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“The Righteous and The Wicked”

of Study of Ezekiel 21:3-4


(a study written for Sr. Dahlia Doss)

Our text for this study is Ezekiel 21:3-4. Read it carefully after asking for the Holy Spirit to guide you.
Remember that cherished sin, whether “anger, wrath, or bitter envying one against another” can grieve the
Spirit of promise and make impossible for a man to understand Scriptures aright.

And say to the land of Israel, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I am against thee, and will draw
forth my sword out of his sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked. Seeing
then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth
out of his sheath against all flesh from the south to the north.

This passage stands in contrast to scores of passages that contrast the fate of the righteous and the fate of
the wicked. Consider three verses by Solomon in Proverbs 10.

As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting
foundation. The hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked shall
perish. The righteous shall never be removed: but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth. Pr
10:25-30.

Yet Solomon does not contradict Ezekiel. In fact, Solomon speaks elsewhere of the righteous and wicked
sharing a similar fate:

There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth
according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth
according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity. . . . All things come alike to
all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the
unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner;
and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. Ec 8:14, 9:2. (See 7:15 also)

When we try to understand Ecclesiastes 8 and 9, it is apparent that they are not speaking of the eternal
salvation of the righteous and the wicked. What then does Ecclesiastes 8 and 9 teach? They show that
the wicked and the righteous both die. The wicked sometimes dies peacefully in their sleep and the
righteous sometimes die a horrible death. But Solomon wrote “it shall be well with them that fear
God, that fear before him, but it shall not be well with the wicked.” Ec. 8:12-13.

But we must return to Ezekiel 21. Some have used this passage as evidence that in the final struggles
on this planet that righteous people that remain in an antitypical Jerusalem will be destroyed with the
wicked because of their corporate connections. Before examining this theory, let us consider the
context of Ezekiel 21 itself. The backdrop to the passage includes the beautiful gospel of Ezekiel
20:33-44. In these passages God describes how he will remove the wicked from among the righteous,
and how when the people return from their captivity the wicked will not be permitted to return with
them (v. 38). This was marvelously fulfilled in the reformations of Ezra and Nehemiah 140 years later.
Ellen White quotes verse 37 as a gospel promise in the book Education, p. 174.

Following the gospels promises are verses of threatened judgment on Jerusalem. Under the figure of “every
green tree” and “every dry tree” the prophet described the judgments that would come on the city. Ezekiel
knew that his listeners would complain that they could not understand (v. 49) and so God explained the
judgment in very literal language. He foretold the coming of Nebuchadnezzar (see 21:18-22). Ellen White
confirms Ezekiel’s own explanation of the vision.

In the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign "Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he, and all his
host, against Jerusalem," to besiege the city. 2 Kings 25:1. The outlook for Judah was hopeless.
"Behold, I am against thee," the Lord Himself declared through Ezekiel. "I the Lord have drawn
forth My sword out of his sheath" it shall not return any more. . . . Every heart shall melt, and all
hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water." "I will
pour out Mine indignation upon thee, I will blow against thee in the fire of My wrath, and
deliver thee into the hand of brutish men, and skillful to destroy." Ezekiel 21:3, 5-7, 31. {PK
452.1}

We can place the fulfillment of the passage in history, but it still remains to be understood what happened to
the righteous that were in Jerusalem. The Bible testifies of several that had been in Jerusalem. They
included Daniel and his friends, the prophet Jeremiah and his fellow ark-hiders and his scribe, and the
prophet Ezekiel himself. Of these, apparently only Jeremiah was still there. Was Jeremiah destroyed in the
city? No, he was spared by the king of Babylon.

Let us go back in time for a moment. At the flood many of the “righteous” had slidden into apostasy. Some,
including Methuselah, died just before the flood. Enoch was translated. It is a common habit of God in
history to remove the righteous before the coming of some calamity. “The righteous perisheth and no man
layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from
the evil to come.” Isaiah 57:1.

But not all the righteous are removed. We return to the story of Ezekiel 21. Not only Jeremiah was spared,
but a small remnant was left behind. They quickly fell away from God’s counsel and left for Egypt against
the protest of Jeremiah. There they suffered until a few learned their lesson.

While the Lord would not spare those who turned from His counsel to the seductive influences
of Egyptian idolatry, yet He would show mercy to those who should prove loyal and true. "A
small number that escape the sword shall return out of the land of Egypt into the land of Judah,"
He declared; "and all the remnant of Judah, that are gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there,
shall know whose words shall stand, Mine, or theirs." Jeremiah 44:28. {PK 460.3}

The experience of Jeremiah, and even of these, is proof enough that Ezekiel 21 was not foretelling the
wholesale slaughter of every breathing person in the city. God did make a difference between the righteous
and the wicked. While it is possible that the passage simply foretold that some truly righteous men (as
perhaps the parents of Daniel earlier, and as the men that helped Jeremiah hide the ark at this time) would
also die in the siege, there is another use made of the word “righteous” that deserves our attention. If the
passage does refer to the truly righteous men, then it says nothing of their eternal salvation, but only of their
brief mortal life.

