THE LORD’S JUST WAYS IN THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL
It is one thing to sin against the Lord and transgress His commandments; it is quite another when the Lord must hear the contradiction of sinners! Israel is here represented by the Lord as contending with the Lord’s ways and judgments with them. In the “proverb” of the sour grapes is an accusation against the Lord that he is not doing justice and equity in Israel. The balances of God’s justice are not equal. God does not deal with them according to His ordinances in Israel!
For let it not be misunderstood!
The Lord is here not speaking to mankind in general and of his dealings with those who left to walk in their own ways. (Acts 14:16) On the contrary, the Lord, Jehovah God, is here addressing the house of Israel in whose midst He had planted and established His NAME! He is addressing the theocratic nation of Israel to whom the oracles of God had been entrusted. These have the prophetic Word of the law and the prophets as this shines more and more unto the perfect day. All these words speak of the coming of the Christ, the end of the law for righteousness to every one who believes. When these Scriptures are understood we see that the Christ must die and thus enter into His glory!
Hence, this controversy, which God has with His people, must not be lifted out of this covenantal context and placed erroneaously in the setting of “mankind in general.” The “wicked” here addressed are the sinners in Israel and not sinners in general, whom God has left to walk in their own ways. These latter perish “without law.” (Rom. 2:12) Rather here are the “godless” who are sons of Abraham for whom Christ died at His own time when they were yet sinners! (Romans 5:7, 8) For do not forget that God shows us in the case of Abraham’s justification by faith that He justifies the “godless.” Justifier of the godless is He! All is pure grace of elective love, to the praise of the glory of His grace!
Some forty odd years ago the Synod of 1924 of the Christian Reformed Church, held at Kalamazoo, Michigan, struggled to include the reprobate wicked as the addressees here in the text. The proposition which I here quote was not adopted by the Synod. However it was attempted in two different versions.
Version No. 1. It reads as follows: . . . according to Scripture and the Confessions it is established that God is favorably inclined and gives grace to those whom Scriptures designates as ungodly and unrighteous, which, of course, includes the reprobates.
Version No. 2. It reads as follows: Synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confessions, it is established, not only that God is filled with wrath against the reprobates because of their sin, but that he is also favorably inclined and bestows blessings upon those whom Scripture calls ungodly and unrighteous, which, of course, includes the reprobates. (*)
Now the reader must understand that this was not adopted by the Synod, that is to say, it was not adopted in this blunt and outspoken form. A more subtle and camouflaged form of it was later given, in stating that God’s love is toward “His creatures in general.” And this is “evident” from the “general offer of the Gospel.”
Perhaps we do the reader a service by casting the blunt version in a syllogistic form. It goes as follows:
1. God gives grace to the ungodly and unrighteous.
2. The Reprobate are ungodly and unrighteous.
3. Ergo: God gives grace to the Reprobate wicked.
It is here assumed that in such a passage as here inEzekiel 18:23 the “wicked” are all the wicked, both reprobate and elect. God shows both of them grace in the preaching of the Word.
However, the text speaks here to wicked ones in the house of Israel. And the text calls all to repentance, and life is promised to the repentant ones, and to none else! Here is a general preaching of repentance, based on reasons taken out of the virtue of God’s justice and holiness, with a particular promise for those who truly repent and turn unto the Lord.
And these are His equal ways in the house of Israel! They are the command to repentance, serious command to repentance, with an equally serious promise of life to those who repent, and death for those who repent not!
THE IMPLICATION OF THE CONCEPT: HOUSE OF ISRAEL. (Ezekiel 18:6, 15, 25, 29, etc.)
It is important in this connection to understand well the meaning of the name “Israel.” This is the name which the Lord gives to Jacob at the occasion of His wrestling with Jacob at the Jabbok river. An angel came and wrestled with. Jacob all the night. Jacob too, wrestled with tears and strong crying. Yea, Jacob had power over the angel and prevailed: he wept and made supplication unto him. The Lord found Jacob in Bethel . . . even the Lord God of hosts; the Lord is his memorial. And, as a name which spells the victory for the penitent sinner, Jacob is called “Israel.” He is a prince of God, who has conducted himself in a princely and courageous manner. He would not let the LORD go unless the God of Israel blessed him.
