By Justin Borger with assistance from Generous Giving staff
Ezekiel, who was both priest and prophet, delivered a message that contained judgment as well as hope. The book begins with the prophet’s breathtaking vision of the glory of God. In chapters 1-24 his message focuses on God’s jealousy—that is, his zeal for the wholehearted devotion of his people. The prophet predicts the destruction that God is going to bring upon Jerusalem because of the people’s idolatry. In chapters 25-32 Ezekiel delivers a series of prophecies against the other nations, revealing the fact that the God of Israel is the Lord of all the earth. Chapters 33-48 include a number of themes and strands of teaching. The book concludes with a message of hope, as Ezekiel prophesies about the ingathering of God’s people and the restoration of their inheritance in the promised land.
Our study of Ezekiel consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the book’s teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the book’s major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of the author’s goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the book’s possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Giving’s Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, they may prove especially useful as sermon helps for pastors and as a resource for teachers, advisors and lay leaders interested in obeying and teaching the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Passage-by-Passage Study Notes
Ezekiel 7:1-13 (Key Passage) — The End Has Come: This passage flows from the same vein of biblical teaching as Proverbs 11:4, which reminds us that wealth is worthless in the end. Like the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the prophets reminded God’s people that their silver and gold would not be able to save them in the day of the Lord’s wrath. In fact, Ezekiel says that the people’s wealth is worse than worthless because it was the very thing that “made them stumble into sin” (Ezekiel 7:19; cf. 1 Timothy 6:9-10). As a result, all their precious wealth would be lost (Ezekiel 7:20-27), just as ours will be lost if we fail to store up treasures in heaven by being generous and willing to share (Matthew 6:19-21; cf. Psalm 112:9 to see how wealth can be used for eternal purposes). See Ezekiel theme essay Dangers of Wealth.
Ezekiel 14:1-9 (Key Passage) — Idols of the Heart: This passage tells of how God’s people, beginning with their leaders, had set up idols within their hearts. Though they continued outwardly to profess their allegiance to the Lord, their hearts had been invaded by idolatry, and God had been nudged off his throne to make room for all the would-be “gods” of the other nations. In response, God spoke to Ezekiel of his intentions to recapture his people’s affections and make himself known as One who will not tolerate any rivals. As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24). See also key passage Ezekiel 16:38. See Ezekiel theme essays God’s Jealousy and Dangers of Wealth.
Ezekiel 16:1-44 (Key Passage) — Perverting God’s Perfect Blessings: This passage tells the tragic tale of Jerusalem’s rise and decline. The prophet explains that when the Lord found Jerusalem, she was like a naked newborn squirming in her own birth-blood. Instead of being loved and cared for, she was left to die in a field. But the Lord found her and said, “Live!” After she matured, the Lord married her, cared for her and lavished every possible gift upon her. The Lord fed his bride fine foods and clothed her with embroidered dresses, fine sandals, jewelry and a crown. Jerusalem went from squalor to splendor that filled the earth because of God’s generosity and grace. But then Jerusalem did something unspeakably evil. She trusted in the gift (her beauty) rather than the Giver (God himself), perverting God’s perfect blessings with pride and prostitution.
Ezekiel 16:1-8 — These verses describe Jerusalem’s condition of abject poverty before God found her. Accordingly, the major message here is that God loves us before we are lovely. In his generosity, the Lord cares for us when we are disgustingly disobedient and worthless. To become like God means to imitate this kind of generosity by caring for “nobodies” and associating with people who may be irritating, repulsive, poor and lowly (Ephesians 5:1-2; Romans 12:16; 2 Corinthians 8:9).
Ezekiel 16:9-14 — These verses describe God’s generosity to Jerusalem in detail.
Ezekiel 16:15-34 — Ezekiel 16:15 leads into an extended description of how Jerusalem abused God’s gifts. Throughout this description, sexual and economic sins are closely linked. For example, Jerusalem is metaphorically described as prostitute who engaged is unfaithfulness with Babylonia, “a land of merchants” (Ezekiel 16:29; cf. 16:36). This kind of connection between sexual immorality and greed is actually quite common throughout the Scriptures. For example, God commands us in his Law not to covet our neighbor’s wife (Exodus 20:17)—clearly connecting the evil desires of greed and lust. Similarly, when King David committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-10), the prophet Nathan described David’s sexual sin in terms of economic oppression and robbery. Again, in Proverbs 9:17, Lady Folly’s invitation to adultery is presented in the metaphorical language of drinking “stolen water.”
