“I Have Been Broken”
August 24, 2014
God’s heart is broken over the idolatries of His people.
I. Broken Idols (Ezekiel 6:1-7)
II. Broken Hearts (Ezekiel 6:8-10)
“Sit down boys. I know this visit is an inconvenience to you, to each of you, but I have a story to tell you” None of the four middle-aged men chose the chair near their father’s hospital bed. His ravaged body was too grotesque to look at, and the odor of urine and decay reached even the edges of the room. The four were models of health and vigor and none of them wanted to risk catching one of the many illnesses or misfortunes that had fallen on their father.
Over the years Frank Williams had broken his arms and legs in freak accidents, even his hip and back. He was mostly paralyzed and grossly deformed by arthritis, his hands curled up like useless claws. He had lost a lung to cancer, and this had metastasized to his liver and kidneys. But no treatment was being considered, for he was also battling an advanced case of AIDS. Diabetes had cost him a lower leg and his vision, and he was grossly overweight despite a lifelong diet regimen, and, when he still could, exercise. He had battled depression for decades, but still clung stolidly to the little life he had.
“It started when you were about eight, Abraham,” he croaked. “You would have been six, Benjamin, you four, Caleb, and Daniel you were just a toddler.”
“Yes, father,” Caleb said, “we can do simple math, you know.” He pulled out his phone to check the time.
“You were in Pee-Wee baseball, Abraham, though I don’t suppose you remember this incident. You were on deck, and the little batter at the plate swung wildly. He let go of the bat and it flew over and nailed you in your right arm, shattering your lower arm and wrist. We called an ambulance I climbed in the back to take you to the emergency room.”
“I don’t remember any of this, Father.” Abraham was dressed in a Saville Row suit and fidgeted with the keys to his Lamborghini as his father talked.
“No, you wouldn’t.” His father paused to catch his breath. “I was heartbroken by your injury,” he continued. “Devastated. You were in such pain, such agony, and there was nothing I could do. All my wealth, couldn’t spare you. I wished I could take your pain on myself, your injury on myself and give you only health and happiness forever.
“It was at that moment the strangest thing happened. I know you won’t believe this, but a man appeared opposite me, dressed immaculately in a dark, tailored suit.
‘I can give you what you want,’ he said. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You can have his pain, his injury, and he can have health and happiness, always.’ ‘You mean I will have a broken arm?’ ‘Yes, and every other injury or disease he ever incurs will fall on you, not on him, all his life.’ “I was too shrewd a businessman to be entirely taken in by this. ‘What’s the cost,” I asked. ‘Oh, no cost at all, except the natural costs inherent in the arrangement,’ the man said, with just the slightest hint of relish in his voice.
“All this time, Abraham, you were writhing and crying on the litter, every scream penetrating my soul. ‘Deal,’ I said, and held out my hand. ‘Wait,’ he said. ‘What about your other sons? I offer the same arrangement for them.’ I quickly thought of all the things I might spare you others. ‘Deal,’ I said. And this time he shook my hand. And broke my arm, the exact injury you had received. I cried out in pain, and you, Abraham, jumped up from the gurney, well and whole, and shrank back from me. Apparently I had been hit by the bat and you had accompanied me when I couldn’t get hold of your mother.”
Well, that’s the start of a story which will illustrate today’s text, Ezekiel 6:1-10. You may remember last week in chapter 3 that God offered Ezekiel a scroll to eat, a scroll with words of lamentation, mourning and woe. Notice that the words are not anger, not judgment per se. Instead, they show the right heart response to the reality of sin, lamenting it, mourning it, recognizing the devastation it causes. Now, in Chapter 6, we will see the idolatries of God’s people, the necessity of his judgment, and the fact that his own heart is broken when his people sin. Have you ever realized that God’s heart is broken over the idolatries of His people?
