|Messages By Ovid Need|
After three sundays in I Cor. 13, we will take a break from it today. I was just reading in my scheduled reading and this fell into line. This verse 31 caught my attention, especially when we consider its context and the period of time in which we live. So here it is.
The background of this chapter is well known enough that we will not go into it. All we will do is pick out a few high points which will build our case. Equally obvious is the fact that this is a review of chapter 3. There the Lord told Ezekiel that the people would not listen to Ezekiel because they would not listen to the Lord, v. 7.
Ezekiel was sent to God's people who were in captivity in the land of the Chaldeans, Babylon. The time frame for ch. 3 would be before the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon.
The warning presented here is to God's people, not to the Egyptians, Philistines, Canaanites or any other pagan group. This was given to the ones who claimed to know and love God.
Chapters 3 and 33 are loaded with threats from God against His people. Ezekiel is told to warn those who are involved in iniquity to turn from that iniquity that they might live. If they do not, they will surly die. Then he mentions some of the prevalent iniquity which they are involved in, i.e. theft, adultery, idolatry, murder.
The warning contained herein is carried over into the NT by the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 5. Hardness in sins and iniquities results in God delivering His people to His servant the Devil, who will destroy the flesh that the spirit might be saved. Every pastor worthy of the title has preached the judgment of God against the sins of His unrepentant people from Ezekiel 3 and 33.
Also pointed out here in the first half of this chapter is that God has no pleasure in the death of His unrepentant children, v.11. Then in the usual manner of the Spirit of God, when the threats are the hottest against sin we find the glorious promise for the repentant child of God, the promise of forgiven and forgotten sins, Proverbs 28:19, 20. This first half closes with the promise of God's provision and protection for the repentant sinner in the quickly approaching judgment against sin, v. 16.
V. 17, The people's response was that the Lord was not fare to judge them according to their sins, The way of the Lord is not equal. Maybe their response was something like this: "Look at all the good we have done in the past. The Lord ought to remember that." Or "How about that person over there. Remember all of the evil he has done? He deserves to die, but now he thinks he is better than every one else."
The Lord answers that they are the ones whose ways are not equal. He continues on to tell them that they will receive exactly what they deserve, they will reap just what they have sown, Galatians 6:7.
The ones who have sown righteousness will reap life, the ones who have sown iniquity will reap death. And if the ones who are sowing iniquity will turn, they will be spared. If the ones who are living right turn to iniquity, they will lose all the benefits of their past righteousness. The Lord says it like this: I will judge you every one after his ways, v. 20. The Apostle Paul develops this in Romans 2.
The Lord had been warning His people of the coming judgment against Jerusalem. The people had responded to the warning with the promise that had been given to Abraham, Ezekiel 33:24. They misused this promise to give them assurance that they would not lose the land no matter how they live, therefore the fall of the city was God's fault. "Jehovah God is not being faithful to His promise to Abraham if He allows Jerusalem to fall."
In vs. 25, 26 the Lord points out their iniquity, reminding them that they have broken the covenant, or contract on which their possession of the land was conditioned (cf. Deuteronomy chapters 28-32). They have none to blame for the terrible calamity except their own sinful selves.
He is claiming the right as a landlord. The tenants violate the terms of their tenantship and the landlord has every right to kick them out, and even to call the law against them to force them out. If the lease calls for no wild parties and the tenant has wild parties, the owner has every right to forcibly remove them if he desires.
(Let me hit a point in passing. Today we are hearing mention of this promise of the land being given to the descendants of Abraham. We find the promise of the land of Canaan as given to Abraham in Genesis 15:18-20; 26:3. This promise is easily traced through the law and the psalms, up until the time of Solomon. Solomon plainly says that this promise was totally fulfilled, 1 Kings 8:56. To make sure that we do not miss this, the Lord tells us again in 2 Chronicles 9:26. Thus, any claim on the land of Canaan today based in the promise to Abraham is an illegitimate claim, just as sure as was this claim by the ones to whom Ezekiel spoke. And besides, Hebrews chapter 4 clearly tells us that the physical land of promised rest was only a picture of the then future promised land of rest, Christ.)
V. 27-29, The Lord continues on with His threats against His unrepentant people, as He says, "As sure as I live, the unrepentant people and that land will be laid waste because of all their abominations which they have committed."
