By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Ezekiel 25.1-39.29
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Book of Ezekiel in conjunction with this article.
Despair and Desolation
The title of our article is a place where no one wants to be. No one should want to feel despair. No one should want to experience desolation. Despair without desolation is difficult enough. Desolation without despair is tragedy. Despair conjoined with desolation is a situation that drains us emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and physically. The two together almost defines hopelessness. What is one to do without hope? It is to this picture of hopelessness that we turn our attention this week.
Recipients of Despair
Misery is the focus of chapters twenty-five through, at least, chapter thirty-nine with a small reprieve in chapters thirty-six and the Valley of Bones in chapter thirty-seven. For the most part, the anguish and misery in these chapters are against the nations surrounding ancient Israel and not toward Israel herself. While this section primarily is prophecy against nations other than Israel, we should recall that Jehovah is the God of all nations.1
In this long section we find prophecy against the Ammonites,2 against Tyrus,3 and against Egypt4 but we also find information and prophecies specific to Israel,5 prophecy against Mount Seir6 in the region of the Edomites, and against Gog and Magog.7 Within these prophesies against these nations, we will find some explanations of why Jehovah is taking action.
Reason for Despair
Take for example the prophecy against the Ammonites, it had a primary cause with a three-fold undercurrent. Their primary problem seems to be gloating, their reveling and rejoicing against Israel when: 1) the Temple was profaned, 2) Israel was laid waste, and 3) when Judah went into exile.8 Consider the reason for the prophecy against Tyrus, it is because Tyrus proclaimed against Israel, “Ha! She is shattered, the gateway of the peoples. Now that she is ruined, her riches will be mine.”9 But it is not just her proclamation and desire to spoil Israel, it is Tyrus’ disposition of superiority,
Because you are so proud and have said, “I am a god; I sit on the throne of God, surrounded by the sea”; yet you are a man, not God, even though you think that you think like God. Sure, you are wiser than [Daniel]! No secret can be hidden from you! By your wisdom and discernment you have acquired wealth, you have gathered gold and silver into your treasuries. By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth, and it is because of your wealth that you have become so proud.10
But perhaps the greatest reason for all of this is found toward the close of the thirty-ninth chapter. It is here that we find the following,
Thus will I display my glory among the nations, so that all the nations will see my judgment when I execute it and my hand when I lay it on them. From that day on, the house of [Israel] will know that I am [the LORD (YHWH)] their God; while the [the nations] will know that the house of [Israel] went into exile because of their guilt, because they broke faith with me; so that I hid my face from them and handed them over to their adversaries; and they fell by the sword, all of them. Yes, I treated them as their uncleanness and crimes deserved; and I hid my face from them.11
Growth from Despair?
Is it possible that despair and desolation, utter ruin, can bring growth? Consider a volcano. In its wake, a volcano brings despair and desolation, destroying the land, wiping away not only vegetation but also habitation, occupation, and recreation. Sometimes lives are ruined, if not physically lost to the destruction. But with time what was once great misery and anguish gives life to new beauty and livelihood. In one way, one can say that if the destruction had not occurred, even when costly, new growth, new opportunity, new appreciation would not be. But what does this mean for spiritual growth?
Spiritual growth, like any other aspect of life, comes from endurance of despair and desolation. By losing games, athletes learn how to win. In like manner, soldiers learn from past losses (their own and/or others) how to win future battles. Children learn how to successfully ride a bicycle through failure. Extreme athletes perform spectacular tricks because of their past crashes. It seems natural to conclude that growth comes from failure to reach the mark, and then pressing on toward success anyway. So, why does this approach seem so gruesome in the area of spiritual growth, if in all things, we grow through pain? Even in scientific discoveries, humanity has grown and achieved through loss (e.g. the Hubble Telescope, Space Shuttles Challenger and Discovery, the deaths of the crew of Apollo 1).
While this section of scripture seems unfair, the goal — as seen in chapter thirty-nine — seems fairly straight forward. Growth comes from despair. Humanity seems to accept growth in all aspects (science, commerce, government) and in just about every way, but less for the development of spirituality. Perhaps, this is because the spirit is too easily pushed aside since it is not easily visible. The wind blowing through the trees is not visible, but there is no person who would deny the wind’s existence. As we close, let us choose to learn, choose to grow, and choose to learn and grow not just from our own mistakes, but by learning from the mistakes and successes of others. May we be blessed by the LORD as we seek to understand and to do his will.
1. “God of All Nations.” Psalm 67.1-2, 72.17, Isaiah 2.2, NASB.
2. “Against the Ammonites” Ezekiel 25.1-17, NASB.
3. “Against Tyrus.” Ezekiel 26.1-28.26, NASB.
4. “Against Egypt.” Ezekiel 29.1-32.32, NASB.
5. “Specific to Israel.” Ezekiel 33.1-34.31, 36.1-37.28, NASB.
6. “Against Mount Seir.” Ezekiel 35.1-15, NASB.
7. “Against Gog and Magog.” Ezekiel 38.1-39.20, NASB.
8. “Reason against Ammonites.” Ezekiel 25.3, Quote CJB; Link NASB.
9. “Reason one against Tyrus.” Ezekiel 26.2, Quote CJB; Link NASB.
10. “Reason two against Tyrus.” Ezekiel 28.2-5, Quote CJB; Link NASB.
11. “The Great Reason.” Ezekiel 39.21-24, Quote CJB; Link NASB.