As the long finger of divine judgment now points towards Egypt, it might be easy to assume that this has little to do with us 21st century Westerners. Yet we would do well to pay attention to at least two underlying lessons in today’s readings.
1) The reason the Egyptians were under judgment
We might miss the reason for judgment in Ezekiel’s graphic prophetic language. Egypt was under judgment as a national whole, but the reason behind this apocalyptic judgment should send a shiver down our spines individually. God was going to bring wrath against Egypt because of their pride.
Because [Egypt] towered high and set its top among the clouds, and its heart was proud of its height, I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations. He shall surely deal with it as its wickedness deserves (Ezek. 31:10-11).
You struggle with pride; and if you don’t know you do, well then, told ya so. Most simply put, pride is the innate inclination to stand in God’s place. Pride was the original sin, and it is the most pernicious sin. Pride causes us to view ourselves as the center of the universe. Pride is the reason I snap at my wife when she hasn’t done what I wanted, the reason I am personally devastated when the team I root for (none of whom I’ve ever met) doesn’t win, and the reason I call my stinginess with money ‘wisdom.’ Pride is the reason we treat people like objects to do our bidding, and the reason we treat rules as if they don’t apply to us.
The predisposition to be gods unto ourselves is the sin at the root of every other sin, and it necessarily separates us from the one true God. Pride – as the predisposition to steal God’s glory and authority for ourselves – violates the very First Commandment, “you shall have no other gods before me.”
Our shelves may be free of false gods, but our mirrors are not.
If you struggle with pride, and you do, then you are in real trouble before the real God unless you have a mediating and atoning Savior. And you do!
2) The Character of God in Judgment
More to the point, Egypt’s divine view of itself led it to severely mistreat God’s people, the people of Israel (Ezek. 29:6-7). This is not surprising, for the pride of the strong easily leads to the mistreatment of the weak.
However, we are given a glimpse into God’s character as we see God approach the mistreatment of his people as if he himself had been mistreated. It matters not that the haughty Egyptians didn’t see it this way. He is the defender of his people. You mess with them, you mess with him.
It is striking that God is coming to the defense of the very ones who throughout the Old Testament deserve his judgment for their prideful rebellion and idolatry. After reading Ezekiel 23, one would assume God would be glad for Egypt’s assistance! If you or I were God, that’s how we would feel, but we’re prideful, remember? This is not the case with God.
When God’s people sin against him, God’s holiness is offended, but his covenant faithfulness always remains. The unfaithfulness of God’s people, including yours and mine, never outdistances God’s faithfulness. Relationship with his people is always his purpose.
How can God be both just and merciful, simultaneously punishing sin and offering love?
Whether it is you or Israel, whether A.D. or B.C., God willingly took the wrathful consequences of his peoples’ sin upon himself on the cross of Jesus Christ. He took your pride, your repeated usurping of his glory and authority, and died for it, to be with you. He forgives you. He loves you. And now he will defend you, and use any suffering you face for your good and his own glory.