Ezekiel 33 – Ezekiel as the Israel’s Watchman & Babylon Captivity: Religion (11of 11)

Hands Out“I know thy works and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the Synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9).1 Why Will You Die

A lot of places in the New Testament explain that if we repent from our sins and stop doing them they are forgiven forever. 

Yet, some people think they have sinned too much or Your forgiveness is only temporary.  Psalm 103 makes it clear that once they are forgiven You forget them forever:

“For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:11-12).

And of course, there are others that think that You’re just bluffing, that You won’t harm them in the end.  But again, You are real clear on that in the following chapter.

And what the author of Hebrews says makes it scary:

“For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,

But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Heb 10:26-27).

Also, I guess most of the Jews today don’t read Ezekiel 33, because if they did they would know that…

Ezekiel 33
Ezekiel as the Israel’s Watchman

1 Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,2 Watchmen

33:1-48:35 – a section depicting consolation for Israel.

33:1-37:28 – sermons and oracles of comfort following the fall of Jerusalem.  Interspersed are words of warning and judgment, some of which may have been intended to comfort a downtrodden people.

2 Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman:

“children of thy people” – fellow Israelites in exile with Ezekiel.

“People of the land” – full citizens who owned land and served in the army.

3 If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;

“Trumpet” – an instrument made form a ram’s horn used to warn of approaching danger and to announce the beginning of religious periods (e.g., day of atonement, Lev 25:9; new moon festival, Ps 81;3).

4 Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.

5 He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.

3 Why are the churches of this world
Why are the churches of this world confused over the most important knowledge available to this generation?
Your Bible reveals in graphic detail the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in supreme power to set up the Kingdom of God on earth. Yet the world seems to understand almost nothing about this prophetic event and the annual festival that pictures it!

Think of it! God, in a very few years, will send the living Jesus Christ again–this time to save mankind from nuclear mass destruction, to end human misery and suffering, and to usher in peace, happiness and joy for all mankind. He will come to rule over and judge all nations and usher in the happy, peaceful world tomorrow.

6 But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.

“His blood” – his life, blood being the life principle.

7 So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.

8 When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.

9 Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

10 Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?

“Our transgressions and our sins” – the first time the exiles expressed consciousness of sin.  Previously they had blamed their fathers and even God.

11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

“I have no pleasure” – the question of 18:23 is now a statement.  God’s basic intention for His creation is life, not death.

“Turn from his way” – the third call for repentance (see 14:6, 18:30)..

12 Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth.

33:12-20 – deals with the same subject as 18:21-29 – namely, that the individual, whether righteous or wicked, has a choice to live righteously or not each day.

4 Oh Lord

13 When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.

14 Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right;

15 If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die.

“Statutes of life” – the purpose of God’s law was to foster and protect life.

16 None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.

17 Yet the children of thy people say, The way of the Lord is not equal: but as for them, their way is not equal.

18 When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby.5 Come to me

19 But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby.

20 Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. O ye house of Israel, I will judge you every one after his ways.

Twelfth year…tenth month…fifth day of the month” – January 8, 586 B.C., five months after the Jerusalem temple was burned.  See date in 2 Kgs 25:8, which in modern reckoning is August 14, 586.  The journey between Jerusalem and Babylon could be made in four months (Ezra 7:9).

“One that had escaped out of Jerusalem” – the first of the exiles of 586.

21 And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, in the fifth day of the month that one that had escaped out of Jerusalem came unto me, saying, The city is smitten.

22 Now the hand of the LORD was upon me in the evening, afore he that was escaped came; and had opened my mouth, until he came to me in the morning; and my mouth was opened, and I was no more dumb.

23 Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

24 Son of man, they that inhabit those wastes of the land of Israel speak, saying, Abraham was one, and he inherited the land: but we are many; the land is given us for inheritance.

6 Your father is the devil“They that inhabit those wastes of the land” – the residents of Jerusalem not exiles in 586 B.C.

“Abraham was one…but we are many” – a boat by the unrepentant, similar to that of 11:15 (cf. Lk 3:8).

25 Wherefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Ye eat with the blood, and lift up your eyes toward your idols, and shed blood: and shall ye possess the land?

