The word of the Lord came again to me, saying: “Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it. Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,” says the Lord God. (Ezekiel 14:12-14)
Noah, Daniel, And Job
Righteousness exalts a nation but sin will destroy any people. The nation of Israel had been the apple of God’s eye before falling headlong into such immorality they surpassed the wickedness of the nations around them. Warned by the prophets to repent and change their ways, the people of God were persistent in unfaithfulness. Through the providential will of the Father, Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian and Babylonian empire. At the time of Ezekiel’s writing, the northern ten tribes had been gone for more than one hundred years and Jerusalem was on the brink of total destruction. The priest Ezekiel was in captivity among the Hebrews warning them of the impending doom of the city of God. He tried unsuccessfully to convince the Jews the sinfulness of Judah had reached a point of no return and the wrath of God was coming. The house of Israel would be punished if they did not return.
The magnitude of the wickedness of Judah was highlighted by a bold illustration of three men. Ezekiel is speaking to some of the elders of Israel and he warns them the sin of the people is so great that even if Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would save no one but themselves. Noah lived in a period of history that was so evil, vile, and wicked; the Lord destroyed every living thing on earth that had the breath of life. Only Noah and his family were saved. Noah was a righteous man but his righteousness could not save the world. In a later time, God comes to Abraham and tells the man of God that Sodom and Gomorrah were to be destroyed because the cry of wickedness was great. Abraham sought to intercede that if righteous people were found in the city, the mercy of God would spare the cities. But there were no righteous people to save the cities and only Lot and his family escaped. Ezekiel is showing the mercy of God when righteousness lives in an ungodly world and yet even Noah could not stop the global destruction.
Daniel was a contemporary of Ezekiel. He was taken captive during the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim. When Ezekiel is writing his prophetic word, Daniel has been in Babylon for nearly fifteen years. He has made a mark of distinction for himself as a man wholly devoted to the Lord. His three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, also had shown themselves faithful in their devotion to God. Ezekiel uses Daniel as a present-day example that as righteous a man as Daniel, he could not change the will of the Lord to punish the house of Israel. The people had become so wicked there was no hope to save them although there were righteous people like Daniel who continued to be faithful to the Lord. The contrast of character is stark. Daniel is faithful and Israel is unfaithful.
Job is another great patriarchal example of faithfulness and devotion to the Lord in the face of adversity. Every Jew was familiar with the story of the righteous man who endured incredible sufferings yet retained his faith in God. The righteousness of Job was a sterling example of facing terrible calamities that would have destroyed any man and yet through confidence in the will of God, Job never lost favor with the Lord. It was a struggle but Job endured.
Ezekiel uses Noah, Daniel, and Job, to illustrate how perverted the land had become. He notes that in the present time, only these three men would be delivered. During the flood, Noah was saved along with his family. If he were alive in the captivity of Israel, he would not be able to save his family. This was also the case with Daniel and Job. This is how bad things had turned when God looked around for righteous people. The warning was clear: unless the people repented, the wrath of God would be unleashed among them. Sadly, this became their history. A few years later Jerusalem will be burned to the ground including the House of God.
If Ezekiel were writing today in modern-day America, he may paint a similar picture. Thankfully there are more than three righteous souls in this great land but they are becoming fewer. There will come a time when the land of the free and the brave will be the land of lost and the cowardly who love the siren songs of immorality rather than the righteous tunes of godliness. The threat is real and the danger always present. Righteousness exalts a nation. Unrighteousness destroys a nation. If Noah, Daniel, and Job were living today – who would be saved with them?