What happens to a nation or church that squanders its history? God will ultimately leave them. That insight happened a few years ago when I was reading a book—the book of Ezekiel. It was fascinating to me. It fell upon the shoulders of a young man about thirty years old in exile to tell the people some ominous forewarnings. And those predictions are a warning to us.
God revealed through Ezekiel that the glory of God was going to depart from His people. God was going to say goodbye to them. Why? I believe that the answer is found in Psalms 138, “Though the LORD is on high, He regards the lowly, but the proud He knows from afar” (v. 6). Pride pushes God away.
Israel was a nation uniquely privileged. They dwelt in a land where the glory of God was accessible. As a reminder of God’s watch-care, the marvelous glory of God was present in the temple. Now in an incredible scene there is a movement of this radiance. The sins of pride, errant leadership, and spiritual confusion led to that fateful day when the radiance of God began moving away. God said “Goodbye.”
The scene moves me. As that glory leaves the inner sanctuary, He moves to the door and pauses for a long moment in a reluctant departure. What was the Lord thinking? Was He remembering all the hopes and promises of His people? Was this a moment of divine regret that so little had come from so much? And finally, the glory moves away from His people. Only in the latter part of the book are we told how God might return.
This story is for us too. What’s the difference between a life that has the glory and a life that doesn’t? When God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land, there were three great ideas that He gave to them. When God called the Advent Movement out of Babylon He gave us those same three gifts. The first idea was redemption. “I have brought you out of bondage and set you in this land.” The symbolism was clear. They, and us, were now a redeemed people.
But not only were they redeemed, they were now going to be a righteous people. Enter the Moral Law. And finally He gave them the description of true worship and the voice of prophecy. That is always the sequence that God expects of an individual. Redemption, righteousness, and worship. You can never change that sequence. If you are not redeemed you cannot be righteous. And if you are not redeemed and righteous you cannot worship. “For who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord, but he that hath clean hands and a pure heart?” Redemption is indispensable to righteousness, nothing is good apart from first being redeemed.
He redeemed them from slavery, He gave them the moral law and taught them what worship was all about. Suddenly they began to want to be like other nations. A big red flag. They said, “We want kings to be leading us as other nations do...” So they wanted to be like all the other nations. And God said He was going to depart from them, and that glory was going to leave them 1000 years after the Exodus.
Here is a warning for us to consider. In Ezekiel, when the glory of God departed, His voice left also (Eze. 10:5).
In Ezekiel 10 we hear God’s glory departing. His voice was the sound of a rushing army. In Ezekiel 43, the glory is returning and we are told that his glory was as the sound of a mighty river. And then we see in the Psalms, “The heavens declare the glory of God...Day unto day utters speech.” Here it is, where the glory of God dwells, there the voice of God is heard! When the glory of God departs, the voice of God has left. Why then did that voice leave? There are reasons:
- The Word tells us that the glory of God departed because the spiritual leadership that was to lead the temple had betrayed their trust (Ezekiel 11). And along with that glory went the voice of God. When the glory and the word depart, one must ask what have spiritual leaders done. The problem began in Ezekiel 10. They wanted a king to be like all the other nations, and they were seeking glory in the approval of the other nations! So it is with any church that elevates culture over Scripture.
- Saul had Samuel. David had Nathan. Solomon had no prophet. And Jeroboam began regarding no authority and made priests of anybody who wanted it (1 Kings 13:33). Take a long look. That is what it means to "be like other nations" (1 Samuel 8:5). So we move from the prophetic voices to the absence of a voice, to the manipulations of kings who appointed people who would make them feel comfortable. Unqualified prophets and priests were elected to office. Now, lies are being given to the nation. The glory has departed. I have reflected on the North American continent for the last two decades. What went wrong? While we were building glorious church buildings, while budgets were booming, while voices filled the airwaves with the Advent Message, while our hospitals flourished—like Solomon did we begin to have grand outward expressions, with no voice from God where it really mattered? Like Israel of old, it is so easy to lose control – to compromise without recognizing it.
- Self-aggrandizement is fatal. There is one vice in the world from which no man is free. Everyone in the world loathes it when they see it in someone else. Hardly any people except Christians ever imagine that they would see it in themselves. I have heard people confess that they have bad tempers. I have heard them confess that they can’t keep their heads above immorality or alcohol. Yet drunkenness, immorality and greed are merely flea bites in comparison to pride. Pride will block the resolution of every other problem that people experience. And pride says that there is no need for the voice of God anymore.
Think of the gender conflict. I’ve seen colleges and church publications advertising themselves as “Giving women a sense of empowerment.” As if that’s all we are lacking. I have seen feminism baptized into the church, and witnessed contemporary clamor for “equality.” It is an echo of “Give us a king that we may be like the nations around us.” I see the sociological fabric of sexuality becoming desacralized in our church. When you desacralize that which God has made sacred, which way are you going to go when there is no voice of God anymore? Self-aggrandizement is fatal in my life and yours.
What can we do to get the glory back? Four things come to mind.
- Humble ourselves before God.
- Pray for our spiritual leaders and hold them accountable.
- Honor God by obedience to known truth.
- Take personal responsibility (set our house in order).
People say the vision is failing (Ezekiel 12:22). God says, “No. It is going to come to pass!” (v. 23). They say perhaps a single righteous man can save us (Ezekiel 14). God says, “No. Just set your own house in order.” Here is a simple question. In the tide of history, where we seem to be moving towards so much lawlessness & unrighteousness, what should we do? We should set our house in order.
It was in the breakdown of Rome that Christendom was born. In the breakdown of Christendom, the Remnant was born. If the Remnant breaks down, what is left?
As believers we are citizens of a city that we did not build and man cannot destroy. Consciousness of this promise will cause us to reject human glory and seek His glory. And when our lives glorify God through humility and obedience (1 Peter 2:12) something special will happen. His glory and His voice will return (Psalm 29:9).