“Eat with the blood” – forbidden in Gen 9:4; Lev 7:26-27, 17:10; Deut 12:16, 23.

26 Ye stand upon your sword, ye work abomination, and ye defile everyone his neighbor’s wife: and shall ye possess the land?

27 Say thou thus unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; As I live, surely they that are in the wastes shall fall by the sword, and him that is in the open field will I give to the beasts to be devoured, and they that be in the forts and in the caves shall die of the pestilence.

28 For I will lay the land most desolate, and the pomp of her strength shall cease; and the mountains of Israel shall be desolate, that none shall pass through.

29 Then shall they know that I am the LORD, when I have laid the land most desolate because of all their abominations which they have committed.

30 Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, everyone to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the LORD.

33:30-33 – words of assurance meant for Ezekiel alone.

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.

“Goeth after their covetousness” – the people were waiting for Ezekiel to tell them how they could personally profit from the situation rather than what God’s larger designs were for them (cf. Matt 20:20-28).

32 And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not.

“They hear…but they do them not” – see Is 29:13; Matt 21:28-32; cf. Jas 1:22-25.

33 And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them.

Babylon Captivity: Religion

But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up (Dan 3:18).

When the chips were down, Daniel made it clear to King Nebuchadnezzar that he and his friends wouldn’t serve the gods of Babylon.  Instead they would hold true to the worship of the God of heaven, but not all of the Hebrew captives chose not to accompany Daniel. 

Hebrew Religious Experience
While in Captivity

7 In 1384
In 1384, John Wycliffe, the morning star of the reformation, died of a stroke in Lutterworth, England. His life, until its end, was the beginning of a recovery of the Scriptures and the Gospel from the corrupt and power hungry Church of Rome.

Wycliffe broke with tradition by refusing to claim that the Church was the final authority in matters of faith. In 1378 he authored The Truth of Holy Scripture in which he claimed that the Bible alone was the authority for believers. He stated that church councils, tradition, and even the Pope himself were to be held accountable to the authority and teaching of Scripture.

He also proclaimed that every Christian should be able to read the Bible for himself! This was novel, for the church not only controlled and interpreted the Bible for its members, but only the clergy were even allowed to own or read Bibles! Wycliffe’s answer was to publish the Bible in the everyday language of the people.

The story is quite incredible – how the faith of one man, Daniel, influenced and helped preserve the faith of a nation. As well as others who influenced a whole nation in their own time – of John Wycliffe, John Hus, Martin Luther, and others.

So what happened to the faith of the Hebrews during Babylonian captivity? What is known for sure and what can be legitimately surmises?

Of course the story begins with Daniel, who was carried off to Babylon in 605 B.C. He took his stand for God and was rewarded for his faith (Dan 1).

He became, in effect, the prime minister (Dan 2:48). And he continued in some sort of leadership role until the first year of Cyrus, 539 B.C. (Dan 1:21) and even into his third year (Dan 10:1). By that time he would have been at least 85 years old (assuming he was 15 or 16 when taken to Babylon).

It is tempting to tell the story of Daniel’s experience in the Babylonian and Persian courts, but there isn’t enough room to do so here (see Dan 1, 2, 5, 9, 10). The important point to make is that he served in a high administrative post when:

597 B.C. – the second contingent of exiles (including Ezekiel) arrived in Babylon and

586 B.C. – the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 586 B.C. and

539-536 B.C. – more captives were brought to Babylon when the restoration of Jews to Palestine took place.

Yet, it is unknown exactly what he did in each case, but he occupied a position in which he could do a great deal.

Daniel’s three friends (Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah) stood with him in his initial test (Dan 1) and served as his prayer partners as they all dealt with the issue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan 2:17, 18).

Nebuchadnezzar appointed them to administrative posts in Babylon at the same time (Dan 2:48, 49). Subsequently Nebuchadnezzar had these men thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to worship the image of the king.

8 John Hus
John Hus carried on the teachings of Wycliffe after his death.
Hus, from Bohemia, not only encouraged the translation of the Word of God into the language of the people, but he preached in the language of the people instead of in Latin. He wanted the gospel to be heard and believed by those to whom he preached.

