Just like you, I’m looking for love. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m not particularly interested in Jewish history or ancient prophecy or dry theology or the politics behind the rise and fall of nations. I’m an English major who loves words, not necessarily academia. So why do I keep writing about things I’m not jazzed about? Because I’m looking for love, and I’m convinced that because God is love, he’s the best place to find it.
So I’m willing to slug through all his words of history and prophecy and theology and politics in the Bible to find him and his love. It’s like digging for treasure. I think of it as looking for love in all the right places. And while I know that God is also holy and just and righteous, and I’m grateful for these attributes, too, none of them have me getting up to hang out with him. Righteousness just doesn’t do it for me like love.
These two chapters in Ezekiel today are the first of four about God’s dealing with Pharoah and Egypt. When I first read them, my heart sank. Really, God? I’ve got to go to Egypt now to find your love? I’ve got to dig through sand and pyramids and reptiles and rivers to find you–four chapters worth–that will take me a lot of hours over at least two whole days? I’m ready to quit before I’ve begun.
And then I remember this is God’s word. He wrote it so I would read it. It’s my best resource for finding him. If he thinks Egypt is worth spending four chapters talking about, then who am I to complain? There’s gotta be a reason. With his fingerprints on this story, I’m bound to find something here I don’t already know. Reminding myself what I’m hunting for helps. I zip up my windbreaker and pick up my pickaxe.
When the chapter begins, God tells Ezekiel to write down this day’s date of prophecy–tenth year, tenth month, twelfth day. As with other prophecy dates in Ezekiel, the year coincides with the number of years in exile for these Jews who were captured and taken to Babylon. This is a few months before the final fall of Jerusalem at a time when those still living there were watching daily from towers to see if their rescuers were coming, the armies of Egypt who’d promised to help, but don’t.
Israel’s looking to Egypt for help in a crisis isn’t new. They’ve spent hundreds of years before this date going to Egypt when they’re down on their luck. When famine came to Abraham in the Negev, he and Sarah turn to Egypt until it’s over, Ge 12:10. Jacob’s family goes to Egypt to buy grain during a time of famine, Ge 42:3. The Israelites are delivered from slavery in Egypt by a mighty display of God’s power, yet when they get bored with the menu in the desert, they long to go back to Egypt for leeks and onions, Nu 11:5. Somehow they forgot that they were slaves as they sat around that pot.
Nearer the time Ezekiel writes, God’s prophet Uriah flees to Egypt when king Jehoiakim seeks his life, Je 26:21. King Zedekiah depends on Egypt when Babylon attacks Jerusalem, 37:3-8. And later, when Babylon comes back, city watchers look in vain for Egypt’s army to show up, La 4:17. After Jerusalem’s fall, a ragtag band of survivors heads to Egypt, fearing that Babylon will be back after some trouble with the governor they’ve set up, Je 42:18-19.
The prophet Isaiah, writing over a hundred years before the time of Zedekiah, had said, “Woe…to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance but not by my Spirit…who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaohs’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge.” Is 30:1-2.
The point is this: Israel’s rescue fantasy with Egypt goes as far back as their beginning as a nation with Abraham, and has lasted until their present day of exile, almost a thousand years since. The notion that Egypt is a land of safety and help, despite truth to the contrary, bears witness to their deep desire to find their own rescuer–any rescuer–but the real one.
The fact that Egypt has never come through for them in-the-clutch, that while it once enslaved their bodies, its idolatry still enslaves their hearts, goes right over their heads. And God’s had enough. He blows their fantasy up with the reality that Egypt is going down. God has no choice. To let his people persist in their myths is to leave them without hope or him. God doesn’t help when he’s not asked. And as long as Egypt’s around, they don’t ask. It’s time to just deal.
God’s been clear, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord,” Is 31:1.
So with that backstory in mind, I’m guessing God’s got plenty of reasons to judge Egypt, the main one being because she keeps tempting his people to forget him and look to her instead.
Here’s another reason God’s against Egypt. He says it’s because of Pharoah’s pride. God calls him a “great monster lying among your streams. You say, ‘The Nile is mine; I made it for myself.'” God says he will drag Pharoah out of the Nile along with the fish attached to his scales and leave him in the desert to rot, Ez 29:3-12. For a civilization known for its mummies and pyramids, this prospect would not have been a wrap. 🙄
Pharoah’s boast was code for I am my own god, and I own everything I see and is exactly the reason God had already brought judgment against Tyre. His mission to be known as the Sovereign Lord by all people–friends and enemies alike–is dead set against this mindset. The truth he wants people to know is that God is God, and he owns everything we see. (for the story of Tyre and its pride see November 13).
