READ: Ezekiel 22-24
BACKGROUND: This is a thick section of text with a great deal of allegory regarding the “two sisters” and a heavy section as well with the death of Ezekiel’s wife. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments, and I’ll get back to you.
THINK: The ancient historian Herodotus recorded that in 480 BC a Persian army under Xerxes marched on Greece, intent on conquering it’s city-states and demanding their loyalty to Xerxes. The Persian army, Herodotus estimates, numbered nearly 2 million men and it was the worlds largest fighting force led by the legendary warriors known as The Immortals. When the Greeks heard that the Persians were marching towards them many were afraid. But one king, Leonidas of Sparta, despite opposition from other leaders and the democratically elected government of his city, decided that something had to be done.
Leonidas took only 300 Spartan warriors and marched out to meet the Persian army. But, strategically, he planned to meet them at a narrow pass between high cliffs reaching up on one side and a high cliff dropping off into the ocean on the other in Thermopylae where the superior numbers of the Persians would be rendered meaningless. The pass at Thermopylae was an important one for the Persians to cross through. It was a gap through which they planned to pass in order to get into Greece and conquer it. But Leonidas and his 300 Spartans – along with about 5,000 other Greeks– put their lives on the line to go and stand in the gap.
The Persians attacked the small Greek force standing in the gap for 2 days and the Spartan-led Greeks killed over 20,000 Persians while losing just over 2,000 of their own. Eventually though, a Greek traitor led the Persian army to a very alternative mountain passage used by goats and it became a matter of time before the Greeks were surrounded by the Persians and defeated. Many went home rather than facing certain death. Leonidas and the Spartans remained in the gap. And the next day they were all killed. But they had given the Greeks time to mobilize behind them and they had given Xerxes such a taste of defeat and war that he turned back without ever conquering Greece. There are some who believe that the men who were willing to stand in the gap at Thermopylae ultimately saved the concept of democracy – which was being practiced in Greece but wouldn’t have been under Persian rule – for the modern world.
In Ezekiel 22:30 God declares, “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.” The word for gap in Hebrew, peretz, is also sometimes translated “breach.” It basically means a torn or broken place where the enemy can pour through. And at this point in the history of Israel, idolatry had torn a hole in the religious life of the people and the leadership of the country was evil and unwilling to stand in that place and intercede for the people and lead them towards God rather than away from him. And ultimately, God says in verse 31, since no one would stand in the gap the nation experienced the pouring out of his wrath.
World history would be dramatically different without those who have been willing to stand in the gap and commit themselves to self-sacrifice for others. Leonidas isn’t the only one to have ever done it. Moses did. So did Abraham, Noah, & David. So did Winston Churchill and the entire British nation when the Europe was conquered by the Nazis and the United States hadn’t yet entered WWII as Churchill boldly declared to Britain, “One thing is certain: the peoples of Europe will not be ruled for long by the Nazi Gestapo, nor will the world yield itself to Hitler’s gospel of hatred, appetite and domination. And now it has come to us to stand alone in the breach, and face the worst that the tyrant’s might and enmity can do. Bearing ourselves humbly before God, but conscious that we serve an unfolding purpose…We are fighting by ourselves alone; but we are not fighting for ourselves alone.” And most importantly, the greatest example of standing in the gap, Jesus came and he stood in the gap for all of us on the cross.
I look out at the United States in 2013 and I see a nation that is broken and an enemy pouring through the breach. I see a people who are far from God, living in darkness, lost and hopeless, and desperately in need of the gospel – though they don’t know it and they’re passionately pursuing the world. And I see in our political leadership on both sides of the aisle leaders who – like Israel’s kings of old – are not standing in the gap and interceding with God and bringing people closer to him. We are living in dark and evil times where the prevailing sentiment has turned against God and towards the pursuit of the world and it’s idols.
The only question is this: who will stand in the breach? It is no simple place to stand. It is not comfortable or easy or painless. But the truth is that God is looking for someone to stand in the gap for our culture. Will he find you there? Are you willing to turn away from the idolatry of the world and put yourself and your life on the line to intercede for those around you and to draw them closer to God? Will you shine God’s light in the darkness? Will you show God’s hope to the hopeless? Will you be God’s love to the broken? Will you stand in the gap today?
PRAY: Ask God where and how he wants you stand in the gap. Be honest with him about your fears, but also take confidence in him because God plus one person always equals a majority.