Hus also rejected the power and authority of the Pope, and while at a meeting to discuss his views in 1415 was arrested and burnt at the stake for his “heresy.” The council also took the opportunity to proclaim Wycliffe a heretic, even though he had been dead for almost 40 years. In fact, they dug up his bones and burnt them in contempt for his teaching and its influence on Hus.

At the end of Hus’ trial, when asked if he would appeal to the Pope for mercy, he responded, “I do affirm before you all, that there is no more just or effectual appeal, than that which is made unto Christ. Who is a higher judge than Christ?”

When the chain was wrapped around his neck, binding him to the stake, he cried out, “My Lord Jesus Christ was bound with a harder chain than this for my sake, and why then should I be ashamed of this rusty one?” As Hus was dying, being burned alive at the stake, he proclaimed, “What I have taught with my lips I seal with my blood. You are now going to burn a goose, but in a century you will have a swan which you can neither roast nor boil.”

And when God delivered them, they were once again promoted to responsible positions where they could encourage and protect the faith. Their deliverance became the occasion for a royal decree in favor of the worship of God in the kingdom (Dan 3).

From all this we can conclude that God protected the Hebrew exiles in the exercise of their religion.

He kept that faith alive during the whole Babylonian exile, for when the restoration took place, those who remained behind made offering for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem area (Ezra 1:4-6).

And when the whole company 42,360 (including a large number of priests and Levites, (Ezra 2:36-42) arrived in the Jerusalem area, they reinstituted the sacrificial system and the Feast of Tabernacles and proceeded to lay the foundation for the temple (Ezra 3).

The enthusiastic response demonstrates the vitality of Hebrew faith during captivity.

It is therefore surmised that in the various Jewish communities by the River Chebar and elsewhere they kept the Sabbath. Moreover, in Jewish communities they presumably practiced the rite of circumcision as a sign of the covenant with Yahweh.

Private prayers, other than by Daniel and his friends, must have been practiced by devout individuals.  Note that Daniel prayed three times a day toward Jerusalem (Dan 6:10, 11).   Certainly few of the Jews had access to parts of the Bible, but it seems that Daniel did (see Dan 9:2, 11).

The synagogue probably originated during the Exile in Babylonia. It may have begun as a gathering for communal worship and mutual support and perhaps for observance of the Sabbath and Hebrew religious festivals.

We get some idea what happened behind the scenes from Ezekiel  8:1, when Ezekiel was with the elders of Judah in his house, or when Ezekiel was “among the captive by the River Chebar” (Eze 1:1).

To what degree they preserved the true faith among the Jews in captivity must be left open to question, but they do not seem to have succumbed in any substantial numbers to the idolatry of the Babylonians.

At the end of the captivity large numbers were ready to endure the hardships of reestablishing a community dedicated to the worship of Yahweh, and those who stayed behind gave substantial sums to finance the venture. 

Yet, it is unknown how many of the Jews chose to worship as the Babylonians did, but if we look at the Jews in Israel today I would have to say many.

The Official
Religion of Babylon

Daniel and his friends opposed the official polytheistic religion of king and state and temple.  They had a fairly large family of gods to talk about, but a few ere especially important. 

9 Martin Luther
Martin Luther (1483–1546) was a German monk, Catholic priest, professor of theology and seminal figure of a reform movement in 16th century.
Christianity, subsequently known as the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. His refusal to retract all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the Pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Emperor.

Luther taught that salvation and subsequently eternity in heaven is not earned by good deeds but is received only as a free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin and subsequently eternity in hell. His theology challenged the authority of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge from God and opposed sacerdotalism by considering all baptized Christians to be a holy priesthood. Those who identify with these, and all of Luther’s wider teachings, are called Lutherans.

His translation of the Bible into the vernacular (instead of Latin) made it more accessible, which had a tremendous impact on the church and on German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the writing of an English translation, the King James Bible. His hymns influenced the development of singing in churches. His marriage to Katharina von Bora set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing Protestant priests to marry.

