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THAT GLORIOUS GRACE Ezekiel 33:11 and Environs
Now is our time in the tour de Range Celestial, to visit that amazing, pink-crested peak, found in the Ezekiel Mountains in their rocky turrets and deep crevasses of meaning, Ezekiel 33:11. It is good to see something of the immediate ranges about it, in order to appreciate its loftiness, and not imagine the clouds that crown its head to have an fairy-like quality; for it is all hard rock. It is granitic in beauty and toughness alike; for with the work and word of God, the case is this, that its nub and crown, its living exhibit is Jesus Christ, who though in love He redeems, did not meet justice in excruciating violation of majesty (Hebrews 5:7, Luke 22:44) because it did not matter, but because it is part of the very foundation of His throne (Psalm 89:14).
Thus He Himself designated His work in this way, that He as the Rock (cf. Psalm 62:1-2, II Samuel 22:32) was one on whom to stand, but if it fell on anyone, it would crush. Truth is like that; lies do not work, but in the end, being smashed by reality, merely cause cavities, not robustness (Matthew 21:42-44, which follows).
"Jesus said to
"The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes"?
'Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you
and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.
And whoever falls on this stone will be broken;
but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.' "
It was not for nothing that God made so eminent, disastrous, clear and scathing an example of Babylon, Nineveh, Tyre and the Northern Kingdom of Israel (in the day of Assyrian eminence), with such long and sustained, such detailed and devastating predictions, all met in detail*1, and it was no mere excursion of interest that led to such withering woes as listed in Leviticus 26 in forecast for sustained rebellion, and such a program as shown in Deuteronomy 32 for the history of Israel. It was not for an idle moment that He advised in Amos 3:7 that Israel would be TOLD of His actions, and that He has both done this and wrought what he foretold in the uttermost detail.
Many are the exemplars of His power and majesty, the desires of His heart and the workings of His will, in justice, truth and remorseless judgment, in the midst of impelling mercy, the profundity of the mountain bases like the wonders of their soaring peaks.
Against all this, the naivety and flighty flimsiness of self-will, whether based in naturalism, psychic assertiveness, pomp and pride, callow desire or rampant aggression, is like dust that blows, it comes and it is gone.
1. Not Witless, but Wise to Warn
God is often treated by many as if He were rather a duffer. It is not really expected that He will meet reasonable requests, act with intelligent wisdom or have the available or interested strength to subdue problems, lead in life and restore peace to the troubled seas of sinful doubts, anxieties amid the tossings of life.
In fact, there is the wonder of the Maker of mathematical geniuses, far beyond their summit, of practical pundits, able to organise millions and of tender nurses, able to comfort the sick with wisdom. It is only lack of faith which refuses to receive what He has to give beyond all, for any who puts his heart in His hands, his sin onto His Cross and his mind in the place of His great and divine comfort (Isaiah 26:3, Philippians 4:6-7).
Part of this realism, this practicality about God is this: that you do not act as if all the follies you hear and the rantings you audit, the mindless mouthings and deeds you witness were nothing to do with you. It is not enough to wave a weary hand and weave a fancy tale, that it does not concern you, nor are you at all involved, that yours are other preoccupations, and religion is not really for you. You might as well declare that DNA is a matter of complete indifference to you, and for all you care, it could all be deleted in you at once, so that you could proceed with your affairs! There are elements in your environment which may be neglected or dismissed from sight by will, but not by wisdom.
All who are willing to survey history without fear must realise that the devil loves*2, like an actor, to create atmosphere, a feeling that 'culture' is king and that if all about you, or most of them, are vulgar, disorderly, God-haters, mockers and law-breakers, as if dumping mind and morals alike, that is your cue too. The contrary is the case. Rather it is the strong signal for you to give warning, witness or word to them, to the glory of God. If your wife were so treated in company, would you be silent ? If your God is so slandered, do you achieve silence ?
It is now that we begin to raise our eyes to the spectacular views first of all of Mount E 33, before looking from it.
Ezekiel 33 begins with the warning to warn. Sitting 'tight' is not right. There is a name for those who carry on their tasks without a word, 'dumb dogs' (Isaiah 56:10):
“My watchmen are blind, all of them unaware;
They are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark;
Dreaming as they lie there, loving their sleep."
