Sympathy For The Sinner
The lesson will be taken from the book written by God's prophet, Ezekiel, dealing with attitudes that control actions. As Proverbs 4:23 states, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
The prophecies of Ezekiel were not only concerned with Judah but also other nations as he foretold their impending doom. He was concerned with neighboring nations as well as his beloved Judah, especially nations like Babylon and Egypt.
The exile of the people into Babylonian captivity had come in three stages: (1) under Jehoiakim, (2) under Jehoiachin, (3) and under Zedekiah. Ezekiel had been taken into Babylon in the second stage. He warned of the eventual and total collapse of the nation of Judah and it came to pass.
The reason for Judah's destruction was the sinfulness of the people. They broke the covenant with the Lord and gave themselves to idolatry. They not only forsook the true God but also filled the void with heathenism. Even though they had opportunity to do better and a chance to repent, they gave no heed to the exhortations to return to righteousness. Judah and the punishment received is an example to people today that warns against forsaking the Lord. The sure wrath of God is against those who do just as certainly as Northern Israel, Sodom, the people before the flood and other examples. Psalm 1:6, "For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
Justice Of God
Was God just in executing this punishment? God is always just. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7,8). Jeremiah 21:14, “But I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings, saith the Lord.” We have no right to question God's justice or decision. His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9) and evil deserves punishment. What kind of God would He be that would treat righteousness and unrighteousness just alike? We accept the principle of punishment of evil in the everyday affairs of life. Are we more just than God? Why should not the same principle concerning God's dealing with mankind be questioned? As harsh as it may seem to be, Judah got what was coming and what Judah had brought on itself.
Even though the punishment was just, God took no pleasure in punishing. A father may punish his child but he hurts when he does it. When the prophets complained of burdens, the Lord showed how His burden of a rebellious people was far heavier. Ezekiel 18:22, “For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God; wherefore turn yourselves and live ye.”Second Peter 3:9,“...not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Nonetheless, justice demands punishment of evil. It serves a two-fold purpose: (1) as a deterrent, (2) and as the administration of justice.
The Lord God lamented that the doom of Judah was necessary because He loved the people. Like David mourned over the follies of Absalom, God was grieved over Judah's apostasy. Christ mourned over Jerusalem as evidenced in His prayer, Matthew 23:37, “0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” He would prefer for punishment to be unnecessary, but when necessary it was unavoidable. God always prefers to save the evildoer rather than punish him.
Chapters 31 and 32 are God's warnings through Ezekiel against Egypt and its devestation. It was just a matter of time. The warnings are prefaced with words in Ezekiel 30:22-26, "Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I am against Pharoah king of Egypt, and will break his arms, the strong, and that which was broken; and I will cause the sword to fall out of his hand. And I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will disperse them through countries. And I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon, and put my sword in his hand: but I will break Pharoah's arms, and he shall groan before him with the groanings of a deadly wounded man. But I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon, and the arms of Pharoah shall fall down; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall put my sword into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall stretch it out upon the land of Egypt. And I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and disperse them among the countries; and they shall know that I am the Lord.”
The passages call Pharoah a monster or crocodile whose flesh shall be laid upon the mountains. As a huge tree in which many had found refuge, it shall be cut down. The sword of Babylon would come against Egypt and subject Egypt to servitude.
Why would this be done? What provoked it? It was Egypt's pride that would be brought to nought. Proverbs 16: 18, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Egypt was one of the nations surrounding Judah and it was a wicked nation. What was going to be true of Egypt was to be true of others with each getting their due.
Reason For Lamenting
We can understand why God, His prophets and others lamented over Judah. They were God’s chosen people and were offered opportunity to be the recipients of His mercy like a father’s mercy toward his child. They were not expected to be against the Lord as might be expected from those who were always idolatrous and historically wicked. Even so, Ezekiel was told to wail and lament for the multitudes of Egypt. Ezekiel 32:18, “Son of man, wail for the multitude of Egypt.”
Why should God’s prophets mourn over such wicked people in the face of their deserved doom? The answer embraces two great principles, which we observe at work.(1) Justice against evil is a cardinal principle in God’s dealing with mankind.(2) Sympathy for the evildoer is also evident.
Sympathy toward a sinner is characteristic of God.God hates sin and condemns it, but He loves the sinner, even sending His Son to provide for the sinner’s redemption.Romans 5:6-8, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man would even dare to die. But God commendethhis love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
The Prophet’s Problem
Ezekiel had troubles of his own. His own people rejected his words of warning. They sought his counsel, but rejected it once it was given, almost mocking it. He had been taken captive from his homeland and his service in the priesthood. He suffered the death of his beloved wife and was denied the right to grieve. But still he did not ignore the distress of others.
Some feel they are the only ones with burdens. Usually our problems are not as bad as we make them to be, or as bad as many others around us suffer. You have heard of the man who complained for having no shoes until he saw the man with no feet. Another story imagines all the citizens of a city bringing their troubles to the town square and every person could take back with them whatever burden he chose. In the end they all took back their original problems.
Even though a Jew whose nation had suffered from the hands of the Egyptians, Ezekiel was taught to still find room in his heart for grief over the coming destruction of Egypt. It is the usual reaction of people to be moved by their neighbor's troubles. It is an extra quality to be moved by the troubles of those who resist you and oppose you. We should be concerned with the hardships of others and have this attitude even when they bring their troubles on themselves. Is not this the mind of Christ? Hebrews 4:15,16, “For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.”
Reasons For Grief
There is so much in our world over which the righteous can justly grieve. The growth and influence of sin, broken homes, wasted youth, dissipated bodies, the threat of war, hunger, poverty, disease, and on and on. But far worse than the storms and disappointments of a secular and material nature is the impending eternal spiritual doom of millions. While we are expected to condemn sin, and this is a duty before God and man, we grieve over it and sorrow for those enslaved by it. We should have sufficient sorrow to try to do something about it. Hate sin, but show love to the sinner by letting him know there is a better way. When we come to “abhor that which is evil” as we are taught to do (Romans 12:9), we shall be more sympathetic and sorrowful for souls that remain in sin.
Sin should grieve us because it is against God, against the truth we love, and against people whose souls are precious. “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:20).
Looking again at Ezekiel, if the persecuted, ignored, weary and overburdened prophet was to bewail the evil that would fall on the heathen and sinful monster of Egypt, how much more ought the Christian be sympathetic toward his or her fellowman caught in the devil's snare, realizing that the eventual result will demand eternal doom? Sin is not funny. Those caught in it are not to be hated, but pitied and as far as possible, snatched from the fires. James 5:20, “Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multide of sins.”
We would insist that sympathy for evildoers is reasonable. With no compromise with evil, our Lord nonetheless demonstrated this trait. When we have this same attitude in our hearts it will mold our actions toward the lost. We will be less prone to seek their personal destruction, but endeavor to secure their salvation. We will want not that they go to hell, but to turn and go to heaven. We will be less inclined to “get somebody told.” but more to “get one taught.” We will not scoff at the reality of sin nor its destruction of mankind, but more willing to lift up the fallen as did Christ.
Ezekiel, who lived nearly six hundred years before Christ, was to manifest a spirit of sympathy even for those whose sins justifiably brought their punishment upon them. When we have the same spirit, we will seek their forgiveness before God, and rejoice with them in their salvation.