In his later years, in deteriorating health, Luther became increasingly critical of adherents of Judaism, writing that Jewish synagogues and homes should be destroyed, their money confiscated, and liberty curtailed. These statements and their influence on antisemitism have contributed to his controversial status.

The view of their functions changed slightly over time, and there tended to be a fusion of one divine figure into another.  We shall try to look at the sitauti9on as the Hebrew exiles arrived.

Anu, the sky god, from whom the institution of kingship originally descended, stood at the head of the family of gods.  In time his consort became Ishtar, goddess of love (fertility) and war.  Anu’s son Enlil gradually replaced Anu as king of the gods.

The national god of Sumer, he was considered the possessor of the Tablet of Destiny, which decreed the fates of men and gods.  Babylonians worshiped Ea, another of the major gods, as lord of the deep on which the world rested.

They regarded Ea as the instructor of men in arts and crafts.  At least one early myth makes Marduk the son of Ea, but his origins are obscure.

In any case, Marduk came to assume the central place in the Babylonian pantheon long before Nebuchadnezzar’s day.  He had been enthroned as the patron god of the city of Babylon and gradually assimilated the functions of other gods.  For example:

Shamash – god of justice.

Adad – god of rains.

Sin – the moon god and illuminator of the night.

The astral deities – the sun, moon, and Venus – served as a second group of gods.  The populace regarded Sin or Nanna, whose main centers of worship were Ur and Haran, as the greatest. 

Because he served as controller of the night and of the lunar calendar, with the crescent moon as his symbol, they considered his activities important to mankind.

10 In defiance of God
In defiance of God, Nebuchadnezzar made an image all of gold to indicate his kingdom would last forever.
This image was the opposite of the image of Daniel 2, which was made up of various metals and indicated a succession of empires. A cubit was about 18 inches, which would make the image about ninety feet high and nine feet wide. It was erected on the plains of Dura and would have been an imposing sight.

Nabonidus, last king of Babylon, spend much time refurbishing Sin’s worship centers.  And apparently his efforts to make Sin the head of the Babylonian pantheon and his ineptness in running the government led to his undoing.

The lading priests bitterly opposed his efforts on behalf of Sin.  The struggle weakened the state and helped to pave the way for Cyrus’ takeover of the empire.

The Babylonians worshiped Ishtar as goddess of war and goddess of sexual love and procreation.  She revealed herself to human beings as the morning star and evening star, that is, as the planet Venus.

They often associated Adad, the weather god, with Shamash (sun god) and Ishtar.  They described him as the lord of abundance, the controller of the floodgates of heaven and earth, with lightning and thunder as his representations.

They worshipped Nergal, a much feared god, as the god of pestilence and the underworld.  By Nebuchadnezzar’s day Marduk who received the title Bel, “Lord,” and Ishtar, often called Belit, “Lady” stood out above the others.

Service to the Gods

The genuine worshippers of the Hebrew God found themselves in a religious environment that had often been denounced by their prophets.  Daniel and his three friends testified that Yahweh was the only god worth worshipping.

11 Anu
Anu (also An; from Sumerian *An = sky, heaven) was a Sumerian (later for Assyrians and Babylonians ) sky-god, the god of heaven, lord of constellations, king of gods, spirits and demons, and dwelt in the highest heavenly regions.

Now imagine what it must have meant for them to live in Babylon?

Babylonian religion considered the god or goddess present in its image, the idol.  Worshipers constructed most of these images of precious wood, dressed with expensive garments, and crowned with tiaras.

The image stood on a pedestal in the holy of holies of the temple.  There the god lived and was served like the king.  Lesser gods paid visits, and the god was fed and entertained with music and dancing.

When the god had eaten, the dishes from his meal were sent to the king; dishes from meals of lesser gods were sent to temple administrators and their craftsmen.

A variety of priests and religious functionaries arose to care for the gods and to determine the affairs of the state.  I’m not going to go into the discussion of the classes and duties of these individuals.

But diviners who practiced various kinds of divination became increasingly important at court for the purpose of discovering the will of the gods and prediction of future events. 

