Who Will Stand in the Gap?
After the Israelites had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians, God came “expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was upon him there” (Ezek. 1:3), and God told him many things to deliver to the Israelites, though He knew the people would not listen (cf. Ezek. 2:3-5).
After revealing to them that the Babylonians were the sword of the Lord for punishment of Israel (Ezek. 21), the Lord spoke through Ezekiel to reveal to them exactly why they were suffering such by the hand of a wicked people such as the Chaldeans (Ezek. 22). The reasons were numerous, and everyone — from the highest levels down to the common people — was to blame. Consider the words of the Lord that explain the reason for their great fall — the ones guilty of grievous sins, and what they did to bring God's wrath on them.
The Prophets. A true prophet of God [as Ezekiel was] would speak the words of God [i.e., truth], instruct the people in righteousness, and do things for the good of God's people; instead, the prophets of Israel had “devoured people…taken treasure and precious things…[and] made many widows in her midst” (Ezek. 22:25); they were “seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord had not spoken” (Ezek. 22:28). At a time when the rulers needed the wherewithal to build a [figurative] wall of protection against the invaders, these men “plastered them with untempered mortar” — in short, they gave them nothing that would help in the day of judgment from the Lord.
The very ones who should have been helping them avoid God's wrath by instructing them in righteousness, inspiring godliness, and fortifying them with the moral virtue to stand with God, were the ones who brought judgment upon them by their complicity in their evil deeds, and who did nothing that would even slow the progression of the spiral into defeat and captivity!
The Priests. If it wasn't bad enough the prophets spoke lies and weakened their own people, the priests did nothing to help the situation. Through Ezekiel, the Lord condemned the priests for having “violated My law and profaned My holy things…not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor…made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and…hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them” (Ezek. 22:26). This from the ones who should have known His law better than anyone, and had a keen interest in the spiritual strength and obedience of the people [including themselves]! They failed — miserably!
Think of the utter spiritual confusion that must have existed when the priests would not distinguish between the holy and clean [acceptable], and the unholy and unclean [unacceptable]! And what do we suppose would be the attitude towards the Lord when the priests themselves would not honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord had commanded? We don't have to guess, for in the time after the people had returned to Jerusalem and had once again forgotten the Sabbath as a holy day, Nehemiah “saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day” (Neh. 13:15), and asked, “What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city?” (Neh. 13:17, 18).
Because the priests no longer regarded the Sabbath as a holy day, neither did the people, and they treated it as any other day, buying and selling goods and doing the work they were doing on the other six days of the week. In short, nothing was holy anymore amongst the people whom God commanded, “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45)! When nothing of God is regarded as holy anymore, then no one sees anything special about God anymore, and they lose their fear and respect for Him and do as they please. And they did.
The Princes. The religious leaders had failed the people, but what about the political leaders? Sadly, they did no better! God said through Ezekiel that the princes “are like wolves tearing the prey, to shed blood, to destroy people, and to get dishonest gain” (Ezek. 22:27). These people were not interested in protecting their subjects, but only in exploiting and oppressing them and making money by whatever means they could, even if it was through the abuse and oppression of their own people.
Think how the people must have felt to see and know their leaders would not help them, but only make their lives more difficult! Think how they must have felt to know their very lives were not safe — not because of invading forces, but by the hands of their leaders! Imagine the disgust and disappointment and anger of a people ruled by those who oppress them and have no qualms about taking innocent lives if they can somehow make a dime off of them!
The People. And if all the leaders had failed them, surely the common people — the citizens of Judah who remained and who had been used, abused, and endangered by their leaders — would take a stand for good, right?
God, through Ezekiel, would say of them, “The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger” (Ezek. 22:29). Sadly, they were no better than those who were leading them!
So, who would bring about a change in a nation such as this? God wanted to know if anyone would, telling them all, “So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ezek. 22:30). Who would stand up against the wickedness of the leaders and of the common people and provide a means of escaping God's coming wrath by sowing righteousness, godliness, and justice? No one!
It is no wonder that God would conclude by saying, “Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads” (Ezek. 22:31). They did nothing to avoid the coming punishment, but much to incite God's anger against them.
So, what is the lesson for us? Consider the following brief points as lessons we must learn from this sad era:
God expects us to live as we should. It didn't matter if it was the common man, the priest, the prophet, or the prince; God expected them to live a righteous, humble, and godly life — regardless of what "everybody else" was doing.
God expects us to do our duty. The priests had particular duties, as did the prophets and princes, and they all fell short. Whatever our place in the Lord's church today, whether elder, teacher, evangelist, or any member of the local congregation, we must each fulfill our duties.
God is looking for someone to stand in the gap. While the world indulges in sin, He expects us to rise above it all, and to do our utter best to prevent God's wrath from falling on them — even when they don't care. Who will stand today? —— Steven Harper