As we said on September 19, to “stand in the gap” means to occupy a most lonely and painful place. That is no more evident than in this chapter. The LORD promises that Jerusalem will boil like a cauldron (3-5) at the hands of the king of Babylon (2).
Why? Because Jerusalem’s inhabitants would not cleanse themselves of the blood shed (7) and lewdness within (13). If they had cleansed themselves, God would have relented and cleansed them (13). But they would not relent, so nor will He. Thus everything that’s about to happen is just and deserved.
This is the message Ezekiel is to preach. But people hardened by the lust of the eyes hear better with their eyes than with their ears. So the LORD calls Ezekiel to serve as a living parable to them, at great cost to himself: in the morning he preaches God’s word, and that evening, his wife dies (18). Probably in his thirties, Ezekiel has lost the “delight of his eyes” (16).
But he is not to mourn (17), not outwardly at least. This is a graphic sign to the people of the message of what’s to come. The delight of their eyes was Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, in its high perch and tall walls they put their trust. But in a stroke, it will be taken from them. And when it happens, they must not mourn, for it was all just and deserved, after much patient calling and merciful waiting from the LORD.
Our nation and our way of life hang in the same balance. We think God does not see our rampant shedding of blood, and our pervasive lewdness, but He does. We think He does not care about how many babies we kill and toss away like so much trash, as a result of our sexual immoralities, but He is grieved beyond our comprehension. We think He is too impotent to do anything about the violence, the pornography, the adulterous divorces, and our whorish hook-up culture. But in a stroke, He can wipe away all our corruptions.
It’s not that He is blind, or unconcerned, or impotent. It’s that He is merciful. He calls us to turn. His mercy is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). He is patient and long suffering, but not forever. We too must cleanse ourselves of our corruptions, and then He will cleanse us. If not, our end will come in a stroke, and it will be painful beyond belief.
The only way forward is by being raised from our guilty, deathly decay, by the resurrection of Christ. Thus we must ask this simple question: what does the risen King Jesus do and say? He goes to the cross, and hangs there, for the guilt of all of our corruptions. And then he says, with his final breaths, “It is finished.” In a stroke from God, he was wiped out, instead of Jerusalem, instead of us. And in that stroke, all our guilt before God was finished - for those who trust and submit themselves to Him.
Only on the other side of being cleansed of our corruptions at the cross are we then free to turn away from them, on the concrete sidewalks of real life. This is the message we must preach, and obey, no matter the cost, in these declining times.