Day 254: Ezekiel 46-48; The River of God

Like the postings from the last 5 or so days, today’s reading is about the restoration of the world.  As we were talking yesterday, we started to touch on the restoration of the land and the life.  If you remember, to the judgments and to the Levitical laws that were given to the people of Israel to follow, when the judgment of God happened, the people would be removed from the land.  This we saw in the exile of the people of Israel.  What we also remember is that the land would be laid bare and be given its Sabbath as well.  The reason for this actually has greater implications than just a discussion about the land, it has to do with the greater effects of disobedience on the world.

Remember with me that the worldview of the Hebrew people was quite a bit different than that of our contemporary culture.  Where we see a huge dichotomy between the secular and the divine, they saw everything as being wholly and inescapably linked together.  This means that every action that took, whether for the good or for the bad, had repercussions beyond themselves and their “personal relationship with God.”  When the a person sinned, their relationships with everything and everyone around them were interrupted.  Indeed they needed to make recompense for this sin to make things right, that recompense being a sacrifice and the spilling of blood.  So, when a people like the nation of Israel sinned collectively, their relationship with the world suffered as a whole.  As the moral fabric of society went down hill so did the health of the land in which they live.

The Prophets Abraham J. Heschel

The Prophets
Abraham J. Heschel

In many ways, this is only intensified by the words of the prophets.  I’ve been fortunate to start a class that is studying specifically the prophets.  We are reading a book by Abraham J. Heschel, a Hassidic Jewish Rabbi from the 20th century whose book on the prophets has already enlightened my view, even in the first chapter.  Heschel writes that the language of the prophets is so very different than ours, speaking in broad sweeping strokes, seemingly huge exaggerations, and accusations of great magnitude.  The prophet does this because of the unique place that he (or she) stands in, seeing things through the eyes of God in many ways, and also feelings things the way God feels them.  For God, there is no sin that is too small.  We may think that society is doing ok; that there are good things and bad things, but it all levels out in the end.  For the prophets it is a tragedy of epic proportions.  Why?  Because of the sin and corruption and the damage it does everywhere to everything.  I would highly recommend picking up this book; Heschel is an amazing writer.

It is into this world, the world of a broken land and broken people where sin and its consequences have devastated everything.  It is to this land and this people that the Lord has spoken His words of restoration and hope through Ezekiel and the other prophets as well.  For as much as the prophet speaks in broad exaggerations about judgment, the Love of God and the Restoration that He brings knows no bounds.  The ultimate vision of this is given to us here in Ezekiel and again in the book of Revelation when both the prophet and the apostle witness a river flowing from the throne of God.  It is the river of life and it flows out of the city of God into all the land bringing life to everything everywhere.  Again this takes us back to some of the last words of God in the Bible, “Behold I am making all things new…”  While the Hebrew people wouldn’t have heard these words directly from Ezekiel, they would have gotten the picture from what Ezekiel has described to them.  This is their hope and ours, that one day God come and restore everything in this world, that we will be able to eat from the tree of life and drink from the river of life, and never again will we face sin, death, sorrow, or loss.

Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus!


Day 253: Ezekiel 43-45; The Glory of God Returns

As we continue to walk through the systematic restoration process that is taken place, we come now to a point where we see two things being restored at the same time.  But first, let’s recap a bit.  After the judgment on Israel, the Lord spoke out against her leadership, the “shepherds” of Israel, showing them their fault in not caring for the sheep.  But, being the Lord who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and compassion, God the True Shepherd says that He Himself will go out to the mountains and the fields, into the nations of the world to find His sheep wherever they wander.  It is the Lord who will clean them up and renew them.

Not only will God renew the people of Israel, God will also remake them both body and spirit  and will “breathe life into them” and “give them a new and steadfast spirit.”  They will be a people reformed and renewed by God’s grace, brought back from the depths of the valley to once again be His people.

More than that, we read that yesterday God is going to restore the Temple which was destroyed.  While we don’t know for sure whether or not we are talking here about a physical restoration or a a sort of symbolic restoration, but what we do know is that in this time of restoration the worship of the Lord will resume and the people will once again look to Him in Worship.  No longer will the people seek the strength of other gods; no longer will they prostitute themselves to anyone that they find.  They will look to God, worship God in the truest way, the way that God called them to.

Today we take one more step in the complete restoration that God will bring as we see the presence of God return to the Temple and to the people of Israel.  This too has its unique interpretations, but as we read this we can hear the canonical echoes from Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

This is the ultimate end to the restoration that the Lord is bringing about, the culmination of all that God is working toward.  Ezekiel’s visions of God’s presence, the same vision of God that he had at the beginning of this book, is telling of the end goal that God is working for which is also seen in revelation.  We see things restored to their rightful state.  It isn’t that God is going to destroy creation and start over, it is that He is working in creation to bring about the fullness that was and will be again.  And when this happens, He will again dwell with us, His presence with ours for all of eternity.

Day 252: Ezekiel 40-42; Restoration of The Temple

The last three readings that we have in the book of Ezekiel have to do with Ezekiel’s vision of restoration that the Lord gave him.  Ezekiel writes that he was taken in a vision back to the land of Israel where he stood on a great mountain and witnessed a great many things which include a restored temple, the return of the glory of God to the Temple (tomorrow), and the restored land (2 days from now).  These visions come on the heels of Ezekiel’s vision from yesterday in which we witnessed the restoration of the people of Israel and the defeat of Israel’s enemies.  All of this, from the talk of God, the True Shepherd, bringing his people back to their land all the way through the end of the book is a vision of the systematic restoration of God’s people and eventually the whole world, making everything as it should be.

