Lesson 11: The Men Who Had Connections With God (Ezekiel 14:12-20)Related Media
Have you ever had connections that got you special treatment? Everyone else was waiting in a long line, when your connection took you to the front of the line. No one else could get tickets to the sold-out event, but your connection got you the best seats in the house. There were 50 applicants for the job, but your connection made sure your resume got special consideration.
When my uncle was an enlisted man in the Air Force, he knew a colonel who went to his church. One day at the base, the colonel saw my uncle in the enlisted men’s mess line and came over and invited him to join him at the officer’s mess. He even carried my uncle’s tray through the line! The other enlisted men thought, “Wow! That guy must have something on the ‘old man’!” He had connections! As they say, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know, that counts!”
If you need connections, the best connection of all is to have connections with God. If you can get through to God so that you get special consideration from Him—that’s going straight to the top! He’s what you might call, The Ultimate Connection.
But maybe you’re thinking, “Does God have favorites? I thought that He received everyone equally. Can we really have connections with God?” The answer is, God may not have favorites, but He does have intimates. Some people have connections with God in a way that others do not. When they pray, God listens. I’d like us to see how we can join them.
In at least two Scriptures, God acknowledges that certain men had special influence with Him. In Jeremiah 15:1, God tells the prophet that even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before Him, His heart would not be with this people, so great is their sin. The implication is that these two men normally had special influence, although in this case, even they would not prevail. But since we’ve already studied Moses, I want us to look at another text, Ezekiel 14:14, where God tells Ezekiel that even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were to pray for this people, He would not grant deliverance, except to these men alone. Clearly, Noah, Daniel, and Job had connections with God.
Chronologically, these events occurred about five or six years before Jeremiah’s prayer (32:16-25, which we studied earlier) during the siege of Jerusalem. A number of Judeans, including Ezekiel, had been taken captive to Babylon, but Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar had set Zedekiah over Judah. He chafed under Babylonian rule for a while, but then he foolishly disregarded Jeremiah’s prophetic warnings and rebelled, leading to Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the city and the temple.
But five or six years before that final destruction, some Israelite elders living in Babylon came to Ezekiel to inquire as to whether the Lord would spare their homeland. The Lord revealed to Ezekiel that these men, who were outwardly pious, inwardly had set up idols in their hearts (14:3). So after exhorting them to put away their inward idols, Ezekiel gave them this word from the Lord, that Israel’s sin was too great for deliverance. Even if these three godly men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were to pray, it would be in vain.
Some scholars doubt whether this Daniel is the contemporary of Ezekiel because the spelling of his name varies slightly from that in the Book of Daniel. They postulate that this is a Daniel not mentioned in the Bible, but rather one (whose name also is spelled slightly differently) mentioned in an ancient Canaanite epic who was mainly known as a dispenser of fertility, but also as an upright man (John Taylor, Ezekiel, Tyndale OT Commentaries IVP], p. 129). I find this incredible! The Jews in exile would not have held up such a pagan mythic figure as a man having influence with God. Even though he was a young man, Daniel already had distinguished himself as a man of prayer by interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Clearly, the biblical Daniel is intended, even though the spelling varies slightly (see Ralph Alexander, Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], 6:808).
As to why he is listed in the middle of two men who lived over 1,500 years before, we can’t be sure. All three men were noted for their righteousness, which is why God picked them for special mention. Some suggest that the order reflects an increasingly stringent application of the principle: Noah delivered his own family from God’s judgment; Daniel delivered his three friends; but Job lost even his children during his trial (Patrick Fairbairn, An Exposition of Ezekiel [Sovereign Grace Publishers], p. 75). But at any rate, God mentions four times that in the present situation, these three could only deliver themselves (14:14, 16, 18, 20). Twice God says that the cause of their deliverance would be their righteousness (14:14, 20). Clearly, it was their righteousness that gave these men connections with God.