Ezekiel 16:35-43 — These verses describe God’s punishment of Jerusalem for her prostitution with the nations in pouring out her “wealth” and worshiping idols.
Ezekiel 16:38 (Key Passage) — God’s Jealousy: Scripture does not portray God as an emotionless or unfeeling deity but as the jealous protector of his people. Indeed, God’s concern for covenantal faithfulness among his people is so intense that he communicated this divine concern in terms of human emotions: “I will bring upon you the blood vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger” (Ezekiel 16:38b; cf. Zechariah 1:14). Although God is not subject to emotional instability as we are, this does not mean that he is static or unfeeling. God’s “emotions” (for lack of a better word) are perfectly holy and perfectly balanced, but also far stronger than we can imagine. The message of Ezekiel revolves around God’s “zeal,” or “jealousy,” which is aroused when his people turn from him to run after other gods like wealth or personal ambition. Because God is a jealous God, he will not tolerate rivals for our faithfulness or affections. See other passages about God’s jealousy in Ezekiel: 5:13; 8:3, 5; 16:38, 42; 23:25; 36:5; 38:19. See Ezekiel theme essay God’s Jealousy.
Ezekiel 16:42 — See key passage Ezekiel 16:38.
Ezekiel 16:49 (Key Passage) — Sin of Sodom: Most of us are familiar with the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, whose infamous wickedness led to fiery destruction. But do we know exactly what sin roused God to rain fire and brimstone on these cities? Traditionally, Sodom and Gomorrah have been associated with all kinds of sexual perversion (cf. Jude 7), but according to the prophet Ezekiel, this was not their primary problem. “This was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). What frightening words of indictment for American Christians today! Important as it is to stand up against sexual sins like homosexuality and promiscuity, the Bible identifies gluttony and greed as equally deserving of God’s wrath. In light of Ezekiel 16:49, it is appropriate for us to examine ourselves and ask whether we are guilty of Sodomy. Are we proud? Do we overindulge our appetites? Do we ignore the plight of the poor and needy? Let us strive to break free of Sodom’s grip and to care about the weighty matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). Finally, compare this passage with Isaiah 1:10-17, which mockingly refers to God’s people as the “rulers of Sodom” and the “people of Gomorrah” for their failure to care for the poor. See Ezekiel theme essay Overfed and Unconcerned.
Ezekiel 18:4 (Key Passage) — God’s Absolute Ownership: Ezekiel reminds us of God’s absolute ownership of every living soul. Nothing we have belongs to us, not even ourselves. Strictly speaking, we do not even own our own private feelings and thoughts, never mind the more tangible goods we possess. As Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper put it, “In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, ‘That is mine!’ ” Accordingly, we must recognize that God owes us nothing. Whether he gives or takes away, his name must be praised and adored at all times. What would it mean for us to live in light of God’s absolute ownership (cf. Psalm 24:1; 50:10)? What would it mean for us truly to understand that we are not our own but were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23)? Certainly, the fact that everything we are and possess belongs to God should transform the way we think about and use our resources and possessions. The reality of God’s lordship over all of life should be reflected even in our daily spending habits. After all, if God’s absolute ownership doesn’t direct the way we live our daily lives and use our resources, can we say that we really understand the fact that we belong to God in the first place? See related passages on God’s absolute ownership and our belonging to God: Leviticus 26:12; Job 41:11; Psalm 24:1; 50:10; Jeremiah 3:22; Zechariah 2:8-10, 12; 8:2; 13:9; Romans 14:7, 8; 1 Corinthians 3:23; 6:19-20; Titus 2:14; Revelation 21:2-3. See Ezekiel theme essay God’s Jealousy and Genesis theme essay God’s Ownership.
