A Divine Chariot
I saw that from what appeared to be His waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around Him. Eze1:27-28
(NEW SERIES) (Slightly longer read today, but worth it!)Introduction to EzekielThe prophet Ezekiel was one of the Israelites taken captive and exiled to Babylon when the Babylonians first besieged Jerusalem in 597BC. There by the Kebar river in Babylon, Ezekiel saw clearly that Israel’s hope lay among the disillusioned, cynical, and defeated exiles. On the other hand, in Jerusalem, where the remnant remained, the situation only grew worse with unfaithfulness and disobedience. Ezekiel would forsee the ultimate destruction of the temple in 586BC and the full extent of Babylon’s power. He would ultimately equip the exiles with a new set of theological concepts and tools that would help them to rebuild the nation and Jerusalem when they returned from exile.We’ll pull out some of the gems from what is a complex and sometimes confusing book…—————————————————-Any casual reader of Ezekiel will be thrown in the deep end! The book does not start with the usual story of how the prophet was called. Moses’ burning bush pales into relative insignificance when compared to the vision Ezekiel has which explodes into the heart of our imaginations (and into the imagination of our hearts!)Ezekiel see a vision of angels, wheels full of eyes, strange four-faced creatures, a throne and someone sitting on it. There are a few features about this vision:1. There are four living creatures with four faces each. Their description matches the “gargoyles” found in Babylonian architecture of the time. To all intents and purposes, these creatures resemble Babylonian deities.2. Each creature is next to a wheel intersected by a wheel (like a gyroscope) The wheels, which symbolise mobility, are covered in eyes which is symbolic of omniscience. The wheels and the creatures are very mobile, each moving in the direction the Spirit of the Lord guides them.3. There is an expanse above the wheels that has a sapphire throne on it. And on it is seated a figure like that of a man. This is the figure described in the reading above…4. This image is called “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”What does the vision mean? 1. The wheels, platform, throne make up a heavenly chariot for the Glorious One of Israel.2. The creatures pulling the chariot resemble Babylonian idols and the message is that the Holy One of Israel is served even by foreign gods. It may _look_ as if the Babylonian’s gods have given them the victory over Israel, but God is still in charge.3. The chariot is extremely mobile and appears to Ezekiel at the Kebar river, which was a clear picture that God is not immobile and stuck in the temple, but with His people – especially when they suffer!4. The initial appearance of the one on the throne is that of a righteous judge who will exercise justice and deal with the Babylonians for their sin, even as He has dealt with Israel for her sin.5. But He does not only come to judge, His appearance is like that of a rainbow: full of hope and promise.We serve a mobile God who remains with us and near us and who turns our circumstances around for our good. While He is holy, righteous, awesome, powerful, and glorious, He is also good and His love, present in our circumstances, is our hope!
And Now a Call!
And you, Son of Man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrifed by them, though they are a rebellious house. You must speak my words to them, whether the listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. Eze2:6-8
After the comfort of divine presence in the midst of an exiled-environment, Ezekiel now receives his call. It is a tough call. His audiences are a challenge in their own rights. On the one hand, the exiles in Babylon are disillusioned, depressed, and disorientated. They are angry at being uprooted, at the loss of their religious structure, and the apparent failure of their faith and their God. On the other hand, those who remain in Jerusalem are a rabble who have been deprived of the leaders in their society for this was the strategy of the Babylonians. They turned to anyone who would tell them what they wanted to hear and their religion deteriorated into the I-want-to-please-myself idolatry that abounded in Palestine.Ezekiel’s charge is threefold:1. to speak God’s word regardless as to whether they will listen or not. 2. to listen carefully to what God had to say.3. to eat the scroll that God gave him to eat.The third instruction is unusual. The scroll had words of mourning and lament written on it, but it tasted sweet in his mouth (3:1-3) Ezekiel had a lot of bad news to deliver. It required a deep reflection on the mind and nature of God. Ezekiel had to chew and digest what the judgements and prophecies of destruction meant and said about God’s nature. In his delivery of these judgements Ezekiel would either reflect God as a petty tantrum-throwing God or a holy and awesome God whose heart was broken by our sin. Fortunately Ezekiel achieved the latter and his work played a vital role in re-shaping Israel’s theology.The lessons for us:1. There will often be resistance to God’s message but we must steel ourselves.2. Listening to God is vital if we are serious about speaking His word.3. God does not call us to be parrots, mindlessly repeating oracles. We must chew over and reflect on the amazing ways of God and what our faith actually means.
