Danger! Bridge Out!
Introduction: Let’s take a moment to set the context for our passage. It is the time of the last kings of Judah. King Josiah had tried to institute reforms in the land but by this time the idolatry of the people ran too deep. Josiah fell in battle in the Valley of Megiddo, and his successors, one after the other, plunged Judah deeper into sin.
In 605 B. C. Babylon, led by Nebuchadnezzar, began the conquest of Jerusalem and the mass deportation of captives, among them Daniel . . . Seven years later he returned and laid siege to Jerusalem again. Several months into the siege Jerusalem fell and Nebuchadnezzar took possession. This time he took captive the king and about 10,000 Jews. One of these captives was a 25-year-old priest-in-training named Ezekiel.
The Jewish captives were settled into colonies in the Babylonian Empire. Ezekiel and his wife lived in a house in Tel-abib along the bank of the Chebar River, probably SE of Babylon. Five years into the captivity he received the first of many prophetic visions, calling him into the ministry of prophet as well as priest (Ezek. 1:1-3)
Both Ezekiel and his contemporary, Jeremiah, had to contend with false prophets who prophesied a speedy return to Jerusalem. Judah, “having itching ears” followed the false prophets and rejected Ezekiel’s message.
Jerem. 6:14 sums up their frustration: “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.”
Eventually, the final destruction and captivity of Jerusalem silenced the false prophets. Chapter 32 is a turning point in the book, when the refugees come from Jerusalem and the hope of a speedy return is crushed. Now that the people will listen, Ezekiel’s message becomes one of repentance and then restoration.
Ezekiel deals with several theological themes:
1. The holiness and sovereignty of God Ezek. 1:26-28; Ezek. 43:7
2. God’s purpose in making known His glory Ezek. 7:4
- The phrase “know that I am the LORD” appears 64 times in the book.
3. Individual accountability before God Ezek. 18:2-4, 20, 24, 32
4. The promise of the restoration of Israel during the reign of Messiah.
- From chapter 40 through the end of the book a detailed plan is laid out for a new temple, new priestly worship, and new portions for the tribes. Don’t spiritualize this!! It is a LITERAL restoration of LITERAL Israel.
* All of these themes combine to color our text.
• vs. 23-24a: “And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, say unto her . . .”
* God calls Ezekiel, “Son of man” over 90 times. The only other prophet He addresses this way is Daniel, and then only once. It’s really a special way that God referred to Ezekiel. Later, Jesus would refer to Himself by that title some 80 times.
- So, unless we are to accept the statements of some commentators that this is just a common Chaldean figure of speech, there is something about Ezekiel’s ministry and message that is meant to be brought to mind as we see Jesus’ ministry. There is a strong link between our text and the ministry of Jesus as the Representative Man. Ezek. 3:4-7
- Ezekiel is about to proclaim a message he has received from the Lord to Jerusalem (“her”). This is going to give us direct insight into God’s point-of-view. Look at this as a Divine “State of the Union” address:
I. The depths of wickedness vs. 24-29
• v. 24: “Thou art the land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon in the day of indignation.”
- God describes Israel as a blighted land. Why?
- There is corruption at every level. God is about to give a comprehensive list of indictments against every sector of Jewish society:
A. The politicians were power-mad. (v. 25)
* Notice the key word: “her prophets”. These were not sent by God. They belonged to idolatrous Jerusalem.
- When you look at the description of what they did, “ravening the prey,” “devouring souls” and taking “the treasure and precious things,” you see a portrait of people abusing power.
- These were probably false prophets who were political advisors to the king.
* Out of desire for power and riches the false prophets had incited Zedekiah into rebellion against Babylon. The conflict left many widows. 2 Chron. 36:11-13, 17
B. The priests were profane. (v. 26)
* The priests had allowed idolatrous people to steer nation away from God’s Word, and into filthy paganism. 2 Chron. 36:14, Lev. 10:8-10
- The priests were to be holy, separate . . . different. One of the reasons was so that the people would recognize that God was not “just one of them”; He is high, holy, exalted.
- Because God is holy, His people, those who bear His name, are to be holy. Lev. 19:2, 1 Pet. 1:13-16
C. The princes were predatory. (v. 27)
* Those who should have been seeking Judah’s greatest good, and concerning themselves with this, were instead seeking only what brought them the greatest gain.
D. The prophets were pretentious. (v. 28)
- They were prepared to say whatever was necessary to win prestige and position. The king would set up his plans, and they would add their empty blessing, like “daubing untempered mortar” on a wall. Ezek. 13:3-10
E. The people were profit-mongers. (v. 29)
- This is trickle-down corruption.
- The people were characterized by a readiness to step on anyone who got in the way of personal gain, even if it meant crushing the helpless.
* Notice how over and over again the imagery of these wicked people’s actions likens them to beasts. Sin will reduce you to an animal. 2 Pet. 2:18-22
- 1 Cor. 2:14 – the idea of the Greek word for “natural” man is a man who chases his senses, who follows his nose. A classic example of this is road kill. An animal followed its nose, and got run over.
- In fact, the French Bible translates the phrase “the natural man” l’homme animal – “the animal man”.
* Get the picture: those in power cared nothing for the people they were supposed to govern, they only wanted more power; the religious leaders had sold out for worldly popularity; and the people were crazed beasts in pursuit of self-fulfillment. Sound familiar? Don’t worry – it gets worse.
II. The divide of wickedness v. 30
• “And I sought . . .”
