An Indictment of Sinful Jerusalem
Open Your Bible
Ezekiel 22:1-31, Ezekiel 23:1-27, Romans 3:21-26
I like happy stories. I’m drawn to comedy over drama, delight in an afternoon spent wrapped up in a blanket watching a late nineties romantic comedy (ideally starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan). I avoid movies, shows, and books with the following: suspense, tragedy, gore of any kind, car wrecks, deadly diseases, dying, and unhappy endings. Blame my anxiety, some unresolved childhood trauma, or just a buoyant outlook on life, but hard and sad stories are not for me.
So I’m not naturally drawn to books like Ezekiel, at least certainly not the first few dozen chapters. It’s hard to sit and read about the myriad ways Judah has failed and to see those failures reflected back in my own heart. Chapters 22 and 23 cut to the chase, and as I read them during this Lenten season, I flinch and squirm, unsettled by the harsh but true language. Because I’m reading not just about the long-ago Israelites, I’m reading about the depth of sin that is possible in me.
But to grasp the implications of the true ugliness of sin in my own heart, it’s helpful to understand how and why Ezekiel structures these chapters. Chapter 22 gives us three oracles about their destructive behavior. A cue for seeing when each starts is the phrase, “the word of the LORD came to me,” and they begin at verses 1, 17, and 23.
In the first oracle, Ezekiel gives the people a list. It’s not just a list of things they’ve done wrong. He uses language and references from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy to show specifically the laws of God that they have broken. This isn’t a wild deviation from culture and norms; rather, these are things that God told them not to do. If my kids break a rule they don’t know about, like saying a bad word they had never heard before, well, that’s one thing. It’s on me to disciple them in that moment, to teach them right from wrong. But the people weren’t stumbling onto a new way of sinfulness, they were explicitly breaking God’s laws. We see echoes of the Ten Commandments in Ezekiel 22:4, 7, and 8. Ezekiel references specific Levitical laws throughout this oracle as well, specifically from Leviticus 18–20.
In the second oracle, Ezekiel tells them that there is no good left. The city will be burned, but nothing will be refined: no silver purified from dross. This is a stark, shocking, sad image. He starts with “this is what you have done,” and the second oracle describes “this is what will happen to you.”
The third oracle, beginning with verse 22, reminds the people of Judah that none of them—not one—is righteous. None have obeyed the law. Romans 3:23 reiterates this truth: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Ezekiel’s words sting all the way through, each of the three oracles wielding a particular perspective. But they lead us to this: not one of us can follow the law. And so God must do what He has spoken; He must act. The Lord’s wrath was not poured out on us, but on His own son, Jesus—who, on the cross, bore the crushing weight of all our sin, and who made a way for us to be clean and righteous. What a weight we bear, but what a gift we have been given. Praise be to God.