“…Even though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in [the land], as I live, says the Lord God, they would deliver neither son nor daughter; they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.” (Ezekiel 14:20)
What do Noah, Daniel, and Job have in common? Each was well known for his righteousness. We read that “Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations” (Genesis 6:9). Of Job we are told that he was “a blameless and upright man” (Job 1:8). And by the time of the prophet Ezekiel, Daniel’s life had also shown him to be a righteous follower of the Lord in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (see Daniel chapter 1).
And why are these three men in particular mentioned in the book of Ezekiel? For the simple reason that, as our text says, even if they were in the land, they would not be able to save the Jews from the destruction to come at the hands of the Babylonians.
God had sent prophets through whom He warned, encouraged, and pleaded with His people, but still they continued their idol worship. In His loving grace the Lord had shown great patience with them, but the Jews continued to rely on themselves for strength, to depend on their physical ancestry as an “in” with God. Since Jerusalem remained standing, they assumed that God still supported them—even though their lifestyle was anything but God-pleasing (to discover how corrupt the Jews had become, read Micah chapters 2-3 as well as Ezekiel chapters 2-3).
But now, as the prophet Ezekiel tells us, the time for the long-threatened judgment had come. There had been a time when righteous Abraham interceded for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis ch. 18), but the time had run out for the people of Judah. Not even righteous men such as Noah, Daniel, and Job could spare them now.
In our day we do not face an Old Testament threat from an earthly power. Instead we face eternal condemnation in the fires of hell because of our sins. And no person on this Earth, no matter how righteous, can spare us from what our inborn wickedness deserves. Noah, Daniel, and Job could not save themselves, nor the Jews, nor us from anything. In fact, they had no righteousness of their own. Their righteousness was not that of human works, but it was a gift of God’s grace received by faith.
What a wonder to hear again during this Lenten season that true righteousness is the righteousness He gives. Our righteousness does not depend in any way on ourselves and our good works, for we are saved because of what Jesus has done and endured. Throughout His Passion Jesus was giving His perfect life into death so that we might be redeemed from all our sins! Because of Jesus’ satisfactory ransom payment, God’s righteousness is given to us. “HE was wounded for our transgressions, HE was bruised for our iniquities…by HIS stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53).
May God’s Holy Spirit keep us from depending on anybody else’s supposed righteousnesses—much less our own, which are but filthy rags (see Isaiah 64:6). Instead, may we rely on Jesus’ righteousness alone.
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress; …
Who died for me, e’en me t’atone,
Now for my Lord and God I own.
(TLH 371:1a, 3b)