Dogs that cannot bark, being nervous, some might call muts! There is a time to speak, to be sure, and to the drunken and rioting, this may not be apt: yet there is a CHARACTER OF FEARLESS TESTIMONY, which while choosing its time, does act, and does not become a dumb dog, growling within, and never heard, or rarely, outside his windpipe. Jesus put it like this:
"For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words,
of him the Son of Man will be ashamed
when He comes with His angels in His glory .." (Luke 9:26, Philippians 1:28).
The Christ whose body was both crucified and resurrected, it is He who has power to save, grant immortality and grace to deliver and a name to attest as above all (Philippians 2:1-12, Titus 1:1-3).
In Ezekiel 33, we find this: that if someone is the watchman and he sees the evil and does not speak, then it is of HIM that the PENALTY is spoken, for he SHOULD have warned. If however, he does warn and no one acts in response, then he is clear, but it is on them that the penalty pounces. You do not help the wicked by silence: he still dies in sin's grasp, but you add your sin to his, and are accountable. Study Proverbs 24:11-12, concerning those drawn towards death, and ponder loving your neighbour … as yourself. Death stalks for his own, both now and forever (Proverbs 8:36), and the word of life saves (Acts 5:20, John 5:24,Mark 9).
2. Not Loveless, but Found in His Grace
Then the Lord asks Ezekiel to address the people, and he does so, declaring this.
If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us,
and we pine away in them,
how can we then live ?"
The sense of whining, or more robustly, wearisome, complaining lustreless languishing would be less conspicuous if those who tell it had been at least tangibly attuned to truth, rather than listless in dereliction of duty, feeble in disdain for spiritual principles and deep in sins unrepented.
Yet the Lord wants to WITNESS to THEM about this. HE for His part does not hold back, thereby giving an example for all. Into this He puts His heart and strength. Do you think that He has pleasure in the death of the wicked ? He asks. However vast the case against the people who did not seek Him (cf. Isaiah 1, 29:8), against sham, shame, shallowness and carnal sophistication, mercy needs no case, being the cascade of love, and seeks even amidst the rubble.
What then, HE has no pleasure in the death, even of the wicked!
Such a thought of Him could not be further from the truth: on the contrary, He wishes action, deliverance and life for them.
I live,' says the Lord GOD,
'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,
but that the wicked turn from his way and live.
Turn, turn from your evil ways!
for why should you die, O house of Israel ?"
Notice the depth of His concern 'AS I LIVE'. It is as deep as life. See the clarity - 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.' He gets no buzz out of it, is not like Saddam Hussein, glorying in the torment and torture of those to be 'controlled', or slowly killed like a devil tormenting a fly. Dependent on nothing, Maker of all, He has nothing to gain from man, but much to give.
There is another route entirely which is the whole point. Emphatic is His declaration. John Murray put it something like this. Here, you have asseveration, As I live; negation, I have NO pleasure; affirmation, but that the wicked turn; exhortation, Turn, turn from your evil ways; protestation, Why should you die, O house of Israel ? How vast is the scope, how deep is the desire and how plain is the seeking! It is neither pragmatic nor utilitarian, neither coldly ethical nor merely functional. It is heartfelt but with intensity, dynamic but with the restraint of love, majestic but with tenderness. Such is the love of God, His mercy, His dealing as personal with created persons, when the light of life is in view.
As the doctor takes no pleasure in cutting flesh, to remove cancer, but does it for a purpose that is good, health, yet the patient must be willing for the cut, so the Lord has a purpose in His law and His love. It is that people find the light, turn from sin and spiritual insolvency, pride and ignorant self-congratulation or misery alike. It is that they move with horror and repentance from all this in humility to the Lord, and find Him who calls. It is that they repent with a repentance not to be repented of (II Corinthians 7:10). It is that they might escape the "sorrow of this world" which "produces death."
That is the practical program. So far from helping death, the Lord is seeking life, and as Jesus put it:
"I have come that they might have life,
and that they might have it more abundantly" - John 10:10.
How deep is the design in this coming. It is deeper than the design verbally designated and codally created (this word MUST be created, it is too good to miss!) in man. It moves not the mere power of God, the imagination, the creativity alone; it comes from mastery over disappointment, depth in understanding, holiness of heart, the imperial in humility, the creator in robes of kindness, but more even than this. It is a question of His not merely FEELING for man, and that acutely, but this with an effervescent desire, a fertile dynamic mixed with a grand design that leaves nothing to the imagination. It has come from His own!
