When Our Promiscuous Hearts Grieve God’s Heart
Main Idea: When our promiscuous hearts grieve God, He steps in to remind us who He is and that whatever we choose in His place is not worth what it costs us.
I. One Truth We Should Always Remember: God Is Yahweh (6:7,10,13-14; 7:4,9,27).
II. Though We May Not See Our Sin as Adultery or Idolatry, God Does and Is Grieved by Us (6:1-14).
III. A Day Is Coming When Repentance Will No Longer Be an Option (7:1-27).
IV. Even in Judgment, God Remembers His Mercy (6:8-9).
When I was a child, my father was not a Christian. He would come to church with us occasionally, but most often he would stay home and watch TV. One Sunday morning I decided I would stay home with dad and watch wrestling (and on a side note, I was more crushed to learn the truth about wrestling than Santa Claus). My mom begged me to get dressed and come with her to the morning worship service, but I resisted. As she walked out the door, she turned around with tears and said to me, “Please don’t turn out like your father.” Immediately, I was cut to the heart. I wanted to throw on my clothes and go with my mom, but it was too late. The thought of her broken heart crushed my calloused heart as I watched her pull out of our driveway.
In Ezekiel 6–7 God reveals to His prophet that His people have crushed His heart (6:9) by turning away from Him and worshiping idols. He lets them know the discipline they are receiving is not random but deserved (6:10; 7:3,27) since they have repeatedly committed adultery by having other gods besides Him. He will destroy the places where His people have worshiped other gods and lay the corpses of the Israelites in front of their idols (6:4), which leads us to an important question: Is what we worship worth our lives? If we worship anything or anyone besides the Lord God, then it will cost us more than it’s worth.
Israel will learn a painful lesson in the chapters we are about to examine. For many, it will be the last lesson they learn (6:13). But even in judgment, God will be merciful and will preserve a remnant of His people—not because they have been faithful but because He is.
One Truth We Should Always Remember: God Is Yahweh
Ezekiel 6:7,10,13-14; 7:4,9,27
I rarely learn how to do something the first time I’m introduced to it. For instance, I didn’t learn how to tie my shoes until fourth grade (but I was still in the gifted program in Louisiana—go figure). The first day I had a vehicle with a standard transmission, I reversed down countless hills because I could not find the “magic spot” in the clutch. One of my worst failures in learning how to do something the first time I tried it was snow skiing. I’ll spare you the details, but by the end of the day, I was worried that I had broken the hip of the person “instructing” me, and I also had a huge rip down the back of my ski bibs.
For whatever reason God’s people forgot one of the most basic lessons of Covenant 101: God is Yahweh. Doesn’t it seem strange that God’s people could forget who God was? Of course, these are the same people who once lost His book (2 Kgs 22:8), so they do not have a great track record of keeping up with important matters. But if there was ever a lesson that is taught once and should be grasped immediately it is that God is the Lord. If Israel knew this to be true, they had not lived like it. So Yahweh reveals seven times that one of His main reasons for disciplining His people is that they will know He is Yahweh (6:7,10,13-14; 7:4,9,27). Over and over and over He tells Ezekiel they will know that I am Yahweh. Just because His people have forgotten who He is does not mean He has forgotten them.
So what has Israel done that warrants God’s educating them again on basics? In plainest terms they have forgotten who He is, and they have broken the first two commandments (Exod 20:2-4). They have suffered from ignorance and idolatry or amnesia and adultery. God’s people somehow forgot what God had done for them, and they chased after gods that do not even exist. Despite all the raising of Ebenezers—stones of remembering—Israel forgot who they were when God found them (Ezek 16:4-5), and they trusted more in what they had been made into than in the One who had transformed them (Ezek 16:15). May the same not be true of us (Col 1:21; Eph 2:1-3; 1 Cor 1:26-31).
In describing Israel’s idols, God does not mince words. He uses some of the most graphic language to let Israel know what He really thinks of their gods (Block, Ezekiel 1–24, 226). Foolishly, Israel has pursued gods that cannot see or hear them, and they’ve forsaken the one true God who actually can do those things. God will expose the idols as the frauds they are and show His people that He is living and active. Sadly, many of God’s people will lose their lives next to their lifeless idols. We should look and learn at this point: if what/who we worship cannot hear us, see us, move itself, or even save itself, then it probably cannot do anything for us either, and it is not worthy of worship.