We begin with Ezekiel 6:1-7 where God promises to break his people of their idolatries. The word of the Lord came to me: 2“Son of man, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, 3and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. 4Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense altars shall be broken, and I will cast down your slain before your idols. 5And I will lay the dead bodies of the people of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. 6Wherever you dwell, the cities shall be waste and the high places ruined, so that your altars will be waste and ruined, your idols broken and destroyed, your incense altars cut down, and your works wiped out. 7And the slain shall fall in your midst, and you shall know that I am the Lord.
Chapter 3 showed us Ezekiel’s commission, to bring God’s word to his sinful people. In chapters 4 and 5 God calls Ezekiel to illustrate this mission, lying on his side next to a model of the city of Jerusalem for 430 days, and eating only fried cakes and water, symbolizing the hunger that would accompany the siege against Jerusalem. In chapter 5 he makes another symbolic gesture, cutting off his hair and burning a third of it within the city, symbolizing the destruction of Jerusalem. He strikes a third of it with a sword, symbolizing those who would die at the hand of the invader. He scatters a third to the wind, symbolizing the removal of God’s people from the land.
But in chapter 6 God tells Ezekiel to prophesy in words, first to the land itself: “Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places.” The object of God’s judgment is idolatry. The nation had turned from worship of God to blatant worship of idols, other gods, many of them cruel and enslaving. And they had been doing this for years. You all know the stories. As early as the Exodus while Moses was on the mountain receiving the law, Israel made a golden calf to worship. During the time of the Judges God’s people forgot him and worshiped the gods of the Canaanites, whom they had failed to drive out. When the kingdom was divided, Jeroboam, the king of the northern tribes immediately made another golden calf to worship. And so went. On every high place and under every great tree there were idols. God’s people remained addicted to the worship of false gods, who permitted and even encouraged the worst of sins, up to and including human sacrifice.
Now, God says this pervasive characteristic sin will be stamped out. “Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense altars shall be broken, and I will cast down your slain before your idols.” The conquest, destruction and exile by the Babylonians would, once and for all, cure God’s people of idolatry, even at the cost of laying the slain in front of the broken altars, scattering their bones around the altars. The cities of Judah will be ruined, the high places ruined, the idols broken and all the works of idolatry wiped out.
Notice the word broken. It’s used twice here, of the altars and the idols. It means to break down, to break off, to break in pieces, to burst, to crush. And it is used both literally and figuratively in the Old Testament. Here it’s literal. God will literally destroy their idols and their altars. These things will be broken as part of the conquest, and false worshippers will be slain in order to break Israel of this rebellious habit of putting other things in the place of God, so that the nation can know that he is the Lord. He is the one true God the one true focus of our lives and allegiance.
The men stared at the hospital bed in disbelief. Abraham rubbed his arm, as if trying to remember an incident with a baseball bat. Benjamin, Caleb and Daniel looked at each other, clearly considering whether to call a nurse.
“Each of you has to recognize that for the last forty years,” father said, “you have been unnaturally healthy and as happy as you would allow yourselves to be. But I’ve watched what you’ve become, and deeply repented of the deal. It hasn’t been good for you to be free of the consequences of your choices.”
“Abraham, you’ve pursued money and possessions to the exclusion of all else. One car wreck, one house fire, one stock crash, one investment gone south, one incident with that personal jet might have told you you were pursuing the wrong things. But those things didn’t happen to you, they happened to me.”
Abraham snorted in disbelief. “Can I help it if I’m just luckier than you are?”
“Benjamin, you’re on, what, your fourth wife? Countless mistresses? Every kind of sexual misadventure the mind of fallen man can devise? You’ve worshiped sex. Has it ever hurt you? No. It’s supposed to. You’ve hurt countless others. The wives you cheated on, the girls you led astray, who trusted your promises, followed your example. So I have AIDS, and you have a date tonight.”
“I do not, you old prude. Well, not really. I’ve just always had more fun than you.”
