When Righteousness Wasn't Enough

Imagine the difference Noah, Daniel or Job would make in a congregation or in a community. Before you draw a conclusion, listen to Ezekiel 14:14 — “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.” In fact, four times this Scripture says that these great men of God would have saved only themselves in the Jerusalem of Ezekiel’s day.

Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” for over 100 years while preparing the ark. In this time, he was able to influence and save his family, but he would have saved only himself in Ezekiel’s Jerusalem. Daniel, who stood foursquare upon God’s will and never compromised with wickedness, was God’s light to pagan Babylon. Yet Daniel would have saved only himself in Ezekiel’s Jerusalem. Job was so steadfast and faithful to God in the face of suffering that he is singled out as the perfect example of patience by James (James 5:11). Yet, he would have made little or no difference in the Jerusalem of Ezekiel’s day.

The righteous do influence the world around them for good. When God warned Abraham that he would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he also said he would spare them if he found ten righteous souls. Jesus taught us to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-16). One purpose is that we can exert a righteous influence on the world around us. But in this instance, righteousness wasn’t enough.

Why would such men be unable to exert a good influence on others? It was because Israel had turned away from God in their hearts. “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh accord-ing to the multitude of his idols” (Ezekiel 14:4; emphasis mine).

Jerusalem’s problem in Ezekiel’s day was a heart problem. The condition of our heart has a great deal to do with how others influence us. Thus, Solomon said to “keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23) and, “for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). The heart can become hard (John 12:40) and the conscience can become seared as with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2). Because the people’s heart was cold and callused, not even Noah, Daniel or Job could have done much with them. Here is an im-portant lesson that we would do well to learn — our faithfulness to God has very little to do with what others do and a whole lot to do with the condition of our own heart.

A righteous life may not influence everyone to live according to God’s will, but it can cer-tainly have the effect that it did for these three men of God — “they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 14:14). Surely, if that were the only effect, it would be well worth it.