Today we read about the restoration of the Temple of the Lord.  In some ways, this should remind us of the directions that the Lord gave Moses for building the Tabernacle, or the plans of David for the first Temple.  Yet as we read Ezekiel’s account of the Temple that he witnessed in his vision, we should notice the absolute perfection of everything that he sees.  Everything is exact, everything is absolute.  We are inundated with numbers and measurements, all significant and exact.

There are a lot of potential interpretations that could come of this vision.  Historically this has been interpreted in four main ways:

  1. This is the Temple that was meant to be built during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and God was giving Ezekiel the directions on how to build it.
  2. This is a literal temple that will be rebuilt during the millennial reign of Christ.
  3. This temple is symbolic of the true worship of God by the Church right now.
  4. This temple is symbolic of the future, eternal reign of God at the end of time when God’s presence fills the earth.
(this image file is erroneously named) The Vis...

(this image file is erroneously named) The Visionary Ezekiel Temple plan drawn by the 19th century French architect and Bible scholar Charles Chipiez. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Each of these interpretations have their own reasoning and perhaps their own proofs for why they say that.  I think though, what each of these fails to take into consideration is the context in which this text is found.  As I said, today’s text is found within the greater context of restoration that the Lord will bring about.  The key here is that is indeed God who is bringing about the restoration.  We have seen throughout the writings of the prophets that there is nothing that mankind can do, nor God’s own people to save themselves or restore themselves.  When we spoke of God being the Shepherd, it is because His sheep aren’t going to bring themselves back.  It is the Spirit that needs to breath life into the bodies created from the dry bones.  Ultimately, it is God that has to truly bring about the restoration that is talked about here as well.

So what is the restoration going on here?  The restoration of the worship of God.  The sheep have been gathered by the Shepherd.  Life have been breathed back into the bodies of His people.  A new and right spirit has been placed in their hearts.  Now, in response to God’s restoration, they have come to God’s house to worship Him in the fullness of His grace!  Once again we find a bit of our own story here.  We too have been restored in this manner.  The Shepherd found us in our wanderings and breathed new life into us.  Now, we are able to join with the Body of Christ and worship God in the fullness of His grace.  Praise God!

Day 251: Ezekiel 37-39; The Valley of Dry Bones

Today’s reading continues on from the transition that we made yesterday from judgment to restoration.  This happens by way of a very familiar vision that Ezekiel is given by God: the vision of the valley of dry bones.  As I read through this today, I was struck by the amount of detail that Ezekiel uses when he describes the bones that he is seeing.  These aren’t just random bones, or just a few bones, but what appears to be piles and piles of old, dry bones.  You certainly don’t have to know much about biology to know that these original owners of these bones have been dead for a long, long time.

Yet God asks Ezekiel a seemingly ridiculous question in the midst of these bones, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  Anyone who knows anything knows that these bones cannot live, but Ezekiel’s answer shows a massive amount of faith.  I’m sure he knows that, all things being equal, these bones surely cannot live… but Ezekiel is also in the presence of God and in the presence of God all things are not equal…

A command is issues and Ezekiel responds in faith, prophesying to the bones, and they begin to come together.  I’m imagining it happening like a movie scene: Ezekiel starts prophesying and at first there is nothing… He keeps speaking… and suddenly there’s a little rattle and a tiny little bone starts to move.  Emboldened, Ezekiel speaks louder and more passionately and more and more bones start moving, flesh starts appearing, and before he knows it Ezekiel is standing in the midst of hundreds of lifeless bodies standing at attention.

This is, in so many ways a vision of Israel’s story both past and future.  In the valley of Egypt, when all seems lost, after 400 years of forced slavery, Moses is sent by God to deliver a message.  At first it doesn’t seem like anything is going to happen; many people doubted, but Moses continued and God showed His strength to pharaoh.  With a glimmer of hope some people began to believe and the dry bones of Hebrew slaves began to come together.  The same will be true for the people of Israel, dejected and alone in exile.  Here Ezekiel prophecies to them… could they begin to start believing again?  Could they turn from their ways and live again?

Something is missing though.  Flesh alone does not make a person alive… and God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath, to the Spirit to bring life into these lifeless bodies, for God will indeed make these bodies live again.  And indeed they did, just as they did in the wilderness of Sinai and as they will when they return from Exile once again.

We see something of ourselves once again in these prophesies as well.  Paul writes in Ephesians that we to were dead in our transgressions and sins, nothing but dried up old bones.  But through the grace of Christ, and the Holy Spirit which was poured out to us, we have been given flesh and life!  The Spirit has been placed in our hearts as well, that we may live for God as He has called us to live.  What a beautiful picture of the reality of grace that we live in!

Day 250; Ezekiel 34-36; The Shepherd Feeds His Sheep

Today’s reading is a very interesting dichotomy of shepherding imagery that collides headlong into words of hope and restoration for the flock, which in this case is Israel.  The Word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel the first time speaking against the supposed shepherds of Israel, the leaders who were supposed to be taking care of the people.  In fact, as we read this we see that God’s mandate for the whole of the people of Israel, the counter-cultural lifestyle that they were called to live that was to be honoring and glorifying to God, was very much their responsibility to model.  God says through Ezekiel,

The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.  So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.

