Many people like to garden. Susan and I are not among that group of people. Neither of us can keep a plant alive, but the house we lived in previously did have two types of plants that created a different challenge. On the south side of our house (so they got plenty of sun), we had two yucca plants and one rose tree (it wasn’t really a bush and a part of it shot straight up some 20+ feet in the air if untended). Both types of plants were really a pain for different reasons, but beside trimming the rose bush, they did not require much maintenance so we left them in place for years.
The problem was when we did try to remove them, it was not easy. We wanted to remove the rose bush because the branches grew quickly, and one would fall over towards the not so wide strip that needed to be mowed and I would have to duck around it to mow that area and avoid being punctured by the thorns. And weeds did grow up in this small area which meant we had to get in there from time to time or when I used a weed eater, it was a bit more challenging to avoid the plants.
So, after about eight years, we decided to truly remove them. We had tried to reduce them before, but now it was time to get serious. And to do that we needed to get a chain and a truck and pull (particularly the yucca plants…if you know about that type of plant, you understand…a part of that name sounds like “yuck”). See, it wasn’t enough to remove what was seen. We had to get down into the roots, and only a truck with a chain to pull it out was going to work.
And it did work. And for the last couple of years we lived there, the mowing was much easier. Sure we didn’t have any roses (which didn’t grow as well as the branches and thorns did), but we couldn’t keep them alive after picking them anyway. The reality was that we made it better for everyone involved by removing the thorns and by removing the plants that seemed immovable and we didn’t want or need anyway.
And sometimes to do that, it takes extreme measures. In Ezekiel 28, God announced that He was going to use extreme measures to remove a thorny nation from keeping Israel from what she was meant to be (and do). But God’s goal is never just to punish (like some may consider what we had to do to those plants); His goal is redemption. God uses discipline to get our attention and teach us (or remind us) of who He is.
That is really the message of our passage today. Let’s look at what God said about Sidon. But let us remember His goal – for Sidon and for Israel as well.
The Problem (Ezekiel 28.20-22)
In last week’s message, we talked about following instructions. Specifically, an angel gave Joseph instructions about the baby that was to be born. Joseph followed those instructions as he was told.
But we often receive instructions that we ignore because we think we know better. Of course, Joseph could have responded that way because the woman he was to marry was pregnant and perhaps he wanted to name his child Joseph, Jr. But again, Joseph followed the instructions he was given.
As we look at Ezekiel 28 today, we see the impact of not following instructions. Now, the impact may not have been immediate, but it was certain. And the impact was something that did not just create problems for a short time; rather, the problem persisted for centuries.
In Ezekiel 28.20-21, God is speaking through Ezekiel to the nation of Sidon. Sidon was the son of Canaan, who was the great-grandson of Noah (through Ham, Genesis 10.15). Sidon later became the home of the Phoenicians, and is located in Lebanon. As part of the land of Canaan, Sidon was supposed to be destroyed by the Israelites. However, according to Judges 1.31, it was not destroyed. A few centuries later, the wicked queen Jezebel came from there. And then centuries beyond that, during the time of Ezekiel, Sidon was still causing problems for the people of Israel. Again, following instruction can be important. If the Israelites had conquered Sidon as they were told to do, they could have avoided centuries of heartache from them Sidonians/Phoenicians.
In Ezekiel 28, God is ready to put Sidon in its place. He is preparing to manifest His glory to them. That might sound ominous. And it should. I recently mentioned on one of the Daily Discipleship Videos about God showing His glory on the day the temple was dedicated (1 Kings 8). The people were stunned and that was with them wanting to experience the glory of God. So, imagine if God was to reveal His glory to a wicked place? That would get your attention, but not in a good way! And that was God’s promise! His glory would be revealed and the wickedness and arrogance of Sidon would face judgment.
The Solution (Ezekiel 20.22-23)
The solution to the arrogance and the wickedness of Sidon was to judge the people (and the leaders). But we have to understand God’s judgment. Many people think of God as one who likes to punish. And certainly, God will punish, but His purpose is redemptive. His mode is discipline. As Hebrews 12 reminds us, God disciplines those whom He loves.
When we are being disciplined, it is not pleasant. I can recall several counts of discipline with a belt. You may be able to as well. But most of the time, I deserved it. And the Sidonians apparently deserved to be disciplined by God.
The discipline would be harsh. Pestilence and war are mentioned in verses 22-23. But the Sidonians had brought war to many other countries (including Israel). So, they were simply reaping what they sowed.
But notice God’s intentions (v. 21 and v. 23) – they will know that I am the Lord! God is not punishing them just to punish them. He is providing discipline so they will know Him – and turn to Him. That is always God’s goal. He wanted their arrogance to be replaced with humility. He wanted the people of Sidon to become humble before Him, but to do that, He needed to remove the briars and thorns.
The Result (Ezekiel 28.24)
Notice verse 24. For Israel, the briars and thorns would be removed. Specifically, these are the spiritual briars and thorns that were getting in the way of the people trusting Him. And those briars and thorns were, in part, the people of Sidon.
The people of Sidon may have been arrogant and wicked, but the people of Israel had lost sight of God. As God revealed Himself to Sidon, and the people humbly turned to Him, the people of Israel would be free to seek Him and worship Him again. Notice the result for Israel is ultimately the same as the intention for Sidon – that they (Israel) would also know that He is the Lord God.
And that is what God wants for us as well. He will do what it takes to get our attention. Sometimes it takes a nudge. Sometimes it takes discipline.
Just as a gardener has to constantly tend to a garden – removing weeds and thicket before they become infested with thorny plants, God has to tend to our lives, to remove what may be harmful. It can be painful to endure at the time, but it is better for us – and others – in the long run.
Today is January 2, 2022. Some of you have made resolutions for the New Year. Others have not and/or will not. My point is not to talk you into a resolution. My encouragement, however, is to have you consider what God might want to cut out of your life. The reality is that at some point, in some way, whatever it is, will be gone, or it will destroy you. So, why not take inventory on your life today and ask God to gently prune what is needed so you can better focus on Him.
Note: Title, Main Points, and some parts of the explanation are taken from Lifeway’s Explore the Bible, “Ezekiel-Daniel”, Winter 2022 Pastor Resources (relating the sermons to the SS lessons).