The Bloody City
Chapter 22 presents us with three messages from God. The first is a record of national abominations as the basis for judgment (verses 1-16). The second is metaphor of metal smelting to demonstrate that God's judgment reveals the entire nation to be spiritually worthless (verses 17-22). And the third decries the wickedness of every stratum of society, from the nation's religious and civil leaders to the average person (verses 23-31).
The first section concerns "the bloody city" (verse 2). It is not stated here what city is meant but the context shows it to be Jerusalem as representative of the entire Jewish nation in Ezekiel's day—and probably of all Israel and Judah of future ages, especially the end time. That Jerusalem of Ezekiel's day is intended is clear from the fact that when the Babylonian siege against the city begins, God tells the prophet to proclaim "woe to the bloody city" (see 24:1-3, 6, 9).
This is a horrible designation, given previously to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh (Nahum 3:1). The Assyrians had received this distinction for brutalizing other nations, but Jerusalem "sheds blood in her own midst" (Ezekiel 22:3). One way this came about was in connection with the nation's terrible idolatry. The Valley of Hinnom was a renowned place for idol worship, where children were sacrificed to Molech. The nation's leaders used their power to have others murdered (verse 6). Many people made false accusations against others to have them put to death (verse 9). In later centuries, Jesus Christ explained that Jerusalem was guilty of the blood of the righteous, putting many of God's servants to death (Matthew 23:34-37). Indeed, Jesus Himself was killed there.
Throughout the nations of Israel today, murder rates are high—and the guilty are not justly punished. A million and a half unborn infants are murdered in the United States alone every single year—through the determination and ruling of many of our national leaders and judges. And the entire culture is taught a way of life leading to personal destruction and, ultimately, national suicide.
A whole host of sins, particularly among the nation's leaders, are listed in this section. "Whenever the attitudes detailed here appear in a society, it is near collapse. What are the signs? The undermining of parental authority (v. 7a). Injustices that take advantage of the poor and helpless (v. 7b). Indifference of leaders to the best interests of those they rule, as well as indifference to the things of God (v. 8). A legal reign of terror, including murders (v. 9a). Leaders engaging in sex sins (vv. 9b-11) and seeking illicit personal profit (v. 12). When any society forgets God and strays from its spiritual foundations, its leadership will become corrupt and the nation will ultimately fall. Where is our society today? Apply Ezekiel's criteria and decide for yourself" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on verses 7-12).
As in chapter 20, Sabbath breaking is shown to be a big reason for national punishment, being mentioned in both Ezekiel 22:8 and verse 26. Eating on the mountains in verse 9—as in 18:6 and verse 11—refers to participation in pagan worship.
God concludes that He will scatter the people of the nation in line with other prophecies of national deportation. This certainly happened to the Jews of Ezekiel's day. It had already happened to the northern kingdom of Israel more than a century earlier. In early Christian times, it would again happen to the Jewish nation. And at the time of the end, it will happen to the nations of Israel and Judah together. Notice that God says that through this he would remove the nation's filthiness, its spiritual defilement of sin, "completely." While the removal of sinful behavior was accomplished by degrees through previous captivities, the complete removal of the nation's sins would seem to point mainly to the captivity of the end time, in which the severe humbling of the people will pave the way for their acceptance of Jesus Christ. For only the acceptance of Christ's sacrifice provides a true atonement for sin, and only His life within a person through the Holy Spirit enables that person to truly obey God as God requires. The Jewish people obviously have yet to accept Christ. But so do the supposedly "Christian" nations of modern Israel, as they have not really submitted to the true Christ and His ways.
Dross in a Furnace
The next section of Ezekiel 22 concerns the "house of Israel" being placed "into the midst of a furnace." This applied on one level to the invasion and destruction of ancient Judah by the Babylonians. But as with other prophecies in Ezekiel, it also seems to point to the fire of the terrible Great Tribulation that will engulf Israel and Judah shortly before the return of Christ.