This is, in many ways, the climax of Ezekiel’s prophesies against the nations and against Israel herself.  The summary statements of why things were they way they were at the time.  Ezekiel is not discounting Israel’s part in it as a nation, but he points directly to the leaders and indicts them as the culprits for Israel’s wandering ways.  It was them who were supposed to feed the sheep.  In many ways Ezekiel is talking about discipleship.  The Shepherds were supposed to feed the sheep and teach the sheep how to be shepherds themselves.  Instead they are lost and wandering and to make matters worse… the shepherds don’t even care.

It could be done there.  According to the Law, all was lost and God didn’t even need to do anything about it.

But God isn’t done there… No… God has only begun.  The following verses point to God as THE Shepherd and He hasn’t given up on the sheep at all.  Indeed love of the True Shepherd, the Good Shepherd (do you hear the canonical echos here?) is never exhausted!  Not only for the good of the sheep, but for the glory and honor of God’s name, will The Shepherd of shepherd go out into the nations and gather His sheep.

This is the transition from judgment prophecy to restoration prophecy…

God doesn’t stop there either.  He isn’t just going to gather His sheep together back into their pasture where they belong, He is going to take over Shepherding.  God is going to do for them what they could not do for themselves.  Even though the sheep are dirty from their wandering, the Shepherd is going to clean them up and renew them.  He says,

It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.  And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.  I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Again today, we do not simply read about an errant nation whom God has chosen to save, for we too know that we are like those people.  In many ways, Ezekiel is echoing the words of Isaiah,

“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

The “Him” that Isaiah is referring to is, of course, Jesus who picks up this theme in John 10 when He refers to Himself as “The Good Shepherd.”  Jesus hands off this role to Peter, the disciples, and the Church as well when He instructs Peter to “feed My sheep” at the end of John.

As Christians, believers in and disciples of Christ, we too are both sheep and shepherd.  We have been called to be the Shepherds of the world around us, seeking out lost sheep and bringing them back into the fold.  For the leaders of the Church, this call in Ezekiel is especially urgent.  We have been given the role as shepherds of God’s people and it is our responsibility to feed them and care for them.  Time and again we have seen this role corrupted whether by pedophile priests, greedy televangelists, and even some mega-church pastors.  As a whole, the Christian church in America is facing the results of a crisis of leadership, struggling to understand how to feed the sheep and care for them when so many seem to be wandering off into the “greener pastures” of spirituality, culture, and apathy.

Fortunately we don’t have to do this alone.  The Good Shepherd is always with us, guiding and directing the flock.  Our hope rests on Him alone, the Ultimate Shepherd of our lives of who we can say,

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Day 249: Ezekiel 32-33; How We Live and Die

While I don’t think it is the main part of our reading today, it certainly is a very prominent and important part of how we think about sin, forgiveness and righteousness when in comes to Christian Theology.  Most of the other writing that we read today is fairly familiar as it seems to be repeated prophecy or words of lament for Pharaoh, whom we spoke of yesterday.  But in the middle of chapter 33, after the Lord reiterated to Ezekiel his position as the watchman of Israel and all the comes along with that, God’s word on salvation, forgiveness, and righteousness comes screaming through the prophesies of judgment that surround it.  What does God say about this?  In so many words: “none of the good that you do can save you from your sinfulness.”

I know that this isn’t the only place in the Bible which the Lord reveals to us that there is nothing that we as humans can do to earn our own righteousness, but if I think about those that write about it in the New Testament, specifically Paul, I have to imagine that he is probably drawing from the Old Testament Scriptures which likely would include this.

The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. 

Paul writes in Romans that “there is no one righteous, no not one,” this is the beginning of the Calvinistic thought of Total Depravity.  God says that when the wicked turn from their sin towards righteousness, they will live, but when a righteous person sins, by that they will die.  Whether or not you are a Calvinist, we understand that the human race is mired in sin and is, by its very nature, completely unable to not sin.  By Ezekiel’s own words, this means that we are going to die.  This is the prophecy that he delivers to Israel here.  No one can ride the coattails of another’s righteousness, nor can they trust their own righteousness for salvation.

There is nothing new in this statement though, despite the claim of injustice.  People could say, “How can God treat people this way?”  Yet it is not at all contrary to the nature of God who is Holy and wholly opposed to sin, Just, and the true measure of righteousness.  These words though, life so many of the words of the Old Testament also pave the way both for the need of Christ and the salvation by the grace that is offered to all through His blood on the cross.  It is clear here that there is no one that, on their own merit, will be able to escape the coming destruction and judgment.  God says, “O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”  Indeed this is true for us as it was true for Israel and every nation around Israel that faced the judgment of God.  Only through the blood of Jesus, having righteousness imputed upon us through our belief in Him can we receive the grace of God and be saved from our sinful ways.

Day 248: Ezekiel 29-31; The Fall of the Great Oppressor

All Giza Pyramids in one shot. Русский: Все пи...

