This prophecy, first published in August 1994 (10/v.13/94/No.166) in “The Preacher” bulletin series, revised in May 2018, with tenses largely retained, is being trumpeted afresh in obedience to the Master. Then, one often got called “prophet of doom” because what one saw coming and severally tearfully warned about did not seem to agree with the general peace and merriments of that time. The days of which the original message and others like it warned, seem to have come upon us suddenly, but there is a yet gleaming hope, even though we seem to have gone through the first two judgments, and in the bloody twilight of the approaching third, with the fourth no far away.
1. A Basket of Judgments
There are four separate but related kinds of judgment that God sends upon ungodly and wicked peoples, and a fifth which is the combination of all four. Usually, these judgments are sent consecutively, one after the other; or they might come as a simultaneous package: one instant basket of all terrible four.
In Jeremiah 27:13, God warned that He would bring three of those judgments on the nation that would refuse to serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, in disobedience to Prophet Jeremiah’s advice. Also, as punishment for David’s stubborn census-sin, God offered him a choice of any one of three of those four judgments (1 Chronicles 21:9-12). In Ezekiel 14:12-21, all four are spelt out clearly, in their order: famine, beast, sword, pestilence. God calls them “my four sore judgments” (v.21). Whenever God is forced to dispatch these judgements, even the presence of great and holy men is a helpless national shield.
Prophets are sometimes like weather-forecasters looking across the horizon to warn of approaching storms. Sometimes their voice is heeded, as did the people of Nineveh to Jonah’s alarm (Jonah 3:4,5,10); sometimes their voice is ignored by blind intellectuals and proud priests, to the detriment of all. Prophet Ezekiel was such a voice to his nation.
12 The word of the LORD came again to me, saying,
13 Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it:
14 Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD (Ezekiel 14:12-14).
In Ezekiel 14: 12-14, God announces that if a nation sinned against Him grievously, the first step He would take against those impenitent people is to cut off their lines of food supply and bring famine upon them, such acute famine as would “cut off” or destroy man and beast. In other words, when God sends this famine upon a people, it is a sign that they have not only trespassed, but have done so “grievously.” It is also a warning of worse that could follow – the other three.
According the Prophet Ezekiel, this famine would be so uniquely intense that it would result in deaths, to say nothing of the other attendant social and political upheavals from protracted hopeless hunger. The famine could be brought about by a diplomatic breach between the guilty nation and its trading partners, especially those who supply its food. It could come about through unfavourable government policies or other disasters. The soil could suddenly turn barren, stubbornly unresponsive to the best of fertilizers or other expert agricultural aids. The heavens themselves could join the alliance against that land and withhold rain. It would be such a hard time that even tender mothers would boil their hungry babies for breakfast (2 Kings 6:25-30) or pawn them in the marketplace for a meal. Those who have no baby of their own to fry, will abduct others’ children for a fee, or ritualise them to gods that they hope will give them food and wealth. Survival of the fittest. It will be one widespread season of sadness and hopeless hunger. The economists have finer names for this famine: recession, depression, slump, etc.
If the pains, the hardship, the socio-political chaos resulting from this economic strangulation does not bring that people to repentance, then God will be forced to send the next judgement: beasts.
15 "Or I might send wild animals TO KILL the people, making the land so dangerous that no one could travel through it, 16 and even if those three men lived there — as surely as I, the Sovereign Lord, am the living God — they would not be able to save even their own children. They would save only their own lives, and the land would become a wilderness (Ezekiel 14:15-16, Good News Translation).
The King James Version of the Bible calls this second category of punishers “noisome beasts”; other translations refer to them as “wild animals” and “wild beasts.” Their mission: to kill. Strangely, it would be a mission from God. Beasts are bad enough, but when beasts are modified with an adjective of heartless wildness, that is trouble indeed, worse still when the beasts are on a mission from an otherwise loving God.
