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Ezekiel 24 is, in many ways, a turning point in the book. For one thing, this chapter records the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s final attack on Jerusalem. The siege would last for some time yet, but the day was significant. For another, Ezekiel’s tongue was finally unloosed for the first time since chapter 3 (see 3:26–27). For yet another, this is the last of the Lord’s sustained oracles against Judah. From this point on, he will emphasise the punishment of the nations before prophesying Judah’s restoration.

Verses 1–14 form Ezekiel’s oracle against Judah on Jerusalem’s day of reckoning. As we saw in chapter 11, the Jews in Jerusalem believed that they were the choicest pieces of meat and that Jerusalem formed a boiling pot that would keep them safe inside. God warned them that this would not prove to be the case. They would be charred by the fire of God’s judgement.

The remainder of the chapter (vv. 15–27) details, without a doubt, the most difficult moment of Ezekiel’s ministry. The Lord appeared to him early that morning and warned him that, that very day, God would take from him “the delight of [his] eyes.” His wife would die but he was forbidden from partaking in customary ritual mourning practices. When the exiles asked him about this strange behaviour, he was to tell them that it was an object lesson of what would happen to Judah. Jerusalem and its temple, the delight of Judah’s eyes, would be destroyed but the exile would prevent the people from properly mourning.

The death of Ezekiel’s wife raises an interesting devotional principle. He was a man who was faithful to God. He fully believed and carefully obeyed everything the Lord told him. If anyone deserved favour from God, it was Ezekiel. And yet God took his wife from him. This surprises us, perhaps more than it should.

We know that the Bible does not support the prosperity gospel—at least the blatant prosperity gospel that so disgusts Christians of a more Reformed persuasion. And yet, if we are not careful, we find ourselves embracing a far more subtle form of prosperity. We understand that, generally, things go better with those who live consistently with God’s created ordinances, but too often we turn that generality into an absolute expectation. If I save myself till marriage, God must give me a satisfying sex life and a happy marriage. If I pray before every game, God must allow my team to win the championship. If I follow God’s expectations as a husband, God must produce in my wife a willingness to respectfully follow my leadership. In the subtle prosperity gospel, life moves from one Kendrick Brothers film to another.

But then we read of a faithful prophet who did everything by the book and yet lost his wife. It’s a little disconcerting. But it’s real life. It’s life as we need to embrace it. As Job asked, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10).

How do we know that we have embraced a subtle prosperity gospel? We could list perhaps an array of symptoms, but consider, briefly, four.

First, a subtle prosperity gospel elevates blessings over the Blesser. We find ourselves more interested in what God can do for us than who he is.

Second, a subtle prosperity gospel tends to prooftext rather than considering Scripture in its proper context. This “gospel” wrenches verses like Jeremiah 29:11 from their historical context and claims wonderful promises that God never intended.

Third, a subtle prosperity gospel diminishes the curse of Calvary in favour of the promises of victory. It becomes a crossless form of Christianity. It neglects Christ’s command that those who will follow him must take up their cross and instead emphasises what it perceives to be God’s assurances of Christian victory.

Fourth, a subtle prosperity gospel questions the place (and justice) of suffering in the believer’s life. Rather than receiving affliction from the Lord, it demands answers and expects changed circumstances. It embraces good from God but rejects evil.

As you meditate on Ezekiel 24 this morning, ask God to deliver you from a subtle prosperity gospel. Ask him to enable you to hopefully embrace everything that comes from his hand—good or evil.