Righteous in a Man’s Eyes

The prophecy of Ezekiel 21 was written to be understood by men that expected God to deliver them by
miracle. They were “trusting” Him to act in their behalf. (See the long story in the book of Jeremiah).
Notice how Jesus and Paul used the word “righteous” when speaking to Jews a few decades before the
destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus said,

But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to
call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Mt 9:13.

When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but
they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous , but sinners to repentance. Mr 2:17. See also
Lu 5:32.

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven…For I say unto you, that
except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall
in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 5:3,20

And speaking of himself in his pre-Christian unconverted state, Paul wrote


Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law,
blameless. Php 3:6

The Jews in Christ’s day thought by good works that they would escape the coming judgments. Jesus
offered them no such hope, but warned that until they felt their need, the kingdom of God did not belong to
them. They too were in danger of the judgement.

And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your
hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. Lu
16:15

This is the most consistent way to understand Ezekiel 21:3-4. God foretold that even the apparently
righteous, those that were “touching the righteousness which is of the law, blameless” would be cut down
in the judgements on Jerusalem.

But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of
righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the
law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; For I bear them record that they have a zeal of
God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going
about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness
of God. Ro 9:31-10:3.

In other words, the “righteous” Jews of Ezekiel 21 were clothed in their own righteousness. They were
“ignorant” of the righteousness of God. God spoke to them in a way that they could understand, as he did in
Matthew 5. There is no prophecy here of a man clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness being
condemned. Those that understand the Cost of that robe would never speak such blasphemy as that a man
covered by Jesus could be judged worthy of death.

The destruction of the last days was prefigured by the destruction of Sodom. Interestingly enough, the very
question we are studying (whether some of the righteous will be destroyed with the wicked) was brought up
by Abraham when he was apprised of the coming judgements on the city.

And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? That be
far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous
should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? Ge
18:23-25.

The answer was given that if there had been even ten righteous men in the city, it would not have been
destroyed. This does not well accord with the theory that God destroys them together. Abraham stated
plainly what he knew to be right, that it would be unjust of God to destroy both together. Abraham risked
his own standing with God to plead for the righteous people that he supposed were in the city. This is a
lesson for us today that would be the “children of Abraham” by doing the “works of Abraham” (see Jn. 8).

But from history it appears that there was but one righteous man in the city. What did God do for that one?
Were the righteous destroyed with the wicked? God

turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow,
making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly. And delivered just Lot,
vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them,
in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds.) The
Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the
day of judgment to be punished: But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of
uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to
speak evil of dignities. . . . these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak
evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; And
shall receive the reward of unrighteousness. 2 Pe 2:6-12
Here the question regarding how God relates to the righteous (that are vexed y the unlawful deeds of the
wicked) is answered. God delivered just lot. In every passage regarding the end of time this same
distinction is made.

Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that
serveth God and him that serveth him not. Mal 3:18

Those that confuse others regarding this truth remind me distinctly of those mentioned that “speak evil of
those things that they understand not.” This is the same class that are not afraid to speak evil of
governments and dignities.

A few quotes showing the faulty grounds of that interpretation are given below.

Jesus, in his explanation of the parable, brings distinctly before his disciples the great
difference between the treatment of the wicked and the righteous in that time when men
shall be judged for their deeds. Reaching down to the end of time, he corrects the false
doctrines of those who rise up to deceive the people. He would teach men that God, who
rained a fiery tempest upon the cities of the plains and destroyed them because of the iniquity in
their midst, will surely punish the sinner. He holds the destiny of men and nations in his hands,
and he will not always be mocked. Jesus himself declares that there is a greater sin than that
which brought destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah; it is the sin of those who see the Son of
God and listen to his teachings, yet turn from his salvation, and reject his offered mercy. But the
righteous shall be rewarded with the eternal life. {2SP 250.2}

Enoch had been troubled in regard to the dead. It had seemed to him that the righteous and the
wicked would go to the dust together, and that this would be their end. He could not see the life
of the just beyond the grave. In prophetic vision he was instructed concerning the death of
Christ, and was shown His coming in glory, attended by all the holy angels, to ransom His
people from the grave. He also saw the corrupt state of the world when Christ should appear the
second time--that there would be a boastful, presumptuous, self-willed generation, denying the
only God and the Lord Jesus Christ, trampling upon the law, and despising the atonement. He
saw the righteous crowned with glory and honor, and the wicked banished from the
presence of the Lord, and destroyed by fire. {PP 85.6}

