Ezekiel prophesied to God’s people in exile.  In Ezekiel 20 we find the elders of Israel asking Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord on their behalf.  The Lord rejected the inquiry because of their idolatry.  The elders apparently thought they could receive a word from the Lord, even while persisting in their idolatrous practices. 

In a lengthy response the Lord recalls how often the Israelites failed to keep their covenant with Him. Quite provocatively, God says to the elders, “What you’re secretly thinking is never going to happen. You’re thinking, ‘We’re going to be like everybody else, just like the other nations.  We’re going to worship gods we can make and control” (Ezekiel 20:32 – MSG). What a description of our own culture.  We think we know better as we seek to control our own destiny.  Our idolatry puts science, materialism, and narcissism first.

Then God states in verse 33, “I will reign over you.” God was resolved to bring his people under his rule with his “mighty hand” and “outstretched arm” (v. 33-34).  The words, “I will purge you” (v. 38), show the Lord’s intention to purify his people. Through the entire experience of judgment, purging, restoration and acceptance, Israel “will know that I am the Lord” (v. 42, 44). 

This is Good News for us. “There is great hope for the world in this, for if it were dependent for its salvation on the spiritual and moral purity of God’s people and their evangelistic obedience, rather than on the indefatigable persistence of God’s longing for the world’s redemption, it would be doomed to disappointment” (Bible Speaks Today).

People were in denial regarding Ezekiel’s message.  In the final verse of Chapter 20, Ezekiel complains to the Lord: “And I said, ‘O God, everyone is saying to me, ‘he just makes up stories'” – MSG (v. 49). The NET says, “They are saying of me, ‘Does he not simply speak in eloquent figures of speech?'” In their denial, the elders ridicule the prophet’s message: “Ezekiel’s prophetic words are merely stories and not prophecies…” In so doing, “they deny the impact of the prophetic word from the Lord [as] they still want to inquire of the Lord” (Grace and Truth Bible).

What is the lesson for us?  First, we need to realize we are already in exile. This is a post-Christian culture, existing only as a shadow of a Christian past.  It is sheer arrogance to assume that we can hear from God when we are caught up in the idolatries of our day.  

Second, consider that God may very well be using our present-day cultural exile to purify his church.  Peter told the church in exile, “For if it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God” (I Peter 4:17). 

Third, be wary of those who ridicule the word of God, while still giving the impression that they are speaking truth. Jesus warned that “many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” (Matt. 24:11). Then he adds, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:12).

Men, God is gathering his remnant and purifying his church. Don’t listen to those who speak arrogantly of the future. Rather listen to those who wait expectantly for and rejoice in the coming of the Lord, even while we humbly endure his purging.  We need to cry out for mercy and grace in these days.