Ezekiel 31-33

Thursday Evening Bible Study

October 27, 2005

Ezekiel 31

:1-9 The Tree of Assyria

:1 Now it came to pass in the eleventh year, in the third month, on the first day of the month, that the word of the LORD came to me, saying,

The last prophecy (30:20-26) was given two months earlier – it had been a prophecy towards Pharaoh, that God would be destroying Pharaoh’s power and would scatter the Egyptians.

It is also two months before the actual fall of Jerusalem.

:2 "Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude: 'Whom are you like in your greatness?

This prophecy is going to be directed at Pharaoh, to teach him a lesson from the example of Assyria.

:3 Indeed Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon, With fine branches that shaded the forest, And of high stature; And its top was among the thick boughs.

Assyria – this was the reigning world empire in the days of Isaiah. Yet by the time of Ezekiel, the Assyrians were a thing of the past, having been conquered by Nebuchadnezzar. The chief ally of the Assyrians was the Egyptians. King Josiah was killed by the Egyptians when he tried to keep them from marching north to Carchemish to help the Assyrians in their final stand against the Babylonians. They arrived too late and the Assyrians were defeated.

Though the prophecy is being given to the king of Egypt, it seems that the lesson is to be pay attention to what happened to Assyria. Assyria was an example to Egypt of things to come.

It would be as if someone warned the United States about not being too cocky as a world power, that we should look at what happened to the Soviet Union.

:4 The waters made it grow; Underground waters gave it height, With their rivers running around the place where it was planted, And sent out rivulets to all the trees of the field.

The Assyrian empire was centered on the Tigris River. Egypt was centered on the Nile River.

:5 'Therefore its height was exalted above all the trees of the field; Its boughs were multiplied, And its branches became long because of the abundance of water, As it sent them out.

:6 All the birds of the heavens made their nests in its boughs; Under its branches all the beasts of the field brought forth their young; And in its shadow all great nations made their home.

the birds of heaven – probably talking about all the people of the world.

An interesting idea, possibly something to think about in connection with Jesus’ parable of the Mustard Plant:

(Mat 13:31-32 NKJV) Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, {32} "which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches."

:7 'Thus it was beautiful in greatness and in the length of its branches, Because its roots reached to abundant waters.

:8 The cedars in the garden of God could not hide it; The fir trees were not like its boughs, And the chestnut trees were not like its branches; No tree in the garden of God was like it in beauty.

:9 I made it beautiful with a multitude of branches, So that all the trees of Eden envied it, That were in the garden of God.'

It seems that “Eden” is being used as a metaphor – all the nations are pictured as trees in the garden of Eden.

:10-18 Assyria cut down, in the pit

:10 "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: 'Because you have increased in height, and it set its top among the thick boughs, and its heart was lifted up in its height,

The Assyrians were filled with pride, just as Pharaoh was. Just as Satan was.

Lesson

Pride

We’ve seen over and over again:
(Prov 16:18 NKJV)  Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.
Pride can creep into nations.
Illustration

Abraham Lincoln wrote, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and which multiplied, and enriched, and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

Sounds like us today, doesn’t it?

Pride can even creep into Christians.  We like recognition.  We like to have titles put on us (like “pastor”, “elder”, “deacon”).  We like to have people say that we’re wonderful …
Illustration
A stinging letter from the pen of John Wesley dating back to September 20, 1778, has survived until now. It is a letter addressed to Francis Asbury, a dear acquaintance of Wesley’s. Here is a rather pointed portion of this strong letter:

But in one point, my dear Brother, I am a little afraid the Doctor (Thomas Coke) and you differ from me. I study to be little, you study to be great; I creep, you strut along; I found a school, you a college—nay, and call it after your own names! Oh beware! Do not seek to be something! Let me be nothing, and Christ be all in all. One instance of this, your greatness, has given me great concern. How can you—how dare you suffer yourself to be called a Bishop! I shudder—I start at the very thought. Men may call me a knave, or a fool, a rascal, a scoundrel, and I am content, but they shall never, by my consent, call me a Bishop! For my sake—for Christ’s sake, put a full end to this! ... Thus, my dear Frankie, I have told you all that is in my heart....”

