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Stewardship Bible Study Notes (Ezekiel)

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 4:1-17 — While obedience and submission to God’s rule leads to freedom and blessing, Israel’s rebellion left her under siege—cut off from both God and a food supply. Just as God sent an invading army to attack Jerusalem after her people had rebelled against him by worshiping idols (e.g., Ezekiel 6:1-14), we often come under financial attack when we run after and spend all our resources on the materialistic “gods” of our own day. See Ezekiel theme essay Dangers of Wealth.

  • Ezekiel 5:5-17 — See note on Ezekiel 4:1-17.

  • Ezekiel 5:13 — See key passage Ezekiel 16:38.

  • Ezekiel 6:1-14 — See key passage Ezekiel 16:38.

  • 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 8:3 — See key passage Ezekiel 16:38.

  • Ezekiel 8:5-17 — See key passage Ezekiel 16:38.

  • Ezekiel 11:14-25 — Because the Israelites’ covenant relationship with God was tied to the promised land that he had given them, they feared that their exile meant they were cut off from God. On the other hand, the select few who were not taken into exile pridefully supposed that their “possession” of the promised land gave them special entitlements (Ezekiel 11:15). The prophet countered this claim by reminding the exiles that God had not forsaken them. Even though they had been sent away for a time, God had been their sanctuary (Ezekiel 11:16) and had promised their return to possession of the promised land (Ezekiel 11:17). At that time, the idolatrous practices of those who were left would come to an end, and God would restore them to the land and a right relationship with himself (Ezekiel 11:18). One major application from this passage is that our relationship with God is not dependent upon our physical circumstances. If anything, God often uses financial difficulties and even poverty to bring us into closer relationship with him (James 2:6-7). “Exile” is one of the Bible’s most illustrative metaphors for the Christian’s life in this present age. Whenever we confront pain or gain in this life, our challenge is to remember our status as sojourners, pilgrims or strangers in the world, knowing that this corrupted, broken world is not our final home, for when our exile ends, we will take our place in God’s permanent kingdom (James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1-6; Hebrews 11:13-16). Compare this passage with key passage Ezekiel 36:22-37. See Jeremiah and Daniel theme essay Living in Exile and 1 Peter theme essay Pilgrimage.

  • Ezekiel 12:1-20 (Key Passage) — Pack Your Belongings for Exile: Ezekiel’s portrayal of life in exile contains important lessons for Christians because the New Testament teaches us to consider ourselves as “exiles” in this world (James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1-6; Hebrews 11:13-16). One of the major financial applications from Ezekiel 12:1-20 involves the idea of packing our belongings for exile (Ezekiel 12:3). What does this mean? Among other things, it means recognizing that we are not permanent residents in this world and thus living like travelers just passing through on our way to our true home. This means that we ought to “pack light” in terms of the things we accumulate for ourselves because excess baggage will only slow us down (Mark 10:25; Hebrews 12:1). Of course, this does not mean that we ought simply to reject the material blessings that can be enjoyed on the journey. It means that our use of material blessings should maximize our ability to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness rather than our personal peace and prosperity. Failure to understand that we are only exiles and pilgrim travelers in this world will result in despair, especially when we encounter financial difficulties. However, by recognizing our true identity as exiles, we learn that we have something better to anticipate at the journey’s end. See Hebrews theme essay Throw Off What Hinders and 1 Peter theme essay Pilgrimage.

  • Ezekiel 13:17-23 — Here God calls Ezekiel to condemn a group of prophetesses (who were really more like witches) for the way they preyed on God’s people for their own personal profit (Ezekiel 13:19). By extension, this serves as a warning to anyone who would exploit others for personal gain.

  • 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 14:14, 20 — See key passage Job 29:1-25.

  • 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 — This verse describes how Jerusalem perverted God’s perfect blessings by trusting in the gift rather than the Giver. It reminds us that it is never easier to forget about God than when we’ve been richly blessed by him. The sad truth of the matter is that while poverty can engender mistrust, wealth can eliminate the feeling that we need to trust God at all. Money makes us feel mighty—like Pharaoh, who said to Moses, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him ... ?” (Exodus 5:2; cf. Proverbs 30:8-9), or like Israel, who “grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior” (Deuteronomy 32:14-15; cf. 6:10-12). Passages like these remind us that even God’s perfect blessings can be dangerous (Ezekiel 16:14). After all, the more riches and resources we have, the harder it is to trust in God alone. It’s that simple. As Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). Because the dangers of wealth are so great, wisdom calls us to give our excess away, asking God for neither poverty nor riches (Proverbs 30:8-9), just as our Lord taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). See Ezekiel theme essay Dangers of Wealth and 1 and 2 Kings theme essay Accumulation of Wealth.

