Day 264: Amos 1-3; Intro to Amos

As we move into the prophet Amos, we a meet a prophet that was sent to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Though Amos was “one of the shepherds of Tekoa,” a city very close to Jerusalem, the Lord sent him into Israel to deliver the message of God to them.  From a chronological standpoint, Amos became a prophet around, but a bit before the prophet Hosea, who was also called and sent to the Northern Kingdom.   Unlike many of the other prophets, there is very little comfort in Amos’ message to the people of Israel; he is pretty much all judgment all the time.  We will see a little section at the end that speaks of restoration, but mostly Amos drives home the point that Judgment is coming, it is coming for specific reasons, and it will all encompassing.

Because today’s reading has a lot to do with the announcement of the Judgment that is to come, something that we have heard many times before, I think it is important once again to talk through the mind of the prophet and look at the specific language that he, and other prophets use in their writing and speaking.  We talked about this on our last day of the book of Ezekiel, but would do well continue to remember this because it is clear that the prophets have a language and a way all their own.  Abraham J. Heschel would say that we have no language in common with the prophets and he wouldn’t be too far from the truth.  Amos, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others speak in sweeping accusations using grandiose language and vivid imagery that is often even questionable for children.  In fact, in many Bible classes for kids of all ages, the prophets tend to be a brushed over group of writings because of their R rated commentary of Israel and Judah.

There is, however, a good reason for this.  Prophets don’t simply use crazy language for attention’s sake, like a CEO in a meetings uses curse words to make a point.  The prophets are speaking from the very mouth of God.  Indeed the prophets hold a very unique office in the Hebrew culture, being those who have one foot in the throne room of God and the other foot in the throne rooms of kings and on the streets of cities.  These prophets are called by God, often times taken up in visions like Daniel and Ezekiel, seeing another side of reality, and going so far touched on the mouth and given words to say like Isaiah and Jeremiah.  They have been called to be a watchman, to bring the Word of the Lord to God’s people and the surrounding nations, but also bring laments of the people before God as well.  He hearing God’s Words, and spending time in God’s presence, they begin to see things as God sees them, with the burning and passionate love that God feels for His people.

So why all of the strong language then?  Why all the judgment?  Why did we spend yet another day reading the announcement of the coming judgments once again?  The answer is, strange as it may seem to us, God’s unrelenting love for His people and creation.  Sin, this corruption of all that God had made good, has caused creation and God’s people to fall and to continue to turn away from Him.  Yet God loves His people and is continually working towards reconciliation and redemption.  Sometimes this means punishing His people though, for the sins they have committed and for their continual denial of Him.

Amos’ words today relate to us a cycle of sinful behavior, continual actions that have cause people to reject God and follow their own will.  The judgment that is coming will break this cycle.  We too, at times, find ourselves in this cycle.  The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans about this:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

God knows that we are stuck in this cycle, unable to help ourselves out of it.  The sin must be punished and the cycle broken for us to escape from it.  For the people of the Old Testament, this was done through sacrifice.  In the death of one there would be life for the other.  For us, the ultimate expression of this is in Jesus Christ.  Paul continues in Romans 8 by saying,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

As we continue to read the prophets, keep in mind that the people whom God loves so passionately are continuing to turn away from Him.  What’s worse is that they cannot help themselves out of the pit that they have dug for themselves.  Yet God doesn’t leave them there; there is hope and though these people won’t live to see that day, it has come and the Kingdom of God is here.  God has reconciled His people to Himself through Jesus Christ, and in this time, as we wait for that to be completed, we live according to the Spirit who continues to teach and reprove us, sanctifying us each day, that we may become more and more like Jesus.