What can I do to guard myself against pride?
In ancient days, feet got pretty filthy.  People walked around in sandals, on dusty streets where people threw their garbage and their sewage.  At the end of the day when people came home for supper, it was customary for a servant to greet the members of the house and wash their feet. 
Before the Last Supper, Jesus laid His robes off to the side, took a towel and a basin of water and began to wash the disciples’ feet.  This wasn’t the job that a Master was supposed to do.  It was the job that the lowliest of servants would have been assigned to.
(John 13:12-17 NKJV)  So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? {13} "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. {14} "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. {15} "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. {16} "Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. {17} "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

You and I are not above our Master.  We are not above the One who claimed to be the “servant of all”.  I think that one of the best ways to continue to cultivate humility in your life is to be a servant.  Wash others’ feet.  Do the lowest of jobs.

Serving produces humility.

:11 'therefore I will deliver it into the hand of the mighty one of the nations, and he shall surely deal with it; I have driven it out for its wickedness.

the mighty one of the nations – Nebuchadnezzar, who conquered the Assyrians, and would conquer Egypt.

:12-17 

God tells that this tree would be cut down, the Assyrians would be cut down by the Babylonians…

:18 'To which of the trees in Eden will you then be likened in glory and greatness? Yet you shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the depths of the earth; you shall lie in the midst of the uncircumcised, with those slain by the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude,' says the Lord GOD."

Egypt would suffer the same fate that the Assyrians did. They would all go to the grave.

Ezekiel 32

:1-16 Lamentation for Pharaoh

:1 And it came to pass in the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, that the word of the LORD came to me, saying,

March, 585 BC. This is a year and seven months after the fall of Jerusalem. It is also two months after the news of Jerusalem’s fall has arrived in Babylon.

:2 "Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say to him: 'You are like a young lion among the nations, And you are like a monster in the seas, Bursting forth in your rivers, Troubling the waters with your feet, And fouling their rivers.'

for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say to him – a couple of weeks ago someone asked if these prophecies were ever delivered to the people they were addressing. This makes me think that perhaps some sort of communication was sent to the Pharaoh.

:3-10

God goes on to describe the downfall of Egypt like the killing of a wild animal, exposed to the elements and the animals.

:11-16

God clarifies that Egypt will be destroyed by the Babylonians.

:17-32 Egypt and others in Sheol – A visit to hell

:17 It came to pass also in the twelfth year, on the fifteenth day of the month, that the word of the LORD came to me, saying:

This prophecy comes two weeks after the one in 32:1.

:18 "Son of man, wail over the multitude of Egypt, And cast them down to the depths of the earth, Her and the daughters of the famous nations, With those who go down to the Pit:

the Pitbowr – pit, well, cistern

This is the place of the dead, known as Sheol.

Ezekiel is going to get a picture of Sheol.

Before the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, Sheol had two “compartments” – a place for the unbelievers and a place for the believers. The place for the unbelievers is known as Hell, and place for the faithful was known as Paradise or “Abraham’s Bosom”.  Jesus described these two compartments when He told the story of the “Rich Man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31).

:19 'Whom do you surpass in beauty? Go down, be placed with the uncircumcised.'

:20 "They shall fall in the midst of those slain by the sword; She is delivered to the sword, Drawing her and all her multitudes.

:21 The strong among the mighty Shall speak to him out of the midst of hell With those who help him: 'They have gone down, They lie with the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.'

hell[email protected]’owl – sheol, underworld, grave, hell, pit

Here’s some of the nations that would greet the Egyptians in hell:

:22 "Assyria is there, and all her company, With their graves all around her, All of them slain, fallen by the sword.

:23 Her graves are set in the recesses of the Pit, And her company is all around her grave, All of them slain, fallen by the sword, Who caused terror in the land of the living.

:24 "There is Elam and all her multitude, All around her grave, All of them slain, fallen by the sword, Who have gone down uncircumcised to the lower parts of the earth, Who caused their terror in the land of the living; Now they bear their shame with those who go down to the Pit.

Elam – a once mighty nation in SW Asia; southern Iraq and Iran cover this area.  Now it’s brought down to the pit.

