Studying the practices the Lord declared detestable in Ezekiel, we learn how God may view our culture today and how the church can respond.
By Scott McConnell
Some of the most applicable aspects of the Bible’s prophetic books are their revelations about who God is and frank descriptions of God’s thoughts about human behaviors and priorities.
The destruction of Jerusalem, including the temple, and the exile of God’s people are pivotal events in the Old Testament. Matthew opens his Gospel by summarizing much of the Old Testament, naming the exile as one of the key markers in Israel’s history, each divided by 14 generations—Abraham to David to the exile in Babylon to the Messiah.
Exodus tells us why God gathered His people from Egypt: He heard their cries. But what does Scripture say about why God showed His wrath on His people, sending them into exile for 70 years? The Lord spoke to Ezekiel telling him to explain to Jerusalem her detestable practices. These comments from the Lord were not casual observations. His people’s practices were repulsive to Him.
In Ezekiel 22:6-12, Ezekiel records God’s indictment of Jerusalem. Studying the practices the Lord declared detestable in this passage, we get a sense of how God may view our culture today and how the church can respond.
“Every prince of Israel within you has used his strength to shed blood” (Ezekiel 22:6, CSB)
America’s leaders largely appear to avoid this practice, in sharp contrast to other national superpowers in which totalitarian regimes kill those who oppose them and even commit genocide. But, historically, America has exploited the lives of those it deemed as expendable to benefit the prosperity of those at the top.
Do American leaders use their strength to stop the shedding of blood today? Despite rapidly rising numbers of mass shootings, lawmakers remain deadlocked on measures that may help reduce some cases. And more than 900,000 abortions took place in 2020 in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Nearly 9 in 10 U.S. Protestant pastors (89%) say local churches have a responsibility to provide resources and support for individuals with mental illness and their families. And 74% of Americans say churches and religious organizations in states where abortion access is restricted have a responsibility to do more for women with unwanted pregnancies.
“The resident alien is exploited within you” (Ezekiel 22:7a, CSB)
It was assumed in biblical times that there would be residents among the Israelites who had immigrated from other nations. God made it clear how they were to be treated: like citizens.
Currently, America exploits millions of immigrant people who have not been offered means of earning the right to be treated equally. Nearly 4 in 5 evangelicals (78%) would support changes to immigration laws that both increase border security and establish a process to earn legal status and apply for citizenship for those currently in the U.S. unlawfully.
“The fatherless and widow are oppressed in you” (Ezekiel 22:7b, CSB)
Numerous times in Scripture, God appeals to His people to care for orphans, widows, and resident aliens. However, these groups are often taken advantage of instead of being given a helping hand. The news in America is filled with stories of exploited children and scams that target the elderly. The church can show the love of Christ in contrast to a culture that oppresses the fatherless and widows. Many churches specifically encourage involvement in adoption and foster care to make such a difference.“The church can show the love of Christ in contrast to a culture that oppresses the fatherless and widows.” — @smcconn Click To Tweet
“You despise my holy things and profane my Sabbaths” (Ezekiel 22:8, CSB)
As the American culture has shifted away from religion, it’s unsurprising that people outside the church do what they want seven days a week. God’s concern though is with His followers. The majority of Protestant churchgoers believe a day of Sabbath rest is a biblical command that still applies today.
Jesus clarified that God made the Sabbath for man as a benefit and blessing. Almost two-thirds of pastors understand these benefits and realize they personally need to make Sabbath a priority.
“There are men within you who slander in order to shed blood” (Ezekiel 22:9a, CSB)
On the surface, this appears less common in the U.S. as many safeguards are in place to keep people from making false accusations that lead to death. However, we have become painfully aware in recent years that innocent people have been wrongfully sentenced to death.
The most frequent slander in America is the stretching of truth and ignoring facts when talking about those with different views than one’s own. Most Americans with evangelical beliefs (78%) say they are not “OK with political leaders bending the truth if it helps influence people to adopt good or sound political views.” However, 16% are OK with it. Being loose with facts coincides with other forms of incivility such as escalating arguments and fearing great danger with any political loss.16% of Americans with evangelical beliefs are “OK with political leaders bending the truth if it helps influence people to adopt good or sound political views.” Click To Tweet
“People … commit depraved acts within you” (Ezekiel 22:9b, CSB)
America didn’t invent progressive sexual relationships. God listed numerous sexual relationships that He finds detestable that existed in Jerusalem.
There are still Americans who believe in God’s design for sexual relationships, with 94% of Americans with evangelical beliefs agreeing sex outside of traditional marriage is sin. Few things in God’s design for prospering on earth are despised as much in our culture today as His creation of sex within marriage.
“You take interest and profit on a loan and brutally extort your neighbors” (Ezekiel 22:12a, CSB)
Payday loan firms began multiplying in the 1990s and have not stopped. In 27 states without meaningful payday lending regulations, people who legitimately need a short-term loan can get them—but at great cost. According to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report, 82% of these loans are renewed within 14 days. The Annual Percentage Rate interest including fees with each renewal is debilitating.
More than a third of Christians in states with few payday lending regulations (34%) have personally taken out a payday loan. And 77% believe it is a sin to loan someone money in a way that the lender gains by harming the borrower financially. Only 11% are sure their church offers guidance or assistance related to payday loans.
“You have forgotten me. This is the declaration of the Lord God” (Ezekiel 22:12b, CSB)
Beginning with the Silent Generation, each subsequent generation is less likely to identify as Christian: Silent Generation (84%), Baby Boomers (76%), Generation X (67%), and Millennials (49%). It is unmistakable that millions of people in America have forgotten the Lord.“No matter how bad it feels like things have gotten, God is still looking for people willing to repair, willing to pray, willing to explain why God’s design is better, and willing to show that God loves them.” — @smcconn Click To Tweet
The Lord ended His message through Ezekiel with this thought: “I searched for a man among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land so that I might not destroy it, but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30, CSB). Our culture does not appear to be much better in terms of our practices than what God indicted Jerusalem for in Ezekiel’s day, but there are still many followers of Jesus in the church today who are willing to push against practices that God finds detestable.
No matter how bad it feels like things have gotten, God is still looking for people willing to repair, willing to pray, willing to explain why God’s design is better, and willing to show that God loves them. In fact, He sent His Son to close the gap between our sin and His holiness.
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Scott is the executive director of Lifeway Research.