V . 30, the people decide to go check out the word of the Lord with Ezekiel.
V. 31, The Lord warns Ezekiel of their motives as they come to him, saying that they want to hear what the Lord had to say. He tells Ezekiel that they will not do what he tells them, and gives the reason, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.
Now, the context of this chapter makes this quite a remarkable statement, especially when we look at the meaning of covetousness.
"Profit, unjust gain, covetousness. Personal advantage derived from some activity. Used largely in the negative sense, as in the case of the racketeer who takes his "cut" from the profits of an otherwise legitimate business.. But the predominance of the negative usages indicates that it is very easy for the acquisition of personal gain to become the ruling motive of one's life, obscuring duty, honesty and the rights of others.
The contexts in which [this word] occur emphasize two points concerning the lust for personal gain. First, it is a special temptation to leaders, and those showing any predilection in that direction should be disqualified (Ex 18:21). The leader who succumbs to this temptation to use his position for his own ends will certainly play his people false (Ezk 22:27). Again and again in the OT, it was the desire of the leaders for personal gain which led Israel into disaster (cf. ISam 8:3; Isa 56:11; Jer 8:10; 22:17, etc.).
Secondly, lust for personal gain is in direct opposition to unselfish devotion to God (Ps 10:3; 119:36; Isa 33:15). Perhaps its most disastrous result is its tendency to dull the hearing of God's word (Ezk 33:31)." TWOT 267a. (Emphasis added.)
The use of this word will give us an idea of its intended meaning. It is used in:
GEN 37:26 And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?
EXO 18:21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:
Psalms 119:36 Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.
ISA 57:17 For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.
JER 6:13 For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest everyone dealeth falsely.
EZE 22:27 Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain.
EZE 33:31 And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.
HAB 2:9 Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil!
God, not only through Ezekiel, but through many other prophets, had warned these people of their iniquity which would result in the fall of Jerusalem. The warnings always contained a call to repent and return to the ways of the Lord. Ezekiel had not spoken a word since he delivered his warning back in chapter 24. Then the night before he received word that Jerusalem had fallen according to the word of the Lord, he spoke again with the same warning.
V. 21, the messenger came with the sad news of the total overturning of the city. V. 29 again the Lord tells them that the fall was the result of the people's unrepentant actions. It could be blamed on no one except themselves.
The people see that God's word is coming to pass, so they figure they should maybe get their act together and turn from their indifference to the word of the Lord. They get together and go see the prophet in hopes that he will tell them what they should do so they can avoid the promised death.
This brings us to the principle for which we are looking, vs. 30-33. From the context, we can safely assume that the conversation in v. 30 went something like this: "Evidently what Ezekiel is saying is true. It happened to Jerusalem just like he said, so we had better go to him and find out what we need to do to avoid the judgment which he is telling us of. We don't want to die, so let's go find out what to do to keep from dying."
We see from the warning which the Lord gave to the Ezekiel in v. 31 that they come to him with an evil attitude of covetousness. These people have come to him, asking for the word of God so they can get right with God and do His word. After all, they do not want the evil to befall them which he is forecasting. "No one in his right mind wants to die and if there is something which I can do to avoid death, tell me what it is and, if possible, I'll do it."
They come to Ezekiel and tell him that they do not want the heavy hand of God's judgment against them. They ask him for a word from God for them to do so they will be able to avoid the promised destruction.
Now the problem. They come with a covetous heart. What do we mean? They come to find out from the word of God what they can do in order that they may miss the wrath of God. This is the first point under the definition of the word. Their motive for wanting to know and do the word of God was for their own personal advantage.
Now, let me tie the loose ends together concerning this covetousness.
1. It speaks of activity with the motive of a personal advantage. This easily leads to this motive becoming the ruling factor of our lives. Our decisions are now made on what is best for me, which way will gain more advantage for me? Not on "What does the God's word say that I must do to glorify Him?"
2. This motive obscures our duty, honesty and our respect for the rights of others. Our duty to God now takes second place. We only seek to glorify God (if such a thing were possible) after we get what we want.
3. Leaders are especially tempted in this area. In fact, the law bars any with this inclination from the place of leadership. It leads to disaster for both the individual and those under them. This includes civil and spiritual leaders.