:25 They have set her bed in the midst of the slain, With all her multitude, With her graves all around it, All of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword; Though their terror was caused In the land of the living, Yet they bear their shame With those who go down to the Pit; It was put in the midst of the slain.

They might have been scary in life, but in death they were in a place of shame.

:26-31

Other great nations are described as being down in hell as well – Meschech, Tubal, Edom, Sidon

:31 "Pharaoh will see them And be comforted over all his multitude, Pharaoh and all his army, Slain by the sword," Says the Lord GOD.

comforted – the comfort that Pharaoh would receive would be a kind of perverted comfort, knowing that he wasn’t alone in hell and that others had gone through the same humiliation and shame that he had.

But hell I not a place you normally link with the word “comfort”.

:32 "For I have caused My terror in the land of the living; And he shall be placed in the midst of the uncircumcised With those slain by the sword, Pharaoh and all his multitude," Says the Lord GOD.

Ezekiel 33

This chapter begins the last major division of the book of Ezekiel.

Chapters 1-24 dealt with the reasons for God’s judgment on Israel.

Chapters 25-32 dealt with God’s judgment on the Gentile nations.

Chapters 33-48 will talk about God’s restoration of blessing on Israel.

:1-11 The Watchman

God reminds Ezekiel of his role as a “watchman”.

(Ezek 3:17-21 NKJV) "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me:

The job of a watchman was to look out for the approach of the enemy. If a foreign army was marching on your city, the watchman’s job was to warn the city that trouble was on the way.

:1 Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying,

:2 "Son of man, speak to the children of your people, and say to them: 'When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman,

:3 'when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people,

:4 'then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head.

:5 'He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life.

If you were warned about the danger ahead, but you refused to pay attention to the warning, then the watchman can’t be blamed for what happens to you.

:6 'But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand.'

If the watchman never warns the people of the coming danger, then he is responsible for what happens to the people.

:7 "So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me.

:8 "When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you shall surely die!' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.

:9 "Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.

Lesson

Being a watchman

I can’t help but think that as Christians, we are a type of “watchman” to those around us.
We know of the coming danger up ahead. We understand that God will one day judge the world. We know that the wages of sin is death. And we also know the way out.
Now I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to say that if you don’t witness to someone, that their death is on your hands. They will pay for their own sins.
But I still think we ought to consider being faithful “watchman” who warn of what’s up ahead. And I don’t think it’s wrong to convey the urgency involved.

:10 "Therefore you, O son of man, say to the house of Israel: 'Thus you say, "If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?"'

:11 "Say to them: 'As I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?'

Lesson

Turn around

The people were realizing that their situation was a result of their own sins. They were miserable and didn’t know how they could go on.
The answer was in two simple things:
1. God doesn’t want wicked people to die.
Some people will say that they don’t want to follow Jesus because He is a God who sends people to hell.

The truth is that He has done everything He could to keep people from going to hell.

God isn’t happy about people going to hell.

He wants all to be saved.

2. You can change things by turning around.
Illustration

The mighty Niagara river plummets some 180 feet at the American and Horseshoe Falls. Before the falls, there are violent, turbulent rapids. Farther upstream, however, where the river’s current flows more gently, boats are able to navigate. Just before the Welland River empties into the Niagara, a pedestrian walkway spans the river. Posted on this bridge’s pylons is a warning sign for all boaters: DO YOU HAVE AN ANCHOR? DO YOU KNOW HOW TO USE IT? There is a point on the Niagara River that is the point of no return.

That’s a bit what our message is like. There is a point of no return. Do you have an anchor? Do you know how to use it?

The Falls are just down stream. There’s not much time left to turn around.

:12-20 How God judges

In these verses, God lays out His standards.  If you are a wicked person, but you turn from your sins, God will save you.  If you are a righteous person, but turn to wickedness, then you’re in trouble with God.

It’s the same lesson that we covered back in Ezekiel 18.

:21-22 Jerusalem falls

:21 And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, that one who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, "The city has been captured!"

A year and six months after Jerusalem falls (Jer. 39:2), word gets back to Babylon telling about what happened.

Ezekiel had been warning the exiles in Babylon for seven years – telling them that the day would come when Jerusalem would be wiped out.

:22 Now the hand of the LORD had been upon me the evening before the man came who had escaped. And He had opened my mouth; so when he came to me in the morning, my mouth was opened, and I was no longer mute.