Day 255: Daniel 1-2; Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar's Dream

The life of the prophet Daniel took place concurrently with that of Ezekiel and Jeremiah.  Both Daniel and Ezekiel would have been taken with the first wave of captives that were taken around 605 B.C.  With Ezekiel being a priest and Daniel being of noble blood, it is possible that they would have even known each other.  However, unlike the other prophets that we have read so far, Daniel does not include messages of judgment against the people of Israel or the surrounding nations.  In fact, Daniel is more of an example of what it meant to live faithfully for God while in exile.  While others that had been taken captive willfully defiled themselves before God by eating food that was sacrificed to idols, Daniel and his three friends remained true to their faith and to God, and for this God blessed them.

Nebuchadnezzar's Dream of the Statue Photo Credit:

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of the Statue
Photo Credit:

As a book, Daniel also provides key prophesies about the future.  In many ways, when many people think about prophesy, they think about some of the obscure prophesies of the future that we will read in the latter part of this book.  Many of these have to do with the immediate and somewhat distant future of the region, about the change of power between nations, and the coming of the Messiah.  Sadly, there are many people that think that Daniel is actually a book to be decoded and that in some way it will give us clues and hints to the second coming of Christ and things like the Rapture and Tribulation.  While again, I do not claim to be a Biblical scholar, in studying a lot of these interpretations, their failing lies in the fact that they do not consider the whole unity of Scripture and take single verses out of context to prove their own theories.  Like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, all these writings must be considered within their greater context, historical, cultural, and Biblical, so that we can have a better picture of what God is trying to tell us through the writings of Daniel.

Fortunately for us, there are some things that come up in Daniel that are actually given interpretations on the spot.  For these, it is important for us to listen to what God reveals through Daniel so that we do not ourselves misinterpret them.  These interpretations also give us insight into other visions and dreams that come about later in the book.  The first of these dreams that we encounter is that of Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon.  For people in this day and age, dreams were a great deal more significant than they are for us.  Many considered dreams to be messages from the gods, which explains why a king would surround himself with advisers, wise men, and even magicians, to help interpret signs and dreams.  After having his dream he presents his “wise guys” with an impossible request; impossible that is for any human and the man made gods they worshiped.  However, to the God that knows all and sees all is able to reveal this to Daniel without any problem.

Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the statue Photo Credit:

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue
Photo Credit:

What Daniel reveals is that the dream Nebuchadnezzar has is about the future and about the his kingdom and those to follow.  Each of the kingdoms, it seems, decrease in splendor while increasing in strength.  Gold is one of the more malleable of metals, Iron the least.  Gold is one of the most precious metals, Iron the least.  While Daniel doesn’t give us too much of an interpretation of what nations the metals stand for, modern interpretations indicate:

  • Gold stood for the Babylonian Empire spanning 606 B.C. to 539 B.C.
  • Silver stood for the Medo-Persian Empire spanning 539 B.C. to 331 B.C.
  • Bronze stood for the Grecian Empire spanning 331 B.C. to 146 B.C.
  • Iron stood for the Roman Empire spanning 146 B.C. to 476 B.C.

Most of the disagreement comes from the meaning of the “Iron mixed with clay” that the feet of the statue were made out of.  Some would say, with good reasoning, that this stand for the “revived” Roman Empire which was actually the latter part of the Roman Empire which was divided into smaller provinces and eventually fell to the influence of multiple other nations.  Other interpretations state that the feet represent the “10 nations” of Europe that existed after the Roman empire.  Still others think it represents the current days that we are in and that somehow things like the United Nations is a clear fulfillment of this prophecy.  While I don’t think that you could say with any confidence that the U.N. is a “clear fulfillment,” I can say with marked assured that the point of the dream is not the statue at all… it is the Rock.

The Rock that is not formed by human hands comes in and smashes the statue to oblivion and then is set up on earth like a massive mountain.  The interpretation of the Rock is also very clear: “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold.”  Daniel speaks here of the Kingdom of God, not a kingdom set up by humans, but one that God Himself will establish here on earth.  God has revealed to Nebuchadnezzar and to all people the ultimate plan for this world and it does not involve human kingdoms, but heavenly ones.  The Lord, the only King and Head of this World, will set up His Kingdom here on earth, a process that began with the first coming of Jesus and will be completed when He comes again in His glory.

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 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.