Chapter 20:45-21:7 (ESV) - And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward the southland; preach against the south, and prophesy against the forest land in the Negeb. Say to the forest of the Negeb, Hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree. The blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from south to north shall be scorched by it. All flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it; it shall not be quenched.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! They are saying of me, ‘Is he not a maker of parables?’”
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries. Prophesy against the land of Israel and say to the land of Israel, Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am against you and will draw my sword from its sheath and will cut off from you both righteous and wicked. Because I will cut off from you both righteous and wicked, therefore my sword shall be drawn from its sheath against all flesh from south to north. And all flesh shall know that I am the Lord. I have drawn my sword from its sheath; it shall not be sheathed again.
“As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes. And when they say to you, ‘Why do you groan?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that it is coming. Every heart will melt, and all hands will be feeble; every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water. Behold, it is coming, and it will be fulfilled,’” declares the Lord God.
Question to consider: Why did people accuse Ezekiel of speaking in a parable here?
In the Hebrew Bible, the first paragraph is considered the beginning of chapter 21 instead of the end of chapter 20. It actually fits more with the first verses of Chapter 21 because the Lord once again emphasized that His judgment would start in southern Judah and make its way to Jerusalem so the kingdom of Judah would be utterly destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.
The southland, also called “the hill country”, was forest land in the southern part of Judah which Joshua told the tribe of Joseph they could use to house people who were not able to fit in the portion of Joseph’s land inheritance because of their great number (see Joshua 17). Though they cut down trees in order to build their houses, there must have still been enough of a forest for a blazing flame to erupt which could not be quenched.
Even though Ezekiel had previously been given parables to confound them, this word of judgment was literal and direct, but the people apparently refused to accept it as such since he had previously spoken in parables. So the next word reiterated the judgment by saying the people from the South all the way to the sanctuaries in Jerusalem would be cut down in judgment. The people would know that it was the Lord who judged them by the Babylonians precisely because He told them it would happen in advance.
Just as God had spoken through the grief of a lamentation, so He had Ezekiel groan with bitter grief and a broken heart over the judgment that was to come. Even though Ezekiel had put on dramas before which may have looked exaggerated or humorous, I don’t believe that the grief he displayed here was an act. I believe Ezekiel expressed the heart of God in having to bring about this judgment.
People accuse God of being sadistic or cruel because He brought judgment, but without judgment there is no repentance and reconciliation. Sin must be fully and finally destroyed. We would like to think that a world full of pretty good people who make the occasional oopsie is good enough. However, a simple act of rebellion against God in eating a piece of forbidden fruit doomed the entire world to the curse of sin. Sin brings death and decay, and as long as it exists in the world, it will be moving toward destruction. God no more delights in judgment than a parent delights in correcting a child, but both are necessary. Fortunately, we have never had to experience the full cup of God’s wrath, for Jesus endured it for us. Therefore, let us listen to the writer of Hebrews, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
Dear heavenly father, thank You for Your work in bringing us to the place where there will be no more sin and death. Help us to have Your heart towards sin that we may grieve and groan for people to turn back to You. Amen.