Wild beasts could refer denotatively to actual wild animals forced out from the forests into the open street by the acute drought and widespread hunger. It could refer connotatively to wild animalistic humans, heartless terrorists, blood-thirsty cults, brutal ritualists, armed gangs, robbers, coldblooded pirates, and much more, all of them ‘wild beasts’ that terrorize the land until it becomes too unsafe to travel in and eventually turns into a deserted “wilderness,” according to the Good News Translation.
Like the famine, this judgment also will result in multiple, widespread deaths. Unlike the sad and slow deaths in famine through installments of malnourishment, however, these deaths by preying beasts will be more sudden, more vicious, more bloody. Survival of the fittest: hungry men versus jungle beasts; each one working hard to survive the famine by preying heartlessly on the other. This second judgment will generally follow unnoticed from the first. It will be largely logically dismissed as the inevitable ‘social consequence’ of the persisting ‘economic’ crisis (or famine). Partly true.
What brings ferocious beasts from their remote natural habitat in the wild into the civilized streets of humans? Survival instincts! When the wild is dry and food is scarce, the beasts will roam into the streets of men, rummaging for the food that has become hard to find where they are. In such a season, children (and that represents the innocent and defenceless) become preys.
The beasts will make society so hazardous that folks would think sufficiently of personal safety before stepping out, and not without adequate precautionary measures. A pre-stored foodbank might save the rich from hunger and death in the day of famine, but when the time of the beasts comes, no private food store is sufficient guarantee from death at the hand of those roving hungry beasts. In fact, the very foodbank will become the attraction; the lavish table of foods, the exotic cars and beautiful mansions, the wardrobes of royal garments, they will all become the salacious smell that calls in the sniffing hungry street beasts. The poor had long died from hunger in the famine. Now it is the turn of the rich to die, painfully, some of them to be preyed upon by surviving poor beasts that yesterday were not good enough even to approach unto their marble doorsteps or wipe their shiny shoes. Times have suddenly changed. The rich begin to flee from domestic goats that overnight have grown fierce fangs and unicorn horns spiraling like abominable minarets.
Sociologically speaking, it could be said that this kind of ‘wild’ beastly beings are created often by ‘famines’ in their environment. Frustrated economically in many other ways, and having no other means of survival because their ‘natural habitats’ or usual means of livelihood have ‘dried up,’ they roam out into other ‘greener’ environments, preying on the defenceless. In other words, the judgment of famine not only kills but breeds a second category of wilder killers; or it brings about secondary deaths. This ‘sociological’ perspective further blinds the common intellectual from the true origin of their physically manifest spiritual crisis, so they seek social solutions to a spiritual problem; they invite economic experts where priests should have stood, thus Judgment Number 3 stands in the wings, waiting to be ushered in.
When dearth thus begets deaths that beget more deaths; when one crisis situation begins to give rise to another crisis situation, a complex vicious circle results. This apparently ‘helpless’ situation creates terror in the hearts of people, forcing many to stay back home to save their lives rather than dare the wild beasts in their distant ‘farm.’ This further compounds the already acute famine. In the circumstances, the weak become the preys of the strong who themselves are hunted by others stronger than they are. The Edenic harmony is broken. Man hunts beasts and beasts hunt man. Society begins to be divided against itself: the hunters versus the preys; the oppressors versus the ‘poor’ masses. Things fall apart.
Should this also fail to bring the land to a proper realization of its fallen spiritual state, God will commence transition into the third judgment: the sword. Unfortunately, even then, the transition would be so slow that it will be unnoticed. That is the unfortunateness of mortals too used to sharp boundaries between this and that. What is the boundary between midnight and new day? What is the boundary between sunset and darkness? What is the boundary between the season of the beasts and the coming of the sword?
4. The Sword
17 Or if I bring a sword upon that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off man and beast from it:
18 Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only shall be delivered themselves (Ezekiel 14:17-18).