All Giza Pyramids in one shot. Русский: Все пирамиды Гизы на изображении. Español: Las Pirámides de Guiza (Egipto). Français : Les Pyramides de Gizeh (Egypte). Català: Les Piràmides de Giza, a Egipte. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In many ways, the prophesies against Egypt mirror those of the prophesies against Tyre and Sidon.  The Egyptians built an empire that was very powerful from the time of Abraham all the way until now.  For over a thousand years the Pharaohs ruled the land building great structures, amassing great wealth, and conquering many nations.  At the center of their power was the Nile, a life giving river that cuts through the barren desert.  All these things were blessings from God, given to the Egyptian people by the hand of the Almighty.  Yet the people of Egypt failed to recognize God’s hand in all of it.  Instead, the Pharaoh‘s, whom the Egyptians viewed as sons of the gods, claimed that it was them who create and sustain the Nile.

Green irrigated land (3.4 million ha) along th...

Green irrigated land (3.4 million ha) along the Nile amidst the desert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Egypt was also known as a cruel slave master.  They enslaved the Israelites for 400 years in the early days, brought out only by God’s hand and the might works He performed in Egypt.  God showed Himself to be more powerful that all the gods of Egypt, yet the people still didn’t believe in or worship the God of Israel.  They were an idolatrous nation, worship a whole pantheon of gods and goddesses.  Moreover, in the face of these great miracles, ones that would be remembered in Egypt for generations upon generations, they still set themselves up as being the most powerful nation in the area, claiming their own dominance and power over that of God.

This is probably the reason the the people of Israel sought help from Egypt time after time, even wanting to go back there when they were wandering in the wilderness.  Several of the last kings of Judah, Hezekiah, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah, all sought help from Egypt against the invasions that they were struggling with.  It makes good physical sense to seek help from the next most powerful nation and one that is quite close to them, yet it was a direct violation of God’s law.  The Lord wanted His people to trust in Him alone, seeking help in times of trouble from only Himself.  He knew that they lure of power and military might would draw them back to the nation that oppressed them for so many years and He didn’t want that and expressly forbade it in the Law.  Yet as the people of Israel and their leaders became increasingly desperate to deal with things on their own without God, they broke the law (many times in fact) and went back to their oppressors for help.

To this nation God says, “you too will fall.”  Even a nation that has stood as long as Egypt falls quickly and helplessly before God.  It truly doesn’t matter what resources or strength we think we might have, God has more.  It doesn’t matter how hard we have worked to do anything, what we have is a blessing from God.  We may have built our house, our business, and even our family, but these are all blessings from God and we need to remember that.  This doesn’t mean that we not try or work hard at our jobs and at home; God has called us to be good stewards of what we have been given.  However, in all things, at all times, and in all places we need to remember that all that we have and all that we are, everything that has brought us to that point has been made possible, provided for, and sustained by God alone.

Day 247: Ezekiel 27-28; Prophecy and Lament

There is an interesting juxtaposition of emotions that comes along with today’s reading.  First, we hear a lament that Ezekiel raises for the city of Tyre, which is followed by more prophecy against the city and especially against its leaders.  This too is followed by prophecy against Sidon, another city very close to Tyre, and then a promise from the Lord regarding Israel.

Ezekiel, when he speaks of Tyre in his lament, speaks very highly of the city as being something great and beautiful at the time of it’s fall.  If you were to put the description of the city of Jerusalem up against this description of the city of Tyre, it would seem that Tyre is like a gem, a city that has everything while Jerusalem was nothing by a Godless city of idolaters.  There is no doubt that Tyre was a city that had been abundantly blessed by the Lord.  It is clear here that they had just about everything and traded with everyone.  Tyre was known for its wealth and trading, a city with two harbors prominent throughout the history books.  The city itself was beautiful and well fortified.  Yet for all its beautiful, it and especially its leaders, fell into the sin of pride.  As I read this I was reminded of many of today’s celebrities and even some of the nation’s biggest cities that seemingly have (or had) everything and have since crumbled before the eyes of the entire world.  I cannot help by think that the old adage is very true, “Pride goeth before the fall.”

Though Ezekiel did prophesy against the city of Tyre itself in chapters 26 & 27, he takes a turn, as our other prophet friends have done, towards its leaders and their pride that also led the people down this road of destruction.  What is more interesting , here in chapter 28 (apart from the mention of the prophet Daniel whom we will be covering in a couple days), is Ezekiel doesn’t just take aim at the human leaders, but at the spiritual leaders of the city as well, namely Satan.  It is clear that there are times when Ezekiel is using words and phrases that cannot be applied just to a human being but obviously go deeper to that who the king is following.  While he is never named directly, it is clear that the leadership of Tyre have chosen to follow the ways of evil, seduced by Satan towards the way of pride and sinfulness.  Ezekiel is condemning both the leaders and Satan for Tyre’s fall.

We need to be careful when we look into these scriptures though.  It could be just as easy for us to think that we know exactly what is happening here and all that Ezekiel is talking about.  Whether or not we can discern which parts of chapter 28 are directed at the King of Tyre and which are directed at Satan is probably not the point that Ezekiel is trying to make here.  What is more important, I think, is the message to leaders that we again get in this section of prophetic literature.  We have encountered this before in Isaiah and Jeremiah and, as leaders, need to heed the warning that pride is a dangerous sin the leaves destruction in its wake.  It is alarming how many Christian leaders in the world are being brought down by marital infidelity, stealing, and even things like plagiarism.  We need to take our cues from those people we see in culture who have it all and think they can handle it on their own, as if they were somehow the source of their many blessings.  It is God alone who gives us what we have, who blesses us in our positions, and who should be leading us wherever we are going and whatever we are doing.  All else is the way of pride and sin.  We don’t “got this…” God does.