The focus of this section is the parable of the metal in a furnace being revealed as all dross. That is, the impurity is so pervasive that there is nothing of value left. Similar imagery was given in Jeremiah 6:27-30, where Jeremiah, as an "assayer," was to label the nation "rejected silver." In Isaiah 1:21-22, God had likewise lamented: "How the faithful city has become a harlot! It was full of justice; righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross."
Trials leading up to final destruction served to reveal the widespread corruption. "Judgment displays the people's impurity ([Ezekiel 22] vv. 17-22)... Just as the hot fires of the smelter's furnace cause the dross to come to the surface and reveal the purified silver, so in times of divine judgment human beings are driven to act according to their character. The selfish become more cruel and self-centered; the godly more compassionate and caring. Remember this when troubles come to you, and let the fires of God's judgment on society bring out the best in you!" (note on verses 1-31).
Indeed, besides the focus on the destruction God would ultimately bring, the verses here "also point to the fiery ordeals and trials that force all of us into a more perfect relationship with our Lord (see v. 22; Psalm 66:10; Jeremiah 9:7; Daniel 11:35; Daniel 12:10; Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:1-3; James 1:2-4)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Ezekiel 22:17-22).
Verses 23-31 show that corruption pervades the entire society. The civil rulers use their positions for harm and personal gain (verse 27). The prophets and priests—the religious preachers and teachers—are causing the people to be destroyed (verse 25-26). They violate God's law, setting an evil example. Moreover, they fail to distinguish "between the holy and unholy" or "between the unclean and the clean." They do not teach the people of God's Holy Days or of His holy tithes. They do not teach what God declares food fit for human consumption and what he forbids to be eaten. God even says that they have "hidden their eyes" from His Sabbaths—refusing to even look into the possibility that they should be observed. How true all of this is today throughout the churches of the nations of Israel!
Verse 28 repeats a theme from Ezekiel 13—prophets falsely claiming to be relaying God's teachings or message, whitewashing over the sins of the nation and giving the people a false sense of security. The results are apparent. "The people of the land" (Ezekiel 22:29)—the common people, average citizens—stand guilty of severely mistreating others, oppressing and robbing them.
Standing in the Gap
Verse 30 reflects God's continual hope that His wrath may be diverted. He does not rejoice in punishing even those deserving of punishment. So He looks for those who might "stand in the gap" for the people. This also repeats imagery from Ezekiel 13, where God said of Israel's prophets, "You have not gone up into the gaps to build a wall for the house of Israel to stand in battle on the day of the Lord" (verse 5). This gives us further reason to see an end-time application of Ezekiel 22. Again, as pointed out in chapter 13 and 22:28, rather than repairing the gaps in Israel's moral condition, which would give the nation real security, the false prophets effectively plaster over the gaps with a thin whitewash, leaving the people defenseless but deluded and complacent.
Standing in the gap is the mark of a man of God. It involves trying to protect others through interceding for them in prayer and seeing to it that they are told what God really wants them to know. Sadly, God says He cannot find anyone to fill this responsibility. Yet when Ezekiel wrote, did not he and Jeremiah both fit that description? And in the end time, will there not be true Christians with the proper mindset? Yes, but "a qualified leader is useless if the people refuse to be led" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 30). What God must be saying is that He is not able to find anyone to repair the society's spiritual gaps because anyone who might actually be able to would be rejected by the people.
So God says He will pour out His fury on the nation (verse 31). Tragically, people today do not even conceive of God as ever being wrathful and righteously indignant. They make fun of that concept as backward and unenlightened. So many today see God as always gentle, always forgiving no matter what—never judging or punishing people for even the greatest crimes. People have forgotten about the God who flooded the earth, rained destruction on Sodom and Gomorrah, slew the firstborn of Egypt and brought famines, diseases and military invasion on ancient Israel and Judah as punishment for sin. The same God stands ready to justly punish our evil society today—not to punish for punishment's sake, but rather for the sake of turning the collective hearts and minds of people away from the sin that destroys them, to lead mankind into a lawful way of living that will bring rich and abundant blessings for all who will submit to Him.