets. You will never be rebuilt, for I, the Lord, have spoken. Yes, the Sovereign Lord has spoken!  Ezekiel 26:1-6,14 (NLT)

Ezekiel spoke this prophecy against Tyre twelve years after Jehoiachin, Judah’s final king in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, had been carried off into Babylon.  From here until Christ’s birth, this line would be sustained by governors, not kings.

As stated, the prophecy against Tyre came to pass in waves.  First, Nebuchadnezzar would come against it and greatly weaken it, but not destroy it.  Forced to pay Babylon tribute, Tyre survived for another couple of centuries until Alexander the Great of Greece came against it.  Alexander’s forces built an isthmus out to the island and destroyed it, leveling it and leaving it as a scraped rock in the sea, even unto this day.

What are the lessons for us in this? 

First, storms may blow against us and we may suffer painful loss, but God will not abandon us.  He will watch over us even in our hour of darkness.  Those who would take advantage of us in our weakness will one day pay a price for it.

Second, God’s word is true.  When Nebuchadnezzar failed to level Tyre down to bare rock, many doubted the accuracy of Ezekiel’s prophecy.  But God said in the prophecy that He would use many nations to come against Tyre and come as in waves.  Two hundred years later, the final wave came through the siege of Alexander, and the ancient island of Tyre fell to him, never to be rebuilt.  It remains as flooded ruins today, offshore of the modern city in Lebanon.

Is there a word from God in your own life that has not yet been fulfilled?  We can trust that the answer will come in the Lord’s time.

Reflection

Has the Lord made a promise to You in the past?  Has it come to pass?  What remains of it to be fulfilled?

Lord, thank You for Your unending care for me.  Your love is so far beyond anything that I deserve.  Help me to walk in Your light, forgiven and filled with Your Spirit.  Grant me compassion for others and help me to act upon it for their benefit and to Your glory.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Standing in the Gap – Ezekiel 22

Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord revealed that He was looking for just one person to stand up in righteousness to represent ancient Israel, to lead the people back towards Him and away from a life of faithlessness, injustice, and violence.

30 “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one.  Ezekiel 22:30 (NLT)

Ezekiel records the Lord’s observations from His search:

26 Your priests have violated my instructions and defiled my holy things. They make no distinction between what is holy and what is not. And they do not teach my people the difference between what is ceremonially clean and unclean. They disregard my Sabbath days so that I am dishonored among them. 27 Your leaders are like wolves who tear apart their victims. They actually destroy people’s lives for money! 28 And your prophets cover up for them by announcing false visions and making lying predictions. They say, ‘My message is from the Sovereign Lord,’ when the Lord hasn’t spoken a single word to them. 29 Even common people oppress the poor, rob the needy, and deprive foreigners of justice.  Ezekiel 22:26-29 (NLT)

Priests, leaders, and ordinary people all repeatedly failed to live according to the Lord’s instruction.  In fact, we are still like that today.  Despite the fact that God has provided us all with life itself, we deny Him and His direction that would lead to a life of peace and contentment.  We repeatedly turn away from Him to follow our own stubborn path of resistance.  This was true of the Israelites in the wilderness, their descendants in the Promised Land of milk and honey, and of all of us today – the lure of selfish idolatry and sin pulls us away from God and takes us down the road of destruction. 

For ancient Israel, the pursuit of idolatry even led them to follow the practices of the Canaanites who had lived in the land before them, sacrificing their own firstborn children to “appease” demonic idols.

26 I let them pollute themselves with the very gifts I had given them, and I allowed them to give their firstborn children as offerings to their gods—so I might devastate them and remind them that I alone am the Lord.  Ezekiel 20:26 (NLT)

Having stooped so low in their actions and practices, what was the Lord to do with them? 

First, He let Babylon act as a crucible, purifying with fire the horrible acts that the people had committed.  Then, He sent someone to fill the gap between God and man, His own Son, Jesus Christ.  Fully God and fully human, Jesus would accomplish what all people before Him could not successfully do – live a holy and righteous life.  This pure and innocent Lamb of God would then offer Himself as a sacrifice to completely atone for the sins of the world. 

Just prior to His suffering and crucifixion, Jesus prayed this to the Father:

1After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.  John 17:1-5 (NLT)

On the third day after His death on the cross, Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  Forty days later, He ascended into heaven to be with the Father.  He will one day return to rule and reign on earth from a restored Jerusalem.

Jesus completed the covenant of faith and obedience that Israel was unable to fulfill, opening the door for their complete healing and restoration.  Perhaps we have seen the beginning of this process in our own lifetimes.

