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WE SHOULD SIGH AND GROAN
by Philip Owen

          When overt sin starts to predominate in a society, believers may respond initially with indignation and outrage. But as it continues and begins to overwhelm a culture, the response often turns to desperation and despair, then to resignation, and then, perhaps, to indifference. From that point, it is only a small step to condoning sin and then to actively participating in it. It seems that our nation has come to the point of being inundated by sin; we are drowning in perversion and open rebellion against God to such a degree that it is difficult to imagine men sinking into sin much worse than runs rampant right now. But as difficult as it may be to swim upstream, believers have the privilege and duty to maintain a holy hatred for sin.

            Ours is not the first civilization to succumb to the degeneracy that is inherent in human nature. In the days of the prophet Ezekiel, Judah had become so openly apostate that judgment hung over it like the sword of Damocles; destruction at the hand of God was inevitable. God would use as a divine instrument of judgment the pagan and violent kingdom of Babylon to judge His people. In a vision prophetically depicting what would soon happen, Ezekiel saw “executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand” (Eze. 9:1b). Then the Lord Himself commanded the executioners: “Go through the city [Jerusalem] . . . and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare. Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women” (vv. 5b, 6a). “And He [the Lord] said to them, ‘. . . fill the courts with the slain. Go out!’ Thus they went out and struck down the people in the city” (v. 7).

            Ezekiel is distressed by the slaughter and cries, “Alas, Lord God! Are you destroying the whole remnant of Israel by pouring out your wrath on Jerusalem?” (v. 8b). But the holy God is unrelenting; He responds to Ezekiel’s cry: “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is very, very great, and the land is filled with blood and the city is full of perversion; for they say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see!’ But as for Me, My eye will have no pity nor will I spare, but I will bring their conduct upon their heads” (vv. 9b, 10).

            And such horrors, and worse, befell Jerusalem under the siege of the city by King Nebuchadnezzar and his army from Babylon. But I omitted a critical part of the account of the vision. Before the blow of destruction landed, God commanded a “man clothed in linen” to “Go through the midst of the city . . . and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst” (v. 4b). Then He gave this warning to the executioners: “do not touch any man on whom is the mark” (v. 6b).

            Remember that God had already sent His prophets to reprove His people, to denounce their sin, and to warn them of the judgment that would befall them if they failed to repent. But even at that late date, the Lord took note of those who were grieved by the sin they saw all around them and preserved them from His just judgment on sin.

            We should take sober note of the fact that the sighing and groaning of the godly remnant reflected the attitude of God toward sinners, even as He poured out on them unrelenting judgment. So what should believers learn from this account? If we would truly reflect God’s character, we will with patience and longsuffering denounce sin. We will never accept it, compromise with it, ignore it, or be complicit in it. But our attitude at every point should never be vengeful or one of delight that sinners “got what was coming” to them. Sighing and groaning—grief and burden—are the holy response to the presence of sin in others. (When we discover sin in ourselves, the response must be one of genuine repentance.) We should grieve about the hardness of men’s hearts and the price they will pay if they do not repent, yes. But we should also grieve for the dishonor done to the Lord through such rebellion. Are you among the righteous who grieve and sigh over the sin in our midst? May it be so.

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