To pray effectively, we must be righteous people.
“Righteous” is a rare word in American Christianity in our day. It may sound a bit strange in your ears. There are dozens of best-selling Christian books about how to find fulfillment in your personal life or marriage, but there are very few that tell you how to be righteous. If you were invited to have lunch with a man known for his righteousness, would you even want to go? Do you want to be known as a righteous man or woman? But it’s the righteous person who has connections with God. James 5:16 tells us that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Let’s see what it means to be righteous so that we can pray effectively.
1. Righteous people have appropriated the righteousness that comes by faith.
The Bible uses word “righteous” in two ways. It is used of the righteousness of faith, which is called imputed righteousness (Rom. 3:21-4:25). This kind of righteousness stands in contrast to our good works. Paul states, “By the works of the Law [‘good works’] no flesh will be justified [‘declared righteous’] in His sight” (Rom. 3:20). A few verses later he repeats, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28). Our works cannot justify us because God is perfectly holy. One sin is enough to separate us eternally from God in His holiness. All the good works in the world cannot cover our sin.
Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh, is the only one who ever lived a sinless life. His death on the cross satisfied God’s justice as payment for our sins. When a person believes God concerning the work of Christ in dying for his sins, God credits the righteousness of Jesus Christ to that person. He views that person judicially just as righteous as Christ is. That is imputed righteousness. We know that Noah had been justified by faith because Hebrews 11:7 states that his obedience in building the ark shows that he was “an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” In other words, by Noah’s faith, God counted him as righteous. That faith manifested itself in his obedience in building the ark.
It is essential that you understand and appropriate this truth personally or you will be hopelessly frustrated in your attempts to be a righteous person. There is one prayer that any unrighteous person, no matter how great his sin, can pray and know that God will answer: “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (see Luke 18:9-14). The instant a person by faith lays hold of God in that way, on the basis of grace, apart from good works, God imputes Christ’s righteousness to that person. Until we have appropriated this righteousness which is by faith, we have no basis for approaching God and expecting to be heard. Everything else I’m going to say assumes that you have this righteousness by faith in Christ.
2. Righteous people walk with God.
This is the second way the word righteousness is used in the Bible, to refer to right conduct which stems from being justified (“declared righteous”) by faith. It means “conformity to a standard” and points to the behavior of those who live by God’s revealed standards of right and wrong. When Genesis 6:9 says that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time,” it’s referring to his conduct. Because Noah had found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8) through faith (Heb. 11:7), he had a right standing with God which now revealed itself in his right conduct. Genesis 6:9 adds that Noah walked with God. That’s true of all who have been declared righteous through faith: They walk with God. That means at least five things, as seen in the lives of these three men:
(1) Walking with God means faith in God.
Here I mean not just saving faith, but also a life of constant trust in God. Faith means believing God concerning the unseen, even when the things we see seem to contradict what God has said (see Heb. 11:7). God warned Noah about the coming judgment of the flood. It probably had never rained on the earth to that point, since the earth was watered by a mist that came up from the ground (Gen. 2:6). Certainly there had never been anything close to a flood that destroyed everything. Noah had to take God’s word by faith and act on it, in opposition to what he saw with his eyes. He built his whole life around this word of God apart from any tangible evidence that it would happen.
Daniel demonstrated that same practical faith in God throughout his long life. When Nebuchadnezzar was going to kill him and his friends because no one could interpret his untold dream, Daniel waited upon God for that information. Later, when he was thrown into the lions’ den because he would not stop praying, he trusted God to protect him.
The same was true of Job. When his children had been killed, his riches were gone, his body was racked with pain, and his friends accused him of secret sin, Job affirmed, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God” (Job. 19:25-26).
That’s what the Christian life is all about—counting upon God’s Word concerning the future reward of heaven and the judgment of hell. We’ve gotten away from this. We emphasize the present benefits of being a Christian. Christianity is being marketed as a product that can do everything from help you lose weight to make you a successful salesman. But righteous people live daily by turning away from the glitzy visible things of this world and trusting in the unseen promises of God.
