When God Manifests His Holiness

December 11, 2022 Speaker: Ben Janssen Series: Ezekiel: Tough Love

Scripture: Ezekiel 25:1– 28:26

20 The word of the LORD came to me: 21 “Son of man, set your face toward Sidon, and prophesy against her 22 and say, Thus says the Lord GOD:

      “Behold, I am against you, O Sidon,
      and I will manifest my glory in your midst.
      And they shall know that I am the LORD
      when I execute judgments in her
      and manifest my holiness in her;
      23 for I will send pestilence into her,
      and blood into her streets;
      and the slain shall fall in her midst,
      by the sword that is against her on every side.
      Then they will know that I am the LORD.

24 “And for the house of Israel there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord GOD.

25 “Thus says the Lord GOD: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. 26 And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the LORD their God.”

The third Sunday of Advent is centered on the theme of joy. The God of the Bible is interested in maximizing the joy of his people forever. When Jesus went to the cross, we are told, he did so for the joy set before him (Heb 12:2). Even in the midst of pain, sorrow, tragedy, loss—and even judgment—God is at work maximizing his people’s joy.

Last week, our study in Ezekiel took a significant turn with the announcement in Ezekiel 24 that the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem had begun. God claims that he was therein beginning the deep cleansing of Israel and her capital city and that his cleansing work would not stop until he had satisfied his fury (Ezek 24:13). When we get to chapter 25, we notice that the prophecy of Ezekiel turns to prophecies against foreign nations here and all the way through chapter 32. What is the basic message of these prophecies against the nations? One way to put it is that we find here the demand for an alternative society, the cosmic collapse of the global society, and the promise of a restored society.

The Alternative Society

First, these chapters show us that God’s plan for the fallen world we inhabit is to create anew an alternative society through whom he will work to bring the promise of his kingdom rule to fruition. This, we must always keep in mind, is what the Bible is primarily about. It is not primarily about how we human beings can get out of this world and live with him in heaven. It is about how God can come live with us here in this world he created for his glory. Because of human sin, that is the bigger problem to be solved. If God is indeed going to dwell with us in this world, then the world must have an alternative society.

The Overthrow of the Seven Nations

Let’s make a quick observation about chapters 25–32. There are four nations in view in chapter 25: Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia. Then, three chapters (26-28) are devoted to prophecies against Tyre. Sidon is targeted at the end of chapter 28 before Egypt is prophesied against in chapters 29-32. So, in these eight chapters, there are seven nations that Ezekiel is told to prophesy against.

The number seven is significant. You know that is the biblical number for completion, but the Bible also speaks of seven nations that inhabited the land of Canaan before Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land (Deut 7:1; Acts 13:19). Ezekiel is prophesying here about yet another conquest of the nations, and the point of overthrowing the nations is so that God can plant his alternative society in his land.

God’s People Will Be Different

Now the entire book of Ezekiel up to this point has concentrated on prophetic messages of judgment against Israel and the city of Jerusalem. There would be some degree of relief now that God’s attention turns to Israel’s neighbors. Indeed, at the end of chapter 28, God speaks of a day when Israel will “dwell securely,” and that day will come when he executes “judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt” (Ezek 28:26). So, we might say that these prophecies against the nations “function as indirect messages of hope.”[1]

I wonder, though, if there is a more direct message being sent to God’s people, past and present. Given the argument that a chapter like Ezekiel 23 was meant to highlight Israel’s political sin of seeking security in alliances with other nations, the judgment against the nations would seem to send a message that to make alliances with the kingdoms of men would not only rouse the jealousy of Israel’s God but would also be self-destructive. The king of Assyria once questioned Hezekiah, king of Judah, saying that to trust in Egypt would be like putting your weight on a broken piece of wood, hoping it would give you balance but instead ending up with an impaled hand (2 Kings 18:19-21). It’s little consolation to say that God will now destroy that splintered piece of wood that did you harm anyway.

So, what might be the more direct message of these chapters? Let’s go back a couple of chapters, to Ezekiel 20:32. There we find God saying this to the people of Israel:

What is in your mind shall never happen—the thought, “Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone.”