“Caleb. A man’s temper is supposed to get him into trouble. You’ve been angry all your life, just like you are now, but you’ve never suffered from it. How many bar fights have you been in? How many bosses have your erupted at? But all those things are nothing compared to your violent abuse of your poor wife and your cowed children. I think Caleb that enduring the pain you should have suffered is the worst thing that happened to me.”
By this time Caleb was standing over the old man, his fist raised. Abraham and Benjamin grabbed him. “Sit down, you fool, you’re just proving his point.”
“And Daniel. Did you ever wonder why you got away with so much theft, so much deceit, so much dealing to support your habits? Alcohol, pot, coke, heroin. You’ve done ‘em all, always looking for the bigger high, the mind blowing adventure, never suffering anything worse than a hangover, while my body wastes away.”
Daniel stared, glassy eyed, at his father, then slowly shook his head.
Why does God judge idolatry? Why judge iniquity? Wouldn’t it be nicer just to ignore these things? No. One of the key reasons God judges is because sin is not good for us. Letting us worship the wrong God or put something sinful ahead of him does us harm. He needs to let us suffer the consequences of sin so that we will see our need of rescue, because that’s what’s best for us. As C. S. Lewis famously said, pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
We also need to realize that his heart breaks in compassion, that he desires to rescue. Verses 8 to 10: “Yet I will leave some of you alive. When you have among the nations some who escape the sword, and when you are scattered through the countries, 9then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations. 10And they shall know that I am the Lord. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them.”
The Bible is the story of humanity’s sin and God’s rescue. That’s the big picture. God created man to be in fellowship with Him, but the first man and woman rebelled against this plan, choose to disobey God, and by this sin tumbled the world into darkness, despair, disease and death. But God because of his great love for us refused to simply blot us out as a bad show, but instead began a centuries-long plan to show our sinfulness and reveal his grace. It culminates in Jesus, who was His Divine Son, a perfect Savior, the rescuer who paid for our sins and by his resurrection won our salvation and eternity in a new heaven and a recreated earth. That’s the big story, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.
But one of the most beautiful things about the Bible is that within the big story there are hundreds of little stories with the same arc: man’s need, God’s rescue, man’s sinfulness, God’s forgiveness. Man deserving judgment, God giving mercy. Not that God doesn’t ever judge, but nine times out of ten the judgment comes with a mercy stinger, as it does here: I’m going to destroy your land so that I can destroy once and for all your deadly attachment to idols. But, I will leave some of you alive. Some of you will escape the sword and be scattered among the nations. Then the remnant, the people Ezekiel was talking to, would remember God among the nations in their captivity. God will not destroy his people or fail in his promises to them. Though conquered and exiled, the few who remain will remember him, and he will remember them.
But what will they remember? Not how God has judged them, but, remarkably, verse 9: “how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols.” This is amazing.
God says ‘I am broken by your sin and idolatry, your pursuit of everything that is not me: money, power, pleasure, anger.’ You think you’re hurting yourself or not hurting anyone, but you’re hurting me. I am grieved. I am broken. This is the same word that God used two or three verses before to describe what he would do to their altars and their idols. Here it is figurative. God says ‘it breaks my heart when you sin.’ I have to judge because your idolatry is killing you and in so doing it is torturing me. I have to send this pain in order to call you away from that false pleasure. I meant you for so much more than this.
And so this scattered remnant, God says, when they see how their sin has broken the heart of their God, will repent. They will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed. Verse 10: “And they shall know that I am the Lord. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them.” God’s desire is that we would know that he is the Lord, that we would repent, that we would become loathsome in our own eyes, knowing that we have pursued much that is not God, hurting ourselves and many others in the process.
This text reminds me of the parable of the prodigal son. The younger son wants to go off and live the pleasure life. Wine, women, song, friends, indulgence. But when the money runs out, he finds himself miserable. This is the consequence of sin. The young man is pretty much in torment. Sin made him stupid, stupid made him miserable. But here’s the question? Why did his father do it. Why not keep the kid home where he could be safe and cared for? I believe he knew that this young man had to experience some of the consequences of sin before he would turn. He needed that consequential judgment in his life before he would remember his father’s mercy. That’s what God is saying to Israel through Ezekiel. Okay, I’ve allowed you to experience consequential judgment, so that you will remember me and turn from your idolatries.
