The People’s Proneness to Rebellion Throughout Redemptive History
Apparently, because of the thorough and exhaustive detail that proves the genuine conversion and real righteousness of the people of Israel (accounted in the previous section), we are well-advised to conclude that God employed “memory-omitting” powers to make the statements found in Deuteronomy 9:7-12, 9:24, 31:27, 1 Samuel 8:7-8, Jeremiah 7:25-26, 22:21, 32:30-31, & Ezra 9:7 (denouncements that are intentionally regardless of the people’s genuine conversion and real righteousness). With irrefutable detail scripture confirmed the people’s genuine conversion and real righteousness all throughout time, notwithstanding their proneness to rebellion throughout redemptive history. Two primary points being communicated by the divine argumentation are, as follows:
These passages reference the frequency of rebellious instances (such that truly converted people commit during repeated backslidings) rather than a continuous state of rebellion (such that unconverted people commit without intermission).
The people’s proneness to rebellion throughout redemptive history was thus spoken – through the employment of memory-omitting powers – to emphasize the provocative nature of the people’s frequent backslidings, to wit: the people would comprehend how hardly they escaped the wrath of God as their just desert and that, shockingly, their near annihilation (instead of a total annihilation) was only possible through the justice-shattering intervention of Sovereign Mercy!
My reader, it is not a mistake that Ezekiel 18:1-32 is one of the few places in all of scripture where God makes a specific reference to the employment of “memory-omitting” powers. Hereby, because the content of the Chapter brings into view the vast and ongoing redemptive history of the Israelite people, the use of God’s “memory-omitting” powers is underscored as a reckoning point to dissolve any outstanding controversies both then and now. Remember, the argument was plain and necessarily repetitive in response to the confounded people. Clarity, as I say, as is demonstrated in Ezekiel 18:20-24.
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.” – Ezek. 18:20-24
In the wider context, God’s “memory-omitting” powers are used for the salvation of sinners (by way of forgiveness) and the damnation of the righteousness (by way of unforgiveness) to un-regenerated and regenerated men alike. Therefore here, God’s “sin-forgetting” powers are exactly like His “righteousness-forgetting” powers. The promise, “I will remember no more”, in Heb. 8:12, is exactly like the promise, “his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered him”, in Ezek. 3:20 & Ezek. 18:24. I say again, God operates in “memory-omitting” powers for regenerate and unregenerate men, in account of sin and righteousness committed (with continuance without repentance), just as it is written (see Ezek. 18:21-24 [specifically verses 22 & 24], and see Ezek. 3:20, Heb. 8:12, 10:17)? God is able to forget sins and then remember them again, truly! And God is able to forget righteousness and remember it again, likewise! Should not this “memory-omitting” power be held in balance with the promise, “their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 10:17), especially because there is a subsequent warning given; namely, the remembrance of sins which were formerly forgotten (of blood-bought saints [Heb. 10:19] who were thereby, “sanctified” through blood-sprinkling, then becoming disqualified from atoning mercies which were provided by the “sacrifice” of Christ (Heb. 10:26-29 [compare Heb. 10:26-28 with Numbers 15:28-31, compare Heb. 10:29 with Num. 15:31 & Ezek. 3:20]). You see, my reader, men perished and will perish in the Old Covenant and New Covenant alike because, God executed justice in “memory-omitting”, atonement-mercy disqualifying, and promise-breaching powers! The Condescension of God makes possible such repentances; the Lord going back on what He thought and said (see Jer. 18:7-11 or Ezek. 33:12-20 as a brief example). Even so, take a closer look at the controverted passages and remember the clarity provided by Ezekiel 18:20-24 (the fact that real righteousness was lost and then forgotten, and for others, on the contrary, real sin was lost and then forgotten). With these things in mind, the meaning of the following passages is clear.
“Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the LORD thy God to wrath in the Wilderness: from the day that thou didst depart out of the land of Egypt, until ye came unto this place, ye have been rebellious against the LORD. Also in Horeb ye provoked the LORD to wrath, so that the LORD was angry with you to have destroyed you. When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant which the LORD made with you, then I abode in the mount forty days and forty nights, I neither did eat bread nor drink water: And the LORD delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly. And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the LORD gave me the two tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant. And the LORD said unto me, Arise, get thee down quickly from hence; for thy people which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt have corrupted themselves; they are quickly turned aside out of the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten image…Ye have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I knew you.” – Deut. 9:7-12, 24
“For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death?” - Deut. 31:27
“And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.” - 1 Samuel 8:7-8
“Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them: Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers.” - Jeremiah 7:25-26
“I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear. This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not My voice.” - Jeremiah 22:21
“For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have only done evil before me from their youth: for the children of Israel have only provoked me to anger with the work of their hands, saith the LORD. For this city hath been to me as a provocation of mine anger and of my fury from the day that they built it even unto this day; that I should remove it from before My face, Because of all the evil of the children of Israel and of the children of Judah, which they have done to provoke Me to anger, they, their kings, their princes, their priests, and their prophets, and the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” - Jeremiah 32:30-31 [Isa. 1:2, 21-22, Jer. 2:1-2, 2:21]
“Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day.” - Ezra 9:7
My reader, there is no reason to be disturbed by these various statements notating the frequency of Israelite rebellion from the very beginning. These statements are absolutely consistent with the doctrine of Sovereign Mercy and needful for highminded Christians or Jews to be convinced of their many abominations that they have committed against the LORD insomuch that He thought to totally annihilate them many times, and only by intercession were they scarcely saved therefrom. The truth is, the people didn’t deserve to persevere in God’s plan of salvation. Rather, they deserved to be destroyed time and time again. Only through Sovereign Mercy did they continue onward as God’s covenanted people.
Through “memory-omitting” powers God is able to forget the righteousness of backsliders and accuse them as if it was altogether nonexistent and unworthy to be mentioned (“his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered” – Ezek. 3:20; “all his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned” – Ezek. 18:24). Hence, in the aforementioned passages of controversy, the scripture rightly accused the people by declaring that they had been “rebellious against the LORD from the day that [Moses] knew [them]” (Deut. 9:7-12, 24); that “all the works which they had done since the day that [God] brought them up out of Egypt even unto [Samuel’s day]”, the people had forsaken God and committed idolatry (1 Sam. 8:7-8); that the people had “only done evil before [God] from their youth” and “only provoked [God] to anger with the work of their hands” unto Jeremiah’s day (Jer. 32:30-31). Upon revisiting the controverted passages with God’s “memory-omitting” powers in mind, the actual meaning is both apparent and perfectly united with the real situation – the provocative situation of sinning saints resulting in a scarcity of salvation amidst God’s judgment upon the Church – hence, the totality of Biblical Church History surveys the Near Annihilation of God’s People and, meanwhile, the triumphant and undeserved administration of Sovereign Mercy (“For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” - Rom. 9:15-16)!
In Jeremiah and Ezekiel’s day, at last, a horrifying transition took place, to wit: Moses’ and Samuel’s intercessory powers were no longer viable (Jer. 15:1), the intercessor Jeremiah was thus denied, and the people were terrifyingly forsaken by God like never before! …ah, but Sovereign Mercy made appeals in Ezekiel 18:1-32, promises to grant life and salvation to the penitent Evil Figs who stood amidst the storms of wrath that whelmed to destroy them! The intercessory righteousness of Job, Noah, and Daniel could not prevail anyone but themselves (Ezek. 14:12-23), but God had a plan of redemption still yet! So, in reference to the Evil Figs to whom Ezekiel prophesied in Ezekiel 18:1-32, let me ask you:
What is slow about how God is, “slow to anger” (Ps. 103:8, Neh. 9:17)? What is the cause by which we can understand His slowness? What is so plentiful about how “plenteous in mercy” God is (Ps. 103:8)? What is so manifold about God when He was praised and thanked for the attribute called, “manifold mercies” (Neh. 9:19, 27)? Hereby, in studying the plenteousness and manifold numbers of God’s mercy, how would this affect our understanding of “the riches of [God’s] glory on vessels of mercy”, in the mercies of predestinating election? What is the greatness of mercy when it was said that God is, “so great in His mercy” (Ps. 103:11)? What is the greatness of God’s faithfulness when it was said, “great is Thy faithfulness” (Lam. 3:23)? What is pitiful about God’s pity toward His saints when it was said, “as a father pitieth His children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him” (Ps. 103:13)? What is so praise-worthy about God’s tender Fatherhood to you, His child? What is so exclamatory when it was stated that God, “delighteth in mercy”, in relationship to the remnant’s salvation from the damning anger of the Almighty (Micah 7:18-19)? What is so magnificent about the changelessness of God, how the Lord said, “I change not” (Mal. 3:6)? When you consider the great mercies of God, how that He is “a gracious and merciful God” (Neh. 9:31, 17), what is it that you are pondering exactly? With what readiness is God “ready to pardon” (Neh. 9:17)?