The variety of techniques used in divination included observation of animals’ entrails, behavior of birds and other animals, astronomical omens, and the interpretation of dreams. 

Though the prophetic aspect of astronomy (astrology) appeared in primitive form in Babylon as early as Hammurabi’s day (1792-1750 B.C.).  It reached a high point of development in the first millennium B.C., especially at such centers as Babylon, Nippur and Uruk (biblical Erech).

12 Ishtar
Ishtar was the goddess of love, war, fertility, and sexuality.
Ishtar was the daughter of Ninurta. She was particularly worshipped in northern Mesopotamia, at the Assyrian cities of Nineveh, Ashur and Arbela (Erbil). Besides the lions on her gate, her symbol is an eight-pointed star. Ishtar holding her symbol, Louvre Museum.

One type of depiction of Ishtar/Inanna.  The lion was her symbol (detail of the Ishtar Gate). In the Babylonian pantheon, she “was the divine personification of the planet Venus.

Babylonian “astrologers” (Dan 2:10) were active at Nebuchadnezzar’s court in Daniel’s day and sought to interpret all sorts of meteorological phenomena: thunder, hail, earthquakes, eclipses, positions of planets, and more.

The astrologers at a network of observatories throughout the country had the responsibility of making regular reports to the capital.  Some of these merely made astronomical observations; others added interpretations based on their fund of astrological texts.

The Babylonians thought that the stars indicated the will of the gods, and by studying their movements it was possible to predict evens on earth. 

They believed that the five planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn – along with the sun and moon, represented special manifestations of interpreters of the gods.

They represented the gods as follows:

Mercury – Nebo

Venus – Ishtar

Mars – Nergal

Jupiter – Marduk

Saturn – Ninib

Moon – Sin

Sun – Shamash.

Personal Religion

The official religion probably didn’t significantly affect the general public – and that may explain why the Hebrews were able to maintain their religion. 

13 The Scribes of Enuma Anu Enlil
The Scribes of Enuma Anu Enlil
Knowledge of Solar and Lunar Eclipses
Knowledge that Venus was both the Morning and Evening Star

In the 6th century B.C. the scribes of Enuma Anu Enlil were a group of men at the Babylonian court who were experts in astronomy and astrology.

Texts refer to this group of scribes, but we do not know exactly who they were, what they did and how they were trained. However, for hundreds of years the scribes kept accurate records of natural events on the earth and in the sky in order to predict the future.

Sumerian astronomy was primitive compared to later Babylonian standards. Babylonian clay tablets that have survived since the dawn of civilization in the Mesopotamian region – record the earliest total solar eclipse seen in Ugarit on May 3, 1375 B.C.

To be sure, Babylonians watched the great public processions of the gods and participated in the religious festivals, but they don’t seem to have had access to the temples. 

Individual Babylonians had their own personal gods or goddesses, to whom they offered prayers and sacrifices.  They considered it the duty of such deities to protect their worshippers against evil spirits and to intercede on their behalf with the other gods.

Babylonians wore amulets to ward off evil spirits, and they had access to various “priests” or “exorcists” (Dan 2:10), who could recite incantations and perform rituals to ward off evil powers.

Evidently they consulted various types of exorcists and offered prayers and sacrifices at home to their personal gods, but there is not a lot of information on personal religion.  In the nature of the case, it was “personal” and therefore largely remains a private affair and unknown to outsiders.

In sharp contrast, prophets like Jeremiah, and Ezekiel constantly exhorted the Hebrew exiles to worship God on a personal basis. 

Yet, by looking at Israel today and according to what Jesus said centuries after the exile, probably very few became believers.

…verses 24-33 makes it very clear that the people that disobey You have nothing coming.  Let me rephrase, they have something coming, but nothing good. 

Yet, some people think that the Old Testament doesn’t apply to us, what is wrong with these people’s minds’, they think You had Your prophets write the Old Testament down just for Ancient Man?

It is said that the two things you shouldn’t talk about is politics and religion.  After the above study on religion and the previous days on Ancient Man and everyone’s favorite female, Jezebel, I want to do a bit more studying on “religion and sex.

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