What will be God’s method for reminding His people He is Yahweh? Will He demonstrate that He is the Lord who provides, the Lord who heals, or the Lord who saves? No, they will know that He is Yahweh who strikes (7:9). For a people in captivity, the Lord who strikes is exactly what they wanted to hear, except that the blow was not aimed at their enemies but at them. He was going to stretch out His hand against His people (6:14). At this point I’m sure someone in Ezekiel’s crowd asked out loud, “Wait, what?”
God will bring a sword against the high places and against those who worshiped there (6:3-4). The lesson He wants to teach will be learned. A remnant of survivors will remember Him among the nations where they are taken captive (v. 9). They will remember how their promiscuous hearts crushed Him, and they will loathe themselves because of the evil things they did, their detestable practices of every kind (v. 9). What God is doing in Ezekiel 6–7 is making sure His people and the nations know who He is and they remember it.
What about us? Do we ever act as if God is not Yahweh? Do we live at times as if we have forgotten who He is and what He has done for us? When we see what these chapters reveal of the length to which God goes to remind His people, may we be stirred to do whatever is necessary never to forget He is the one, true, living God and He alone is worthy of our worship.
Though We May Not See Our Sin as Adultery or Idolatry, God Does and Is Grieved by Us
All Sin Is Idolatry and It Grieves God (6:9)
One of the most gripping verses in the passage is 6:9, where God confesses He was crushed by their promiscuous hearts that turned away from Him and by their eyes that lusted after their idols. The word translated “crushed” can also be rendered “broken in pieces,” “rent violently,” “wrecked,” or “quenched.” The word devastated has been used as well to convey what God was feeling (MSG). Love makes us vulnerable. In 6:9 God is completely transparent about how grieved He is over the actions of His people. My immediate question is, How can I avoid making God feel this way, or how can I at least try to minimize the times I make Him feel like this? Even on this side of the cross, the potential for grieving Him still exists (Eph 4:30).
The best way not to repeat Israel’s failures is to identify what they were and avoid them at all costs. What was particularly grieving to God was that their promiscuous hearts turned away from Him and their eyes lusted after their idols (6:9). They took His beautiful ornaments He had appointed for majesty and made abhorrent images from them, their detestable things (7:20). And what’s worse, they were not the least bit secretive or shameful with their sin; instead they engaged in rampant adultery on every high hill, on all the mountaintops, and under every green tree and every leafy oak (6:13).
How deeply wounding it must have been for God to watch His bride use the gifts He had given her to create and worship gods that didn’t exist and to know His people were not even remorseful. In fact, they were arrogant and prideful (7:10,24). The blueprint for idolatry then is to set our affections and our eyes on something other than God and to place confidence in us rather than in Him. Lest we view the example of promiscuous hearts in Ezekiel as an isolated incident, we should remember that heart promiscuity is a struggle for every generation (Isa 29:13; Matt 15:8).
We should also understand that all sin is idolatry. We can look at what’s happening in Ezekiel and consider it irrelevant because we’re not bowing down to images or carvings on top of mountains. But the Bible
does not consider idolatry to be one sin among many (and a rare sin found only among primitive people). Rather, all our failures to trust God wholly or to live rightly are at root idolatry—something we make more important than God. (Keller, “Idolatry”)
Similarly, Wilson has contended, “All sin is idolatry because every sin is an exercise in trust of something or someone other than the one true God to satisfy, fulfill, or bless” (Wilson, “The Church and Idolatry”). We may not be on the hills of Israel, but if we continually offer our worship to and seek security in something other than God, then we are just as guilty as Ezekiel’s generation, and God is just as grieved.
God Is Not Interested in a Portion of My Heart but All of It
Considering Israel’s adulterous heart and God’s desire to own it completely could lead us to some important questions. How much of our spouses’ hearts do we desire? Are we happy with half? Are we happy with a tenth? Are we happy when they only want to give us their hearts because they want something from us in return? How long would we tolerate adultery in our marriage? How many affairs would we be happy with our spouses participating in right in front of our eyes? Do we see our sin in the same way God sees it? Are we grieved that we grieve Him?