It is that He will feel to the point of sharing the feeling that sin's guilt brings, though vicariously, since holiness does not stoop to the sin which is the problem itself, any more than any doctor allows some virus to attack him by mere witless conduct, in order to help. There are better ways for God to act, than in removing heaven by removing His own pure Being as the haven! There are better ways to save the ship, when it alone floats, than sinking it!
Thus He was passionately desirous of doing what it took, in the realms of holiness, the Kingdom of Heaven, and this involved BECOMING man in form and format, without ceasing to be GOD Himself, the second person of the trinity (cf. ). In this way, His actions had INFINITE significance, scope and efficacy, and ALL men who received His gift, were taken, covered and exempt.
But how did this incarnation, definitive and ultra-empathetic, make man able to evacuate from the sovereignty of sin, its guilt, its damnation, as unfit for the Holy Range and the Celestial Mountains of God ? It was not easy.
It meant becoming a babe, and being subject to normal discipline, living the life, not cheating, experiencing the whole taste and flavour of limitation and danger; and it meant doing this without sin, since sin is the problem, and not the cure. It involved declaring who He is, without panache, since pride is ultimately near to the heart of the problem, that and the seeking of glory, from the first (Geneis 3 *3 ). Thus it did not preclude His receiving all that man could pour out in damnation, so that all that God could procure in mercy might be shown to this Christ, this Saviour, to cover the guilt and destiny of sin to the uttermost.
This, it meant actual death in the bodily format of a man, and of course, actual resurrection in the same format, for this is not an exercise in anti-God, where divine commands destroy God, but in pro-man action, where divine power delivers. First, then Christ is delivered, and then on that paradigm, pattern and in that same power, man is delivered, as many as receive the gift (I Corinthians 15, Luke 24, John 20, Romans 10:9).
THAT is the extent of the mercy, the reality of the drama, the force of the exhortation in Ezekiel which we are examining, seeing in its loftiness a view of the very heart of God which is sublime, with no cover to its beauty. NO PLEASURE in the death of the wicked! There is an incandescent delight in releasing man from his guilt, and delivering him from his follies, and an inexhaustible seeking for his restoration to the full created image, in which he was created (cf. Colossians 3:10). The end for sin in the ultimately reprobate comes only in this, that man, being created, has limits, which must at last terminate the force of the mercy in its impact, where it is decisively rejected (John 15:22-24, John 8:24,Isaiah 57:15-16). You cannot rub a cloth for ever, without removing the substance itself! (cf. I Timothy 4:2).
In Ezekiel 33:11, then, the Lord repeats His call, “Turn, turn…!” He exhorts, "from your evil ways"; and He appeals to them not to die as if this were the desired end. It merely makes folly permanent, when a man turns not to, but from the declared mercies of God, to find his end. Why end a cripple! What is the point of that ? ...
Actually, in I Timothy 2, God directs man to pray for kings and rulers, stating that this is good
“in the sight of God our Saviour who desires all men to be saved
and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
It is when He gives the reason for this, that we see the parallel to Ezekiel. Why is this prayer to be made ? It is because
"there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself a ransom on behalf of all."
It is not that it pays for all, any more than the Old Testament sacrifice
covered all (cf. Deuteronomy 29); but it is available for all, sufficient for
all and urged on all. The best of doctors does not heal those who never come!
Yet this is the God’s government of grace, that it is PROVIDED, so that one may
freely take pardon and find peace in God. It is MEDIATED, not being like a
postal form to fill in and submit, but like the cry of a friend to give you a
hand out of the water in which you are drowning. In the very categories of God
and man, this desire from the heart of the living God is affirmed for one and
all: HERE is the ransom. Take it!
"for why should you die!"
Capture the compassion, the kindness and care, concern and glow of love in this, and be captured by it; for to find this is better than money or power, prestige or praise. It is life eternal. As a mother, father, nurse, friend, God gives counsel, stands ready to give life, and knows His own. If you come and receive Him who speaks as your Lord and Saviour, you show you are one of them.
It is by GRACE you are saved (Ephesians 2), and this means you do not deserve it. It is the work of another which opens the door, that of Christ crucified, the very picture of your sin, on the Cross, and the One bearing the burden of it. Take it then, and being covered, act like it.
And receiving it, ought we not to broadcast it to others, for if He so loved us, ought we not to love others also ? In Psalm 70, you have these pithy words:
"Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in you;
and let those who love Your salvation say continually,
'Let God be magnified!'."