4. This lust for personal gain is in direct opposition to our unselfish devotion to God. Decisions and actions, even so called 'godly decisions and actions,' made based on what I can gain, are selfish, covetousness.
5. The most disastrous results of covetousness is its tendency to dull the hearing of the word of God. This was exactly what took place here in Ezekiel. Their motive of covetousness prevented their hearing the instructions of God, so they could repent and turn from their iniquity and be spared the coming death.
As they seek what is best for them and not what is best for the glory of God, they are hardened to the word of God. God leaves them in their hardness to their own destruction.
This surely presents us with a dangerous situation.
Maybe their reasoning in v. 30 went something like this: "What do I have to do according to the word of God so I can claim His protection in the coming tribulation?"
Or maybe something like this: "What is in it for me if I do this like the word of the Lord tells me to?"
Even more pointed: "Let's go see the preacher to see what the condition is on this promise which we want to claim. We need the Lord's aid in this situation, so let's find out what we need to do to get it."
We see the judgment coming, so let's find out what the word is from the Lord so we will be spared!
One that we would be familiar with: "I am in need of finances. What to I have to do to get the Lord to meet my financial need?"
Or even "I need healing, what must I do to obtain it?"
And today we have this: "We are at war, so we need to get right with the Lord so He will give us victory in it."
Or "So He will keep my loved one safe in this time of conflict."
The list is endless, but the principle is obvious. The people want to know what the word of the Lord requires of them. This much is fine and godly. But look at the motive for wanting to know the requirement of the word of God!!
THE MOTIVE IS WHAT IS IN IT FOR THEIR OWN PERSONAL GAIN.
The Lord here identifies this as covetousness. There are some results of this attitude.
1. As mentioned by TWOT, the hearer is unable to do what they hear. Why? They are covetous. They are trying to use God for their own purpose. They are trying to reduce the Lord of Heaven and Earth to little more than their servant or slave. This is far more like the occult, or a fairy tale of the genie in the bottle.
2. Look at the results, Ez. 33:33. Even if they do what they hear they are to do from the word of God, the results will not change. They sought the Lord for their own purpose, and He will not be found. The Sovereign God of the universe will not be the servant His creation.
Now, to bring this to a conclusion.
These people came to the man of God with a wrong motive, covetousness. They came trying to find how the Lord would become their servant, their own personal body guard, their shield. They wanted the magic formula that would make Him do what they wanted. The result? low, the evil will come.
These are strong words in this assumption. Can we back them up? Most certainly.
First, Malachi 3:14 Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts? The idea obviously here is "What is in it for us if we keep His ordinances?"
Secondly, 1 Cor.10:31
We are told here in no uncertain words that the only motive for the Child of God that is pleasing to God is doing all things for His glory.
The apostle tells us this again in 2 Cor 4:15
Let me get a little blunt here and maybe make some enemies. (I heard somewhere, and this truth is obvious, that there are fewer and fewer people who are willing to stand against something that is popular with the public. Facts are no longer important, public opinion is. This is the response that I get for my stand against any involvement by our nation to support the new one world order under the authority of the UN. "You are making enemies.")
Back to making enemies. This principle of covetousness includes looking for a church which fulfills your needs. This includes the ones who have left here because they didn't feel their personal needs were being fulfilled. They left with covetousness controlling their heart.
Our only motive in looking for a church must be, "Will this glorify God?"
"Which church makes the word of God the most applicable?"
"Where can I best learn the law-word of God so I can best know how to serve and glorify Him?"
Or "What will best glorify God, Where can I best serve God or glorify Him?"
Most people search for a church based on "Which will best serve me and my wants and desires and meet my needs?" This is covetousness and has God's wrath against it.
The conclusion is that our motive for hearing the word of God must be to know better how to glorify Him. Our motive for whatever we do is to be to the glory of God. Anything else is covetousness.
Seeking the word from God for our own benefit will blind us to the message of God.
Because we are blinded to the areas in which we need to repent, we will continue on toward the threatened judgment in that area.
Clearly, only the motive for wanting to know God's word must be how to better serve, obey and glorify Him according to His revealed law and word.
This alone has His blessings on it and will spare His people in His coming judgment against sin.
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