One evening I had done laundry and had some clothes folded that needed to go upstairs, so I laid them on the bottom step to take up with me on my next trip. It was dark when I started up, but I didn’t bother to turn on a light because I was familiar with the steps. I should have turned on the light! Those clothes became a stumblingblock and caused me to fall. We need to consistently walk in God’s light…even when we are in the familiar, normal places. We are not capable of navigating this world alone. When we try, we will fall.
Ezekiel 14:1-3 warns us about stumblingblocks that keep us from God. It says, “Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?”
These elders were men who had authority in Israel. They had probably come to the prophet Ezekiel many times before wanting to hear what God had to say about whatever situation they were in at the time. The Scripture tells us they came before Ezekiel. It would be like us walking into someone’s office and sitting across the desk from them. But when they came before Ezekiel, God spoke to him so he would know what the situation really was beneath the surface. He did not give him the answer to whatever they came seeking. The Bible doesn’t tell us if the elders even had a chance to tell Ezekiel why they came. It just says God spoke to him about their spiritual condition.
God told Ezekiel that these men had set up idols in their hearts. Yet these rulers of Israel would know better than to serve idols. They had been taught the law of God and that serving idols was an abomination, because God commanded them and their fathers before them concerning idol worship. He said in Exodus 20:3-5, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.” And yet they had chosen to worship the idols of the nations around them.
Idol worship is still prevalent, but it doesn’t always involve statues of stone or wood. An idol is anything that takes the place of God in our hearts. It could be the love of money, entertainment, our goals, our children, our spouse, or our accomplishments. Yet 1 John 5:21 tells us "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." In other words, stay away from them. Don’t invite them in.
These elders had ‘set up’ these idols. That means they raised them up above the worship of God. They allowed these idols to take the place of God, and they bowed down before them.
It’s possible to bow to the demands of certain things in our lives…our routines, our traditions, our jobs, our preferences…and we allow them to take first place. But we know we are to bow only to Jesus and nothing else. We are to yield to the Spirit of God, not man or idols.
They had given these idols a place of prominence ‘in their hearts’. Our hearts are our mind, will and emotions. Our hearts were made to have God on the throne...not the attractions of this world, the will of our flesh or the will of the devil. We are to yield our thoughts, our feelings and our will to God’s authority.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
To love is to desire, to long for. Being totally honest, what do you long for? What is your passion? What captures your thoughts during the day more than anything else? As Christians, we are to love the Lord God with all our heart and soul, and with all the strength we have.
This idol worship all started in the hearts of these elders before they ever bowed down to the first piece of wood or offered the first sacrifice to some god that was no God at all. Somewhere along the way they set aside the commandments of God and their relationship with Him. Something in their hearts began to turn from God. I believe idol worship can begin when we exchange what God said for the voice of the world and the enemy. Then we begin to doubt Him and will be deceived into believing a lie just like Eve did in the Garden of Eden. It can happen when we become disappointed in God because He didn’t do what we thought He should. If we meditate on those lies, we become depressed and begin to feel hopeless. But God has never given us reason to be hopeless. He Himself is our hope, and to become hopeless is to turn from Him. Notice the progression through our feelings, thoughts and then the decision to change gods. And we don’t even recognize when it happened.
But that’s not the only way Satan tries to turn us to idols. Idol worship can also begin by looking around at the pleasures of the world and envying those who seem so happy and carefree. That leads to letting go of God’s hand to grasp the pleasures of this world. Looks are very deceiving and many find out too late that life without God is not happy or carefree. It is far from fulfilling. It leaves a void crying out to be filled, and that need will either draw us farther from God or turn us back to Him.
We have been told what to love. Now, in 1 John 2:15-17, we are told what not to love. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
Remember, love means to desire or long after. The world is the whole circle of earthly riches, advantages, pleasures, etc. It is temporary and empty. It turns us from God and is an obstacle to the cause of Christ.
Lust is a craving, a longing, but it is not a good longing. It is a desire for what is forbidden (the exact opposite of our love and desire for God). Verse 16 defines those things that are in the world.
The flesh is our earthy nature apart from God, our unregenerate nature that is opposed to God, therefore it leads us away from Him.
The eyes refer to vision in this passage, but not in a healthy way. The lust of the eyes is the instrument luring us toward evil desires. It is the principal avenue of temptation causing us to fall into sin.
The pride of life is boasting or arrogance. It is that part of us that says “I can trust in my own power and resources; I can handle it.” Pride trusts in the stability of earthly things…the things that will not last. We need to recognize our need to be sustained by God’s resources, wealth and goods, not that of the world. When we follow after the things of this world, we exchange the temporary for the eternal, and it will cause us to stumble and fall.
Ezekiel had before him men who had put a stumblingblock before them by their own iniquity. They had set up idols in their heart, and that became the obstacle that caused them to stumble. The sad part is that they gave permission for this stumblingblock to lead them into iniquity.
Iniquity is willfully determining to go against what is expected or desired; to turn away from or reject what is right and choose what is wicked or corrupt instead. It is exchanging what is good for what is evil. It is choosing to love the world instead of God.
I find it interesting that they put this iniquity before their face. They put it in front of them. They erected a wall that hid the face (or presence) of God from their face. God had not put up a wall between Himself and His people. They had put up the wall. It was their wall of iniquity that cut them off from God.
Isaiah 59:1-3 tells us, “Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.”
God said, “Should I be enquired of at all by them?” Should God allow them to come and consult with Him? Should He let them sit face to face with Him or His prophet to hear the word of the Lord? They had been consulting their idols and worshipping them – why come to God now? He knew they had not come in repentance. He knew they had not given up their idols. Therefore they did not hear from God.
We are all capable of allowing iniquity to come between us and God. When that happens, we put up a wall between our face and God’s face. We ban ourselves from His presence, His protection, His wisdom. Psalm 66:18 says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." To regard means to be aware of the iniquity, but permit it to stay. It is a willful act of sin. Yet we try to yell over the wall, “God, please help me…get a promotion, get out of this trouble, pass the test, get well from this sickness….” And God says, “I want a relationship with you. Take down the wall so we can have fellowship.”
If we want a relationship with God, we will make certain there is not a stumblingblock of iniquity separating us from Him. Remember, iniquity is something we know shouldn't be there, yet we give it permission to stay. Real repentance will remove the wall. It will open up the presence of God in our lives.
Psalm 139:23-24 is a prayer that will invite God into our lives to cleanse, renew and restore our hearts if we pray it with a sincere heart.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
I believe very soon we will be facing extremely difficult days. I don’t know how to prepare physically or financially, but I do know our hearts need to have God securely on the throne. Nothing is worth the risk of losing our souls.