Throughout biblical history, recipients of God’s special revelation have presumed upon God’s grace and forgiveness. They assumed their complaints against God and His servants, as well as their disobedience and rebellious idolatry, had no bearing on their fellowship with God. Though God clearly states sinful disobedience would separate them from God, they thought they could acquire wisdom from God according to their timetable.
David writes that if he treasured sin in his heart, God would not listen (Ps. 66:18). Isaiah explains there is a time and an attitude in which to call upon the Lord (Isa. 55:6–7). He also reminds Judah and Israel their unrepentant rebellion, not any inability on God’s part, was the reason for God’s silence when they called to Him (Isa. 59:1–2).
Ezekiel the prophet must confront exiles for their presumption to inquire of the Lord.
“Some of Israel’s elders came to inquire of the Lord.” Here they are in the midst of exile, an exile resulting directly from Judah’s refusal to honor God by honoring His word. Now, they want to hear a word from God? Ezekiel sits down with those who have the audacity to assume God has a new word for them. His response: God has no word for you.
This is not the first time in Israel’s history where God was not providing new special revelation, nor was it the last. When Samuel heard from God, Eli was initially unaware because “the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread” (1 Sam. 3:1). Amos prophesied there would be a famine “of hearing the words of the Lord” (8:11). And now, God says He will not give counsel to the elders because of the wicked, idolatrous practices of their fathers.
Early Signs (5–9)
God instructs Ezekiel to review Israel’s history, including the early signs of their bent toward rebellion and idolatry. In the days of Moses, God demonstrated power over the false gods of Egypt, reclaiming Israel as His own. At Sinai, God spoke to Moses, while Israel’s tribes abandoned their Deliverer and returned to their idolatrous ways. God spared this hard-headed, idolatrous people for the sake of His own name.
A brief review of Exodus underscores Israel’s marred history. It also reminds us our deliverance from sin and death is based upon the grace of God, not on our worthiness to be saved. We too are prone to idolatry, even if that idolatry comes in different forms than theirs.
Repeated Rebellion (10–14)
After leaving Sinai and transitioning to the wilderness of Kadesh Barnea, Israel continued to rebel. Let the reader take note of the repeated phrase “in the wilderness.” This is the Hebrew name for the book of Numbers, recording the four-decade transition from Sinai to Kadesh to Moab. The book serves as review of many rebellious acts of Israel against God. The result: an entire generation of Israel would be refused entrance to the promised land.
As the chapter continues, so does the history lesson. God reminds the elders of Moses’ teaching to the second generation not to follow the pattern of their parents. Throughout Israel’s history though, they continued to choose their own way or the way of the inhabitants of the land rather than God’s way.
We cannot live in rebellion against the words of the Master and presume to ask God’s counsel. May God grant us a hunger to read and apply His word daily.
By Douglas K. Wilson, Ph.D.
Wilson is dean of Christian Studies at University of Mobile in Alabama.