Ezekiel 18:6a — The list opens by stating that the righteous person will not eat at the mountain shrines nor raise his eyes to idols. While both of these sins may seem to have little or nothing to do with our finances, in reality they are closely connected. One of the major reasons the Israelites were tempted to worship idols on the mountains was because fertility gods like Baal were seen as powerful sources of financial security. In an agrarian society the fertility gods’ lordship over the weather would have made them lords of the economic arena as well. This is why God’s people were not supposed to raise their eyes to idols—they were supposed to raise their eyes to God’s provision alone (cf. Matthew 6:11, 24).
Ezekiel 18:6b — Again, while the sin of adultery may seem unrelated to financial faithfulness, the Bible draws some surprisingly close connections between sexually and economically oriented sins. For example, when the tenth commandment forbids covetousness, it does so by warning against lusting after another man’s wife (Exodus 20:17). Similarly, when King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan described David’s sexual sin in terms of economic oppression and theft (2 Samuel 12:1-10). In Proverbs 9:17, Lady Folly’s invitation to adultery is presented in the metaphorical language of drinking “stolen water.” In light of this connection, we ought to stop and ask ourselves why we tend to feel so very guilty and ashamed of our struggles with sexual sins like looking at pornography while we constantly can covet the latest and greatest things we see advertized without feeling the least bit of shame.
Ezekiel 18:7-8 — Here we see that justice and generosity are central to a biblical understanding of righteousness. The righteous not only refrain from oppressing others, committing robbery and lending at excessive interest, but they also actively use personal resources to meet the needs of the poor (cf. Psalm 112:9; 2 Corinthians 9:9). Of course, this understanding of righteousness and generosity is consistent with Jesus’ explanation of how the righteous will be separated from the unrighteous at the final judgment: based upon the way we care for or neglect the needs of the poor (Matthew 25:31-46).
Ezekiel 18:9 — What does it mean to follow God’s decrees and faithfully keep his laws? For an Old Testament Jew like Ezekiel, this definitely would have included giving generously. In fact, the conclusion of God’s law in Deuteronomy 26 identifies generosity as the paradigmatic act of obedience that sums up what it means to observe God’s commands (see especially Deuteronomy 26:13). Of course, generosity is central to what it means to obey the law of love as a New Testament believer as well. As we are told in 1 John 3:16-17, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”
Ezekiel 18:10-30 — See key passage Ezekiel 18:5-9.
Ezekiel 20:7-29 (Key Passage) — Get Rid of Idols: For the Israelites, the flipside of receiving God’s gift in the promised land was a the command to get rid of their idols. The same holds true for us. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24). By accepting the gift of God’s Son in the gospel, we have received a new “Master” (cf. Romans 10:9). The Lord of our life is no longer money or “mammon” but Christ Jesus, and him only. Accordingly, there is no room left in our lives for covetousness and greed, which the New Testament calls “idolatry” (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5).
Ezekiel 20:8-10 — Even after God had graciously given his people the promised land, they continued to rebel against him by worshiping idols (Ezekiel 20:8). They had presumed upon their Lord’s generosity, and this deserved his wrath and punishment (Ezekiel 20:9). However, because God was determined to preserve his glory through his grace, he refrained from punishing them to the extent that their sins deserved.
Ezekiel 20:27-29 — The high point of Israel’s ingratitude came at a high point of God’s generosity. Upon finally entering the promised land, they began taking part in the fertility cults with the local heathens. See Ezekiel theme essay Dangers of Wealth and Deuteronomy theme essay Prosperity Idols.
Ezekiel 20:30-44 — Here we see God’s judgment and generosity at work. Ezekiel 20:30-38 announces God’s intention to execute judgment and purge his people from their idolatrous materialism (Ezekiel 20:32, “You say, ‘We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.’ ”). Then, in a dramatic shift, the following verses reveal God’s generosity in his plan to restore his people after they have been purged of their sin (Ezekiel 20:39-44). Once again, God will accept his people and require “offerings and choice gifts.” The Lord tells them that they will loath themselves for their sins in light of his gracious generosity in restoring them to himself. See also key passage Ezekiel 16:38. See Ezekiel theme essay God’s Jealousy.
