It is a comfort to me when different passages of Scripture bear witness to the same truth, especially when the apostles echo the Lord Jesus (e.g., cf. Mt. 6:19-21 and 1 Tim. 6:17-19, Mk. 8:34-37 and Ph. 2:5-8, Lk. 6:27-36 and Rom. 12:14-21). Such unison gives strength to interpretation. As in court, so also in study, “Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (2 Cor. 13:1). It is a delight to report that such confirmation recently happened to me in reading through Ezekiel.
In the apocalyptic visions of the opening chapters, the glory of the Lord is departing from the temple and the city of God is doomed to destruction. But before the Lord sends destruction, he sends a man through the city with a writing case. The Lord tells him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst” (Ezek. 9:4). In Hebrew, the words “sigh” and “groan” are actually a rhyme—something like moan and groan, as in Daniel Block’s commentary. Later in the book, these words, respectively, will refer to “a symptom of a broken heart and intense grief over an impending doom” (21:6-7) and to “the grief that Ezekiel expresses over the death of his wife” (24:17; Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24, p. 307). Interestingly, the mark is simply the Hebrew letter taw, which served at times as a signature, like our letter “X”, but in shape it looked like our letter “T”—and providentially, like a cross.
Two things stood out to me through this passage. First, here is the God of Abraham, the Judge of all the earth, who will not treat the righteous the same as the wicked (Gen. 18:23-25). Unlike the hypocrites, who act as if there is no “God of justice” and who say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord” and “It is vain to serve God” (Mal. 2:17; 3:14), the prophets testify that God differentiates among people. He marks out His own and will save them in the day of wrath. From Noah in the flood and Lot in Sodom to the final generations of believers, who are marked and sealed in the book of Revelation, it is a truth, “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Pt. 2:9).
Second, the differentiating factor in God’s eyes is not simply what believers have done—they are said to be “righteous” in being God-centered in their deeds, although this does not justify them in the end, because only the blood of Jesus removes God’s wrath (cf. Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:21-26; 5:9-10)—what differentiates believers is how they responded to the wickedness around them. In Ezekiel, they moan and groan. In Amos, they feel “sick about” the “ruin of Joseph” (6:6; Shalom M. Paul, Amos, p. 209). And in Malachi, they talk among themselves about the irreverence of those who claim that God does not differentiate among people. God Himself pays attention and listens and has “a book of remembrance…written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name” (3:16). Indeed, the Lord declares of such people, “They will be Mine…and I will spare them as a man spares his own son…;” therefore, the prophet concludes, “So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (3:17-18). Again, God differentiates.
Even the prophets themselves grieve over the coming destruction of the wicked. Ezekiel cries out, “Alas, Lord God! Are You destroying the whole remnant of Israel by pouring out Your wrath on Jerusalem?” (9:8). Amos pleads, “Please pardon!” and “Please stop!” (7:2, 5). Is this our attitude toward the ruin of our culture and the coming destruction? If not, have we become callous or indifferent or even wishing for the day of wrath to come, so that others may see how right we have been? Where is the echo of God, who takes no delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11)? Where are the tears of our Savior, who wept over Jerusalem? Have we no grief over the sinfulness of our culture, our church, our lives? Let us remember how blessed are those who mourn—and in the context of Jesus quoting and fulfilling Scripture, even this beatitude seems to come from the prophets, from the word about those who mourn over Jerusalem and are comforted (cf. Mt. 5:4; Isa. 66:10-13).
God still differentiates today. Whether we are like Lot, vexed in spirit by the abominations of our culture, or like those in Revelation, who keep their garments white in the midst of a dead church (2 Pt. 2:8; Rev. 3:1, 4; cf. Rev. 2:24), we will be spared in the Day of Wrath through the blood of Jesus. My concern here is for our heart. In seeing the evil around us, both in the culture and in the church, we must not become callous or indifferent. We must have the heart of the prophets and of those who grieved over Jerusalem. And in doing so, may our God also remember us and spare us. Oh Lord, “In wrath, remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2)!
As you may know, Spring Branch Academy is a Christian high school sponsored by Countryside Bible Church. It has an ambitious curriculum and aims to prepare students for their life vocations by instilling wisdom and inspiring worship. That is our...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
"Should I flee or not?" That was the question posed to Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, during the bubonic plague. His answer bypasses the question and goes deeper. Sometimes it right to flee and sometimes it is not. The real dangers are...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
We are an educational ministry excited about serving the Lord through expository messages from the Bible and church history. Here are some highlights for your edification: Sermon Series - The Book of Revelation: The Map of Church History! American...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
The conversation is classic. I’ve heard it many times. The Baptist claims, “I know my loved one’s in heaven. He prayed the prayer as a child to receive Christ.” The Wesleyan responds, “But how can you be so sure?...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” --Psalm 19:1-3 Ponder...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
Recently, I have told that riding a motorcycle into Yosemite Valley in California can be a philosophical experience. On your left is El Capitan, one of the world’s largest granite cliffs, rising off the valley floor to a height of three...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
The idea of contextualizing the gospel is not new to me. In his book Center Church, Timothy Keller cites a wonderful example of contextualization from the gospel narratives. In Matthew, the sower casts his mustard seed in a “field”...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
Three times the apostle Paul says that the Law was added to increase sinning. Now let that statement settle in. To increase sinning. Not stop it. And added. As if tacked-on to God’s program. Really, the Old Testament and New Testament...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
Astronomy is one of the traditional disciplines of a liberal arts education. And yet, how many of us were actually taught about the stars or have given them much thought? This is sad, because the stars have a lot to say. The Bible says that the...[ abbreviated | read entire ]