Though God certainly is jealous for our affections (Exod 20:5; 34:14), His jealousy is always for our best. God’s desire for all of our heart (Deut 6:5) is so we will not give portions of our heart to unworthy lovers. The world, the flesh, and the Devil never have our best interests in mind but only want to shred our hearts to pieces. When we pursue sin, we are like a girl in high school who continues to give her affections to a boyfriend who has never once cared about what was best for her. God alone is always trustworthy with our hearts. Our problem is that we do not believe Him and continue to think there are other paths to satisfaction and joy.
Another problem is that we may be talking about the wrong things as we make disciples. Thune contends that in discipleship,
we spend all sorts of time talking about petty sins and surface issues, when the real battle is going on in the heart. You can talk about behavior and external circumstances all day, but unless you drag some heart idols out on the table, you’re just putting a Band-Aid on the problem. . . . The real question is not what we’re doing, but what god we’re worshipping. That’s why what your disciples want is much more important than what they know. (Thune, “How to Disciple”)
Likewise, Wilson exhorts, “The hottest ‘worship war’ going is the one taking place daily in the sanctuary of our own hearts (Wilson, “The Church and Idolatry”).
What God’s people did in Ezekiel’s day and we do in ours is because of what drives our affections. Like Ezekiel’s peers, we foolishly turn from the God who loved us in our worst state (Eph 2:1-4) to gods who are incapable of loving us at all. Why do we set our affections in such low places, and what can we do about it?
God Knows We Have Short-Term Memories of His Goodness Toward Us and the Wretchedness from Which He Brought Us
In order to minimize promiscuity in our hearts, we must find ways to remember who God is and what He has done for us. The Lord knows us better than we know ourselves, and He knows we are prone to forgetfulness (Deut 9:4-5; 10:12-22; 11:11-17). In fact, God made a provision so Israel could avoid the sins they are being disciplined for in this text. In Numbers 15:37-41,
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and tell them that throughout their generations they are to make tassels for the corners of their garments, and put a blue cord on the tassel at each corner. These will serve as tassels for you to look at, so that you may remember all the Lord’s commands and obey them and not become unfaithful by following your own heart and your own eyes. This way you will remember and obey all My commands and be holy to your God. I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am Yahweh your God.”
God knew His people’s hearts and eyes would constantly be tempted to wander. The tassels were to be a reminder and protection for His people so they would follow God’s commands instead of their inclinations (Bloom, “No More Whoring”). The Israelites failed because they did not heed His warnings, and we are just as susceptible. What intentional reminders do we need to set in place so that we will not be easily led toward sin?
Though He Never Takes His Eyes Off of Us, God Knows We Frequently Set Our Gaze Somewhere Besides Him
A strong link exists between looking and coveting. The Israelites had eyes that lusted after their idols. The desire of the eyes has long been a source of trouble for God’s people. Consider what looking and coveting cost Eve (Gen 3:6), Achan (Jos 7:21), and David (2 Sam 11:2). We are not exempt ourselves (1 John 2:16). The question, however, is not if we will wander from God, but why we set our gaze anywhere else. Where we look is reflective of what we want.
O God, I know that if I do not love You with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul and with all my strength, I shall love something else with all my heart and mind and soul and strength. Grant that putting You first in all my lovings I may be liberated from all lesser loves and loyalties, and have You as my first love, my chief good and my final joy. (Appleton, quoted in Boa, Conformed to His Image, 196)
We no longer have tassels, but we do have a cross. Bloom encourages us to set our eyes on the cross because “it reminds us not only of God’s holy commandments, but also how he perfectly fulfilled them all on our behalf” (Bloom, “No More Whoring”). How often do we struggle with sin because we are not keeping our eyes on Jesus (Heb 12:3)?
Though We May Refuse to Put Away Those Things That Lead Us Away from God, He Will Not Suffer Them Forever
One of the reasons Israel struggled continuously is because they did not put away what often drew them away from God. As Ezekiel 6 opens, the prophet is told to say,
Mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! This is what the Lord God says to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. (v. 3)
A good question might be to ask why Ezekiel was preaching to the high places of Israel, but a better question would be to ask why the high places were still there.