    • 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 17:1-18 — See key passage Ezekiel 16:1-44.

  • 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 18:5-9 (Key Passage) — Generosity and Righteousness: Biblical righteousness is reflected in the way a person handles his finances, particularly in relation to the poor and oppressed. In Ezekiel’s first list of righteous virtues, (Ezekiel 18:5-9), nine out of 16 deal explicitly with issues of generosity and/or financial faithfulness while another six are more implicitly connected as described below.
    • 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 20:5-6 (Key Passage) — God’s Generosity in History: Two major points emerge from this passage. First, God chose to use generosity at a key time in history to reveal his character and identity. He not only saves his people from bondage but also brings them into a glorious inheritance—“a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ezekiel 20:6). Second, this classic expression of God’s generosity to Israel was a fundamental part of his relationship with his people, for he bound himself to the Israelites by giving them “the most beautiful of all lands.” Accordingly, it is impossible to know who God is or to share a relationship with him apart from what he has given to us (John 3:16). As Christians who are called to live our lives in response to God’s generosity in the gospel, the New Testament calls us to imitate God’s self-giving Son (Ephesians 5:1-2) by sacrificing our material possessions for those who are poor and in need (1 John 3:16-17).

  • 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 20:11-12 — Here God’s commands are counted among the life-giving blessings that he gives to his people. Similarly, in the New Testament we find that God commands us to be generous so that we may take hold of life that is truly life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

  • 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 22 — This chapter contains a catalogue of Jerusalem’s sins in which economic and social injustice are featured among other sins that bring about God’s wrath. In the New Testament the apostle Paul tells us that God’s punishment in the past serves as a warning to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things like the Israelites did (1 Corinthians 10:6). Paul exhorts us to stand firm against the temptation to indulge ourselves in worldly goods and pleasures (1 Corinthians 10:7ff). See Ezekiel theme essay Overfed and Unconcerned.

  • Ezekiel 23 — This chapter contains a metaphorical rendering of the sins of Samaria (Oholah) and Jerusalem (Oholiabah) as well as the punishment that God brought on them. In the New Testament the apostle Paul tells us that God’s punishment (e.g., Ezekiel 23:26, “they will also strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry”) in the past serves as an example to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things like the Israelites did (1 Corinthians 10:6). Paul says that we are not to be idolaters who indulge ourselves in worldly goods and pleasures (1 Corinthians 10:7ff). See Ezekiel theme essays Overfed and Unconcerned and Dangers of Wealth.

  • Ezekiel 23:4 — See key passage Ezekiel 16:38.

  • Ezekiel 23:25 — See key passage Ezekiel 16:38.

  • Ezekiel 25:7 — Ezekiel is told to prophesy against Ammon for their arrogant treatment of God’s sanctuary, land and people (Ezekiel 25:3). Because of their arrogance the Lord promises to give them over as “plunder to the nations” (Ezekiel 25:7).

  • 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 27:3 — See note on Ezekiel 28:5.

    • Ezekiel 27:33-34 — Like the rich fool in Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:13-21), the Tyrians were financially “set for life” when death came. All too often, we forget that we can’t take our wealth with us when we die.

    • Ezekiel 28:5 — One of the dangers of wealth is that it leads to pride and a sense of self-sufficiency. Money makes us feel mighty and blinds us to our need for God’s mercy (cf. Proverbs 30:8-9). While poverty can engender mistrust, prosperity can eliminate the feeling that we need to trust God at all. As God said to the king of Tyre, “[B]ecause of your wealth your heart has grown proud.” See Ezekiel theme essay Dangers of Wealth.
  • Ezekiel 28:18 — This verse is significant because it associates the king of Tyre’s wealth with dishonest business practices. In other words, it was not the wealth itself that was wicked, but the sinful way in which the wealth was acquired. However, as Ezekiel 28:5 indicates, wealth does have a corrupting influence on the human heart—so much so that Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). See Ezekiel theme essays Overfed and Unconcerned and Dangers of Wealth.

  • Ezekiel 33:23-33 — Those left after the destruction of Jerusalem greedily and pridefully see themselves as inheriting everything that has been left. After all, they thought, if Abraham could inherit the promised land as one man, they could certainly inherit the thing as a few thousand or so. Ezekiel responds by telling them that God will not allow those who disobey his commands to inherit his blessings. Those who were left in Jerusalem knew how to talk the talk, but in reality they were just “greedy for unjust gain” (Ezekiel 33:31). See Ezekiel theme essay Overfed and Unconcerned.

  • Ezekiel 34:1-10 — This passage condemns the shepherds of God’s people for their greed and selfishness. These “shepherds” not only have failed to care for the weak and seek the lost, but also have fleeced and feasted upon God’s flock. God declares that he will hold the shepherds accountable for this irresponsibility (Ezekiel 34:10). Ezekiel 34:1-10 may be compared with passages in the New Testament that require church leaders to be models of financial faithfulness (1 Timothy 3:3; 6:5; Titus 1:11; 1 Peter 5:2; 2 Peter 2:3; Jude 1:11). God commands that pastors and elders not be lovers of money because he hates when church leaders cozy up to the rich, neglect the needy and skirt unpopular truths in his word (2 Peter 2:3). The pew is not higher than the pulpit, and God seldom uses a me-first pastor to change an us-first church (Randy Alcorn). Accordingly, the apostle Peter says that those who lead must be eager to serve and not greedy to gain (1 Peter 5:1-4). See Zechariah theme essay Stewarding the Flock and 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus theme essay Leaders and Financial Faithfulness.

  • Ezekiel 34:17-22 — As the focus turns from the shepherds (Ezekiel 34:1-10) to the sheep, we are reminded that we are individually responsible for our actions. Pastors and church leaders are not the only ones who must deal generously with God’s flock. God will judge between the fat sheep and the skinny sheep (Ezekiel 34:21)—those who are selfish and those who are generous. This passage’s emphasis on the misuse and abuse of material resources is remarkably similar to the way that Jesus himself described the final judgment in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Here Jesus explains that the righteous will be separated from the unrighteous based on the way they used or refused to use their material resources on behalf of the poor, hungry, thirsty and naked. In fact, Jesus identifies himself so closely with the poor that the way we use or fail to use our money on their behalf is directly connected to our relationship with God himself. Accordingly, God will judge those who oppress or neglect the needs of the poor. See Ezekiel theme essay Overfed and Unconcerned, Matthew theme essay Judgment and Reward and Luke theme essay God’s Special Concern for Outcasts.

  • Ezekiel 36:1-7 — God promises to punish the enemies of Israel’s mountains for plundering God’s land and saying, “Aha! The ancient heights have become our possession.” Here, we should take special notice of just how centrally the sin robbing God is featured. Of the sins identified in Ezekiel, it is the quintessential sin of the enemy nations. Have we become God’s enemies or robbed him in our failure to be generous (cf. Malachi 3:8-12)? See Malachi theme essay Robbing God.

  • 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 36:35 — See key passage Ezekiel 16:38.

  • Ezekiel 37:27 (Key Passage) — Belonging to God: The covenant relationship God shares with his people hinges on the idea of belonging. As the Lord says, “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” When we look for something in addition to this relationship for our security and significance, the problem is not that we want too much but too little. See Zechariah theme essay Belonging to God.

  • Ezekiel 38:10-13 — This brief passage describes Gog’s wicked plan to invade and plunder the defenseless and unsuspecting Israelite community. Commentator John B. Taylor explains that the force of Ezekiel 38:13 seems to be that Gog’s plans have roused the greed of other nations. “They are typical of those who will not initiate wrong-doing, but are eager to cash in on the proceeds of it” (John B. Taylor, Ezekiel, 245). The temptation to grab a piece of the pie without regard for the cost or to participate passively in injustice is something with which most of us struggle. Whether we know it or not, we are often the beneficiaries of other people’s misfortunes. As Christians, however, it is not enough for us to refuse direct participation in injustice. We must positively “do justice” (e.g., Micah 6:8) and vehemently oppose those who prey upon weak and unprotected members of our communities, like Job, who “broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth” (Job 29:17).

  • Ezekiel 38:19 — See key passage Ezekiel 16:38.

  • Ezekiel 39:28 — See key passage Ezekiel 37:27.

