Who Stands in the Breach? (Ezekiel 22:23-31)

Sermon #35 in 66in52; A One Year Journey through the Bible

September 3, 2023, Glynwood Baptist Church, James Jackson. Pastor

Good morning! Please turn in your Bibles to Ezekiel 22:23. Page 664 in the pew Bibles.

Did you notice the pew Bibles? A few weeks ago, after I preached on Hilkiah finding the book of the Law in the temple, Soyna Moore came up to me and said, “whatever happened to the Bibles we used to have in the pew racks? And we realized that when we had taken them out when we reopened after Covid, we had not put them back in. So we put them back in. And when we put them back in, we noticed that many of them were showing their age, and that they were a mix of different editions and different translations. Well, we found a great deal on pew Bibles by the case, and so we replaced all the Bibles. Now, if you are new to God’s Word, or just can’t remember the order of the minor prophets, we are going to put a page reference by the Scriptures we use.

And one more thing: if you don’t have a Bible, please take one as our gift to you.

On October 4, 1997, me and about a dozen men from the church I was serving at the time jumped on a bus at about 2 in the morning and drove 400 miles to Washington DC for a one day Promise Keepers Rally. If you have never heard of Promise Keepers, it was a men’s ministry movement begun in 1990. Promise Keepers held conferences where men committed to having integrity in their businesses, who would be faithful to their wives and attentive to their children and supportive of their churches. Over the years, Promise Keepers had drawn about seven million men to conferences all over the country.

But what happened in DC that day blew away every expectation. That day, somewhere between 800,000 and one million men gathered on the National Mall for a day of worship and prayer. The National Park Service recorded it as the largest gathering in Washington DC, ever. I’ve never been part of anything like that.

The name of the event was “Stand in the Gap.” It got its name from the passage we are talking about this morning.

Let’s read together, and since we are going to read a verse about standing in the gap, let’s stand to honor the reading of God’s Word.

29 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. 30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. 31 Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God.”

Ezekiel 22:29-31

May God bless the reading of his Word. Let’s pray together.

Stand in the Gap, or in the ESV, Stand in the Breach. There’s probably no verse that has been used for men’s events more than Ezekiel 22:30. The idea that God is looking for a man who will stand in the gap for him is really, really compelling. It’s inspiring to think that if God can find just one man to stand in the gap and stand against our spiritual enemy, then we could save our country from God’s judgment. And that day in 1997, a million men stood on the National Mall and committed themselves to be that man.

So now, it’s been twenty-five years since that day. How many of you would agree that there is as much if not more of a need for men to step up and lead today than there was then?

So how come it’s been so hard for us to get a men’s ministry going?

I want to suggest to you that the problem isn’t that men don’t want to stand in the gap, or haven’t tried. There are men who are doing the right thing. Godly men who truly love their wives and are raising their children to be godly men and women. There are men who love their church and are serving it. So I promise you this isn’t a man-bashing sermon. But part of the problem is that we’ve missed a fundamental truth about Ezekiel 22:30, and this morning, I want us to discover what that is.

But first, since this is our first week in the book of Ezekiel, we need to be reminded of where we are in the story. After the death of Solomon, there was civil war in Israel, and it split into two halves. This was the DIVIDED KINGDOM, and it lasted 350 YEARS. In the NORTH we had ISRAEL. In the SOUTH we had JUDAH. ISRAEL had 19 kings. JUDAH had 20 kings. Israel had 0 good kings, and Judah had 8. God sent PROPHETS to SPEAK to his people. And their message was SHAPE UP OR SHIP OUT.

Well, they didn’t SHAPE UP, and so God SHIPPED them OUT. And in 722 BC, An empire from the NORTH, ASSYRIA, conquered ISRAEL and SCATTERED them all over their empire.

 A century later, a new world power arose. BABYLONIA, which was northeast of Judah (If McQueen Smith Road is North, then Babylon is about where our preschool is). Babylonia first attacked Judah in 605 BC. They had a different strategy than Assyria. Instead of SCATTERING the people, they EXILED them. They did it in three waves. The first wave was in 605. This was Daniel and his friends, who we will talk about in a couple of weeks. The second wave was in 597 BC, and that was how Ezekiel got to Babylon. Eleven years later in 586 BC, Babylon would burn down Jerusalem and its temple, and there was a third wave of exiles deported to Babylon.

So at the beginning of Ezekiel, we find the prophet sitting on the bank of the Chebar canal in Babylon. Ezekiel was a priest, which means he had prepared all his life to serve in the temple in Jerusalem. By the way, does anyone know how old you had to be before you could begin to serve in the temple? 30 years old. So here he in exile, its his 30th birthday, he’s been in exile for five years. So it’s around 592 BC. About six years before the temple is destroyed.

Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry lasts for about twenty-two years. So, he is living in the same era as our friend Jeremiah that we’ve been talking about for the past couple of weeks. Now of all of the prophetic books Ezekiel has the most logical outline. In fact, Ezekiel may be one of the most chronologically ordered books in the Bible. Throughout the book we’ll see thirteen time markers like we see in verses 1-2. It’s for this reason that Ezekiel is so important to our understanding of the timeline of biblical history. So here’s the basic outline of Ezekiel:

Personal (Ez. 1-3): These chapters are about Ezekiel himself—his circumstances, his calling from God, etc.