In a world like ours, where truth and falsehood are so closely mingled that it is difficult to
discern between them, it is a perilous matter to neglect to seek wisdom from on high. Those who
will now take heed and turn to the Lord without delay, taking their position on the true
foundation, will receive pardon. All error is mixed with truth, and this makes the deceptions of
Satan harder to see. But when the time of test and trial comes upon us, there will be seen the
difference between the righteousness of the righteous and the wickedness of the wicked.
Every error is sin, and every sin has its origin with Satan. Wrong practices have blinded the eyes
and blighted the perceptive faculties of men and women. We need now to be guarded on every
point. . . . {TDG 163.1-2}

The day of test and purification is just upon us. Signs of a most startling character appear, in
floods, in hurricanes, in tornadoes, in cloud-bursts, in casualties by land and by sea, that
proclaim the approach of the end of all things. The judgments of God are falling on the world,
that men may be awakened to the fact that Christ will come speedily. The Lord is about to
reveal the difference between the righteous and the wicked; for his "fan is in his hand, and
he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into his garner; but he will burn
up the chaff with unquenchable fire." {RH, November 8, 1892 par. 6}

Those that would make Ezekiel 21 say otherwise make Ezekiel contradict himself. He wrote clearly the
distinction to be made between the righteous and the wicked in the final judgments. In chapter 14 he wrote
that even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in “that land” (v. 18) that was receiving the final judgements, called
“Jerusalem” (v. 21) they would be unable to save their family and friends. You may remember that Daniel
procured the saving of his friends and the wise men of Babylon, Noah saved his family, and Job prayed
successfully for his friends. But in the final crisis they “would but deliver their own soul by their
righteousness.” v. 20. And when the city Jerusalem has been largely depopulated, (v. 22-23) the remnant
that is left will be the righteous that were in the city. It is very apparent that they were not condemned for
being in Jerusalem. “’You shall see their way and their doings and you shall know that I have not done
without cause all that I have done in it’ saith the Lord.”

If someone is questioning, “but what about the righteous that have been in corporate connection with the
wicked?” we would answer briefly:

They that are of a froward heart are abomination to the LORD: but such as are upright in their
way are his delight. Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished: but the seed
of the righteous shall be delivered. Pr. 11:20-21

He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to
the LORD. Pr 17:15

The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall
the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and
the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. . . .But when the righteous turneth away from
his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the
wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned:
in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die. Eze
18:20, 24.

Eze 33:12 Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of
the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the
wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the
righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth.

Pr 12:21 There shall no evil happen to the just: but the wicked shall be filled with mischief.

Mt 13:49 So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the
wicked from among the just,

As a further evidence that Ezekiel 21 is about the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian kingdom, we offer an
inspired commentary on verse 27:

"Thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: . . . exalt him that is low,
and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until
He come whose right it is; and I will give it Him." Ezekiel 21:26, 27. The crown removed from
Israel passed successively to the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. God
says, "It shall be no more, until He come whose right it is; and I will give it Him." {Ed 179.2-3}

Dahlia, I have written this primarily for you, though I think after writing so much I will share it with others
also. Let me briefly review the points in this article. Mind you that I could have written much more, but the
soul-winning work of the school must not be allowed to stop.

Review

Ezekiel 21 is a prophecy that Jerusalem would be destroyed by Babylon. Ellen White interprets it that way
every time she quotes it, and Ezekiel mentions Babylon plainly in the first few verses. There were truly
converted souls in Jerusalem in the time leading up to this disaster. Many went into captivity, and those that
were left in the city listened to Jeremiah and surrendered to Babylon. Jeremiah was imprisoned and so was
not capable of following his own counsel. He was spared. God took the righteous out of the city, and spared
that righteous man that could not leave. The “righteous” that were destroyed in Jerusalem in Ezekiel 21
were the same “righteous” that were destroyed in the Jerusalem of Matthew 24. They were the self-
righteous ones.

To use this passage as evidence that God will condemn to eternal death those that stay in “Jerusalem” in the
end of time is to make the passage contradict chapters 14, 18, 20, and 33, as well as many other passages
and quotations by Ellen White.

If you have any questions about this letter, please ask them.

Again, sister, I have taken this time because I do care. Please do not feel offended at any plain statement in
this passage. We have too much at stake to allow ourselves to be offended.

Your servant in Christ,

Eugene

Regarding Ez. 21. See Jer. 37:17-21 and 43:5-7 (EGW comments on these)