Understandably so, the fact that a near-annihilating wrath came upon God’s people, the Evil Figs, rather than a total annihilation, is slowness to anger, little wrath, and a little displeasure, comparatively to what God thought, intended, wanted, said, or could have done in the cause of pure, undefiled, unrestrained justice. If a remnant is spared, then, lo, we have much to be thankful for! Sovereign Mercy found and preserved repentant men who were directly targeted and unjustly overpassed while their comrades fell dead on every side! Unjustly so, I say, because the LORD will soon elaborate upon this point, saying: “And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have wrought with you for my name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord God” (Ezek. 20:44).
Furthermore, consider the activity of Sovereign Mercy in reference to the Good Figs. The spiritual blessings associated with the physical location of Babylon, the place the Good Figs were forced into (while remaining in heart as Evil Figs), was a dissolvement of the Church as they knew it to be according to Covenantal Ideals via misapplied promises. Then, in Babylon, while longing to be in Jerusalem with the Evil Figs, the Jews found themselves in audience unto Ezekiel the Prophet so that, at last, the by the exercise, the Good Figs would become good after all! Salvation, life, and safety in the local Church of Babylon was an unthinkable transition from where they once were, doctrinally speaking. This was a local Church that they declared impossible and decried as nonexistent – the local Church that thrived amidst impossible circumstances in the Evil Fig’s perspective! And, remember, the location itself was the place wherein Sovereign Mercy was to be reckoned upon, a location that the evil-obsessed Good Figs didn’t want to go! Therefore, the Good Figs, like the elect among the Evil Figs, were vessels of mercy BECAUSE, while they committed the same sins as those who fell under the wrath of God, they did not continuously and steadfastly commit those sins – they repented at last so that, in the sequence of time (through the exercise of Tribulation), the totally annihilating wrath that targeted them overpassed them, hardly missing them, and they became the vessels of Sovereign Mercy. Undoubtedly, this is what we are made to learn by Ezekiel 18:1-32. God’s within-time and in-the-moment repentance over the otherwise doomed population of Evil Figs (doomed to suffer a total annihilation) is a clarion revelation of just how God administered Sovereign Mercy throughout all of redemptive history. Vessels that were, as the rest, committed to annihilation and cast into the fiery furnace of wrath, did on the morrow, however, REPENT! The Almighty, also, intent upon the annihilation of all while gazing into the burning furnace of wrath and destruction, heard the despairing cries of the penitent and at last, REPENTED! Suddenly, at once, God reached His hand into the fiery furnace and plucked out the penitent vessels from the Tribulatory Flames! Even so, it was written: “is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” – Zech. 3:2 [“I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning…” – Amos 4:11] Still alive, scarcely though, the elect vessels went abroad into the Nations declaring the Majesty of the LORD and vindicating the righteousness of the notoriously offensive Great Tribulation (Isa. 24:13-15)!
For a closer and more detailed survey of how God brought the elect from among the Evil Figs to repentance, see Jeremiah 30:1-31:40. This portion of prophecy was given to Jeremiah synchronically at the same time as Ezekiel received Ezekiel 18:1-32. Remember, the Evil Figs were murmuring, saying, “Why? Doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father?” (Ezek. 18:19), because meanwhile people were dying on every side and the people didn’t believe any of these individuals were wicked. Remember, this is why the LORD detailed the character of a righteous and just man in the Land of Israel (Ezek. 18:5-9). Ah, but they will be convinced of sin at last through and not without what Jeremiah prophetically calls, “Jacob’s Trouble”. “Alas! For the Day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s Trouble; but he shall be saved out of it” (Jer. 30:7).