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The text before us this morning (Ezekiel 14:12–23) describes the inevitability and justice of God’s judgement against Jerusalem. Ezekiel speaks of a hypothetical “land,” guilty of grave sin, which invited judgement. The citizens of this hypothetical could not trust in the righteousness of others—even men of the calibre of Noah, Daniel, and Job—to spare it God’s judgement. Those men might deliver themselves, but the grave sin of the “land” would certainly invite divine displeasure. Ezekiel’s hearers would agree. A “land” given to wickedness surely deserved to be destroyed, even if the righteous individuals within that land might be spared.

Of course, the point was for the people to see that that “land” was Judah. It would be easy for them to affirm the judgement of, say, Assyria or Babylonia, but Ezekiel’s point is that Judah was guilty. To make matters worse, Judah, unlike other lands, was in covenant relationship with God. That made its sin even worse! The judgement by “famine” (vv. 12–14), “beasts” (vv. 15–16), “sword” (vv. 17–18), and “pestilence” (vv. 19–20) all hearken back to the curses for covenant faithlessness in Leviticus 26.

By referencing these covenant punishments, God was showing that his judgement against Jerusalem was not an overreach. The people were getting precisely what they had agreed to. This is the meaning behind the Lord’s words in vv. 21–23. As terrible as the judgement seemed (and it was terrible, as the book of Lamentations testifies), when the exiles considered the grave sin of the people, they would have no option but to confess that the Lord had “not done without cause all that [he had] done” in Jerusalem. The punishment was both inevitable and just. As Iain Duguid summarises, these sanctions underlined “the nature of judgment as nothing arbitrary but simply the just application of the sanctions of a covenant to which Israel subscribed.”

The problem with God’s people in Ezekiel’s time was that they had embraced a false security because of their covenant relationship. Israel was, indeed, in special relationship with God, but that covenant relationship did not negate the people’s responsibility to walk faithfully in accordance with covenant stipulations. There is an important lesson for us to learn here.

The Bible teaches that humanity is divided into two broad categories: those who are in Adam and those who are in Christ. The destiny of all who are in Adam is eternal death; the destiny of all who are in Christ is eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:22). But the fact that we are in Adam, which secures our eternal life, does not give us the excuse to ignore God’s expectations.

Jesus drove this truth home to the religious leaders of his day. While they professed to be Abraham’s children, he replied, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did” (John 8:39). Their works betrayed their false confession to be Abraham’s children.

Those who are in Christ must likewise do the works Christ did. Stated another way, evidence of being in Christ is Christlike character and actions. Those who are in Christ will show it by growth in righteousness. Their righteousness will never match Christ’s perfect righteousness, but it will be more Christlike than antichrist. John states it this way:

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

(1 John 2:4–6)

The Jews in Ezekiel’s day could not hope in the righteousness of Noah, Daniel, or Job; they needed to display a sense of righteousness themselves. They could not give into idolatry and hope in the imputed fidelity of others to secure their deliverance. To be sure, they could not earn God’s favour by their obedience, but obedience would manifest their right relationship with him. Similarly, our only hope of escape from eternal judgement is to trust in Christ, but trust in Christ will certainly manifest itself in obedience. And obedience will be displayed in willingness to smash every idol that prevents us from walking in full obedience to our Lord.

As you meditate on Ezekiel 14:12–23 this morning, examine your heart for evidence of idol-smashing obedience. Trust in Christ and ask him for the grace to walk in obedience as evidence of your fidelity to him.