As a minister of the Gospel I am often asked rather difficult questions. I don’t say that they are difficult because they depend on a knowledge of the original language or ancient backgrounds or even some complicated theology; no, these are difficult questions because they have clear and simple answers that I know are likely to be taken hard. For example, “Are you telling me that my grandmother is in Hell?” or “Are you telling me that my children are lost, because of the church they’ve decided to attend?” and others like it. At such times, because of empathy, temptation can certainly come my way to sugar-coat things, avoid telling the unvarnished truth, and give them comfort. I think such temptations are common, because few people really want to cause others pain; but the minister’s job — just like the job of the prophets of old — is to tell God’s truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), seasoned as it were with salt (Colossians 4:6). I bring this up, because of the reading today in Ezekiel which addresses false prophets. Sometimes, when the term false prophet is brought up, we conjure up a picture in our heads of some greedy lackey who’ll tell you anything you want to hear. But today’s reading may give you a different picture — and offer a warning that could strike close to home.
Those who prophesy from their own inspiration
What a serious warning to anyone who would teach (prophesy) God’s word is before us here in Ezekiel 13:1-16! What is taught must not be from one’s own “inspiration” (v. 2 — the original word is actually “heart”), nor from following one’s own spirit (v. 3 — it needs to be God’s Spirit), nor from one’s own hopes (see v. 6). Ezekiel compared such prophets to those who might try to build a wall without mortar and cover up the weakness of such a wall with mere whitewash (water and lime). Such walls might look OK for a while, but when the storm came (and God had prepared quite the storm in the destruction of Jerusalem), the wall would collapse to its foundations!
Too often modern claimants to being spokesmen for God suffer from all the same old deceptions. They get inspiration from their own hearts (thoughts and theologies), they follow their own spirits (not the Spirit inspired Scriptures), and they preach their own hopes. I’ll assume the best of them and say that they are often motivated by a desire to console and comfort, but hedging on the truth to gain a little comfort for someone is a short gain strategy for a longer term calamity.
Calamity that was intended to be corrective, not punitive
A proof of how truth (spoken in love and seasoned as it were with salt) is better than a compassionate lie is found in Ezekiel 14:22,23. This calamity that God was bring on Israel would have its intended effect — God is saying to Ezekiel that “the proof would be in the pudding” of Israel’s conduct and actions after they come out of the fire. And certainly it is incontrovertible that the Israel that came out of exile was a different Israel than went intothe exile. The Hebrew writer of the New Testament said it well, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Hebrews 12:11, NAS95.
What could have been?
Ezekiel 15 makes a number of interesting points about the uselessness of Israel at that point in history, but one that really struck me was the implication that God had other plans for Israel which were thwarted by Israel’s unfaithfulness and obstinacy. Their destruction and exile was going to render them even less useful than they had been in their faithlessness. One wonders what a light to the whole region Israel should have become. Her neighbors might have adopted Israel’s ways instead of Israel adopting theirs. Perhaps the Messiah would have been introduced to the world sooner and the world better saved and served. What history would have been and should have been is speculation for “Back to the Future” fiction. But what should be and could be in the here and now regarding our lives is highly relevant! So will you be faithful or faithless?
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.