God says his judgment for Egypt is that they “will become a desolate wasteland,” and that he will scatter her people to other nations, but that after 40 years of desolation, he will bring her back. But only as the lowliest of kingdoms. “Egypt will never again be a source of confidence for the people of Israel but will be a reminder of their sin in turning to her for help. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign Lord,'” 29:9, 15-16.
Why has God chosen to judge both Tyre and Egypt within a few years of the fall of Jerusalem? I think it’s for love of his people. Even though he’s judged Jerusalem, he won’t allow anyone to take shots at her while she’s down. Pharoah Necho failed to keep his word to help. And while Babylon was God’s tool of righteous judgment against Jerusalem, he sees Egypt’s failure to help as her sin, deserving judgment, too, 29:6.
Tyre’s judgment had to do with its glee over Judah’s calamity. Tyre saw Jerusalem’s demise as an opportunity for financial gain. Making money was Tyre’s bottom line, and with Judah out of the picture, Tyre had said, “The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins, I will prosper,” 26:2.
“God heard. God pays attention.” I’m taking love notes.
So far, I see that God he doesn’t let injustices go unpunished against his people, not even high fives against them. God’s seen the way other nations have abused his people. He’s had to bring Babylon against her himself. He expects better behavior from his own nation, but he also expects better behavior from other nations, too. What has become the lesson-slogan for all nations is that “they will know that I am the Lord.” (He repeats it eight times in these two chapters alone: 29:6, 9, 16, 21; 30:8, 19, 25, 26.)
Nebuchadnezzar attacks Egypt only a year after his 13 year fight to take Tyre, a battle that doesn’t result in any booty for his army. Evidently during the siege against Tyre, the people cleverly escape in ships, taking their wealth with them. Their expected kickback as conquerors sailed across the sea, (Clarke, enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-29/).
But God said he’d reward Babylon for carrying out his judgment against Tyre by giving them the spoils of Egypt. When Egypt is devastated by Babylon, it’s not recorded in Egypt’s history–maybe it was so humiliating they left it out?–but it is recorded in detail in Ezekiel 29-32. God says, “I have given [Nebuchadnezzar] Egypt as a reward for his efforts [against Tyre] because he and his army did it for me,” 29:20. Egypt never recovers the power they once had. When you look at Egypt’s place in the world scene today, it’s easy to see that God’s word prevails, 29:8-16, 30:10-26.
Here’s another love note: “God rewards those who serve him, even when their hearts don’t worship him.”
God is faithful to his people. And God is faithful to those who aren’t his people. Why? Because God is faithful–it’s who he is–and he doesn’t depend on anyone else’s behavior to be who he is. It’s why Paul wrote “…if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Tim 2:13.
New note: “God rewards everyone.”
Looking around, it makes sense: there’s sunshine and air for every person who breathes. There’s health and healing in our bodies. There’s love in our lives, even if it’s not as much as we’d like. Where does love come from anyway?
There’s beauty all around us in colors, textures, shapes, design. There are gifts of faces and feelings. Freedoms. From water to wind, from the ground we walk on to the games we play on it, life is richly layered, fully gifted, freely shared. These are great rewards.
For all that I see and comment on, I could never even knock the top off my list. And if I can’t say all of the gifts I have, I couldn’t begin to name all of yours. All of that goodness x all of us?
I cross out previous note and rewrite: “God lavishly rewards everyone.”
All my notes so far are upbeat. But here’s an unexpected downer: “God doesn’t save everyone.”
God doesn’t give saving faith to folks who don’t want it or don’t think they need it. Babylon itself was eventually overrun by Persia for its idolatries and atrocities. While God raised up Nebuchadnezzar to judge other nations and rewarded him for his service, unless this mighty king believed that God was the Mighty King of all Kings, he wasn’t saved. God’s common goodnesses don’t include the eternal goodness of salvation.
That gift is reserved for those who want him. Saving grace is saved for those who want the Source of all graces, who see their need and who hold up their hand to him in faith. God doesn’t force us into faith. He waits us out. But he also storms the gate.