Ezekiel 26-28:19 (Key Passage) — Prophecy against Tyre: This passage highlights the perils of pride and prosperity. Just as Jesus blessed the poor and cursed the rich (Luke 6:20, 24) during his earthly ministry, God has worked throughout history to uplift the poor and oppose the prosperous (e.g., Ezekiel 16:49; Zephaniah 1:11-13; Luke 1:46, 52-53; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; James 5:1; Revelation 3:15-17). Here in Ezekiel 27 we can see this characteristic in God’s historic opposition to the proud and prosperous city of Tyre. Tyre was well known in the ancient world for her fabulous wealth and lucrative trade industry. But God determined to destroy this ancient commercial hub, turning her prosperity into plunder for the nations. This passage may also be compared with the prophecy against Tyre in Isaiah 23:1-18, which shows the dangers of trusting in wealth. These prophecies in Ezekiel and Isaiah are timeless reminders that we should not place our hope in the money moguls of this world, for God opposes the proud and self-sufficient but gives grace to the poor and humble.
Ezekiel 26:1-6 — Why did the Lord tell Ezekiel to prophesy against the great city of Tyre? The answer is “because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper’ ” (Ezekiel 26:2). In other words, God pronounced judgment on Tyre because she had rejoiced over financial gain that came at the misfortune of others. As commentator John B. Taylor notes, Jerusalem was a serious commercial competitor with Tyre at the intersection of a large number of international trade routes. Presumably, Tyre looked forward to profiting from the trade tolls that Jerusalem previously had enjoyed (John B. Taylor, Ezekiel, 190). As a result, God said that the once luxurious island would be turned into a “bare rock” (Ezekiel 26:4). The city known for her fabulous wealth would become “plunder for the nations” (Ezekiel 26:5). See Ezekiel theme essay Dangers of Wealth.
Ezekiel 26:12 — This verse illustrates the truth of Proverbs 11:4: “Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath ...” All of Tyre’s wealth is powerless to save her from God’s judgment through Babylon.
Ezekiel 36:8-15 — Here God promises to bless his possession in the promised land which the evil nations had plundered. Accordingly, God’s gracious generosity stands out in bold relief as Ezekiel tells of all the fruitfulness that he is going to give. Amazingly, God promises to give his own land to his people (Ezekiel 36:12) even though he had condemned the nations for taking it for themselves (Ezekiel 36:1-7).
Ezekiel 36:22-37 (Key Passage) — God’s Glory Revealed in Complete Restoration: Here, at “the heart of Ezekiel’s salvation theology,” God promises to reveal his glory by restoring the fortunes of his people, both spiritually and materially (Taylor, Ezekiel, 231). While we often distort the gospel by overemphasizing either the spiritual or the material dimensions of the good news, Ezekiel balances the two. For the prophet, salvation was holistic because God’s glory must be revealed in complete restoration. Ezekiel understood that God is the God of all reality—not just part of it. Because of this, God wants it all back. Everything that was destroyed by man’s fall must be made new—from the cancer cells that infest our bodies to the spiritual rebellion that destroys our souls. Accordingly, on the same day that God would restore his people spiritually by removing their hearts of stone (Ezekiel 36:24-27, 29a, 31, 33a), he also would restore them materially, relieving the land of famine and bringing forth the earth’s abundance (Ezekiel 36:28, 29b, 30, 33b-36). This is highly instructive for us today as we think about what it means to seek God’s glory by promoting the gospel both spiritually and materially. In the end, the best way to strike a balance between the two is to look at the way Jesus worked to bring about restoration in his own ministry (cf. Luke 4:18-19). When we look to Jesus’ ministry, we find that, by and large, he laid an equal emphasis on the spiritual and material dimensions of human poverty—feeding the five-thousand (John 6:1-15) and explaining that he is the very bread of life (John 6:35; see also Matthew 11:5; Luke 7:22). But ultimately, the balance is found in the incarnation and the cross on which Jesus died to purchase our salvation through the supremely physical gift of his own flesh and blood.
Ezekiel 45:13-20 — See key passage Ezekiel 43:13-27.