Here we see God’s determination for his people even in his relentless judgment of them. God’s plan is not to eliminate his people, even as he pours out his cleansing fury on them. But his plan is to eliminate every last imitation of the idolatrous nations in his people. The more direct message to the people of God is that God’s people, in God’s kingdom, will not be merely greater than the nations around them. They will be altogether different than the nations around them.

Forbidden Alliances

In chapter 25, we read of Ezekiel’s prophecies against the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, and the Philistines. The Ammonites are condemned for expressing malicious joy over the destruction of Israel (v. 3, 6).[2] The Moabites are condemned for saying, “Behold, the house of Judah is like all the other nations” (v. 8), evidently a denial of Israel’s election and special status among the nations.[3] God condemns the Edomites because they “acted revengefully against the house of Judah” (v. 12). The same is said of the Philistines in verse 15. For each of these nations, God promises to destroy them as punishment for their actions. And it sounds like he is coming to Israel’s aid, destroying their enemies who have opposed God’s people and who rejoice in their downfall.

But when we look at the historical situation at the time, that is a difficult conclusion to come to. The Bible and extra-biblical records tell us that Israel’s last king, Zedekiah, was working with these nations to stop Babylonian aggression. In other words, these nations were not exactly Israel’s enemies. They had a common enemy with Israel, and they were trying to find a way to work together with Israel to overthrow that enemy. The problem, though, is that God made plain, in Jeremiah 27, that he was giving the land to Babylon. So, Israel’s alliance with these nations in order to resist Babylon was essentially an alliance with these nations to rebel against God. God said:

I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant. . . . [I]f any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the LORD, until I have consumed it by his hand (Jer 27:6, 8).

Why, then, does the prophet condemn these nations for animosity toward Israel, when in fact these nations were forming alliances with Israel? It’s because they were making an alliance with Israel in rebellion against God. Although they seem to be Israel’s allies, they are in fact an obstacle to Israel being the alternative society that God had chosen them to be. How can Israel be different from every other nation when they make alliances with the nations and end up resisting God himself?

The Collapsed Society

With that question lingering in our minds, we move on to the next three chapters in Ezekiel, which mostly contain an extended prophecy against Tyre. Why so much attention to Tyre? It is because here God warns his people of the collapse of society and the cosmic implications of that collapse.

The City-State of Tyre

The city of Tyre was founded during the third millennium BC. It originally consisted of an urban center on the mainland and an island fortress a short distance off the coast.[4] Ezekiel 26:5 references these two elements. Tyre’s geography explains its power as a formidable city-state in the ancient world. Situated to the north of Palestine, it, along with Egypt to the south, was what stood between Babylon and its takeover of that territory. Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Tyre in 586 BC in a campaign that would last some 13 years.

In chapter 26, Ezekiel declares that, like the other nations his people sought to make an alliance with, God was against the city-state of Tyre (v. 3). Verse 7 predicts the Babylonian siege. Verse 15 speaks of the global repercussions for the fall of such a great political power. And verse 19 has God speaking of his judgment on the city in terms that are ironic and meaningful.

For thus says the Lord GOD: When I make you a city laid waste, like the cities that are not inhabited, when I bring up the deep over you, and the great waters cover you, then I will make you go down with those who go down to the pit… (Ezek 27:19-20).

Remember, Tyre was a great power because of its island location, its place in the midst of the sea. But God says he will “bring up the deep over [them], and the great waters [will] cover [them].” In the ancient world, the great seas signified the mysterious, uncontrollable forces of the universe. In our enlightened day, we may not think much of such powers, but that’s only an indication of how much we live in denial; because for all of our scientific knowledge and technological advances, all it takes is a natural disaster or a previously unknown virus to prove that we aren’t as much in control of the cosmos as we think we are.