Which reminds me. I’ve saved my favorite love note for last: “God won’t leave us alone.”
He messes with us. While he doesn’t demand we trust him, he also won’t let us wander off and get lost without coming after us. He may watch and wait. But he also pursues and woos.
How do I know?
Because when some of those remaining in Jerusalem ran off to Egypt, he went after them (for that story see “Jeremiah” iwantmore/2020/10/23/October-23/). Because he let Judah be overthrown to bring her back to him in repentance (for that story see “Jeremiah” iwantmore.blog/2020/11/08). Because in this passage he says he will take Egypt out because it’s become such a temptation for his people to forget him, 29:16.
God won’t tolerate idols–those things we turn to instead of him–because he knows they can’t hold us. They can’t give us what we most want. While they promise the moon, they sneak in and steal us, and leave a mess. Everything God’s done for each one is in order that “they will know that I am the Lord.”
He’s the God
who holds the moon,
who gives his Son,
who cleans up our mess,
to woo and to bless.
Why do we matter this much to God?
It’s because he’s got beer and barbecue in his backyard. And either he likes to waste his time and energy on people who won’t come over, or he really loves them and wants them to hang out—and he makes sure they get the invitation.
I’m going with the love.
Encouragement in the struggle…
The writer of Hebrews lists others in the Hall of Fame of Faith who did great things and “whose weakness was turned to strength, and who became powerful…the world was not worthy of them.” These folks faced serious persecution and deprivation, never receiving “what had been promised,” 11:38-39. They looked in faith to God and trusted in him and his timing. But earlier in this passage it says of these same people, “who through faith…gained what had been promised,” 11:33.
How could they gain and not gain what had been promised?
I think it’s this: they received God’s care and presence in this life, in their daily situations, but they never saw the day when God would dry every tear, right all wrongs, and every knee would bow. That day is still to come.
Jesus delays returning so that everyone can be gathered in. Evidently, he’s expecting a crowd, and he’s not leaving anyone behind, and some of us are slower to believe than others.
So we can say we gain the promise of eternal relationship with him now, but we don’t gain the promise of eternal bliss until later, when sin and Satan are finally and forever done away with.
“Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [these Hall of Famers], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perservance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart,” 12:1-3.
In light of what the heroes of faith have believed and endured, and in light of what Jesus himself has done, look at your situation with the eyes of faith and be encouraged. Hang tight.
And besides their examples, think of the hardship you experience as God’s discipline of you, like a parent who disciplines his child, for his good, 12:4-6.
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?…God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. Later on, however it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” 12:7-11.
God is our loving father, and he uses everything for our good, producing a crop of goodness and peace out of trouble. Only God could do such a thing.
Faith enables us to look at Jesus rather than our circumstances and to consider what all he put up with, and to run the race God gives us, putting up with our own detours and breakdowns as God-designed for our good. That puts faith glasses on our eyes and turns discouragement into encouragement.
We are not forsaken.
We are being lovingly fathered.
Will we believe it?
This psalm describes the life I want, the faithful life I’m hoping to find. And the writer gives away the key to it right in the very first verse. The fear of the Lord and finding delight in God’s words are the gateway into all the rest.
“Blessed is the one who fears the Lord,
who finds great delight in his commands…”
So what does a blessed life look like?
Verses 2-9 say…
The Blessed Life:
–has blessed and mighty children
–has wealth and riches
–has everlasting righteousness
–has light in darkness because it is kind and upright
–has goodness because it is generous and just
–will be remembered forever
–will have no fear of bad news
–has a steadfast heart that trusts God
–will have no fear at all
–will triumph over enemies
–gives to the poor
–gains honor and strength
This is the “harvest of righteousness and peace” that Hebrews promises. It reminds me what God keeps hammering home in Ezekiel, how he wants us to know that he “is the Lord,” and it’s for such a life as this.
And in case we don’t already know what it looks like, verse 10 describes…
The Vexed Life:
–sees the blessed life and is angry
–is tortured with envy
–suffers poor health and doesn’t thrive
–pines away, longing for a different life
My take away today is the blessed life I hope to live, the one that begins with knowing who you are (Ezekiel), accepts your fatherly discipline, endures the hardship you bring (Hebrews), and ends with having longings fulfilled and with honor and praise for you (Psalms). I am always about three short steps away from the vexed life, God. Keep me close.
Thanks for your words that remind me who you and I really are.