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them a warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you _do_not_ warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you _do_ warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself. Eze3:17-19
The image of being a watchman is a theme we see repeated in Ezekiel. It is a very sobering warning that there are times that we must speak out, no matter how provocative our speaking out may seem. When people are far away from God and when their behaviour is unacceptable to God and an affront to His holiness, then we have a solemn duty to warn them. Our words will either soften or harden their hearts. We are not called to be critical, judgmental, holier-than-thou, prophets of doom and gloom, but we _must_ speak out when it is needful. Peter reminds us that our words should always be seasoned with grace. We need to be humble, gentle, and sincere in our desire that a person not be destroyed by their brokenness. The sobering thought is that silence not only implies assent to evil, but it also means that God holds us responsible for the failure of the person or organisation. We _have_ to speak out! There is, however, a serious attitude adjustment that we must make… Our primary motivation must be love and concern for the person who is in the wrong and not just making sure that we have done our duty to warn them so that we have covered our own bases. People can sense our motives and they respond best to real concern and compassion.Here’s a practical example. I hear a lot of people who whinge and whine about the inappropriate programming on tv. When I ask them whether they have written to the SABC, they usually haven’t. The SABC regard a hand-addressed letter that is politely and civilly worded as representing more than 3000(!) viewers. Those who select the programmes have made certain assumptions about what people find acceptable on tv and unless we correct their skewed opions about these preferences, Ezekiel reminds us that we are responsible for the situation.Finally, the image of a watchman is thought-provoking: A watchman would be a loved and respected figure in society. People feel safe if the watchman is around, even when the watchman has to reveal things that are not comfortable. We are not to be whistle-blowers, but protectors. When we speak out, do people feel that we are trying to protect, or trying to condemn?
Being a Prophet can be Tough!
Now son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair. When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair inside the city. Take a third of the hair and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind. For I will pursue them with a drawn sword. But take a few strand of hair and tuck them away in the folds of your garment. Eze5:1-4
In the previous chapter Ezekiel is told to make a model of Jerusalem and then to make seige ramps and conduct a mock seige against the city he had to do this will lying on his side for a total of 430 days! During this time he had to eat a starvation diet which was cooked over cow-manure as a symbol of the seige of Jerusalem which would last for 18 months.Now in addition he had to cut off his hair and depict the destruction of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. One third would die by fire, a third by the sword, and a third as they fled from the city. It was heavy and difficult news and although the exiles found themselves by the rivers of Babylon in depressing circumstances, even they found it difficult to imagine the devastation of Jerusalem and the slaughter that would follow. Ezekiel was called to practise a year-and-two-month-long living illustration of the urgent seriousness of God’s warning. The image, if we wrap our minds around it, is gripping. Imagine how uncomfortable he would have been from lying on his side. Imagine the teasing from passers by: “Oh that’s the ‘prophet’ Ezekiel, playing soldiers again.” Can you imagine the smell of food cooked on a cow-patty fire? What about the smell of burning hair?Ezekiel’s symbolic actions are a mute testimony to God’s desperation to get through to His people. He was willing to do whatever it took to get through to His people. He was willing to stretch Ezekiel’s comfort zones to possibly gain the meandering Israel’s flagging attention.There is a lovely story of a pastor’s wife in a big church who received a very strange call. She felt the Lord was asking her to do something potentially embarrasing just to get someone’s attention. It took a lot of courage, but she went up and did cartwheels across the platform while the congregation of 5000 watched with shock and outrage. After the service a man came to the front in tears. Out of a place of real anger and disillusionment he had said “Lord, I won’t believe in you or even think about not unless, unless … someone does cartwheels across the stage!” What a lovely affirmation for him, what a challenge for the wife!!!God is passionate to get our attention. He will push His servants hard just to reach those out there who need Him.
