Exiled near Babylon by the River Chebar, Ezekiel was commissioned by God to proclaim that the locus of God’s presence in Israel, the city of Jerusalem, would be utterly devastated (Ezekiel 3:22–6:14). And growing up in the priestly succession (1:3), Ezekiel would have been quite familiar with the central, most intimate infrastructure that housed God’s presence: the Temple. He would have been familiar with the intricate embroideries on the curtains and walls of the Temple, the priestly utensils for rituals and sacrifice, the smells of incense, the awe that comes when one is in the midst of the Holy One.
And so, for him to be on the skirts of Babylon, in the midst of an unholy people and away from God’s presence, it must have been jolting. Even more, while he is in exile, the city of Jerusalem is committing abominable acts in the Temple. And when God approaches him in breathtaking visions, he sees first-hand from God’s perspective why Jerusalem must be destroyed: God’s people have not only become like the nations around them, but they have become worse than the nations around them (5:6–7). Therefore, their God is not for them; he is against them (5:8). And if God is against them, who can be for them?
And yet, despite Israel’s wickedness, the Lord in his sheer mercy, decides to spare some. In a vision, God shows Ezekiel that a man clothed in linen will “pass through the city” and “strike” (9:5), but he will spare only those who receive a mark on their foreheads. The mark indicates that these people “sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed” in Jerusalem (9:4). These who hate the sin of their leaders evidently have not rejected the Lord’s rules; rather, they have indeed walked in his statutes (5:6). And therefore, the man clothed in linen passes over them; their lives are spared.
The sigh and groan of sin bears witness to a heart—an internal disposition—that is aligning near to God’s own heart. We see this in in Psalm 119: “Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law” (v. 53); “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (v. 136); “I look at the treacherous with disgust, because they do not keep your commands” (v. 158). In all these examples, the psalmist groans for sins committed and demarcates himself from those “who hate the good and love the evil” (Micah 3:1). God’s people should hate what he hates and love what he loves.
Yet, we must distinguish between groaning over sin and groaning over sin’s results. Our chancellor John Piper has said “All human beings hate suffering [result of sin]. Very few human beings hate sin.” I think we can see get a glimpse of this with the exiles in Ezekiel 21:6–7. The Lord commands Ezekiel to publicly and symbolically groan with “breaking heart and bitter grief.” The reason is not that idolatrous abominations, insurmountable pride, and lamentable social injustices have happened in Jerusalem, but that Yahweh’s sword is drawn from its sheath (21:5), ready to slay those who don’t give a groan for such sin. And so, like Ezekiel’s symbolic groaning, the exiles groan—but not for their sins. They groan because of the impending doom that follows as a result of their sin. And God wiped them out. They certainly grieved. But was this godly grief? I don’t think so.
Brothers and sisters, we need such a godly grief that brings forth true repentance, leading to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10)—a 180-degree heart-felt disposition away from sin. Therefore, while we live, let us heed the charge of Amos: “Hate evil, and love good” (Amos 5:15). The time has come wherein the Lord has not dealt with us according to our evil ways or deeds (Ezekiel 20:44). And for his name’s sake he has not returned our deeds upon our head (Ezekiel 16:43), but he has returned our deeds upon the head of his Son, Jesus Christ. God the Father was pleased to spare us from our impending doom by nailing to his Son all our wicked deeds and inner-sins that nobody, except for him, sees, and through his death we have peace with God through Christ; by Jesus’s death, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).
And what are we healed from? Our sick hearts (Ezekiel 16:30). Our hearts were sick because our hearts did not love what God loved or hated what he hated, and our hearts are still sick because we still do not love what God loves as we ought or hate what he hates as we ought. So, though safe from the coming wrath, we still groan for our sin, yet we rejoice in the hope of that comes with having a new heart with new capacities to love and hate rightly:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26–27)
3rd-Year MDiv Student
- The semester is coming to a close. Pray for diligence, perseverance, and worship in final papers and exams.
- Pray that the Lord would sanctify the Bethlehem College & Seminary administration, faculty, staff, and students by teaching us all what to rightly love and what to rightly hate. Pray that the word of God would continue to shape all of our hearts.
- Pray for a restful Thanksgiving break for the administration, faculty, staff, and students.
- Pray for the filling of the Serious Joy Scholarship to support our resident students this year.