“As vinegar to the teeth
and smoke to the eyes,
So is the sluggard to those
Who send him ” (Proverbs 10:26).
Nothing can set one’s teeth on edge more than vinegar, and few things are as irritating to the eyes as smoke blowing directly into them. So it is, the writer says, with a lazy, irresponsible person who is sent to do a job but doesn’t do it.
Calling him a sluggard, Solomon points out how annoying it is to the sender, implying the sluggard leaves in his wake unfinished jobs or unfinished business for someone else to take care of.
In Christ, the scriptures leave no room for such a person, whether he be an evangelist, an elder, or just a member of a congregation. Individual industry is not only encouraged but commanded. We are told to be “workers with the Lord” in whatever tasks we have before us.
“ ‘Thus Ezekiel is a sign to you; according to all that he has done you shall do; and when this comes, you shall know that I am the Lord God’ ” (Ezekiel 24:24).
In case the Israelites have not understood the message He wants them to get, God, through the prophet, clearly and distinctly, lays it out for them: He is the Lord God.
Because of their refusal to submit to God in the past, evidently the Jews have not understood God’s sovereignty nor the kind of relationship He expects them to have with Him. Their iniquities are so great that these people are past the point of no return: Jerusalem will be destroyed; and their lives, as they have known them, are over.
The message that comes out of this study in Ezekiel is so obvious and so profound it seems unthinkable that anyone could miss the point: they are to recognize that God is supreme.
And God has not changed in the Christian Age. Even today, He is a God who loves His people, but He expects the same kind of devotion and submission of us that He has expected of all people since the beginning of time. He is our Creator and has the right to demand that we recognize Him as our Supreme Ruler.
“Speak to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I will profane My sanctuary, your arrogant boast, the desire of your eyes, the delight of your soul; and your sons and daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword.
‘And you shall do as I have done; you shall not cover your lips nor eat man’s bread of sorrow.
‘Your turban shall be on your heads and your sandals on your feet; you shall neither mourn nor weep, but you shall pine away in your iniquities and mourn with one another’ ” (Ezekiel 24:21-23).
When the people plead with Ezekiel to explain to them why he goes on with his life after his wife dies instead of honoring her and mourning properly, he gives the explanation found in these verses.
The real message of the situation is to the rebellious and disobedient inhabitants of Jerusalem. They will have the “desire of your eyes” taken away: this metaphor refers to the city of Jerusalem, which they hold precious. Their city along with their lives within her will all be taken away. And their sons and their daughters—whom they love—will die by the sword.
And when these calamities happen, they are not allowed to lament. They are to follow Ezekiel’s example—they are to go on with their lives and not eat “man’s bread of sorrow.” They are to dress as usual and not mourn. But they are rather to mourn for their sins—there’s the lesson.
“Also the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh in silence, make no mourning for the dead; bind your turban on your head, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your lips, and do not eat man’s bread of sorrow’ ” (Ezekiel 24:15-17).
In what might seem a cruel turn of events, God speaks to the prophet about a tragedy that is to come to him personally: the “desire of your eyes,” his wife, will die; and it will be an action taken by God.
Ezekiel’s wife is most precious to him, and the normal response to her death would be to grieve deeply. God’s says he cannot do so. He must not dress in a way to indicate he is in mourning and he can’t “eat man’s bread of sorrow,” that is, grieve as people normally do.
This action comes, of course, with a purpose. It is through the prophet’s tragic experience that the Jews are to learn what their behavior is to be. In the past, God has tried in varied ways to woo the Israelites into submission. All efforts, however, have, failed.
Now it is too late—too late for weeping and lamenting—too late for them to avoid the impending destruction. They must now reap the consequences of their disobedient behavior. Jerusalem will be destroyed.
“’I, the Lord, have spoken it; It shall come to pass, and I will do it; I will not hold back, Nor will I spare, Nor will I relent; According to your ways And according to your deeds They will judge you,’ says the Lord” (Ezekiel 24:14).
After rendering a scathing rebuke of the Jews for their arrogance and rebellion, God has the prophet put His seal of assurance on the teaching in this verse: God assures them that everything will happen as He has pronounced and that He will most assuredly do what He says.
Through several colorful metaphors, Ezekiel has laid out what is going to happen to Jerusalem, the “bloody city,” that is, to the inhabitants therein. They cannot feel secure within her walls, and they cannot count on God’s mercy to back off from the destruction foretold.
The warning is profound, and the lesson obvious: God is loving and merciful, but He demands that His people follow His commands. As a supreme and perfect divine being, He cannot back down from what He has said if He is to remain perfectly righteous.
That same principle holds in the Christian Age as much as it did in the Patriarchal and Mosaic Ages. We are under the same directive to submit to His will as they were if we are to achieve the coveted goal of heaven as our eternal home.