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One of the biblical promises that gives God’s people great hope is the promise of his presence or favour. In the Great Commission, Jesus promised, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:18–20). His presence with his people guarantees success in the Great Commission. Along similar lines, Paul asked, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Given the promise of God’s favoured presence with his people, what does it matter who opposes us?

As comforting as that promise is, can we imagine the dread of God forsaking us? Samson experienced this after he allowed his hair to be cut. When Delilah warned him that the Philistines were coming, “he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the LORD had left him” (Judges 16:20). The result was his first recorded defeat to the Philistines. Ezekiel’s contemporaries, as we see in the text before us this morning (Ezekiel 4–5), would likewise discover just what it meant that the Lord was against them.

As noted previously, Ezekiel was given some of the strangest prophetic commands. Having been struck mute, except when he had a word from the Lord to declare, chapters 4–5 record some of the initial strangeness.

First, he was told to construct a model of Jerusalem and, effectively, play army against it (4:1–3). The “brick” was a clay tablet, perhaps somewhere between an A4 and A3 sheet of paper in size. God told him to engrave the city of Jerusalem on it and to set armies against it to represent Babylon’s siege. He was then to place an iron griddle between himself (representing God) and the city (representing the people) as a sign that God would not hear their pleas for help.

In the remainder of the chapter (4:4–16), he was to prepare for himself the most meagre of meals. He was, for 390 days, to lie on his left side, eating only the meagre meal he had prepared. After that, he was to repeat the exercise, lying only on his right side for a further forty days. This was to symbolise the iniquity of God’s people and the severity of the exile that lay before them.

For his third object lesson, he was to shave his head and beard and divide the hair into three parts. He must burn one part, toss the second part into the air and slash at it with a sword, and scatter the third part into the wind. This represented the various punishments that would befall God’s rebellious people.

In all of this, Ezekiel was not to speak. He was to visually portray the coming judgement, and the people were to see his visualisations as, as it were, silent sermons.

Part way through chapter 5, God gives the reason for these punishments: “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you are more turbulent than the nations that are all around you, and have not walked in my statutes or obeyed my rules, and have not even acted according to the rules of the nations that are all around you, therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, even I, am against you. And I will execute judgements in your midst in the sight of the nations” (Ezekiel 5:7–8). God was opposed to his people because of their sin—because they were a “turbulent” people. Not only had they ignored his ethical imperatives, but they had even failed to live up to the lesser ethical imperatives of the nations. So severe was their disobedience that, in New Testament terms, they were tolerating things that even pagans would not tolerate (see 1 Corinthians 5). The Lord warned, therefore, that he was against them.

We live in a very permissive age, in which even Christians and Christian churches have embraced unhealthy permissiveness. Many who, from a more fundamentalist background, have embraced a healthier understanding of God’s grace have, with it, embraced a form of antinomianism—that is, a view that God has little to no standards and that we can pretty much live as we like because God’s grace is always available to cover our sin. Historic Christian ethics have, with this embrace of antinomianism, flown out the window. And yet, if we listen to the burden of Ezekiel 4–5, we will realise the error of this thinking. God was angry at his people because they did not maintain God-honouring ethics. It is not that they could earn his favour by their works but, having entered into covenant relationship with them, he did have expectations of the way they lived, and their disregard of those expectations invited his displeasure.

Christians likewise live in covenant relationship with God and he likewise has expectations of them. We cast off God’s expectations to the invitation of his displeasure. We live as “turbulent” people to our own detriment.

As you meditate on Ezekiel 4–5 this morning, honestly examine your life to see whether you are walking in a way that is pleasing to him or whether your disregard for his rules may well be inviting his displeasure in your life.