For the past few months, I have been utterly fascinated by the major Prophets of The Bible; namely Isaiah and Ezekiel. Part of the fascination comes from having never read them before; part comes from the fact that few churches teach out of these books; and part of it comes from learning a simple truth over and again.
If you grew up in church like I did, you have almost definitely heard the phrase, “God does not cause bad things to happen, but He does allow them to happen.” But think back, did that ever come out of a sermon or series concerning the Prophets? Did it come from a sermon or series about the gospel? The chances are good that it probably did not.
In the Prophets, there has been one over-arching theme that I have noticed:
The Lord is the direct causation of destruction and exile and pain.
I understand how hard that sentence is to swallow, but stick with me. My goal here is not to make you cynical as I am, because I would never wish that on anyone. My goal is for the gospel to be more clear to myself first, and then to you.
[Ezekiel], I have broken the arm of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and behold, it has not been bound up, to heal it by binding it with a bandage, so that it may become strong to will the sword. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against Pharaoh king of Egypt and will break his arms, both the strong arm and the one that was broken, and I will make the sword fall from his hand.
First, I want to acknowledge that there is purpose. There is always purpose. We do not serve a God of arbitrary chaos and disorder. We serve a God of complete order and process and purpose. The passage begins with the Lord declaring that He has broken the arm of Pharaoh, so that it may become strong to “will the sword”. In other words, so that Pharaoh may conquer and take over land and people. We have said it or heard it said so many times that the Lord “gives and takes away”, but many of us (myself included) never thought about the very real repercussions of that.
He gives: health, land, power, people, fame, money, dominance, etc.
He takes away: health, land, power, people, fame, money, dominance, etc.
The pendulum swings both ways; however, the hand is always on the pendulum. The pendulum never ever swings on its own. This analogy takes us to the next part of the verse. The Lord declares that He will then proceed to break both of Pharaoh’s arms and that He will make the sword fall from Pharaoh’s hand. Pharaoh’s time on the throne was complete.
I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations and disperse them through the countries. And I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon and put my sword in his hand, but I will break the arms of Pharaoh, and he will groan before him like a man mortally wounded. I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon, but the arms of Pharaoh shall fall. Then they shall know that I am the Lord, when I put my sword into the hand of the king of Babylon and he stretches it out against the land of Egypt.
Exile. The Lord will scatter and disperse the Egyptians. He alone will strengthen the arms of another king and give him the sword and Pharaoh will come crawling to that king begging and pleading for his life. I mean, can you imagine feeling mortally wounded just from a set of broken arms? Can you even imagine that pain? That is the drug called “influence” upon which the human race is fatally dependent. Pharaoh, like us, could not physically bear the thought of losing his power and wealth and influence. Pharaoh, like us, worshipped created things rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).
But why? Why would the Lord bring so much pain and destruction and exile? Look at the beginning of the last sentence in the previous passage.
“Then they shall know that I am the Lord.”
This is not arbitrary destruction. This is not merely a power trip. This is not even primarily punishment. This is the Lord bringing people to Himself which is what He has been doing since He created adham in the Garden of Eden.
In a string of conversations that I have had with a friend of mine, he continuously comes back to one point: “Don’t you think God is ultimately out for our happiness?” My answer every single time is a resounding “absolutely not!” I think God is out for His glory and if that causes us to be happy, then here’s to the byproducts! Friend, God is not out for your sake. He is about His glory and He will make His name known and glorified by whatever means necessary. Think about this in the form of the gospel.
The Father sent the Son away from holiness and perfection and glory with a purpose; that purpose was not the miracles or the teachings or the healing or even to be an example of how we should live. The purpose was to do what we have always and will always fail to do and bear our consequences on our behalf. Jesus’ purpose was to glorify the Father in that the Creator fixed what creation had broken without the slightest help (or thought to help) from creation. The one who was wronged gave everything in order for the chaos and destruction to not last eternally. Jesus, who was perfect, mind you, was slain because we could not get our act together. He so deeply wanted us reunited with Him that He intervened and did what we needed to do for us. Here are a few things Jesus experienced from the hand of His Father so that we would not eternally have to: death, exile, complete destruction, abandonment, suffering. On our best day, we deserve every single one of those things and more, but Jesus stepped in voluntarily and bore that burden for us.
He fixed it.
The Lord fixed it while we had our backs turned in conscious rebellion and sin against Him.
Because He fixed it, the Spirit now can draw us near to the Father because the Father sees the redeemed as He sees the Son: perfect. And He is going to do whatever it takes to draw his children near.
Extra Verses (about the Lord causing destruction):
Ezekiel 35: 1-4, 7-9