As with the preceding judgment, terror will mark this, but death will be the end; death as in all the preceding phases. With this judgment, it will no more be nature fighting man with famine and with wild beasts; it will be civilized man rising against civilized man with civilized weapons, each one armed with sufficient wildness to want to extinguish the other. It is Sword personified; a sword that hears; a sword that can “go” on a mission; a sword that hears the language of God; a spirit-sword that takes command not from man but from a superior spirit realm: “If I… say, Sword, go.…” A sword is not a chocolate bar; it is not a stick of suya or a barbequed chicken leg. It is an instrument of violent, instant, pre-planned death. It is a bringer of pains and tears.
The King James Version calls it a sword; the New Living Translation calls it “war.” Anything may start this war, and that war could be internal (civil war) or external. The means of self-defence that had been effective against famine and beasts will be useless now. Private daggers and pistols or a security personnel at the gate will help nothing at this stage. Fear mounts.
The first judgment of famine and drought resulting generally ‘from’ the conspiracy of a stubborn, barren land and a merciless rainless sky will have been rationally dismissed as ‘natural disaster.’ The prowling beasts that follow would have been explained away as ‘social disorder’ resulting from the prevailing ‘economic situation.’ The third judgment will be explained away as a state of ‘general insecurity’ resulting, understandably, from the foregoing threats. Rational perspectives on a spiritual crisis!
They say that a hungry man is an angry man. In other words, a certain relationship is acknowledged between physical frustration and emotional irritability. Therefore, the hardships of famine which will lead to beasts preying on men, will soon lead to men rising angrily in mobs against the thug-beasts as well as against those whose economic or political ‘mismanagement’ or ‘negligence’ or ‘wickedness’ is believed to have created the famine-situation that has brought about the invasion of the streets by wild beasts. Should the sword seem too wild to be tamed locally, then international intervention will be sought to ‘alleviate’ the ‘sufferings’ of the ‘masses.’ Many wars have escalated this way.
What happens in war? In war, social order is broken down, violence becomes a normal code, death becomes common sight, women are raped and abducted, and little children are left orphans. People get so used to devastation that they learn no more to cry.
Whereas the first two judgments were a threat to human life and the natural environment, the third will be indiscriminate in its devastations. Plant life, human life, animal life, material things such as buildings, will all share in the judgment. More people will flee the land, leaving it further desolate.
God used the sword a few times to some success in getting Israel back to Himself, as reported in the Bible book of Judges and in the history of their kings. From His experience, however, God knows that even this third option will not succeed to drive Pharaoh-hearted nations and self-righteous religious folks and their proud priests back to His altar, especially with agnostics among them tying to ‘prove’ that there has been no connection between God and the disasters. Therefore, God has another judgment, Option Number Four: Pestilence.
19 Or if I SEND a pestilence into that land, and pour out MY fury upon it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast:
20 Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness (Ezekiel 14:19-20).
What we read as “pestilence” in the King James Version is rendered in other translations as “plague,” as “epidemic,” as “deadly disease.” Of course, this would be another source of multiple deaths, of widespread infectious and contagious deaths; death that enters a house without knocking on the door; death beyond normal control, that begets other deaths, spreading itself, like cholera, Ebola, HIV/AIDS, meningitis, bird flu, cow pox, monkey pox, bubonic, influenza, and so on; pestilence on divine assignment, ‘sent’ by the Almighty, as an expression of “MY fury.” But, can – or should – a loving God get into such boundless “fury” with puny mortals? Ask the Jews.
Again, it will be possible to intellectually explain the plague away as a consequent health hazard from the general deteriorating environmental conditions since the beasts and the sword. After all, the Spanish Flu or Great Influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 seemed connectible to the First World War (1914-1918) at the tail of which the influenza broke out. Like then, the ‘experts’ will attribute the pestilence to the several unattended decomposing carcasses of infected and killed humans and animals washing off into drinking wells; they will attribute it to the endless heaps of putrefying rubbish and their numberless populations of rodents and roaches shuttling between those dumps and unfortunate homes; they will blame it on the worsening morbid conditions of the overcrowded refugee camps from where the pestilence will sometimes choose to break out, like a brutal suicide bomber choosing a crowded marketplace for ‘maximum impact.’