But he also says. ‘Your sin breaks my heart. It tortures me. Remember that I have been broken.’ There is, of course, one ultimate reality behind those words. Jesus says ‘my body is broken, my blood shed for the forgiveness of sin.’ Ultimately our sin does break God. Out of his great love for us, he himself bore our sins on the cross that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. By his wounds we are healed. I don’t think this phrase appears in Ezekiel 6 for no reason. Even in his moments of judgment God’s heart is broken over the sins of His people. So broken that he would rather take that sin and judgment on himself in the person of the Son than allow us to face judgment without mercy. He offers forgiveness and new life and eternal life to all who will turn to him in trust. That’s the ultimate story. He is broken by our sin.
“ ‘Sit down again, boys. You’ll need to be sitting for this next part.’ Abraham and the others reluctantly took their seats. “A few days ago another remarkable thing happened to me. I was right here, of course. Not like I’ve got anywhere else to go. And right there, in the chair none of you wants to sit in, a man appeared. Not the same man. This was a blond headed guy in slacks and a white shirt. No tie. Nice looking fella.”
“Anyway, I’m kind fritzed by it, so he says to me, don’t be afraid, Mr. Williams. I’m here to talk about the deal you made to prevent your boys from suffering.”
“ ‘I was wrong,’ I said. ‘They needed pain. They needed consequences. They’ve all gone crazy because the world never corrected them.’
“ ‘I agree,’ said the man in white. ‘You wanted to spare them the one thing that would have made them human. As it is they are monsters.’
‘I there anything you can do?’
‘I myself,’ said the man, ‘can do nothing. But I’ve come on behalf of one who can reverse the deal, wipe it out almost as if it had never existed.’
‘Do it. Please. What do I have to do?’
‘You will gather them here, to this foul sick room, and tell them the truth. Then you will see what happens. But remember, I said almost.’
“So now,” Caleb’s father said, “I have fulfilled my part. Let us see if anything will happen.”
Before his eyes the boys began to change. Abraham’s suit became simpler, less luxurious. His physique sagged and expanded. The key in his hand acquired a Chevy logo. One of his arms took on a scarred and crooked appearance.
“What’s happening, father,” he cried. “Make it stop. It hurts.”
Benjamin seemed to shrink in his seat. His clothes became old, almost ragged. His frame became emaciated, diseased. He lost all his swagger, but in its place his face, though thin and grey, wore a look of peace.
Caleb yelled “No, father. I’ll kill you for this. I’ll get you.” Then, as the change caught him, as the lines in his face relaxed into good humor, he said “Wait, what am I saying. I left all that behind me years ago. Anger never did me any good. I will not go back to it now.”
Frank Williams smiled. Then he looked at Daniel. But where Danny had been sitting, there was now only an apparition, a shadow of his self. Within moments even that faded out. The old man felt a rush of tears flowing down his face.
“Daniel didn’t make it.” The young man in the white shirt was sitting in the chair by Frank’s bed. He turned to the others. “At this moment the three of you can remember both of your lives – the pain free life that nearly destroyed you, and the life of pain that made you men. Soon you will forget the old life.”
“But what about him?” Abraham said, gesturing to his father on the bed. “Shouldn’t he be getting better? Look, he still has the scars, the blindness, the crippling deformities. Why haven’t they disappeared?”
“That’s the part of the deal I couldn’t reverse,” the young man said. “In truth, that’s the part that can never be reversed, for any father, for any parent. Every pain you suffered, he suffered. Because of the deal he suffered them in his body, but regardless, he would have suffered them in his heart. His heart was broken for you, by you. But in the end he knew that you needed the pain so that your hearts could be made whole.”
Their father sighed deeply, a smile on his ruined face. He didn’t take another breath.