Day 246: Ezekiel 24-26; Familiar Prophecies

Ezekiel is a book that is full of things that are unique to him in relation to all of the other prophets.  The visions and actions that Ezekiel sees and takes are very different from all of the other prophets and often times make him seem eccentric and perhaps even a bit weird.  Yet for all the craziness that comes with this “son of man,” the message that he brings is very familiar.  In fact, today’s reading brings with it some of the more familiar prophecies, similar to that of Isaiah and Jeremiah.  We also read again today of the siege of Jerusalem and its fall.  These are all very familiar happenings for us, so at the risk of being repetitive I am going to include links to the other places in which these are recorded and the posts concerning them.  After which we’ll take briefly about Ezekiel 24:15-27 where Ezekiel’s wife dies.

The Fall of Jerusalem

Babylon and Jerusalem Fall, God is Faithful
Jeremiah 52

Historic Interlude – The first invasion of Judah
Isaiah 36-39

Josiah Through Zedekiah and the Exile
2 Chronicles 35-36

Destruction and Exile of Judah
2 Kings 24-25

Prophecies Against the Nations

Messages Against the Nations (Part 1)
Messages Against the Nations (Part 2)
Messages Against the Nations (Part 3)
Jeremiah 46-50

Oracles Against the Nations (Part 1)
Oracles Against the Nations (Part 2)
Oracles Against the Nations (Part 3)
Isaiah 14-25

…and many more to come as well…

One thing that is rather unique to the the book of Ezekiel in today’s reading is the narrative of the death of Ezekiel’s wife.  Like many of the other actions that Ezekiel had taken in his life, like lying on his side to represent the time of punishment for Judah and Israel, this event in Ezekiel’s life as well as the actions he takes (or more appropriately stated: doesn’t take) are representative of the posture of the people of God when they hear of Jerusalem’s fall.  There are a couple of meanings that can be found in this short passage.  For one, we see clearly that it is the Lord who both knows of and is in control of the fall of Ezekiel’s wife and the fall of Jerusalem.  God is making sure that the people know that it is He who is doing this and not someone or something else that has more power than God.  Second, I think that God is showing the people of Israel what is happening to “the pride of [their] power, the delight of [their] eyes, and the yearning of [their] soul.”  The people of God had placed too much confidence in the Temple and in their city and land, boasting that as their strength instead of God only to see God Himself, who gave them these things, take it away.  It is a message to us as well  that, though we may value the blessings of our lives, we must value more and ultimately only worship God who gave us these things.

Day 245: Ezekiel 22-23; Abominations

There are some days in which I feel this blog is easy to write.  The content within the reading lends itself to particular topics and/or subjects that need to be addressed and I feel as though the Spirit is moving within me and I know what it is that I am supposed to say.  However, today is not one of those today.  In fact, I am completely at a loss as to what to say about the reading today.  Sometimes if I start writing things will come to me and the words will start flowing, but today that doesn’t seem to be the case either.

I was kind of struck by the opening section of chapter 22 as Ezekiel was asked to judge the city of Jerusalem for the abominations that they had committed.  It may seem rather obvious to some, but what struck me was that it was the things they did and the things they had that caused them to “become guilty.”  While I don’t think there is a direct connection here, I started to think about our materialistic culture and all the things that we have and all the other things we want to have.  The people became “defiled” by their idols.  I wonder if we walk that line sometimes, bordering on becoming defiled by some of the things that we have or work for.  Just recently I was reading an article about Internet Addiction and how it is a problem that is drastically on the increase in America.  Computers, Video Games, Facebook, and all the other things that I could name forever and ever are not in and of themselves a bad thing, but when they become the driving force behind our lives they become our idols and we become defiled by them, loosing focus on God and His purpose for us.

The other thing that struck me today, which I think is inextricably linked to what I just said, was the story of Oholah and Oholibah and their “prostitution” in chapter 23.  It starts by talking about who they were and how they got to where they are today.  While they were still “young,” as Ezekiel says in the analogy, they gave themselves up, prostituting themselves to the many different nations.  The Northern Kingdom did this first and was followed closely and ultimately surpassed by Jerusalem, which I can only assume means the whole of Judah.  What I found interesting in this whole narrative that Ezekiel is saying is that they did these awful things for a while and God sent them warnings and stuff, but eventually God gave them up to their idolatrous pursuits and it is clear that they backfired greatly.  Indeed instead of having all that they sought from the other nations, Judah became the laughing stock of everyone and looked down upon greatly by all the nations.

I don’t know that I can completely say that I understand this in its fullest sense, but when I was younger I was very heavily into online gaming.  For a long time there were friends that warned me not to get addicted and people that tried to get me to give it up so that I would be a “real life” friend to them.  After a while though, people stopped trying and I fell into the addiction.  In fact, a great many of my friends left me because of what I was doing thinking I was a crazy person and an addict, which I was.  Sadly this lasted for a long time.  It cost me my friends, my schooling, and, at least for the short term, my future.  Fortunately, God hadn’t given up on me and he used this time to bring me to my knees.  Eventually I wound up pursuing a career in ministry and eventually Seminary where I am now… but the “exile” or wilderness that I went through was not a fun one.