A Lamentation for Tyre

Tyre then stands not only for the great national superpowers of any given era, but for the great human achievements of society. In chapter 27, God tells Ezekiel to “raise a lamentation over Tyre.” Here was an ancient city that claimed to be “perfect in beauty” (v. 3). Throughout this chapter, Ezekiel makes use of “an extended metaphor,” namely, “of Tyre as a skillfully built and splendidly defended ship that engages in far-flung trade.”[5] As we skim through the chapter, we are encouraged to reflect on the great power of Tyre and the prosperity it brought not only to itself (vv. 3-11) but also to its many trade partners (vv. 12-25).

So, it’s no surprise that when Tyre falls, it is a shock to the entire global order. Verses 26-36 describe the reverberations, the shock, the horror. Take a look, for example, at verses 32b-36:

Who is like Tyre,
like one destroyed in the midst of the sea?
When your wares came from the seas,
you satisfied many peoples;
with your abundant wealth and merchandise
you enriched the kings of the earth.
Now you are wrecked by the seas,
in the depths of the waters;
your merchandise and all your crew in your midst
have sunk with you.
All the inhabitants of the coastlands
are appalled at you,
and the hair of their kings bristles with horror;
their faces are convulsed.
The merchants among the peoples hiss at you;
you have come to a dreadful end
and shall be no more forever.

I want you to notice that as Tyre grew in power and influence—in “beauty” as it was described earlier (vv. 3-4, 11)—the result was that she was able to satisfy many peoples (v. 33). Tyre’s prosperity meant the prosperity of many peoples, a theme that is not incidental to the biblical story. This is why God chose Abraham and his descendants (Gen 12:2-3). This is what God has promised to do for the world through his people.

But here it was Tyre instead of Israel who had made progress. And just at the moment that it seemed all was going so well, God brought the great ship to a terrifying end. The story told here is a story of the achievement of human civilization, bringing order into a cosmos of chaos, taming the waters of the sea, as it were. This, inherently, is a good thing. God intends for human beings to do this. He created us to subdue the earth and have dominion over it (Gen 1:28). He put Adam and Even in the garden of Eden “to work it and keep it" (Gen 2:15).

Why, then, does he frustrate the achievement?

The Pride of Tyre

Well, in chapter 28, he tells us. In a prophecy directed against “the prince of Tyre,” God says:

Because your heart is proud,
and you have said, “I am a god,
I sit in the seat of the gods,
in the heart of the seas,”
yet you are but a man, and no god,
though you make your heart like the heart of a god (Ezek 28:2).

The problem with every society of human beings is pride. Pride. Pride is a problem because God did indeed make us human beings with incredible wisdom and capabilities. In verse 3, God says of Tyre, “You are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you.” In verses 4-5, God highlights the achievements of human civilization through human wisdom and understanding. And truly it is remarkable what we human beings have discovered and figured out. We can build great cities. We can cure debilitating diseases. We can travel around the world and have even ventured out to celestial bodies. Who knows what we might be able to do in another 10 or 100 or 1000 years? Who knows what you might figure out at your own vocation in another week or month or a few short years? And God made us with these capabilities. There is nothing wrong with them.

Except for pride.

Everywhere we make an advance in the world, it comes at a cost. Qatar spent about $220 billion over 12 years preparing to host the World Cup—and is trying to cover up the hundreds if not thousands of human lives that died unjustly to make it all happen.[6] We can’t seem to make any progress without a trail of bodies strewn across the path of history.

Why? Because of pride. So, God will not let it go on. Like he did at the tower of Babel, God will bring down judgment on the arrogance of human society. Every last one, from Babel to Tyre, from Rome to the United State of America, will ultimately collapse.

The Restored Society

So do not put your hope in human society. Tainted with human pride, it simply cannot last no matter how magnificent it is, and no matter how much we might rightly admire human achievement and the potential it suggests in a world of possibility. But do remember that God himself created this world for us to explore, to cultivate and to create, all for his glory. And the promise of the Bible is that there will be a restored society. And one of the meanings of Christmas is that this project is now underway.

