When we hear the word, “judgment,” we often think, “oh, oh, this can’t be good.” Ezekiel 21-32 is one huge chunk of negativity. Most skip over it. Let’s not. In chapter 21, Ezekiel sets the tone: “Things shall not remain as they are. Exalt that which is low and bring low that which is exalted” (21:26).
The Hebrew words that we translate as “judgment” indicates a sifting out to right the wrongs. As Leon Morris puts it, God’s judgments are his “power directed toward right ends.” God’s judgment has a redemptive aspect to it. When God sifts out, it is not a return to the status quo.
In chapters 22-32, Ezekiel pronounces judgment on Israel and the nations surrounding them. What’s important here is that every nation—not just Israel—was judged by the same standard: God’s law. God’s law is universal, that is, it’s universally applied as the basis of judgment. What’s going on in Ezekiel’s day? “Father and mother are treated with contempt … the sojourner suffers extortion … the fatherless and the widow are wronged” (22:7-12). People act revengefully and cheer the demise of others while exploiting them (25:3, 12, 15; 26:2). They proudly “imposed their terror” on everyone; they even “exchanged human beings … for merchandise” (26:17; 27:13; 28:5).
In the middle of this chunk of negativity, Ezekiel proclaims an odd judgment on a perfect, beautiful “guardian cherub” that was “in Eden, the garden of God” of all places (28:12-14). Of the three characters who appear in Genesis 2-3, the ancient serpent is the only one who could possibly be identified as one adorned with every precious gem imaginable (after all, Adam and Eve were naked). “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you … [and] you were filled with violence” (28:15-16).
Why does Ezekiel allude to Satan in the context of judging the nations? Likely, to give him some credit for all the misery in the world. “Can this be the one who terrorized earth and its kingdoms, turned earth to a moonscape, wasted its cities, shut up his prisoners to a living death?” (Isaiah 14:16-17).
Because God created the world, he has the right to issue judgments to save it. God’s judgments are merciful interventions to impede evil until the final judgment when Christ returns to set all things right. In his book, Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf suggests that people take revenge on others, not because they believe in God’s judgment, but because they don’t. If there is no divine judgment, we have nowhere to go with the pain of injustice. We are left to suffering in silence or taking matters into our own hands. Either one can’t be good.
We must entrust ourselves to God who “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed”—and that includes the devil and his minions (Acts 17:31; Rev 20:10). We are in history’s flight path. We are midflight in a stream of ongoing events—past, present, and future—that are pushing history toward its final goal: the new heavens and new earth. Although judgment may seem negative, God is directing history toward right ends.