National: (Ez. 4-24): These chapters are about Judah: how she sinned, why she sinned, what’s going to happen because of her sin. This section culminates with the destruction of the temple.

The third section is international– chapters 25 through 32. Here you’ll see judgments against the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Edomites, the Philistines, Tyre, Sidon, and Egypt.  

And the final, fourth section is eventual. But a better description would be eschatological– dealing with end times, eschatology, the end of days and the glory of God.

Ok, that was a long introduction, but I think it’s really important to set the stage for what we are talking about this morning, and to help you see how what we read about in one prophetic books matches up with what we read in the others. And it’s also super helpful to connect what the prophets are saying to what is recorded in the books of history—Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles.

Our passage this morning comes toward the end of the national section where Ezekiel is prophesying against Judah. Way back in chapter 4, God told him to act out the siege of Jerusalem. So he lays down in the dirt and builds a little model of Jerusalem. Then he builds little siege ramps going up to it, and military camps all around it, and battering rams—the whole thing. Then God tells him to lay down in front of his little Lego model for over a year to represent how long the siege would last. Its really kind of cool. Did you ever play army men when you were a kid? That’s what Ezekiel is doing. Here’s this grown man basically playing army men in the middle of the town square He’s foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem.

And it pretty much happened just like this. Turn to 2 Kings 25 (page 309 in the pew Bible). This is going to help us understand the context of Ezekiel 22—the stand in the gap verse. So read along with me in 2 Kings 25, starting in v 1:

“And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem and laid siege to it. And they built siegeworks all around it. So the city was besieged till the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. Then a breach was made in the city, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king’s garden, and the Chaldeans were around the city. And they went in the direction of the Arabah.”
2 Kings 25:1-4 ESV

For nearly two years, the armies of Nebuchadnezzar surrounded the walls of Jerusalem. The people were starving. Then a breach was made in the wall. It isn’t clear whether it was made by the besieging army trying to get in or the starving people trying to get out. It didn’t matter. Once the breach was made, the city fell. And when there was a gap in the wall, the men of war didn’t stand in the gap, they fled through the gap.

This is what Ezekiel was talking about in chapter 22. Earlier, we just read verses 29-30. But if you would go back to Ezekiel 22 and let’s look at the rest of the passage, beginning in verse 23.

Remember, we are trying to understand why, according to verse 30,  God couldn’t find anyone who would stand in the gap—the breach in the wall. Because God never once gives the reason for the fall of Jerusalem as famine, siege, or a breach in the wall, or Nebuchadnezzar. No, God places the blame for the fall of Jerusalem on the people of Jerusalem. Follow along with me:

The People

The Lord catalogues a depressing amount of sin among the everyday citizens of Jerusalem. Treating parents with contempt (v. 7). Exploiting foreigners (v. 7). Injustice toward orphans and widows (v. 8). Despising what is holy and profaning the Sabbath (v. 8). Slander. Idolatry. Bribery. Extortion. Usury. Sexual sin (v. 9-13).

The Politicians

God judges the “princes of the city” who are bent on shedding blood (v. 6). They are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain (v. 27).

The Priests

The priests, who should have been preserving the Law and remembering the Sabbath, had disregarded and profaned it, treating it like any other day. They hadn’t just forgotten God’s law, the had “done violence to it.” They made no distinction between the holy and the common, the clean and the unclean (v. 26).

The Prophets

God’s prophets were maybe the worst of all. They “smeared whitewash” for the people, convincing them that God didn’t have a problem with their sin. They claimed to see things in visions when they didn’t. They claimed to speak for God when they weren’t (v. 28).

There wasn’t a group not represented in God’s indictment. Prophets, priests, politicians, regular people. Not one was found who could stand in the gap. And the reason why is that not one was found without sin.

We are incapable of standing in the gap. We can’t mend the walls. We can’t close the breach our sins have created between us and God. But there is Someone who can.

Do you know what a mediator is? A mediator is one who stands between two parties that are in opposition. In a court of law, a mediator can speak for both parties. A mediator’s job is to make peace between two factions that are at war. But in order for him to do that, he can’t be at war himself. In this illustration, the mediator can’t be someone who is also sinful.

With that in mind, meditate on these Scriptures:

  • Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one (Ephesians 2:12-14a)
  • For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:5-6)
  • For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:15).
  • Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25)

Now, look at how Isaiah describes the Messiah in Isaiah 58:

  • “And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.” Isaiah 58:12 ESV

So the point of men’s ministry–of any ministry, really–is not to pump us up to stand in the gap. A good men’s ministry ought to call us to repentance and humility, and to acknowledge the only One who can stand in the gap. Jesus, the God-man; word made flesh; God with us; reconciling, redeeming, restoring, repairing, mediating, bridge-building, breach-closing, fence mending son of God.

He is, at this very moment, standing in the gap for you.




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