Day 244: Ezekiel 20-21; Old News… Bad News…

There is a great deal of bad news that comes with today’s reading.  It’s almost depressing to be honest.  Ezekiel probably has one of the most comprehensive descriptions about what is going on with the people of Israel, why it is happening, and even how it will take place.  As I was reading all of chapter 20 though, I kept thinking that I had heard all of this in another place before now.  Of course we have heard a lot of this message in Isaiah and Jeremiah, but it wasn’t with them that we had heard all of Ezekiel’s telling of the story of the people of Israel.  Do you remember where it came from?  It’s been a long time since we talked about it and it had been a long time chronologically speaking for the people of Israel too.  However, any good Hebrew scholar of the Scriptures in that time would have recognized Ezekiel’s words as coming from the book of Leviticus, particularly the end, as well as other parts of Exodus and Deuteronomy that talk about the Covenant and all that would happen if they broke the covenant.

What Ezekiel was saying here, the Word of the Lord that came to him, was certainly not anything new for the people of Israel.  I would assume that Ezekiel knew exactly what God was saying and where He was drawing from as the words were flowing out of his mouth.  If you have a moment, read the following excerpt from Leviticus 26, you might notice some similarities between Ezekiel 20 and this:

Leviticus 26

14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. 18 And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again seven fold for your sins, 19 and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.

21 “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. 22 And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.

23 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you seven fold for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

27 “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. 31 And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. 32 And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.

34 “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. 36 And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them.

40 “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes. 44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God.45 But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.”

The Word of the Lord to Ezekiel is not something made up on the spot, neither is it contrary to the Covenant that God has made with His people.  Yet even at the end of Chapter 20, as we have seen in the writings of the prophets and many more times throughout Israel’s history, God forgives and His grace abounds.  In so many ways, God’s grace abounds.  Even with the people of God don’t get it, when they don’t repent, God still forgives and still continues to try to teach them.  He even goes so far as to send His Son to do what they could not so that the whole world would know that He is God.

Day 243: Ezekiel 17-19; The Word of The Lord Came… Then They Will Know…

I noticed something as I was reading today’s Scripture, a repeated phrase that has come up again and again.  Well, actually there are two phrases that I have noted a couple times in Ezekiel.  I think both of them are important to us as we continue to read here.  While I will be brief here today, I want to encourage you to take a few minutes and go back over the readings from the past couple of days and look to see where you find these phrases and noticed what they are linked with.

The first phrase is: “The Word of the Lord came…”  Often times this is something that Ezekiel is talking about in a personal sense.  The Word of the Lord came to him (me) and at that point He started speaking, almost as if the Word of God was inhabiting Ezekiel’s mouth and thus compelling him to speak.  I wonder if, because Ezekiel was special, he just spoke what he felt he was told to speak right away or if he ever hesitated.  If I were to take some time to reflect on my life I can remember some times that I should have said something and didn’t.  I wonder if this was more of Ezekiel’s experience in being a prophet…  I am reminded of the post from a couple days ago when we talked about Ezekiel being a watchman for Israel, perhaps this compelled him to speak a bit more?  I wonder if we took that mentality as Christians, understanding that we are the watchmen for our communities, friends, family, churches, etc.  Would we be compelled to speak more when we feel that we are being prompted?

The second phrase is: “Then they will know…” or “and you shall know that I am the Lord…”  This phrase comes up time and again in prophetic literature, often times appearing after the Lord has said that He is going to do something.  Generally speaking this comes after talk of judgment or some sort of punishing action against Israel or the nations around Israel.  It could be against Israel or it could be in defense of Israel.  The point, however, is that these things are happening not because the people were aware but because they weren’t.  You don’t put a name tag on if you know everyone and everyone knows you, you put it on so people can see you and recognize you and address you by name.  It has become abundantly clear that the people of God no longer recognize their God and it is through these actions that God is going to take that they are to be reminded of God.  This too makes me wonder, do we recognize God and God’s actions?  I have a couple of close friends that are going through some tough times right now.  On their care pages they mention often how they can see God at work in their day to day lives as they recover and/or deal with their individual situations.  I’m not saying that these bad things had to happen before they would recognize God in their lives, they are good Christian people, but the fact remains that they are more aware than ever of God’s hand at work in their lives.  I wonder if we are that aware… or if we just take things for granted…  perhaps we, like Israel, have a tendency to forget to see God, know God’s actions, and thank Him for His providence in our lives?

Day 242: Ezekiel 14-16; Judgment on Idolatrous Israel

Our reading today is largely linked with much of the prophecy of Ezekiel against Jerusalem that we have already read.  As Ezekiel unfolds and reveals the Word of the Lord to the people of Israel, he has shown them and told them that they have sinned again and again, repeatedly angering the Lord and, though God was with them and was going to be with them, they were going to be punished for their sins and their idolatry.  Thus far we have focused in on Ezekiel, his calling, and the vision that he sees twice, but all of that is actually focused in on the judgment that is coming on Jerusalem, Judah, and that which already happened to Israel (the Northern Kingdom).  It has been represented by actions that Ezekiel has taken and it has been declared by God and delivered as a message to God’s people through the mouth of Ezekiel.  Today we find out in vivid detail, as if we didn’t already know this, the reasoning behind the judgment that is taking place.

As we have heard in both Isaiah and Jeremiah, the people of Israel have turned away from God.  This is certainly not groundbreaking news for us today as we read, but what is perhaps the more alarming and shocking thing that we see here is the depth of the brokenness that is related to us.  God’s people have not simply stopped listening to Him from time to time, they have completely turned their back on Him and given themselves over to other gods.  Ezekiel relays God’s message to the people of Israel in terms of a marriage rocked by a adulterous spouse who has not simply cheated on her husband, but has sold herself to anyone and everyone that she has found.  Ezekiel 16 really tells the story of Israel’s unfaithfulness from beginning to now.  I would encourage you to read it again.