In between the time of the tabernacle and the temple, the Israelites offered sacrifices to the Lord at specific locations known as high places (1 Kgs 3:2). After the temple was built, God’s people were supposed to worship and offer sacrifices in Jerusalem. They should have destroyed the high places, but, to their detriment, they retained them. Throughout the generations they used the high places for worship of pagan gods. Nothing good can be gained by holding on to what leads us away from God.
Are there any “high places” in our lives? Are our eyes and hearts being drawn toward God or away from God by what we allow to have influence in our lives? Are we assigning value to anything that lacks it intrinsically? Let us put away anything that draws us away from the Lord, for it will end up costing us far more than it is worth.
A Day Is Coming When Repentance Will No Longer Be an Option
For those who use credit cards, there is a reckoning every month. Every swipe of the card has been recorded, and a debt has been accumulated. Not a cent is unaccounted. If God’s people thought God was not watching or did not care about all their rebellion, they are about to find out they were dead wrong. For Jerusalem the time has come; the day has arrived (7:12). Through Ezekiel, God declared to His people five times: the end has come (vv. 2,3,6).
God is going to pour out His wrath on His people and punish them for all their detestable practices (vv. 8-9). Doom has come on them (vv. 7,10), and one disaster after another is coming (vv. 5,26). God’s people will seek a vision from a prophet, but instruction will perish from the priests and counsel from the elders (v. 26). In anguish God’s people will seek peace, but there will be none (v. 25). Their disobedience will not only cost many of them their lives but will also cost the next generation their land (vv. 21-24). They will not be able to buy their way out of the judgment (v. 19), and no one will be exempted (vv. 11,15). God’s wrath will be in exact proportion to the sin His people have committed (Thomas, God Strengthens, 60). If we think differently, then we lack an accurate view of His holiness and our wretchedness.
For Jerusalem the time for repentance had passed. However secure they felt in their wealth or in their worship of idols, they found their refuge to be wanting. Many in our day are seeking refuge in similar places. They are putting their confidence in what they have accumulated or what they have achieved. The judgment in Ezekiel 7 does not compare with the judgment that is coming (Ps 96:13; Matt 26:41; Rev 20:11-15). But unlike Ezekiel’s generation our peers still have an opportunity to repent and believe. Of all the things our friends and coworkers need from us today, silence with the gospel is not one of them.
Against the backdrop of Ezekiel 7, can the cross of Christ be more glorious? We are just as guilty of idolatry as Ezekiel’s generation, and we deserve every bit of the punishment they received, but Christ has taken our place. Upon Him has been laid every act of our rebellion toward God. Christ has been treated as if He were the one who sought security somewhere besides the Father. His atonement has covered every adulterous tryst we’ve committed against God with our eyes and hearts.
Plead with those around you to be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20). Don’t let them consider Ezekiel 7 and think that God will treat them any differently. Exhort them to run to the One who has borne their judgment; otherwise they will pay the price for their sin themselves. There is nowhere to find refuge from the wrath of God except for the cross of Christ.
Even in Judgment, God Remembers His Mercy
Even in His wrath God is merciful. He told Ezekiel He would leave a remnant. Scattered among the nations would be some who will escape the sword. The remnant will not survive because they are smart, strong, or good at hiding. The remnant certainly will not survive because they are faithful to the Lord. As a matter of fact, they will loathe themselves because of the evil things they did and their detestable practices of every kind. There will be a remnant solely because God is faithful. Even in discipline He will not fully destroy His people (Deut 30:1-6). They will know that He is the Lord.
Reflect and Discuss
- When you read that God was crushed by the actions of His people, what are your thoughts? How can we minimize causing Him to feel the same about us?
- What lessons or truth have you failed to learn the first time God tried to teach it to you? Are we as patient in teaching others as He is with us?
- Though we want all of His affection and attention, why are we prone to give God only portions of ours?
- Why do we fail to see that sin never provides what it promises and always costs us more than its worth?
- Is there evidence in our lives that God is Yahweh? In what ways would people struggle to know He is the Lord by watching you?
- In what ways are we guilty of idolatry in our generation?
- How can we continually set our eyes on Christ? Why don’t we do this?
- Are you currently holding on to something or someone that is leading you away from Christ? Why? What will you do about it?
- How do you feel about God’s judgment in Ezekiel 7? In what ways does our disobedience have consequences for others?
- What can we learn from God’s preserving of a remnant?