In the circumstances, governments will seek medical messiahsealth Organisationjj, and citizens will rather die stretched on clinical sheets in overcrowded hospital floors than lie before the abandoned altar of a transgressed God crying for mercy. That will make the next phase of Judgment inevitable: The Omnibus Basket of all Four Sore Judgments! Not every time have a people under divine judgment realized where their trouble is coming from, especially when there seems to be logical explanations for why things are as they are. That is the ‘sense’ that sometimes opens the door to every next judgment.
Why do all four judgments involve death? Does death represent divine judgment? Sometimes, Yes. God declares in Ezekiel 18:4, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” in other words, sin and death. Also, according to Romans 5:12-19, death entered the world through sin; again, death connected with sin. There is certainly a relationship between sin and some kinds of death, especially death that involves so many persons within a limited time in a limited space. Everyone will die someday if Jesus tarries, but some deaths make strange headlines. All death is not divine judgment, but death that becomes consecutive or persistent in a given community within a given brief time might be pointing to something more.
6. Famine, Beast, Sword, Pestilence
For thus saith the Lord GOD; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast? (Ezekiel 14:21).
Any one of these four judgments is bad enough, how much more the combination of all! God Himself wonders to us, “How much more…?” … a pervading merciless hunger, plus prowling armed bandits, plus an outbreak of a merciless war, plus a spectral epidemic… every hungry person grappling with the famine by preying on the other, carrying a sickly little child and escaping armed gangs, tending an infected dying wife or mother while father is away at some unknown battlefront in a land ravaged by disease in shared squalors… danger and death gaping from every open door… who has been fortunate to escape the death of war dies the death of pestilence; who survives the pestilence falls into the jaws of a wild beast; who seems too famished, too wasted, too bony to appeal to the beasts is abandoned to be slowly devoured by the merciless hunger… famine, beasts, sword, pestilence… fear, uncertainty, anxiety… ruined buildings, deserted ghostly cities… trouble and sorrow everywhere… God’s four sore judgments… and that time seems not very far…
7. The Remnants
22 Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings: and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought upon it.
23 And they shall comfort you, when ye see their ways and their doings: and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord GOD (Ezekiel 14:22-23).
God could be so vexed as to send any of the four sore judgments, or all four at the same time, but He will remember His remnants, those who have separated themselves unto Him in the midst of the iniquities for which He has had to punish the people. From Job 5:19-24 comes the following assurance (notice the “troubles” and their sequence):
19 He shall deliver thee in six TROUBLES: yea, in seven there shall no evil tough thee.
20 In FAMINE he shall redeem thee from death; and in war from the power of the SWORD.
21 Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue: neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh.
22 At destruction and famine thou shalt laugh: neither shalt thou be afraid of the BEASTS of the earth.
23 For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.
24 And thou shalt know that thy tabernacle shall be in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation, and shalt not sin.
In Ezekiel 14:12-14, 15-16, 17-18, 10-20, God promises repeatedly that if He were so vexed with a land as to send any or all four terrors upon it, He would not forget the righteous men in it, even though their righteousness would save themselves alone; no child, no wife on their ticket. In the last two verses of the chapter, God makes His pledge further about the righteous remnants:
Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth unto you… and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done… (Ezekiel 14:22-23).
Are you among the remnant few? Does your lifestyle say so, or merely your ‘positive confessions’?
It is consoling to hear God promising that there will be remnants preserved through the ferocious and grisly scourge, but that is not so attractive when the sore judgments could have been averted before they had run their deadly course. How elegantly will a remnant walk through discarded streets and decomposing carcasses, headed for a promised house of comfort? What melodies will they raise in bombed out building with spiky metals next to graveyards of numberless relations? How happily will they sing in a chair next to another vacant chair where their father could have been sitting? How many alabaster boxes will they break to overcome the stench of yesterday’s putrefactions? The promise of Remnants is only second best, like the garments of animal skin over the nakedness of a fallen race exiting the glorious Eden. Better is the judgments had not been forced to come…
From The Preacher’s diary,
May 5, 1994.Revised edition: May 5, 2018.