Ezekiel 45:21-24 — The Passover feast required the shedding of blood. A spotless, year-old lamb had to be slain. The people also were to eat bread without yeast to reflect the fact that Israel had left Egypt in a hurry (Deuteronomy 16:3). This meal served both as a reminder of their salvation from Egypt and as a consecration from the Egyptian way of life. The Israelites were to see that they were not only taken out of Egypt physically, but they also were to leave Egypt’s value system behind in order to follow the Lord wholeheartedly. Today we no longer celebrate the Passover because Jesus was sacrificed for us as the one true Paschal Lamb. His sacrificial death on the cross has caused God’s judgment to pass over all those who have faith in him, the Lamb of God. Accordingly, all those who have received forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice are called to be imitators of the Lamb who was slain through sacrifices of our own. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). It is impossible to follow Jesus if we refuse to live sacrificially with our money and possessions. Because money matters are such an integral part of our everyday existence, remembering Christ’s sacrifice requires us to use our resources to celebrate the fact that God’s judgment has passed over us (2 Corinthians 8:7-9). Just as the Israelites were strangers in Egypt on their way to the promised land, we are pilgrims on our way to “a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). See Exodus theme essay Freedom for Sacrifice.
Ezekiel 45:25 — The calendar date in this verse refers to the Feast of Tabernacles, also known as the festival of “Ingathering” or “Booths.” This was another annual festival that integrated giving and thanksgiving into Israel’s national calendar. These annual festivals allowed Israel to live in continual gratitude for God’s provision and mercy. In particular, this festival ended the agricultural year with giving back to God through an array of different kinds of offerings that he had specified. Additionally, the people would choose to bring other freewill gifts and offerings (Leviticus 23:37-38). This went on for seven days and was meant to commemorate the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt and the time they spent living in “booths” during the journey from Egypt to the promised land (cf. Exodus 23:17). Similarly, many Christian traditions emphasize the importance of generosity during the holidays (particularly Christmas and Easter), particularly through contributions to recipients like churches and ministries, foster care children, widows and single parents, retired ministers and missionaries. Such acts of generosity are within the general spirit of the Old Testament’s holidays and festivals.
Ezekiel 46:16-18 (Key Passage) — Property Rights: The Old Testament stresses the importance of private property, but not in the way that we stress it in the present day. Today we associate the right to private property with the right to accumulate as much wealth as possible. But in the Old Testament the property rights were effectively meant to moderate both poverty and wealth accumulation. Because of the way the promised land originally was distributed (Numbers 26:52-56), every family had a permanent right to certain pieces of ancestral property, which was called their “inheritance” in the land. Accordingly, it was illegal to accumulate other people’s inheritance or to lose one’s own. If land was lost temporarily for any reason (whether through laziness, natural disaster or injustice), every 50 years the property was to be returned in the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25). Someone once summarized the Bible’s view of private property by saying that “private property is so good that everybody ought to have some.”
Ezekiel 47:1-12 (Key Passage) — River of Life: Praise God from whom all blessings flow! This passage describes the river of life that flows out from God’s presence in the sanctuary and brings healing and fertility to barren regions. The image of an ever-growing stream that flows from God is full of symbolic meaning. This image helps us better to understand and appreciate the bountiful nature of God’s ceaseless generosity. See other passages that illustrate God’s abundant blessings with similar imagery: Genesis 2:10; Psalms 46:4; 65:9; Isaiah 33:20f; Joel 3:18; Zechariah 14:8; John 7:37-39; Revelation 22:1-2.
Ezekiel 47:13-48:35 (Key Passage) — Equal Distribution of Resources: The distribution of the promised land has much to teach us about the Bible’s ideal for equity and social justice. Just as God told Moses to distribute the promised land according to the relative sizes and needs of the various tribes (“To a larger group give a larger inheritance and to a smaller group a smaller one,” Numbers 26:54; cf. Joshua 18-19), Ezekiel’s future vision for the distribution of the promised land affirms God’s underlying concern for economic equity. As the Lord says in Ezekiel 47:14, “You are to divide it [the land] equally among them.” The word “equally” literally means “each according to his brother.” Today, the same principle of justice, or equity, should govern our financial decisions. Though no one has (or should) forcibly divide up all the economic resources in the United States, Christians are responsible to use our resources in a way that faithfully respects the basic principle of economic equity that we see in God’s rule. As the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians while collecting money for the poor in Jerusalem, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality” (2 Corinthians 8:14). Thus, distributing resources equitably as Christians means recognizing that God gives some of us more so that we can bless others who have less (2 Corinthians 9:11).