I’ve only been married a couple of weeks, but I honestly think for the first time I am beginning to grasp this idea of what God is talking about.  I can’t even imagine the heartache and pain I would feel if my wife betrayed my love and trust to even one person.  But God says that the people of Israel didn’t just go looking for another god, they willingly opened themselves to any passerby, as if their relationship, their covenant with God didn’t matter.  To imagine my wife just willingly giving herself away to anyone on the road just turns my stomach.  Yet this is the image we are given of Israel, the chosen people of God.

Yet even as I read this I start to get a nagging feeling inside of me too, not about my wife but about myself.  This isn’t just Israel’s story is it?  No… it is my story… our story… the story of redemption and salvation that we are reading here.  We too have been chosen and called by God.  We too have been offered life, clothed and made beautiful in Jesus Christ.  We too have turned our backs time an again on the one who has saved us, replacing him with the next popular TV show, musical artist, hobby, or video game.  Like the people of Israel, we too have given ourselves over to the lustful passions of our hearts, revealing ourselves to whatever might seem nice at the moment…

For thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant,  yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant.  Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and I give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you.  I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord,  that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.

This is true grace.  This is only found in the blood of Jesus Christ.  No matter how far we turn, God remembers His covenant with us that we may always be welcomed back into His arms.

Day 241: Ezekiel 10-13; Ezekiel's Vision and the Glory of God

Today I would like to take a bit of a closer look at the vision of Ezekiel in chapter 1 that he sees again in our chapter 10 of our reading today.  This is the second time that Ezekiel sees a vision like this and describes it for us.  These visions, like many of his visions, are full of crazy imagery that seems weird to us.  It almost seems like it is something out of a messed up movie or some B-rates sci-fi, made for T.V. movie or something.  There have been some that claim that these visions of Ezekiel are actually the first recorded sightings of U.F.O’s visiting the planet and this is Ezekiel’s attempt to interpret the advanced technology that he is seeing.

While I highly doubt that Ezekiel saw any U.F.O’s during his time in Babylon, it is very clear that what he is seeing is strange and completely out of the ordinary.  Yet it is also true that when God speaks to us and reveals Himself to us, He does so in means and ways that we are capable of understanding, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first glance.  The people of Israel would have been able to recognize much of this symbolism, though its difficult to ever say that a particular part of any vision like this has a direct one-to-one correlation, especially for people in the 21st century, over 2,000 years removed from this cultural context.

Speaking of context, it is important to remember that Ezekiel is in Babylon when he is seeing these images, one of the exiles from the first wave that was brought over by King Nebuchadnezzar.  In both of Ezekiel’s visions he sees the four creatures and the four wheels.  Lets take a look at these things first.  The four creatures each have four heads with four faces, yet their bodies seem to be like those of a human.  Often times these different faces would be representative of the perfect nature of God.  Each could represent a different aspect of God’s nation like strength, intelligence, and even divinity.  It could also be though that these creatures are representative of the whole of creation in all of its majesty.  In one commentary that I read, there is a comment made about a link between each of these faces and each of the four gospels:

Matthew – The Lion; Matthew represents Christ as the Lion of Judah.

Mark – The Ox; Mark represents Christ as the Servant of God

Luke – The Human; Luke represents Christ as the perfect Human

John – The Eagle; John represents Christ as the Divine Son of God

We’ll talk more about the differences in the gospels in a couple weeks when we get there. It is also important to note that these creatures in Ezekiel’s vision are parallels to the creatures around the throne of God that John sees and records in the book of Revelation.  More to come on this as well in a couple months!

The other prominent thing that Ezekiel sees in both visions is the 4 “wheel within a wheel” apparatuses that are next to the four creatures.  Both times these wheels are covered in eyes and he even describes them as having fire within them.  This is linked heavily to the phrase “wherever the Spirit would go,” pointing towards the ability to go in any direction at any time.  This would have been contrasted with the vehicular transport of the time, mainly horse and chariot, and their slower and more awkward ability to make turns.  God’s throne, as Ezekiel sees it, is able to go anywhere at any time in an instant, wherever the Spirit wills to go.  They are covered with eyes and contain a flame therein, representing, most likely, the ability for the Spirit of God to see all things everywhere with a sight that is both penetrating and purifying.  Though seemingly terrifying, this is actually representing a message of comfort to the people in exile, showing them that God both sees them in their foreign land and is with them while they are there.  If they believed that the throne of God was somehow limited to being in Jerusalem in the Temple, Ezekiel’s vision is letting them know that it is able to be anywhere and everywhere all the time.

There are some more familiar images in both visions too.  Ezekiel sees a throne with one sitting on it.  There is a rainbow above Him, something instantly recognizable by anyone, especially the Hebrews.  The second vision is like the first, except that it is set in the Temple, which is considered to be the throne of God by the Hebrew people.  It is here that Ezekiel recognizes the creatures as Cherubim, the angels that are present in the throne room of God.