From the beginning of his ministry, Ezekiel had not been able to speak except for when he had a prophecy from God (Eze. 3:26).

But God told him that a day would come when word would come that Jerusalem had fallen, and that day Ezekiel would be able to speak freely. (Eze. 24:25-27)

:23-29 The cause the remnant’s fall

:23 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying:

:24 "Son of man, they who inhabit those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, 'Abraham was only one, and he inherited the land. But we are many; the land has been given to us as a possession.'

they who inhabit those ruins – the people still living in Israel, who have escaped capture by the Babylonians.

Abraham was only one …

This is a phrase found in a prophecy by Isaiah, one which speaks of restoring “waste places”:

(Isa 51:1-3 NKJV) "Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, You who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, And to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. {2} Look to Abraham your father, And to Sarah who bore you; For I called him alone, And blessed him and increased him." {3} For the LORD will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the LORD; Joy and gladness will be found in it, Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
The prophecy seems aimed at God’s restoration of the “waste places”, and wouldn’t that apply to the land after the Babylonian invasion?
And these people felt that since Abraham had a claim to the land, and he was all by himself, shouldn’t they have an even greater claim since there were more of them?

But the prophecy in Isaiah was for those who followed after righteousness…

:25 "Therefore say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "You eat meat with blood, you lift up your eyes toward your idols, and shed blood. Should you then possess the land?

:26 "You rely on your sword, you commit abominations, and you defile one another's wives. Should you then possess the land?"'

This doesn’t sound like a people who followed after righteousness.

:27-29

God warns them that they will be wiped out because of their wickedness

:30-33 Listening but not obeying

:30 "As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, 'Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.'

:31 "So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain.

Illustration

In 1991 James Patterson and Peter Kim released The Day America Told the Truth, a study based on an extensive opinion survey which guaranteed the anonymity of its participants. And the truth was shocking! Let me give you a brief sampling of their findings:

Only 13% of Americans see all Ten Commandments as binding and relevant; 91% lie regularly, both at work and in their homes; most American workers admit to goofing off for an average of seven hours, almost one whole day per week; and half of our work force admits that they regularly call in sick when they feel perfectly well. One particular question on the survey really grabbed me: "What are you willing to do for $10 million?" (Are you sitting down?) 25% would abandon their families; 23% would become a prostitute for a week; 7% would murder a stranger!

:32 "Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.

:33 "And when this comes to pass; surely it will come; then they will know that a prophet has been among them."

Lesson

“Religion”

The voice of “religion” – the people liked to come and hear Ezekiel’s words. They liked the way they sounded. They felt some sort of religious “fulfillment” by listening to them. But they didn’t benefit from them because they didn’t obey them.
Illustration
Chad Walsh, in Early Christians of the Twenty-first Century, wrote: “Millions of Christians live in a sentimental haze of vague piety, with soft organ music trembling in the lovely light from stained glass windows. Their religion is a pleasant thing of emotional quivers, divorced from the will, divorced from the intellect and demanding little except lip service to a few harmless platitudes. I suspect that Satan has called off his attempt to convert people to agnosticism. After all, if a man travels far enough away from Christianity, he is liable to see it in perspective and decide that it is true. It is much safer, from Satan’s point of view, to vaccinate a man with a mild case of Christianity so as to protect him from the real disease.”
Illustration
Jonathan Edwards, in Religious Affections, wrote:

A person may be full of talk about his own [religious] experiences. But often it is more a bad than a good sign. It is like a tree that is full of leaves that seldom bears much fruit. Or it is like a cloud which, although it appears to promise much fullness of rain, is only wind to a dry and thirsty earth. ... Strong, false affections are much more likely to declare themselves than true ones. It is the nature of false religion to be showy and visible as it was with the Pharisees.

It’s better to have a life that is changed by having met Jesus Christ than have a life full of experiences that you can talk about, but that people can’t see having affected your life.
James wrote,
(James 1:22 NKJV) But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
(James 1:23-25 NLT) For if you just listen and don't obey, it is like looking at your face in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance. {24} You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. {25} But if you keep looking steadily into God's perfect law--the law that sets you free--and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.