(2) Walking with God means obedience to God.
Noah obeyed God and built the ark in the face of intense ridicule, no doubt. He obeyed by getting on board the ark before there was any evidence of a flood. Twice we are told that Noah did according to all that the Lord had commanded him (Gen. 6:22; 7:5). Daniel obeyed God and asked to be excused from eating the king’s defiled food. Later, he obeyed God by continuing his daily prayers in disobedience to the king’s edict. Job submitted to God even though he didn’t understand why he had to suffer as he did.
And, each of these men obeyed God over the long haul, in the face of opposition and adversity. They had what Eugene Peterson calls, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” It probably took Noah 120 years to build the ark (Gen. 6:3). For 120 years he was the laughingstock of the area. It must have been a favorite pastime to go over and watch old Noah working on his ark. There it was, a 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, 45 feet high ship sitting high and dry in Noah’s back yard! Can you imagine the kind of jokes Noah and his family endured? “He says that God’s going to flood the whole earth because of our sin! Ha! What a nut!”
Daniel and Job also obeyed God over the long haul, in spite of opposition and adversity. Daniel was in his eighties when he got thrown in the lions’ den. Some might have thought, “What a reward for a life of faithfulness to God!” But Daniel submitted to God’s sovereign control over the situation. Job didn’t understand why God was treating him as He was, and he admitted his intense frustration, but he never defied God or said, “If that’s how You’re going to treat me, see if I follow You any more!”
I fear that many obey God as long as it gets them what they want out of life, but if they have to go through extended trials, forget it. When you peel it all away, it’s really self, not God, whom they are serving. But righteous people walk with God, which means obedience over the long haul, in spite of opposition or trials.
(3) Walking with God means integrity with God.
Both Noah and Job were said to be “blameless” (Gen. 6:9; Job 1:1, 8; 2:3), which means “to be complete or whole, to have integrity.” Although the word is not used, the description of Daniel by his enemies describes this quality: they could find no ground of accusation against him (Dan. 6:4-5). When used of speech (Amos 5:10), it refers to what is entirely in accord with truth and fact (Brown, Driver, & Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament [Oxford], p. 1071). That these men were blameless does not mean that they were sinlessly perfect. Rather, it means that they were not hypocritical; they didn’t put on a good front before others, but live in sin secretly. In contrast to the elders who came to Ezekiel, they didn’t openly profess to follow God, but hide idolatry in their hearts.
How do you get this kind of integrity? In a word, by being honest with God and with others. You’ve got to walk openly before God on the heart level, not hiding sin or thinking that He doesn’t see some part of your life. He sees even our thoughts and motives (Heb. 4:12-13). So you live each day with the awareness that God sees your life and you will give account to Him someday (1 Thess. 2:5, 10). You judge every wrong thought and confess it immediately to Him.
Also, you’ve got to put a premium on honesty in your relationships with others. If you fudge on the truth (a nice way of saying that you lie), you’ve got to make it right by confessing it to the Lord and to the one you lied to. God is the God of truth; His people must work at being truthful with Him and toward others.
(4) Walking with God means standing alone with God.
All three of these men lived in especially ungodly times. In Noah’s day, the ungodliness was so rampant that God was sorry that He had made man and decided to judge the entire earth by the flood. In Job’s day (probably about 2000 B.C.), there was no unified people of God, so far as we know. God may have called Abraham about the same time, but there were few who called upon His name. Daniel and his three friends seem to be the only ones who took a stand for the Lord at Nebuchadnezzar’s court in Babylon. There were strong pressures on all these men to compromise, but they stood apart from the world and alone with God.
Walking with God means that you will face situations where you must stand alone against the crowd. Of course, you’re never alone, since God stands with you. But you may be the only student in a classroom, the only one at a social gathering, or the only one at work, who says, “No, I will not do that because I’m a Christian!”