Not grumbling but grace, not feeble hearts but faith, not rushing to ruin but running to Christ for power, pardon, peace and protection in life, that it shine for him: this is the path. It is a good path, a gracious and a peaceful one, and if not without pain, it is because pleasure is not its principle, but truth in love and grace in truth, mercy in all and the Fatherhood of the God of creation and all comfort. One becomes not like a wheel cantering hapless downhill, but set on its axle, guided by grace.
Such is the magnificence of this divine massif, this principle, this passion, this design for the design called man, this death for Deity in human form, its peak, and life from the dead also for man, its corona. Here, in fact, is design in two dimensions, first the plan of life, by which man comes to be, and secondly the plan of salvation, that of the death of the Lamb as designated from and indeed before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8, Ephesians 1:4) in the eternity of the heart of the Divine Creator. By this, man is restored; but not as if not in the divine image, despite its defilement, but with due regard to it, and that not as for something arrogant, but awesome in its conferments, as in its divestments from sin. Hence God chooses His own, but in so doing, seeks ALL, and says both things clearly (Colossians 1:19ff., John 1:12).
It is indeed fitting for man that though his status is remarkable, as in the image of God, his deliverance is not in his own power at all, but depends on that all-encompassing mercy of the passion of love in the heart of the all blessed Creator. It is part of the wonder of the Eternal God that man is ever allowed to sense the presence and the prospect, and to be often aware of his own recalcitrance, and to respond to the work of God in his heart with a passionate certainty and glorying wonder at the grace of God who alone having saved, alone and eternally keeps (Romans 8:29ff., John 10:27-28, Ephesians 1:11, I John 5:11-12).
God, then, in Ezekiel 33:11 is making no vain appeal, nor is He as if a dictator, ignoring the status of man. In all things, divine, in all things consistent, in all things majestic, in all humble, yet God is also in all things precise. He never confuses an issue, ignores a point or fails in His wisdom. It is this to which He asks man to return, in that particular design for man, the designate, salvation (Isaiah 45:22f.).
3. Not Recklessness but Rest in Righteousness
In Ezekiel 33:12ff., the Lord proceeds to deal with shiftiness, or shiftlessness, for the one is an uneasy lack of sincere force and faith, and the other is its result. He is the One who steers. If someone does well, and then turns to the land of evil, what is that ? If he does this, is this not his own position, desire, decision and destiny, as one leaving the light! Will his earlier conformity be remembered ? Has he not gone where he seeks to belong! Was he not a mere word-monger ...
If on the other hand, someone has lived an evil life, and then turns to the Lord and His righteousness, and lives accordingly, will his sins be remembered ? Of course not; for is not the Lord SEEKING those who come to Him, and that this be the end for anyone, life in the light! Christ came to relieve of unrighteousness, cancel sin in Himself, provide His own righteousness as a gift and grant life everlasting. When one comes to Him, He gives even a new life, and it spins in His salvation, where it fits (I John 3:9, 5:11-12).
Some disagree with this sort of thing. They even dare to use His name while doing as they please, changing His words and adding His name to their shame, to add to their antics. They grumble, mumble and stumble in their own foolish ideas. However, this is the way that it is, says Ezekiel as God's spokesman (33:20). God will judge people according to their own ways, whether they come to and live in the Lord, or leave His domain in rebellion.
It is not that anyone who IS the Lord's can leave Him (Hebrews 13:5, Ephesians 1:11), He being as undetachable as sheep from Shepherd; On the other hand, many who merely MOUTH the Lord may well do so, being mere hangers-on; for He is able to keep what is committed to Him against the day of judgment, having predestined His own, and keeping those who come in saving faith to Himself (II Timothy 1:9).
Of God, says Paul, this:
"the Gospel according to the power of God,
who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, nor according to our works,
but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus
before time began, but has now been revealed
by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death
and brought life and immortality to light through he Gospel."
God, says Paul in I Thessalonians 5, "has not appointed us to wrath but to obtain salvation."
"I am the door," said Jesus Christ as
written in John 10:9,
"if anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and go in and out and find pasture."
So does faith believe, receive and live.
This is how we shall live, and here lies the answer to the rumble of grumbling from disbelievers in the day of Ezekiel as in our own alike! In Christ, the work is done (Romans 3:23ff.), the redeeming death has been borne: it is for man to receive Him, accept His work of ransom and relieved, rest in Him while following His way by faith. It is not too hard (I John 5:3-4). His rest is in fact glorious (Isaiah 11:10, Matthew 11:28-30), and life in Him abides as does a stream in its bed provided, whether in thrust or quiescent.