Such is the indication of true repentance and conversion. One wrestles with the Lord and overcomes because the Lord’s ways are equal and just!
Now it is very fitting in this connection to call the people by the name house of Israel!
It reminds them of their origin and high estate. Blessed art thou, O Israel, who is like unto thee? Thou art a people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! And thy enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places. (Cf. Deut. 33:29)
Yes, this is the people of sovereign election. Paul sets this all in focus in Romans 9:1-5. For Israel, through the entire Old Testament dispensation, never ceased to be a royal people, a holy nation, a peculiar possession of the Lord. (Exodus 19:6; I Peter 2:9) Even in the very time when Ezekiel writes to the house of Israel in Babylon the people of God did not cease to be a peculiar nation. They remained intact. The Lord was to them a shield and protection. The nation went down into Babylon and returned after seventy years! And that is the import of their being designated: house of Israel!
What is the secret of this unique character of the house of Israel? This Paul indicates when he says that his kinsmen for whom he has great sorrow continually, are such that they are Israelites! Israel is the adopted firstborn son of God. They are a theocratic nation who are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. Did God ever reveal His glory of the Shekinah to any other people in a pillar of cloud from heaven? They are a people to whom pertained the testamental words of God that in them all the nations should be blessed in the Seed to come. It was at Sinai that the LORD says to his redeemed people: here is my law and ordinances, walk in them in thankfulness. Israel may alone gather in the temple to serve the Lord under the Levitical order of Aaron, and all the promises which God will surely fulfill are for Israel. Israel alone can look back to the fathers, the patriarchs and claim God as their God of the burning bush, the I AM THAT I AM! And out of this Israel will Emanuel be born, the Christ according to the flesh, yet, God blessed over all, Amen!
But there were many who did not believe and repent!
These complained that the Lord’s ways were not equal and used the evil proverb concerning the land of Israel!
Does that not give the lie to the Lord’s calling this people the house of Israel?
Not at all! The solution to this seemingly insurmountable difficulty is that there is a twofold Israel. There is the Israel of God, the true Israel after the promise, and the fleshly Israel. Both are in Babylon in one nation. However, both are not brought to repentance by the word of the Lord. The elect obtained mercy and the rest were hardened! (Romans 11:7b) But the Israel of God, the true house of Israel is saved in the way of repentance. For Christ has gone on high that he might give repentance to Israel.
THE LOST SHEEP OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL SAVED (Ezekiel 18:31-32)
Yes, everyone is judged according to his ways. When the LORD saves the true Israel they, too, are judged according to their ways of repentance. And the fleshly Israel is condemned according to their unrepentance. The latter, too, have been seriously called to repentance in the outward calling. They have heard what the Lord said concerning the connection of repentance and life, but due to their unbelief it only made their hearts fat for the slaughter. They did not repent so that the LORD healed them. They did not cast their transgression, all their transgressions from them in heartfelt sorrow for sin!
A new spirit and heart they did not make to themselves. They did not turn from their iniquities andturn unto the Lord. Standing in the midst of the very house of God they did not know the LORD of the house, nor did they acknowledge Him to be their LORD! They perish in their sins. They perish in theirown personal sins and not in the sins of their fathers!
But the true house of Israel repents and lives.
Yes, this is given them from heaven. Here are the ways of God which are past tracing out and they are beyond our searching them out! This is higher than heaven and deeper than hell! God is incomprehensible. But these ways which we cannot search out are just ways in our deepest heart and conscience and these ways afford no difficulty on this score. And they are true ways. God is faithful and just to forgive the sins of any who confess them, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin!
And every repentant sinner experiences that God has no pleasure in the death of the one dying! He experiences that the repentant lives! But conversely that fleshly Israelite experiences, too, that God has no pleasure simply in his death, but that He has pleasure in maintaining the just balances: the unrepentant shall die! And God has pleasure in His own holiness in the midst of His people: to the one a savor of life unto life, and to the other a savor of death unto death. Thus even the Lord triumphs in grace and wrath.
No more is the proverb heard in heaven or hell: “the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge!”