(5) Walking with God means fellowship with God.
It is stated that Noah walked with God. Though not stated, it is certain that Job and Daniel both walked with God as well. The word “walk.” implies fellowship. As I said, you’re not alone when you have to stand alone, because you enjoy fellowship with God.
Marla and I like to hike together. That time walking and talking, enjoying the scenery, the trees, the birds, and the animals, builds closeness in a relationship. You share together, which is the essence of fellowship. The Christian life is not just obedience to God’s commands; it’s also fellowship with Him in all of life.
Thus, righteous people have appropriated the righteousness that is by faith. As a result, they walk with God, which means trusting Him, obeying Him, being honest with Him, standing alone with Him, and having fellowship with Him.
3. Righteous people intercede on behalf of others.
It’s interesting that while the Bible often says that God spoke to Noah, there is no record of Noah praying to God. Yet we can be sure that he did! Job no doubt interceded for his children and he prayed for his three “friends” (Job 1:5; 42:8-10). There are many instances of Daniel praying for himself and others (Dan. 2:18; 6:10-11; 9:3; 10:2-3, 12). You can see it with many other godly people in Scripture—they interceded with God on behalf of others.
Who knows what the world owes to righteous people who pray? We won’t know until we’re in heaven. God will play back the video of our lives and we’ll be surprised as we see it: “Look at that, when I was kept from sin that time, my godly mother was praying for me! That time I was protected from an accident, a godly friend was lifting me before the throne of grace! That time when I was so discouraged, I was kept from quitting because a godly church member was praying!” Most of us owe our conversion, humanly speaking, to some righteous person who prayed us into God’s kingdom. Righteous people pray for others. But,
4. There are times when even the prayers of the righteous will not prevail.
That’s the context of Ezekiel 14. The city of Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed, but it now was inevitable because God had determined that it must be judged as a testimony of His separation from His people’s sin. God had graciously warned them over and over for centuries. But finally they had crossed the line. Now, not even the prayers of righteous Noah, Daniel, or Job could prevail.
We make a serious mistake if we think that God’s patience has no limit. His grace is great. His patience goes much farther than human patience ever could go. But there is a limit. There’s a limit nationally, when God sovereignly says, “That’s enough!” He told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved in another land for 400 years and then they would return to the land of Canaan. Then God added, “for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:16). God was patient with the immoral Canaanites for over 400 years, but then He said, “That’s enough!” and commanded Israel to destroy them in judgment. Nations, like ours, that turn from the knowledge of God are presuming on His grace.
Also, there is a limit to God’s patience personally. If we have not responded to His grace, we face that limit at death, which can strike at any moment. But, also, it can come when a person repeatedly hardens his heart against God. He crosses a line where he is so confirmed in sin that even the prayers of the righteous for his salvation will not prevail. We never know for sure when that line is crossed. We know that God is both just and merciful. But the fact that the line exists ought to make us tremble at the thought of continuing in our sinful ways. “Seek the Lord while He may be found” (Isa. 55:6)!
The president of a large city bank was seen standing in front of the automatic teller one day while it performed a transaction rather slowly. After a brief wait, he was heard to say, “Come on—it’s me!” Being the president of a bank doesn’t give you special connections with the ATM! But being a righteous person does give you connections with God. If we’re righteous people—declared righteous by faith in Christ, and living righteously by walking with Him—then we can intercede on behalf of a lost and hurting world and know that our prayers will accomplish much.
- If God answers the prayers of the righteous, how can it be according to grace?
- Is God’s refusal to answer prayer on account of a person’s (or nation’s) sin a rare thing or is it common?
- Is asking God once enough, or must we keep praying until He grants the prayer?
- How can we know whether we should commit to pray for someone? Should we ever quit praying for a person’s salvation?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2002, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation