Ezekiel 20:1 Now in the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth of the month, certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and sat before me. And the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Do you come to inquire of Me? As I live,” declares the Lord GOD, “I will not be inquired of by you.”‘
Chapter 20 of Ezekiel repeats the litany of abominations, rebellions, apostasies, and perversions that Israel has committed and wallowed in since He brought them out of Egypt a millennia ago. But certain leaders of Israel among the Diaspora now come to Ezekiel to ask for a word from the Lord, as if they were really interested in knowing what God had to say to them, as if their hearts really leaned to the things of the Spirit. As if they really would follow any of God’s words and teachings. Just like they had all those hundreds of years before. They must have expected to hear their fantasies confirmed.
It reminds me of churchgoers, coming to church Sunday after Sunday, because that is what they have always done. It is in their culture, to follow the rules and regulations. It defines their spirituality, that they honor the ceremonies and customs handed down from their fathers for generations. But for the most part it is a mere following of form and custom. Like going to work, like having he same thing for breakfast each morning. It is mere habit. As long as they follow the rules and regulations they satisfy the spiritual requirements their religion requires and they are absolved of all their sins by the hour or so spent in a church building each Sunday. Philip Schaff write of this life, “Piety which should proceed from a living union of the soul with Christ and a consecration of character, was turned outward and reduced to a round of mechanical performances such as the recital of Paternosters and Avemarias, fasting, alms-giving, confession to the priest, and pilgrimage to a holy shrine. Good works were measured by the quantity rather than the quality, and vitiated by the principle of meritoriousness which appealed to the selfish motive of reward.” * I can relate, I was one of them for my entire youth, being an alter boy, assisting at Mass in Latin, memorizing the requisite Latin, bows, genuflections, tinkling of bells. Not having the least inkling of the power of the Gospel that remained concealed by the fog of my own selfish heart.
But upon walking out of the gilded, stained-glass building all those trappings and constrictions of spirituality were quickly shed as impediments to living in the real word, and were quickly discarded like muddy boots on the porch. The vulgarity, blaspheming God’s name, evil attitudes and behaviors, drunkenness, abuses, continue unabated, as I witnessed the families walking before me. Just like these elders approaching Ezekiel asking for the word from the Lord while their hearts were far away.
God is not fooled. He is not mocked. Through Ezekiel He categorically states He will not be inquired of by these impostors.
It takes more than just entering a church building, chanting pious phrases from a missal, consuming a wafer, dipping fingertips in holy water, genuflecting, making the sign of the cross. It is the relationship of the heart, a walking with God (Micah 6:8). A living, breathing face to face, heart to heart with the Living God that redeems. No amount of ablutions or prayer book chanting by an unregenerate heart can draw one’s soul closer to God. Such an approach is arrogance and is nothing short of blasphemy. And the word of the Lord makes crystal clear in this chapter that such insolence will be utterly harshly dealt with. But in the quiet of your heart God is calling for repentance, to “know that I am the Lord your God.” So seek the Lord that you may live. Way back when God protected His people in the dessert He foretold of these days of exile because of their apostasy but promised them a way back: “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. Deut. 4:29 With all their heart. With all their soul. Not the shallowness of habit. Not halfhearted laziness. But out of genuine care and concern and love, a driving motivation of firm purpose. Then He will be glad to be inquired of by that heart. And it will be a beautiful thing.
* Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The
German Reformation, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910, p. 9
[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]