When discussing what is unique about our church, one of the things I often bring up is the concept of “standing in the gap.” I’m referring to a biblical analogy of a protective wall around a city. If the wall is broken in a certain place, that is a gap in the wall. In case you are wondering, gaps are not good. In the book of Ezekiel, God uses this analogy and we see three things that faithful men do to “stand in the gap.”
Ezekiel 13:4-6 says, “O Israel, your prophets have been like foxes among ruins. You have not gone up into the breaches, nor did you build the wall around the house of Israel to stand in the battle on the day of the LORD. They see falsehood and lying divination who are saying, ‘The LORD declares,’ when the LORD has not sent them; yet they hope for the fulfillment of their word.”
Inside the city are God’s people. Outside are their enemies. The godly shepherd must stand in the gap and fight to protect the sheep. Religious leaders that are unwilling to lay their own lives down to protect God’s people from false teachers and our culture’s lies are not doing the hard work of re-building the wall and fighting in that place of danger.
But people are easily scared, and a gap in the wall is disturbing to them if they realize they have enemies. So the lazy or lying leader tries to hide the gap. He might do this by denying there are enemies, saying, “Don’t worry! There is no danger. We are at peace!” Or he might do some quick work to make it look like he’s repaired the wall, without actually doing so. Ezekiel 13:10, 11 & 14 addresses this:
“It is definitely because they have misled My people by saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace. And when anyone builds a wall, behold, they plaster it over with whitewash; so tell those who plaster it over with whitewash, that it will fall. A flooding rain will come, and you, O hailstones, will fall; and a violent wind will break out. “So I will tear down the wall which you plastered over with whitewash and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation is laid bare; and when it falls, you will be consumed in its midst. And you will know that I am the LORD.”
The whitewash and plaster simply hide the gaps, missing bricks, and weak spots in the wall. It covers over them so we don’t notice. This leaves God’s people in danger, but makes them feel safe, secure and confident. This often takes the form of teaching half of the truth—the half that is most acceptable to the biggest number of people, of course—on a controversial topic where the church is under attack. This is what we do when we are ashamed of what God’s Word says. Trying to appear firm in the eyes of God’s people on a controversial topic, yet speaking in such a way that there’s little risk of offending the world is a perfect example of this sort of soft wall. The result is that nobody turns away from their sin or turns to God for safety. A godly shepherd doesn’t hide danger from the sheep. He points it out, and warns them to flee from it. Sometimes he even chases them away from the gap in the wall. In other words, sometimes the godly shepherd looks rather scary to the sheep.
On the other hand, wicked men do their best to make the sheep think there is no danger. God goes on to explain that this lie encourages the wicked to continue in their wickedness and disheartens the righteous. Thankfully, God promises to destroy such leaders and rescue his people. Ezekiel 13:22 & 23 say:
“Because you disheartened the righteous with falsehood when I did not cause him grief, but have encouraged the wicked not to turn from his wicked way and preserve his life, therefore, you women will no longer see false visions or practice divination, and I will deliver My people out of your hand. Thus you will know that I am the LORD.”
The promise of God to deliver his people out of the hands of these wicked leaders brings us to one final passage: Ezekiel 22:28-31.
“Her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ when the LORD has not spoken. The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,” declares the Lord GOD.”
We see here the dreadful outcome for the people who follow these leaders. They live in their sin, and nobody calls them to repentance. Suddenly we realize the true danger that we have been ignoring. This is a shocking discovery. God himself is angry, and He is one enemy that we must fear. He is seeking a man to stand in the gap for the sake of the land, so that he doesn’t have to destroy it. So standing in the gap means three things:
- Fighting against the enemies of God to protect his people.
- Warning God’s people to repent of their sins.
- Pleading with God to have mercy on his people.
See my upcoming posts for more details on what these look like.
(Image credit: Colin Bews)