40 For on my holy mountain, the great mountain of Israel, says the Sovereign Lord, the people of Israel will someday worship me, and I will accept them. There I will require that you bring me all your offerings and choice gifts and sacrifices. 41 When I bring you home from exile, you will be like a pleasing sacrifice to me. And I will display my holiness through you as all the nations watch. 42 Then when I have brought you home to the land I promised with a solemn oath to give to your ancestors, you will know that I am the Lord.  Ezekiel 20:40-42 (NLT)

Because Jesus stood in the gap for us, we, too, are able to be restored to the state of sinlessness, purity, and righteousness that allows us to abide in God’s presence forever.  This is not because of anything we have done, but because God has held nothing back from us, not even the life of His own beloved Son.  Because of this generous exchange of life for life, we have been brought back from our own self-imposed exile of death and can live a life of freedom and joy with Him today, tomorrow, and forever.  May you seek to embrace His priceless offer with faith.

Reflection

Having redeemed me, where does God want me to stand in the gap as His representative today?

Lord, thank You for standing in the gap between life and death for me.  Show me where You want me to do the same for others today.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Messiah The Prince – Ezekiel 21

The prophet Ezekiel proclaimed the end of the line of the kings of Judah to his fellow exiles in Babylon.  This was self-evident to his audience, as they knew that whoever was still alive of these kings and their children was also in exile with them.  Nebuchadnezzar had ravaged Jerusalem, its walls, and its Temple, and there now seemed to be no future or hope left for the people or their former nation.  They were powerless against this strongest of empires on earth.

But Ezekiel had one more message from the Lord: Israel would one day be restored under a new King, a Messiah who would reign forever and whose kingdom would be without limit.  The failed former princes of Israel whose kingly line had almost continuously led the people away from God would be punished and stripped of their rights and authority.  But a new, worthy Prince, also in the line of David, was coming to bring Israel’s restoration.

24 “Therefore, this is what the Lord God says: ‘Because you have made your guilt known, in that your offenses are uncovered, so that in all your deeds your sins are seen—because you have come to mind, you will be seized by the hand. 25 And you, slain, wicked one, the prince of Israel, whose day has come, in the time of the punishment of the end,’ 26 this is what the Lord God says: ‘Remove the turban and take off the crown; this will no longer be the same. Exalt that which is low, and humble that which is high. 27 Ruins, ruins, ruins, I will make it! This also will be no longer until He comes whose right it is, and I will give it to Him.’  Ezekiel 21:24-27 (NASB)

Jesus, the Messiah would come, and would also emphasize that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

But when will this Messiah come?  How long would Israel have to wait?

Around the same time that the prophet Ezekiel was giving the Lord’s messages to the exiles in the countryside of Babylon, another prophet, Daniel, had been placed by God in Nebuchadnezzar’s temple.  It was Daniel who was given a prophecy about when Messiah would come.

25 So you are to know and understand that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, until Messiah the Prince, there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with streets and moat, even in times of distress. 26 Then after the sixty-two weeks, the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.  Daniel 9:25-26 (NASB)

Most Bible scholars interpret each of these “weeks” as a group of seven lunar years, with each week totaling seven times 360, or 2,520 days.  Daniel’s time period of “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” adds up to the equivalent of 173,880 days.  Using a modern calendar, this equals 476 years.  Messiah would be coming almost five hundred years after the exile.

Daniel’s prophecy states that Messiah the Prince will come 476 years after the decree is given to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.  Most Bible scholars link this event with the commission by King Artaxerxes for Nehemiah to return from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls, which happened around 445 BC. 

Thus, the prophecy foretells that Messiah the Prince will be coming around the time of Jesus’ ministry, 30 AD.  It also tells us that Messiah will be “cut off”, or killed, which refers to Jesus’ crucifixion.  Though Jesus was resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven, His physical reign as King on earth would not begin at this time.  In the meantime, Jerusalem would also experience Daniel’s prophesied destruction, both the city and its sanctuary in the rebuilt Temple, during a siege by the Roman Titus in 70 AD. 

What about today?  Like many other prophets, Daniel tells us that Messiah will return one day to rule and reign, but only after a time of great trial that will cover the earth like a flood.  After these seven years of tribulation, Daniel’s seventieth and final “week”, Jesus will return to fully restore Israel and establish it as the seat of a global kingdom of peace.

Reflection

Although Jesus’ physical kingdom has not yet been set up on earth, His spiritual kingdom is alive and well here.  He is inviting each one of us to join Him.  When we surrender our will and our lives over to Him, we find that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.  He has also promised to never leave us nor forsake us.

Lord, we depend upon You for life and breath each moment of every day.  Thank You for being there in love as we awoke this morning.  Help us to walk in the Light with You today and to experience the goodness, joy, and forgiveness that You have prepared for us.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.