Explore The Bible Study: Judges

2:58 PM


Imagine you worked so hard to give a special gift to someone, only to have them complain about the gift. Or maybe you discover it was discarded. Or perhaps the person forgot you gave it to them! How would you feel? Would it change your relationship with that person? God is the greatest gift-giver yet we will discover in this weeks Explore The Bible Study: Judges how people throughout history have responded to God's mercy and generosity.

Imagine how God felt as He observed, once again, the Israelites disregarding, not appreciating, and abusing the special covenant gift they had been given by Him. Ezekiel helps us understand how God felt and how He deals with His people because they disregarded His gift. 

In order to understand what is about to unfold in Ezekiel 20, one must understand what was taking place in history during this time. In 597 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon came a second time to Jerusalem. At this time, he deposed and exiled King Jeconiah of Judah (2 Kings 24:8-15) who had only reigned a few months. Then king Nebuchadnezzar left Judah with Zedekiah, a puppet king. Most of the Israelites remaining in Jerusalem thought the worst was over and they were fortunate to survive and escape exile. They thought they were better than the people who were taken into exile. Zedekiah reigned 11 years and was the last of the Kings of Judah before a complete Babylonian conquest.

In the late summer of 591 B.C., news of Egypt’s victory in the Sudan, under Psammetik II, reached the exiles at Tel Abib (Babylon). Rumors also indicated that the Egyptian army would make a triumphal conquest of Palestine as well, thus paving the way for the exiles to return to Jerusalem. This raised the exiles’ expectations as they hoped that Egypt would prove to be the redeemer to free them from Nebuchadnezzar. 

Zedekiah had foolishly shared the same dream and revolted from Babylonian rule and placed his confidence in Egypt’s strength somewhere between the end of 591 and 589 B.C. Such a move was ill-timed; for the Pharaoh soon became ill, and the potential might of Egypt never materialized. (Source: Alexander, Ralph H. 1986. “Ezekiel.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, 6:832. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)

This brings us to Ezekiel 20. Israel’s elders come before Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord.  The text is silent concerning the exact nature of the elders’ inquiry, but it was probably to ask this question: “Would Zedekiah’s current diplomacy with Egypt succeed in bringing freedom for the exiles from the tyranny of Nebuchadnezzar?” “Would the Hebrew captives soon return to the Promised Land?”

As you study this passage, consider how you have responded to God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

First, we see how God responds to those come asking with unrepentant hearts - Ezekiel 20:1-4

Ezekiel 20 occurred two years after Ezekiel’s initial call (Ezekiel 1:2). Eleven months had passed since Ezekiel had delivered the previous revelations from God that we studied in the last session from Ezekiel 8. Israel’s exiled elders came to inquire of the Lord because they recognized God’s people faced a tough situation. When they came before Ezekiel God provided to Ezekiel a message for them. 

God’s response was not what one would expect. He didn’t roll over and continue to give and give. Basically, God says to them, “I can’t believe you are coming to inquire of me after all you have done.” The leaders who came to seek God’s counsel were not coming with proper attitudes, and God knew their hearts were not fully His.  The detestable practices of their ancestors broadly depicted the people’s many abominations, including idolatry and immorality. Ezekiel would confront the elders with the record of their sin and the sin of prior generations.

God still confronts unrepentant sinners with the truth of their sin. However, unrepentant sinners cannot receive God’s grace as long as they attempt to justify their own attitudes and actions.

Imagine you have given to someone over and over again, and they mistreat you in spite of all you have given.  Would you be more or less likely to ignore them if they came to you for help in getting out of a tough situation? 

Do you think God still loved the people? (Yes) If so, why did He not accept them with open arms when they asked for help? What can we learn from God’s response regarding unconditional love? 

What motivates you to come before God? Is it the gift of the relationship you have with Him through Jesus Christ? Is it a heart of repentance when God reveals sin? Or is it to see if God will get you out of a sticky situation of your own making?

Next, God reminds them of all He had done to love and redeem them and how they responded to Him - Ezekiel 20:5-14

What did God give to the Israelites according to this passage? How did Israel respond to all God had given to them?

In the face of such rebellion, God had demonstrated his unending grace toward his people with great long-suffering. Twice God states that He withheld His wrath of total destruction. Yet, here they are again, rebelling and throwing the gift God had given them back into His face. So again, the time had come for the nation to prepare herself for judgment; for the Lord was going to soon bring Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem to destroy the city and to take additional captives to Babylonia (20:45–21:32). 

Repeated rebellion against God invites His judgment. Further, persistent disobedience hardens people against turning to God. God’s mercy is indeed great. Believers fall short regularly, but God extends His mercy and grace in situations when He could bring discipline against us. However, we should never consider His mercy and grace as reasons to sin more (Romans 6:1-2). Further, we must warn our friends, coworkers, and neighbors who do not know God, that they cannot presume on His mercy apart from a relationship with Jesus.

Responding to God's Gift

Man is always subject to this pattern. God’s gift is given. God’s gift is ignored and unappreciated. God judges. God gives grace. Man repents. The cycle starts all over again and will continue until this sin broken world has been redeemed.

Warren Wiersby gives this illustration regarding this passage, as a part of his series, Be Reverent

“The American editor and writer Norman Cousins wrote in a Saturday Review editorial (April 15, 1978), “History is a vast early warning system.” But some anonymous thinker has said, “The one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history”; or in the words of Dr. Laurence J. Peter, “History teaches us the mistakes we are going to make.” The Jewish historians, prophets, and psalmists were honest enough to declare the sins of the nation and write them down for future generations to read! Why? So that future generations wouldn’t make the same mistakes that they made. But, alas, God’s people haven’t begun to learn the lessons, let alone obey them.”

Twice God reminds His people that He withheld total judgment. Consider how many times God has withheld His judgment on you. How should that cause you to respond to the gift of salvation that is given to you through Jesus Christ?

Go back to the time when you received Christ. Consider or make a list of ways in which you have habitually rebelled against God since you received Christ as Savior. Can you see God’s mercy and grace in your relationship with Him? How should that change the way you live today?

Consider how you can live a life that demonstrates to a lost world the appreciation one should have for being given the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Consider sharing the gift of salvation with others during this Christmas season.

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study, along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. Be sure to use this as a supplement to your study of the Explore the Bible Study resources provided by LifeWay.

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