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In recent chapters in Ezekiel, we have considered the Lord’s messages to Job for the exiles by means of parable and metaphor and lament. Each message was given by the Lord’s initiative to the people. Chapter 20, before us this morning, shifts gears slightly. Here, the elders of the people came to Ezekiel to enquire of the Lord. The Lord, however, responded that they were unqualified to enquire of him: “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I will not be enquired of by you.” The reason for his refusal to entertain their queries was their idolatry, which stretched back as far as Egypt.

As we saw in chapter 18, this generation was not suffering for the sins of preceding generations. It was, in fact, guilty of the same sins as preceding generations. By hearkening back to previous generations, the Lord was not blaming this generation for their sins but was pointing out that this generation was persisting in the idolatrous legacy of its ancestors. The result was that he would not hear them when they enquired of him.

To show the people their guilt, he traced their history. He highlighted the nation’s rebellion in Egypt (vv. 5–8), in the exodus (vv. 9–10), at Sinai (vv. 11–12), in the wilderness (vv. 13–26), in the Promised Land (vv. 27–30), and in exile (vv. 31–32). The nation’s history was one of persistent rebellion against covenant obligations. All was not doom and gloom, however. There would be a second exodus that would produce a faithful generation (vv. 33–44). There was hope for the future.

As I have said, we must not imagine that God was judging this generation for the sins of preceding generations. His purpose in highlighting the failures of preceding generations was to show that they were acting consistently with generations of idolaters. They would face the consequences of their own sin, but they must recognise that they had learned their rebellion from previous generations.

This was important because they needed to recognise the vital truth that our sins frequently teach our children how to sin. Laurence J. Peter rightly observed that “history teaches us the mistakes we are going to make.” Someone has described history as an “early warning system.” As we look to history, we are warned of things to avoid. As is commonly said, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. God wanted this generation to be aware of the history from which it had learned so that it would not repeat mistakes for its descendants to learn.

The principle on which I wish for us to focus, however, is that the rebellion of the people rendered them unqualified to enquire of the Lord. Their refusal to submit to him and obey his commands rendered them unqualified to seek the Lord’s guidance and expect to receive it.

David understood this principle, which led him to write, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Or as Solomon wrote, “If one turns his ear away from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9). Ignoring or blatantly disobeying God’s word is a sure-fire way to sabotage your prayer life. We dare not ignore sin in our lives and then expect God to hear us when we pray to him.

Decades later, the prophet Daniel would recognise the truth of the Lord’s warning to the exiles. When he discovered God’s promise that the end of exile was imminent (Daniel 9:1–2), he did not presume on God’s grace. Instead, he “turned [his] face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. [He] prayed to the LORD [his] God and made confession” (Daniel 9:3–4). He knew that his ability to get the Lord’s ear with his prayer was dependent on his willingness to confess sin.

Perhaps one reason our prayers are hindered is because we cherish iniquity in our hearts. We come before the Lord to enquire of him but our unwillingness to confess sin amounts to us calling God a liar (1 John 1:7–9), which results in him refusing to entertain our prayers. As he said to the exile generation, “As I live … I will not be enquired of by you.” We are, perhaps, unqualified to enquire because we cherish iniquity in our hearts.

As you meditate on this text this morning, confess your sin before God, trusting that he will forgive and cleanse you, believing that he will therefore hear your prayers for his glory.