+27 (11) 867 3505 church@bbcmail.co.za

It can be disconcerting to spend extended time studying a book like Ezekiel—or, indeed, any of the prophets. The prophetic message, by and large, was a negative one. God called the prophets, for the most part, to confront his people’s sin and call them to repentance. In an age in which we don’t like to focus on sin but want instead to marvel at grace, it can be downright depressing to read chapter after chapter in which God confronts sin. The text before us this morning (Ezekiel 23) is another of those chapters.

This chapter is essentially one long indictment of God’s people for their sin against a him. In the chapter, God gives the name “Oholah” to Samaria (capital city of Israel) and “Oholibah” to Jerusalem (capital city of Jerusalem) (vv. 1–4).

The name “Oholah” means “her own tabernacle,” an allusion to the fact that Israel rejected the temple and set up its own places of worship. “Oholibah” means “my tabernacle is in her,” an allusion to the fact that God’s temple, where he chose to place his name, was in Jerusalem. Nonetheless, the presence of the temple did nothing to secure the fidelity of God’s people to his covenant. They had the temple, but they were still idolaters.

The chapter contains some of the most graphic language in all of Scripture, portraying Israel and Judah as lustfully whoring after the gods of the surrounding nations. Samaria’s idolatry is unpacked in vv. 5–8 and her judgement declared in vv. 9–10. Jerusalem’s idolatry is then unveiled in vv. 11–21 before her judgement is revealed in vv. 22–35. In vv. 36­–45 the specific sins of the sisters are revealed before the chapter closes with another allusion to their judgement (vv. 46­–49).

We must ask, why did God take so much time to elucidate the sins of his people? Why spend so much time pointing out the wickedness of his people? Would it not be better to declare a more positive message? Why all the negativity?

It was necessary for God to point out the people’s sin because without recognition of their sin they would not see their need for salvation. If they were to experience God’s delivering grace, they must first recognise the depth of their wickedness and the deservedness of their punishment. They needed sin to recognise the glory of the salvation that was offered.

We live in an age in which we tend to shy away from talking about sin. People don’t commit adultery anymore; they have affairs. People are no longer drunkards but alcoholics. We redefine sin to make it more palatable but, in the process, we relieve people of the burden they need to feel to highlight the glory of salvation in Christ. There was a time when Christians did not shy away from shocking their neighbours with the hell-deserving nature of sin. We have lost that boldness and it has come at great cost.

It is a noble pursuit to not put a stumbling block in the path of our neighbours as we witness to them. It is understandable that we do not want to hypocritically confront sin of which we ourselves are guilty. But if we eliminate the heinousness of sin, we undermine the significance of the cross. If sin isn’t all that bad, why did Jesus need to die? If sin isn’t all that bad, why do we need to be saved? We eliminate sin to the detriment of the gospel.

Chapters like Ezekiel 23 remind us of the depth of human sin. This chapter reminds us that sin is truly grievous in God’s sight and that, as a holy God, he cannot but bring judgement on those who would flaunt their sin before him. And when we understand the gravity of sin, the beauty of the gospel shines even brighter—like a diamond glistening brilliantly against a black velvet backdrop. If we want to avoid presenting a lustreless gospel, we must begin by showing people what they need to be saved from.

As you meditate on Ezekiel 23 this morning, ask God to give you a healthy understanding of the gravity of sin. Use that understanding to confront sin and to help people—yourself included—to see the beauty of the gospel. That is why we need sin.