I wrote last week about Jeremiah’s prophecies of Judah’s exile into Babylon and the unpopularity of that message. The book of Daniel and Ezekiel, in addition to parts of Jeremiah, contain additional prophesies and historical accounts of events in Babylon during this exile.
Last week we read Daniel 1-3, which tell of events in Babylon that happened to a group of the exiles from Jerusalem during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Daniel and his friends were brought to Babylon and trained according to Babylonian ways to serve in the king’s court. These chapters tell how they relied on God and stayed true to Him in the face of obstacles met in Babylon, ultimately resulting in their deliverance from death and God receiving credit and glory for their rescue.
Jeremiah’s word during the events of the exile focus a lot on God’s impending judgment on the nations He used to enact judgment on Israel. Consider the following from Jeremiah 51:20-26.
You [Babylon] are my hammer and weapon of war: with you I break nations in pieces; with you I destroy kingdoms; with you I break in pieces the horse and his rider; with you I break in pieces the chariot and the charioteer; with you I break in pieces man and woman; with you I break in pieces the old man and the youth; with you I break in pieces the young man and the young woman; with you I break in pieces the shepherd and his flock; with you I break in pieces the farmer and his team; with you I break in pieces governors and commanders. “I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea before your very eyes for all the evil that they have done in Zion, declares the LORD. “Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, declares the LORD, which destroys the whole earth; I will stretch out my hand against you, and roll you down from the crags, and make you a burnt mountain. No stone shall be taken from you for a corner and no stone for a foundation, but you shall be a perpetual waste, declares the LORD.
Through Jeremiah, God declares to Babylon that he will punish them. Now, you may ask, “How is it fair for God to punish the very people that he uses to do His will?”
God’s judgment is always based on the response of people to His sovereignty. Babylon had ultimately rejected God’s authority and worshipped other gods. For example, back in Daniel, chapters 2 and 3 we are told how Nebuchadnezzar declared that Daniel’s God is “truly… God of gods and Lord of kings”. Yet in the very next chapter he builds a statue of himself and orders everyone to worship it. When Daniel’s friends refuse, the king throws them into a fiery furnace to be executed, but God delivers them from the flames. Nebuchadnezzar then declares that no one should ever speak against their God. However, in chapter 4, the king takes claim for Babylon’s power and might for himself, resulting in God’s taking the throne from him.
Assyria did the same thing. Jonah preached to it and they repented (Jonah 4), but not that long after another king of Assyria thumbed his nose at God (2 Kings 19), claiming that no god is more powerful than him (the king). God struck his entire army dead!
Ezekiel (the man) started his ministry in Jerusalem, playing out several object lessons as prescribed by God to illustrate the coming conquer and exile of Jerusalem. He then went to Babylon and continued his prophesies and visions. There is an interesting passage early in the book (Ezekiel 3:17-21) in which God explains Ezekiel’s responsibilities as prophet.
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”
Note that Ezekiel was responsible for speaking God’s message whether anyone listens or not. Those who reject the message will be held accountable for their rejection, but Ezekiel is being held accountable to the message he’s been given.
Another main element of the book of Ezekiel is focused on the temple. In chapters 8-10, Ezekiel has a vision of the atrocities that have been committed in the name of worship and then he sees the glory of the Lord departing from the temple. Later in the book, he gets a vision of a new temple, but one that has characteristics that are very different than the current temple. I’ll discuss that one in a later blog.