- Don’t lose sight of the mercy of God in all this. Despite the horrible depths of Judah’s sin, God was still seeking in mercy. 2 Chron. 36:15
• “for a man . . .”
- God is looking for someone with unique credentials, someone who fits a specific profile for a specific job. What job?
• “that should make up the hedge . . .”
- The “hedge” here is a symbol of God’s covenant protection of His people. Judah’s top-down immorality had left gaping holes in the wall. God was seeking someone to repair these cracks, calling Judah back to moral living under the Law.
• “and stand in the gap . . .”
- Now we have to be careful. Similar language is used in Ezek. 13:5, but read it again. In that passage the gaps are gaps in the wall. Here the “gap” is singular.
- We’re about to see that there is very specific language used in this text. This isn’t a generic call for “stand-up guys” to stand in gaps in the wall of the family or the country, etc. (as is often preached).
• “the gap before me for the land . . .”
- This is a gap “before” God, in front of His face.
- And it’s a gap that is to be filled “for” the land. The word “for” literally means “on behalf of” the land. Gen. 20:7, Num. 21:7
* This is intercessory language!!
- The gap in this text is the gap between an angry, righteous God and sinful Judah. And He is looking for someone to stand in the gap “for the land, that I should not destroy it”.
* He was looking for an intercessor.
- Like Abraham. Gen. 18:20 ff
- Like Moses. Ex. 32:11-14, Ps. 106:23
- Like David. 2 Sam. 24:15-17
- Abraham, Moses, David. Does that list ring any bells? What do they have in common? These were the mediators of the great covenants of the O.T.
- God was looking for someone to stand in the gap between Him and His sinful people, like Abraham, Moses, and David had in the past. Then we read the dreadful news:
• “but I found none”
- Hang on a minute! Wasn’t Ezekiel a righteous man? Or Jeremiah? Or Baruch? Yes!! So, how could God say this? Get ready for a shock. Jerem. 7:16, 11:14
* Jeremiah wanted to stand in the gap, but God wouldn’t let him.
- Remember God was looking for a man “among them” to stand in that gap. He wanted to see if there was anyone left among the sinful groups He had mentioned, among her princes, priests, or prophets, who could stand and intercede.
- Let’s take one final trip to 2 Chron. 36:15-17
- There it is. God had warned them over and over again, but they rejected His messengers “until there was no remedy.”
- They had crossed the point of no return. Ezek. 24:13
- There comes a point where God’s people willfully reject Him until finally He abandons them to their ways, until they bring His judgment down on their own heads. Judg. 10:13-14, Prov. 1:22-28, Hos. 4:17, Matt. 15:12-14
III. The destruction of wickedness v. 31
* This is what happens when there is no one to stand in the gap. God’s wrath must fall on sinful man.
** BUT THE STORY DOESN’T END THERE!!!
- Remember that the final chapters of Ezekiel deal with repentance and restoration of Israel. - Ezekiel is about to proclaim a message he has received from the Lord to Jerusalem (“her”). This is going to give us direct insight into the working of God. Ezek. 40:1-5
- Do you know what this wall was? It was the outer wall of a brand, new temple! God was going to bring Israel back!
- You see, God couldn’t find a man to stand in the gap. So He sent one. Isa. 53:1-12; Isa. 59:15-20; Isa. 63:5, Rev. 5
Conclusion: And so it was with us. We not only wallowed in the depths of sin, we tried to dig to still deeper depths. And there was no one among us who could stand in the gap between an angry, righteous God and sinful man.
We could almost borrow Ezekiel’s wording and say, “He looked for a man, and found none. So He sent one.”
Jesus Christ is the only one Who can stand in the gap between us and God. Rom. 8:34, Col. 1:20, Heb. 7:25, 1 Jn. 2:1
G. Campbell Morgan writes:
“He was the God-Man. Not God indwelling a man. Of such there have been many. Not a man deified. Of such there have been none save in the myths of pagan systems of thought; but God and man, combining in one personality the two natures, a perpetual enigma and mystery, baffling the possibility of explanation.”
Understand your position: Before you is a righteous God, justly angry with your sin. So hot is his anger that any who would dare stand in that gap would be instantly consumed. But so great is His love that He sends His own Son into the gap, unleashing the heat of that righteous anger on Christ our Intercessor, until it is fully propitiated.
F. W. Pitt wrote a poem titled “The Maker of the Universe”:
The Maker of the universe,
As Man, for man was made a curse.
The claims of Law which He had made,
Unto the uttermost He paid.
His holy fingers made the bough,
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow;
The nails that pierced His hand were mined,
In secret places He designed.
He made the forest from whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung;
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.
The sky that darkened o'er His head,
By Him above the earth was spread.
The sun that hid from Him its face,
By His decree was poised in space.
The spear which spilled His precious blood
Was tempered in the fires of God.
The grave in which His form was laid
Was hewn in rocks His hands had made.
The throne on which He now appears
Was His from everlasting years;
But a new glory crowns His brow,
And every knee to Him shall bow:
The Maker of the universe.
How much pride and ingratitude would it take to push our Intercessor aside and say, “That’s okay. I can handle this myself.”
No, we rather join with the hymn writer in gratefully proclaiming, “What wondrous love is this!”
Wondrous to know that though God could not find a man to stand in the gap, He sent one. But how much more marvelous to know that He stands in the gap . . . for you.
This news is so good that we cannot keep it to ourselves. In fact, we must make one final recognition in parting:
Just as Christ stood in the gap between God and man, He has placed upon His redeemed ones the task of standing in the gap between lost man and Christ, as it were.