  • Ezekiel 43:13-27 (Key Passage) — Requirement of Sacrifice: In the past, sacrifices were laid on God’s altar as burnt offerings. These gifts ultimately anticipated the sacrifice that Jesus would make on the cross “once and for all.” Today we also are commanded to give to God. But now, rather than anticipating Jesus’ payment for our sins, we respond to God’s gift of Jesus and the sacrifice he made. In Malachi 3:1-4 the prophet explains that this is why Jesus was sent: so that our imperfect sacrifices would be made acceptable and pleasing to God. Now that Christ has come, the sacrifices we offer are no longer burnt on an altar, but they are sung in worship, spoken in thanksgiving and shared through tangible acts of mercy and generosity (Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:15-16). Thus, the sacrifice of material possessions remains an essential part of Christian worship, just as it was when the sacrificial system applied. The difference lies in that today our gifts no longer are given in payment of sin but as a continual expression of the fact that payment has been made—a reality that ought to inspire greater sacrifice, not less. See Malachi theme essay Jesus and Acceptable Offerings.

  • Ezekiel 44:28-31 (Key Passage) — Support for Church and Ministry Workers: God promised that he would give each tribe in Israel its own inheritance in the promised land, but to the Levites he said, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites” (Numbers 18:20). This priestly provision is reiterated here in Ezekiel 44:28-31. In place of a portion in the land, God became the priests’ “inheritance,” just as God himself is the ultimate inheritance of every true believer. In addition, God gave the Levites the firstfruits of Israel in order to provide for their material needs. Similarly, the New Testament reminds us that we are responsible to support religious leaders like pastors and missionaries, linking this responsibility with the Old Testament principle: “[T]hose who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar ... In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13-14; cf. Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). Of course, this does not mean that pastors should always demand their “rights,” as Paul’s example illustrates (1 Corinthians 9:15-27). See Numbers theme essay Support for Ministers of the Gospel and Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy theme essay Tithing and Generosity.

  • Ezekiel 45:8b-9 (Key Passage) — Give Up Violence and Oppression and Do What Is Just and Right: In this passage God castigates the rulers of Israel for the way they have exploited their power. The most famous example of such oppression appears in 1 Kings 21, which tells the story of how King Ahab stole Naboth’s vineyard and later had him killed. Scholars point out, however, that this was hardly an isolated incident, as Samuel’s warning to the people about the “ways of kings” suggests (1 Samuel 8:14). In fact, Nathan’s description of David’s adultery with Bathsheba makes it clear that King David himself was guilty of using his power and position to confiscate things that did not belong to him (2 Samuel 12:1-4). Instead of behaving like the kings of the past, the rulers of Israel are to pursue justice and righteousness. As Christians who know the King of kings and the Lord of lords, we know what this kind of justice and righteousness looks like. While the kings of the earth may establish their rule by clinging to power and possessions, we serve a King who has come to power and wealth through the generosity of the cross—the true picture of justice and righteousness. See also key passage Deuteronomy 17:14-20. See 1 and 2 Kings theme essays Accumulation of Wealth and Keeping the Covenant.

  • Ezekiel 45:10-12 (Key Passage) — God and the Marketplace: Here we see God’s unambiguous interest in financial affairs. Money matters, and God insists that our business practices reflect his standards of righteousness and justice (cf. Leviticus 19:35; Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Proverbs 11:1; 20:10, 23; Ezekiel 45:10; Hosea 12:7-8; Amos 8:5; Micah 6:10-11; Luke 6:35-38). Financial faithfulness is not a peripheral aspect of Christianity but is central to biblical godliness. As Jesus taught us, money and the heart are inseparable: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). See Ezekiel theme essay Overfed and Unconcerned.

  • 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 46:1-16 — See key passage Ezekiel 43:13-27.

  • 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).
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    Study Notes by Chapter

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    Major Giving Themes

  • Dangers of Wealth
  • God’s Jealousy
  • Overfed and

    Key Passages

  • 7:1-13 (The End Has
  • 12:1-20 (Pack Your
             Belongings for
  • 14:1-9 (Idols of the
  • 16:1-44 (Perverting
             God’s Perfect
  • 16:38 (God’s
  • 16:49 (Sin of Sodom)
  • 18:4 (God’s Absolute
  • 18:5-9 (Generosity
  • 20:5-6 (God’s
             Generosity in
  • 20:7-29 (Get Rid of
  • 26-28:19 (Prophecy
             against Tyre)
  • 36:22-37 (God’s
             Glory Revealed in
  • 37:27 (Belonging to
  • 43:13-27
             (Requirement of
  • 44:28-31 (Support
             for Church and
             Ministry Workers)
  • 45:8b-9 (Give Up
             Violence and
             Oppression and
             Do What Is Just and
  • 45:10-12 (God and
             the Marketplace)
  • 46:16-18 (Property
  • 47:1-12 (River of
  • 47:13-48:35 (Equal
             Distribution of

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