The U.S. Senate yesterday passed the deceitfully named “Respect for Marriage Act.” You can hear more about it via today’s “The World and Everything in It” podcast, to mention just one. I say, “deceitfully named,” because this law mocks marriage as God himself designed it to be. The institution of marriage belongs to God, and we insult our maker when we presume to redefine it in our own image. What should God’s people, what should Jesus’ people, do in such a moment? We can give multiple answers to that question, but one we must give is this: “sigh and groan” over this latest “abomination” in our land.
Those words – “sigh,” “groan,” and “abomination” – each come from Ezekiel 9 (English Standard Version; all quotations that follow come from the ESV). In Ezekiel 9, we find the prophet Ezekiel amidst a vision in which he interacts with a divine figure who is “the glory of the God of Israel” (vs. 3). I understand this divine person to be none other than the Son of God himself; Jesus in his pre-incarnate glory. While the vision is majestic, it’s also horrific. In Ezekiel 8, the divine figure shows Ezekiel absolutely horrific idolatry underway in Jerusalem; idolatry centered on the Temple no less! How can this be? How can people, even the people of Israel, be so wicked as to worship idols in the middle of Yahweh’s house? It’s unthinkable! It’s horrendous.
All that Ezekiel sees in chapter eight explains what happens in chapter nine, as the divine figure calls forth seven men (probably best understood as angelic beings). Their approach is ominous for Jerusalem and its wickedness. Six of these men are executioners. To them, the divine figure gives this command: “Pass through the city…and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women…” (from vs. 5-6). The worst is about to happen. Yahweh’s divine vengeance is about to break over Jerusalem with awesome ferocity and disastrous results for those who dwell within. But, there’s one important caveat. The executioners must not do their work until the seventh man first accomplishes his own. The seventh man is a scribe. To him Yahweh says: “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it” (vs. 4). These people the executioners must not touch. They are preserved in the midst of judgment. Why? Because of their grief, their lament, over the sin done in God’s place, even in God’s Temple. Their grief evidences their faith; it is fruit of their genuine worship of Yahweh; it is evidence of their living relationship with him.
Now, there’s a principle here in this vision of Ezekiel, a principle of spiritual life. Grief over sin, sighing – even weary sighing – over sin, is a fruit of faith produced in a person by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It’s evidence of a heart alive to God. You won’t see this particular piece of fruit explicit in Paul’s Galatians 5 list, but you will see it repeatedly in the New Testament. You’ll see it as Jesus deals with the Pharisees in Mark 8:12, or as he weeps by Lazarus’ grave in John 11, or when he clears the Temple courts in Matthew 21. You’ll see it when Paul’s spirit is provoked over the Athenians’ idolatry in Acts 17, or when he grieves with tears in Philippians 3. It’s a faithful thing to sigh over sin and cry out to God, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10).
To be clear, faithful sighing over sin doesn’t devolve into despair. Despair is navel-gazing. It’s another manifestation of idolatry in fact. Faithful sighing, faithful groaning, rejects despair because it knows that God has an answer to the sighs. He hears the groans. His answer begins with Jesus crucified (praise God!) and it ends with Jesus conquering (Amen!). The beginning is sovereign grace. Sinners can become “sigh-ers” because Jesus died. The end is sovereign justice. Unrepentant sinners will become eternal “groan-ers” because Jesus will judge. If you want to know what judgment looks like, just read Ezekiel’s vision.
Before I close, one final point. We shouldn’t miss that the idolatry Ezekiel observes happens in the very heart of God’s place among his people. The church of Jesus Christ is not theocratic Israel with its physical temple, but shouldn’t we, Jesus’ church, take warning here? In Ezekiel 9 the divine figure tells his seven men to begin their work “at my sanctuary” (vs. 6). We can’t help but remember the words of the Apostle Peter who writes of God’s judging fire (1 Peter 4:17): “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the Gospel of God?”
It’s a good thing to sigh and groan in faith over the latest example of wicked foolishness emanating from the halls of Congress. Do so, and then press on in joy because God has an answer to your sighs. He hears your groans. Wickedness will murder itself (Psalm 34:21); Jesus will judge (Revelation 21); and, if you’re a worshipper of Christ by grace through faith, you’ve been marked by God’s Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). Amen.