Life after divorce is messy, and it can look a lot like life before. There can still be fights about money and the kids. Divorce isn’t part-of-happily ever after. Divorce puts an end to even a hope of it. But God must not have read the rulebook. He was married to the adulterous nation of Israel and her sister, idolatrous Judah, and divorced twice, Je 3:8. Life after God’s divorces shows his deepest heart: he’s not your typical ex.
After God packs up and leaves Judah, Babylon comes in and slaughters her. Those who aren’t killed in the massacre are forced on the road to Babylon. The ones left behind in Judah’s capital, Jerusalem, bumble their new bureaucracy and run off to Egypt to avoid the consequences (for that story see iwantmore.blog/2020/10/23/October-23/). Meanwhile, Judah is left desolate and deserted. This is no accident. It’s all part of God’s crazy plan to get her back. To get her back?
Ezekiel is with the exiles in Babylon, telling them what God says, and the exiles in Egypt have Jeremiah. But none of them actually listens to these prophets from God or do what God says. Same song, different city. In fact, the reason God left town in the first place was in protest of Judah’s adulteries in idol worship. God’s stuck around for a thousand years trying to make this relationship work, but his bride has become bored and belligerent. She didn’t even notice when he left, (for that story see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/04/November-4/).
After so long a time pursuing this wayward wife, and then moving out so she can experience life without him, and then bringing in merciless marauders to get her attention and still getting nowhere, what does God do? Not what I’d expect.
God avenges her. He goes after the nations who didn’t help her when she was bashed–the ones who laughed, who hoped to profit from her destruction and even helped Babylon attack. This was next door neighbor Edom’s response when Jerusalem fell. Chapter 35 describes how God handles this old enemy of Judah after his divorce.
What did Edom do? They “harbored an ancient hostility” and held onto hate. The people of Edom were the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob, who tricked Esau out of his birthright and then stole his blessing. There’s been bad blood between them ever since. Though Jacob and Esau patched things up at least once, evidently the patch didn’t stick. Esau and his Edomites had been jealous of Jacob and his Israelites for hundreds of years since, 35:5.
Fast forward to Moses. When he lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Edom refused to let them take the shortcut through town to get to their promised land, which meant Israel had to go the long way ’round. After some centuries go by, Israel splits into two kingdoms, and Israel gets carried off by Assyria (this was her “divorce” from God). Judah is left. In all that time–centuries, in fact–the wound with Edom still hurts, Nu 20:14-21.
So when Jerusalem fell, Edom was more than happy to help the bad guys. They “delivered Israelites to the sword” by killing fugitives and handing survivors over to Babylon. Edom also celebrated Judah’s defeat. They came into town to gloat and carried off wealth. And they boasted against God himself: they “spoke against me without restraint, and I heard it,” 35:5-6, 13, 15, Ob 1:10-14.
But maybe their worst crime was that they stole the land. They looked to extend their borders into Judah and took over some of their pasturelands, claiming that it was God’s plan, “They have been laid waste and have been given over to us to devour.” But God was still there and he saw. This land mattered to him. It didn’t just belong to his people–it belonged to him, and he was incensed. God says, “In my burning zeal I have spoken against the rest of the nations, and against all Edom,” 36:5, 12.
So what does God do? His consequences suit their crimes. Their inappropriate victory parties? He’ll make them miserable while everyone else celebrates. In his “jealous wrath” he swears with “uplifted hand” that because Israel has suffered scorn from the nations, including Edom in particular, they’ll suffer scorn as well. “I will treat you in accordance with the anger and jealousy you showed in your hatred of them,”35:11, 14-15, 36:6-7.
But worse, he’ll stretch out his hand and desecrate their land. He makes an important place, Mount Seir, “a desolate waste,” cut off from everyone whose been coming and going there. God said that since Edom didn’t hate bloodshed, bloodshed would pursue them. He’ll fill their land–their mountains, valleys, ravines, and hills–with their dead, 35:3, 6-8.
God’s settling Judah’s score with Edom; he says so himself. But why does he care? Now that Judah is gone, why get even with Edom? Because he’s got deeper purposes in mind. For one thing, he wants Judah to know he’s still their God. Taking Edom down for the way it’s treated Judah communicates God still cares, 35:11. He wants the exiles to feel his support. And he wants other nations of the area to know he’s on the payback trail; he’s coming their way next, 35:15, 36:2-3, 5.
I’m tracking here, thinking some of this makes sense, like giving enemies an-eye-for-an-eye. But support for your ex? Support only makes sense if there’s still some kind of relationship left, but he’s just had Judah literally taken out. And here’s where I’m thrown completely off track: when I get to the last reason God says he avenges. He says he wants Edom to know him. He says it three different times, 35:4, 9, 15.
What does it mean?
Knowing God in the book of Ezekiel and elsewhere in the Bible is a kind of knowing beyond just knowing God’s name or that he’s the God of Judah. It means knowing his character, Ps 140:12. It means acknowledging his holiness, Ez 39:7. It means believing that he’s the only true God, above all gods who aren’t gods at all, Ps 135:5; 1 Ki 8:60. It’s believing he keeps his word, Ez 36:36. It’s knowing that compared to him, people are sinful, Ez 22:16. It’s knowing he punishes sin, Ez 11:10; 25:11; 30:19. It’s an understanding of what he requires, Je 5:4-5. It’s a knowing that comes by obedience, Ze 6:15.
But the overarching theme of knowing God in the Bible is that it’s intimacy, the intimacy of a relationship with him as our God, 1 Sa 3:7, Ps 100:3, Je 31:34, Ez 34:30. It’s an intimacy like that between husband and wife. It was Adam who “knew his wife” and she conceived, Ge 4:1, ESV. This is the kind of intimate knowing God means.
And this is what God had in mind all along with Adam and Eve in the garden: to enjoy intimate fellowship with him. It’s what sin destroyed. And it’s what Jesus came and lived and died to get back. Knowing God and being known by him is what God–and life–is about.
When God says 180 times in the book of Ezekiel alone that he wants folks to “know that he’s God,” he’s saying their knowing him is the most important truth he’s got to share with them. It’s what the covenants he makes with his people were about. It was promising to be their God and their promising to be his people–him to love them and them to love him back.
It’s so important to God, he formalized it with an exchange of vows he calls a “covenant.” It’s why he uses marriage as a metaphor of what having a relationship with him is like. It’s why the church is called “the bride of Christ.” It’s belonging to one another for life.
God wants Edom to know him like that, as their God.
God’s judgment of Edom is harsh. He says six times that she will be desolate, “I will make you desolate forever; your towns will not be inhabited,” 35:9. Edom never recovers her glory as a nation after God’s finished with her, (Guzik, enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-35/). There’s a grisly description of her slain princes and king lying in hell alongside Egyptians and Assyrians and other enemies, conscious but not moving, Ez 32:17-32.
But I have a feeling there will be Edomites in heaven just the same, because when God judged her, just like when he threw Judah out of the house, it was not just to punish them, it was to invite them to know him. It was in order that they be counted among those who praise and say, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,” Re 5:12.
This is God’s way.
Rahab the whore from Jericho believed God and was grafted into Jesus’ family tree, after all. So was Ruth, the wife from Moab. Paul was an apostle primarily to the Gentiles, the non-Jews. God’s offer of relationship has always been open to anyone who wants it.
The next chapter (36) describes how God wins back his ex. Rather than ruin his relationship with her, divorce helped restore it. Now there’s a twist only God could pull off.
And here’s how else God uses it: when the nations see all that God does to bring Judah back, they take note and say, “‘This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations around [Judah] that remain will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate.” 36:35-36.
For the nation who heard six straight times that they would be forever desolate, seeing what God did to restore desolate Judah was noteworthy. The desolation of Edom was complete, but they saw how God healed Judah’s. The contrast got their attention, and it had to be moving. “This is how God treats his people? I’m in.”
God brings more than just praise from their lips when they see who he is. God brings them into his family. God makes them his. If God will do that for his enemies, what will he do for his friends?
There’s no god like this God.
For the story of what God does for his friends, tune in November 18.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything,” Js 1:2-4.
I’m not considering it “pure joy.” Today, I’m considering it pure hell. Turn my heart and mind around, God. I so want to be mature and complete. Finish the good work you’ve begun in me.
This next part helps, “If any of you lacks wisdom, [she] should ask God who gives generously to all…and it will be given…But when [she] asks, [she] must believe and not doubt…,” 1:5-8.
It helps me to hear your words as if they’re written for me by adding the pronouns that include me. So I hear you, God. And I’m asking for wisdom. And I’m believing you have it. But if I’m honest, I’ve gotta tell you that I’m also feeling like why bother? Nothing helps. Nothing changes.
But that’s faithless. That’s not believing. It’s doubting. You say to believe and not doubt. So what would believing you in this achey place look like? I guess if I believe you, then I will continue to slug through, continue to ask for help, continue to trust you will provide it, and that you will continue to meet with me in the meantime.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when [she] has stood the test, [she] will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him,” 1:12.
“Blessed” can also be translated “happy.” So “happy” is the one who preserves, not because the trial becomes pleasant, but because of the reward God promisees, the “crown of life.” I don’t know if this only means future reward in heaven or if it also means reward on earth.
I’m not comfortable doing things for the reward. It seems like we should be doing them for God and his glory. But maybe that’s unrealistic. There are many places where God says that we will be rewarded in heaven for what we do on earth, Ec 12:14, Je 17:10, Ps 62:12, 2 Co 5:10.
Maybe God knows we need more motivation than doing something for goodness’ sake alone. Maybe we need to know it’s good for our own sake, too. On a day like today, I’m encouraged that what’s good for God is good for me.
“Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief,” Mk 9:24.
I feel like the calvary just came in after my cry went out.
“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live…
I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord;
‘O Lord,save me!’
The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simple hearted;
when I was in great need, he saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.”
Can it be coincidence that on the day I can’t find joy in my trial, you bring in compassion and kindness? You remind me with Psalm 116 that you hear me and that you care. And you remind me to be at rest “once more.” This isn’t the first time you’ve heard me and helped.
Yes, Lord, indeed. You have been, and continue to be, very good to me. Just having this psalm on today of all days is proof enough for me.
My take away today is God’s utter faithfulness. He’s the ex who throws down on the nasty neighbors and then makes friends and invites them in (Ezekiel). He’s the fellow sufferer who invites me into joy even in hardship, because he’s been there and he wants to walk me through it (James). And he’s the 411 dispatcher who sends in help in a heartbeat.
Before I can turn to his next words on the page, there they were waiting for me, letting me know he’s with me to save (Psalms). On a day that feels disturbing, or maybe I’m just feeling disturbed in it, he gives me himself.
“Be at rest once more, O my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.”