He is ever ready to forgive (I John 1:7-2:2) those who come in faith to Him, rescues from falling and makes us stand. He has given to us who believe, an inheritance which does not fade away (I Peter 1:4, Hebrews 4,7-10, Ephesians 1:11), inalienable, eternal. There is meaning in His mastery, as joy in His creation and delight in His redemption. The Lord is good, and blessed are they who know it.
Such then is the magnificence of the Ezekiel 33 range in the Celestial Alpine Wonders of God.
On Deuteronomy 32, see Grand Biblical Perspectives Chs. 3, 4, 5. On Tyre, Babylon, Nineveh and Assyria, see The Pitter-Patter of Prophetic Feet Ch. 4. On Israel, see SMR Chs. 8 -9, Divine Agenda Ch. 8 , Israel Ch. 1, Great Execrations ... Ch. 4, It Bubbles ... Chs. 10, 1.
On the telling testimony of this agent in the plains below the Mounts, see Dastardly Dynamics, Delirious Daubs, Wandering Woes, Bleary Theories and Immovable Faith Ch. 6, News 87, SMR pp. 582ff., The Kingdom of Heaven Ch. 8. With his facile fabrications, he sought to tempt even Christ, and in his ardent anticipations, he succeeded with Judas.
In Christ Incomparable, Lord Indomitable Ch. 7, the issue of pride and panache from the first is found, as Genesis 3 is considered in its implication: the nature of the temptation of Eve and of her response. Man in God's image of course had significant liberty, and was as far from the programmatic as might be in a creature. What then of the devil's idea that if the divine commandment of the test situation, practical as often, were to be ignored, then the new status which Eve would gain, this would be one of parity with God in sovereign survey, exalted to companionship not by grace but by power. You would like God, with the knowledge of good and evil, an entry to the divine.
The Satanic spirit did not hesitate to impute to God an evil desire, the preservation of the divine preserve from undue competiton, the desire for monopolistic delight in His own domain. This, so far from being for man's good, this exclusion from the Tree of the knowledge of good and of evil, was in fact a protective device for the arrogant and unjust desires and designs of deity! Such were the impuations. In Christ Incomparable ..., we pursue the point.
That then, it is liberty, such as is prescribed for what being in the image of God (able to have absolute truth, and to converse on it), is defiled but not defunct. In this, one may know Him who IS God and operate with understanding and desire in His presence.
Instead, what is the option ? It is to operate in a lie, intentional or by unconscientious confusion. This is not liberty but delusion. If anyone should operate wilfully in a lie, this is not liberty but collision with reality and distortion of what one is. What cannot create reality, being itself created, has no liberty in merely battering its wings against the cage of its own containment. It cannot re-create the universe or itself. It must deal either in defiance, delusion or in spiritually upright principle with God.
When love is the motif, this is liberty indeed. When it is not, what distortion may freedom create. How may a man, except by insanity, lust for the status of deity rather than seek restoration to the actual place which creation enjoins!
It is unrealism conjoined with self-assertion; it is arrogant self-insertion in the very face of the grace of being made in the first place, able to understand, and in the second, of being offered deliverance, to be pardoned freely so that one may resume such a privilege as being restored to the image of God, and that by means of what was at such personal cost to the Creator, so that what He suffered meets the limit of human grief. He renders assistance on other terms than the balm to mere defiance. Insistence by man on such obloquy to reality, both in creation and that suffered by the Redeemer in atonement is precisely that lying irrationality where lust replaces love, and insensitivity becomes callow callousness, like that of hands unable any more to feel, because of thickened skin.
It is the assertion of what is neither true (one's own significance as a universe orderer, though not at all ordering the universe which is oneself), nor justifiable (why should one contest with God, except not to be what one is, and how could one be otherwise than by becoming God, which is a lost option - too late! and even in default, too little!).
The endeavour, as old as Eve, to come to parity in any power with God by deceit or as with the devil (Revelation 12) by force, popularity or both, is if not insane, inane. How could you BECOME eternal and infinite in wisdom and power; and even if you could, how could you love as much as that ? and even if you could, how could you do what requires divine power, and even if you had it, the matter has been done already. Creation is past. Only God is eternal. Too late the parvenu.
If you are grateful, take it; if not, the issue remains as before.