Be Separate

I want us to see how this is so, because this is what is truly exciting about the Christian faith. Every human achievement, fueled by pride, is doomed to fail. The prophecy against Tyre tells us it has to, because it is imperfect, tainted with pride. Don’t you see that God’s intention is for human society to be far better than anything we’ve ever seen before? God will, in the words of Ezekiel 28:7, go to work “against the beauty” of human society, because it’s simply not good enough. God’s design for this world is a beauty we simply cannot yet imagine, so he must tear down what has been achieved so far. The people of God must take note and refuse to imitate the imperfection of the prideful nations.[7]

But one of the great messages of Christmas is that God has begun to restore human society. The cornerstone to the project is the Messiah of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth. God is calling his true people to join the restoration project by separating themselves from doomed human society and joining themselves to this new one, built to last forever.

Take a look at what the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6. The Apostle Paul urges Christians to “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (v. 14). After all, “we are the temple of the living God” (v. 16). And then he cites from various Old Testament texts, where God promises to make his dwelling among his people here on earth. That is why his people must “be separate from” the nations. Verse 17 cites from Isaiah 52:11, but the words “I will welcome you” at the end of the verse are taken from Ezekiel 20:34. The point I want to make here is that the New Testament understands that the time of restoration has already come.

A New Spirit

How did the first Christians know this? It is no doubt partly because they saw that Jesus had finally done away with the king of Tyre.

Many of you are probably aware that there seems to be some other entity represented by the king of Tyre. Verses 12 and following of Ezekiel 28 are regularly taken to speak of the real power of evil, a dark, mysterious evil spirit, the same one that lurked in the Garden of Eden and successfully lured Adam and Eve and all creation with them into rebellion against God.[8] That old serpent, the devil, the satan, is the real enemy of human civilization, and when he falls the world will know it.

And then the world will never be the same. A new king will have then taken the throne and will rule over the nations by a new spirit. The claim of Christmas is that this day has now come. Jesus, by his death and resurrection, has defeated the enemy once and for all. And he has poured out his spirit, his Holy Spirit, on all who trust in him.

The new creation has begun.

The Beauty of Holiness

Our Scripture reading today speaks twice about the day when God manifests his holiness. In verse 22, the manifestation of his holiness is his tearing down in judgment the arrogant achievements of the nations, empowered by the evil spirit of pride.

And when that day comes, Ezekiel predicted in verse 24, “for the house of Israel”—for the true people of God—“there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them along all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt.”

Instead, God will on that day begin to “gather the house of Israel”—the true people of God—“from the people among whom they are scattered, and manifest [his] holiness in them in the sight of the nations” (v. 25). This time, there will be the perfection of beauty, because it will be the manifestation of God’s own beautiful holiness. What God builds through them will be built to last, because, empowered by God’s own Spirit, even if it dies, yet shall it live, because it will have been built with the immortal power of Easter Sunday.

Yes, the message of Christmas is that the one who can tame the chaotic sea, the one whom the winds and the waves are bound to obey, has taken his seat at the right hand of the Father. The revolution has begun.

And, the message on this third Sunday of Advent, is that if you will believe in him, trust in him, God will begin to do his good work in you, too. You can be a part of the restored society, by child-like faith in Jesus of Nazareth.

Joy to the world indeed!

_____

[1] Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 25–48, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 3.

[2] The word aha in verse 3 is an interjection expressing “malicious joy.” Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, ed. Johann Jakob Stamm, trans. M. E. J. Richardson, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994), 236.

[3] Block, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 25–48, 20.

[4] Sara Ferry, “Tyre,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), n.p.

[5] Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel, ed. P. Keith Gammons and Samuel E. Balentine, The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, Ga: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Incorporated, 2005), 343.

[6] Matt Craig,” The money behind the most expensive world cup in history: Qatar 2022 by the numbers,” Forbes, November 19, 2022, available at www.forbes.com/sites/mattcraig/2022/11/19/the-money-behind-the-most-expensive-world-cup-in-history-qatar-2022-by-the-numbers/?sh=7ceb.

[7] Odell, Ezekiel, 353.

[8] See especially Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), chapter 10.

More in Ezekiel: Tough Love

December 18, 2022

The End of the Empire

December 4, 2022

The Satisfaction of the Fury of God

November 27, 2022

The Man God Found