All of this, everything that Ezekiel describes to us, is representative of the glory of God translated into images that are manageable and meaningful to us as humans.  The Divine is so wholly other, so incomprehensible to us as finite humans, that there is no way for us to see it as it really is, much less understand it.  Ezekiel is seeing and describing for us the human translation of the presence and glory of God Almighty.  The vision ends abruptly at the end of chapter 10 though, as the glory of the Lord ascends from the Temple in Jerusalem and departs from that place… something that we will pick up on tomorrow…

Day 240: Ezekiel 5-9; A Watchman for Israel

As I said yesterday, today we are going to talk more about the call of Ezekiel and the vision that he has.  Moreover, I would like to talk about some of the meanings of the vision, not all though because he actually has this vision again in chapter 10, which we’ll talk about tomorrow.  Ezekiel’s life is also full of symbolic actions and is itself part of the message that he is delivering to the people of Israel.  His actions, words, and visions all coalesce into what the Word of the Lord is for the people of Israel living in exile in Babylon.

Ezekiel’s call and vision happen concurrently, one right after another, and are very much related to each other.  As a priest of Israel, Ezekiel was responsible for being the mediator between God and His people.  Under normal circumstances, Ezekiel would have been working in the Temple of God in Jerusalem performing sacrifices for the people of Israel, worshiping God and mediating between the divine and the terrestrial.  In Babylon however, the people of God were cut off, or so they thought, from their theological center, 500 or so miles from Jerusalem (actually it was about 1,000 miles by way of caravan as they would have meandered through the land for trade and safety).  The Temple represented the presence of God to the Israelites and being disconnected from it meant being disconnected from God.  I can’t imagine the confusion and sense of loss that Ezekiel and the exiles were feeling when this vision came to him.

Ezekliel's Vision Photo Credit:

Ezekliel’s Vision
Photo Credit:

The vision itself is overflowing with imagery in an apocalyptic genre of Biblical literature.  Ezekiel sees beings with different faces that have wings able to take them anywhere.  These beings were next to “a wheel within a wheel” that is covered in eyes.  Finally, all of this is under a throne “and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance.  And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Ezekiel's Vision Photo Credit:

Ezekiel’s Vision
Photo Credit:

While these images, like many others we encounter in prophetic literature, seem rather strange to us, they would not have necessarily been completely off the wall to Ezekiel or his contemporaries.  These things were representative of the One who is giving the vision, namely God almighty.  We will talk more about the meanings of the different things when we talk more about the vision of Ezekiel tomorrow, but suffice to say now that in seeing this Ezekiel got the message that God was not limited by time or space and was with Him and the rest of His people in exile just as much as He was with them in Jerusalem and the promised land.

Interestingly, and somewhat of a revelation to me today, is the fact that it isn’t just this imagery that carries with it representation from God.  Ezekiel’s life is in many ways a representation of the very message that God is communicating to the people of Israel.  Even the call of Ezekiel is representative of God’s call to His people knowing that they have been rebellious and haven’t listened to Him.  He even says it to Ezekiel, telling him that when he hears the message he should not be rebellious like the people of Israel had been.  Not only was Ezekiel to listen though, he was also to take it in, to “eat the scroll” and take it inside of himself.  Eating means making it a part of you that it may nourish and fill you, which is exactly what the Word of the Lord is supposed to do.  This very line has echos all the way back to the giving of the Law and the Shema.

As far as the revelation I had today about this and about Ezekiel, I realized when I noticed that God was calling him “Son of man” and that Ezekiel’s life and actions were representative of Israel, that in many ways Ezekiel himself is a foreshadowing of the coming of Christ.  Jesus refers to Himself as “The Son of man” and is representative of what Israel was supposed to be as the people of God.  Some of the actions of Ezekiel as similar to that of Jesus and, what I found to be most interesting, Ezekiel does things to represent the punishment of Israel and Judah whereas Jesus actually takes that punishment on Himself at the cross!  What a genius foreshadowing that we see here and will continue to see throughout this book.

Finally, though what has been said here is quite a bit, I want to just address the section of Ezekiel 3 where God says to Ezekiel, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel.”  I think this is a very interesting image that God gives Ezekiel about his duty to the people he has been called to speak to.  God says that whatever He tells Ezekiel to say, it is Ezekiel’s responsibility to say it to them.  If there is a warning, Ezekiel is responsible for warning them.  Furthermore, if Ezekiel doesn’t speak what the Lord says, not only will the “wicked person” die, but his blood will be on Ezekiel’s hands.  Ultimately the responsibility for turning from evil lies with “the wicked person,” but the responsibility for warning him/her is on the one whom God has appointed, namely Ezekiel.

As a seminary student feeling called to potentially lead a congregation and be a leader of the Church, I think that this warning and appointment as a “Watchman” is very important for us to hear.  Pastors and church leaders are called to be these Watchman for their congregations and for the Church as well.  I think that too often we don’t say what we know God is telling us to say, to our own members or the greater Church either.  Perhaps we get bogged down in procedure, or maybe we think that it is none of our business.  It could be that Pastors don’t want to “get up in people’s faces” or are more concerned about keeping their job and speaking the Word of God.  I wonder if in this day an age is might simply be people getting caught up in moral relativism?  However, God is saying here that, like Ezekiel, we are called to speak God’s Word, even if is the unpopular message, because it is the Word of God.  If we don’t, their “blood” may be on our hands as well…  I know I’m just as guilty as the next guy…  but this is a wake-up call for me and for the leadership of the Church and even the leadership of Christian families:  We need to be alert.  We need to be listening for the Word of God.  We need to be willing to speak God’s Word.  We are called to be Watchmen.