What the Book of Ezekiel is All About
But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me – how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me and have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their destestable practices. And they will know that I am the Lord; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity upon them. Eze6:8-10
This succintly captures the core purpose of the book of Ezekiel. The main thrust of the prophet’s work was to repeatedly and relentlessly warn God’s people that their unfaithful idolatry would result in calamity in Jerusalem. The book, however, is not just about misbehaviour and punishment. First prize would have been that the people responded to the warning. Second prize was that those who survived would understand why these things happened and how they could find restoration.Ezekiel is focussed on the exiles, the ones who would return and rebuild. They had to understand that God didn’t destroy Jerusalem on a whim. He had patiently and repeatedly called, urged, warned, and pleaded with His people to return. The destruction was something that the people had brought on their own heads.The prophet’s passion is that the exiles understand the compassionate father-heart of God without losing sight of His holiness and purity. They will see how God’s heart was broken by their brokenness and grieved by their wickedness. They would come back from exile with a better understanding of God in their midst.
Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. While I watched, the cherubim spead their wings and rose from the ground, and as they went, the wheels went with them. Eze10:18-19
Do you remember the “chariot” from chapter 1? Ezekiel saw the cherubim and the wheels at the Kebar river in Babylon and we realised that this “chariot” represents God’s divine freedom – He is not bound to a place – but can be wherever He wishes to be.Now Ezekiel takes the picture further. The chariot is now parked outside the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the home of the glory of the God’s presence – the Jews called it the “Shekinah” – the glorious manifestation of God’s presence in the holy of holies in the temple. (This was the glory that dwelt in the temple when Solomon dedicated it to God’s glory in 1Kings chapter 8.) As Ezekiel watches, the Glory moves from the holy of holies to the threshold and mounts the “chariot” and departs.What did this mean? In the preceding chapters Ezekiel had seen visions of the shocking levels of idolatry, witchcraft, and immorality being practised _in_ the temple. There was no way that the one true God would share His glory with all this filth and so He departed. God’s presence withdrew from the temple. This was a graphic portrayal of God’s holy refusal to cohabit with ongoing and rampant evil.If people would so try to “domesticate” Him by “trapping” Him in the temple, the God of Israel’s response was to do the unthinkable. He withdrew. The temple, which had become an idol in itself was now an empty shell. The services continued, the gold and silver was still there, but it had no meaning, no purpose, or power. It had, as Paul wrote to TImothy, a “form of godliness, but no power.”Our God is a free and mobile God. He will be with His people wherever they are. The chariot would return to the Kebar river where God’s people where beginning to learn that it was not about a building, but about relationship. It was not about a religious system, but about a genuine personal connection with their God.I wonder if we don’t sometimes find the “chariot” parked outside some of our “religious institutions” and some of our fixed ideas about what God can and cannot do?
Leaders Held Accountable
The Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the east gate of the Lord’s temple, that faces the east. There, at the entrance of the gate, I saw twenty-five men. Among them were Jaazaniah son of Azzur and Pelatiah son of Benaiah, officials of the people. The Lord said to me, “Son of man, these are the men who plot iniquity and who give wicked counsel in this city. They say, ‘The time is not near to build houses; the city is a cooking pot and we are the meat in it.’ Therefore, prophesy against them-prophesy, son of man!” Eze11:1-4
The officials of the people were idolators and wicked advisors. They hid behind a mask of political zeal and patriotism but stood to benefit economically and politically from the exile and the chaos that ensued. Contradicting Jeremiah who called them to build houses in Babylon, they believed that they would not have long to wait before the exile was over. Their identifying Jerusalem as the pot could be interpreted in two ways:1.To the common public they could be saying that meat in the pot was safe and secure. The hunt had been successful and the meal had been secured. Jerusalem was the safe-pot because of the comforting presence of the temple and the people were safe.2.Amongst themselves the saying probably meant that there were many spoils to be gained from the political situation. Especially if their allegiance to Egypt was successful. They could also be saying that the “meat” in Jerusalem were the choice pieces and that the exiles were the scraps. One of a prophets challenging tasks is to speak out against the status quo and to challenge those who are powerful enough to think that they are “in control.” These men hid behind their power and their ability to manipulate the situation. They were thinking of property prices that would drop in wartime and the gains that could be made through shrewd dealing. Later in the chapter, while Ezekiel sees them in his vision and while he is prophesying, one of the men mentioned in vs 1 – Pelatiah – dies. His sudden and unexpected death is a stark reminder that we are not in control. It reminds us of the parable Jesus tells of the wealthy farmer who plans to build bigger barns to have more storage and make more money who finds that his life is required of him that very night and that he has nothing to show for all his arrogance. What about us? Are we so wealthy, resourceful, and comfortable that we do not need to rely on God at all? Our own schemes and plottings can become derailled and unstuck in the briefest of moments: ill-health, an unexpected setback, or a big obstacle are just some of the things that our unpredictable lives can produce that will humble us and hopefully get our perspectives right.Sometimes we continue to choose to be stress-filled control-freak manipulators, and then, like Pelatiah, the strain could get us!
Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.”‘ Eze11:16
This is from the same chapter where Ezekiel prophesied against the leaders and Pelatiah died (see previous devotion). When Pelatiah died, the blow was too close and personal for Ezekiel and he cried out “Ah Sovereign Lord, will you completely destroy the remnant of Israel?”God’s response is in three wonderful parts:1. He has been a sanctuary to His people.2. He will bring them back home.3. He will give people hearts of flesh instead of the stony ones.Today we’ll look at part 1…Up until now, God’s people had fixated their faith on the symbols of His presence: The pillars of cloud and fire during the Exodus, the Tabernacle in the wilderness years, and most recently the Temple. The magnificent structure and imposing ritualism of the temple had become a security blanket for the people of Israel. But it had also become a cage for their imaginations and grasp of God’s love, presence, and power. In their thinking, God was somehow confined and limited by the temple.Those who were in Exile were cut off from the temple and in 587BC the temple would be destroyed. Those in exile had Ezekiel whose visions of God on a mobile chariot combined with a theology of an awesome, sovereign Lord began to transform and renew their sense of wonder and awe of a God who could be their sanctuary even by the rivers of Babylon.This short verse illustrates one of the key issues in Ezekiel’s ministry. We can rely on God wherever we are and whatever we are going through. And sometimes all the distractions and things we rely on have to be stripped away for us to realise that it is God and God alone who keeps us going.The exiles did not have the temple, or their religious culture. They were not surrounded by the symbols of their Jewish heritage and they didn’t have their wealth and possessions to fall back on. Their simplified lives should have collapsed and they should not have coped, but for one thing: They discovered that God continued to be awesomely and sovereignly at work in their midst. They couldn’t control Him or tell Him what to do, but He was still their sanctuary and still their God.Let’s hope that God is never forced to take us out of our comfort zones so thoroughly before we realise that He is our sanctuary!
Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered and I will give you back the land of Israel again. They will return to it an remove all its vile images and detestable idols. Eze11:17-18
Chapter 11 continues to surprise us with gems: * We have seen how leaders are held accountable and how the prophet is to speak out against the status quo.* Then we looked at the first of the three-fold promise of God’s mercy in spite of their failures. We saw that God promised that He Himself would be their sanctuary – that they would no longer have to cling to structures.Today is the second part of God’s grace revealed: God promises the exiles that they still have a future – that they will return to the land of Israel again. The promise is a very exciting one and there are a few things to notice:Firstly God describes Himself as the SOVEREIGN Lord. In spite of how they may _feel_ and how out-of-control things may _seem_, God is still sovereign. He knows what He is doing and He has a plan. The exiles may have thought that God had failed or been defeated, but this was not the case. One of the lessons of the exile is that _He_ and not _they_ call the shots..Secondly God promises to GATHER the scattered. It is a very intimate picture: Remember Jesus spreading His arms over Jerusalem: “Oh Jerusalem I have longed to gather you like a hen gathers her chicks.” To gather the scattered implies a search and an effort. The picture is of a caring God tenderly gathering the lost and the broken. Thirdly He promises RESTORATION: They will be given back the land they forfeited. The prophet has made it clear that the Babylonians didn’t capture Israel and Jerusalem by their own might and strength. Instead, Babylon simply took what Israel had forfeited through their sin and disobedience. The amazing thing is that God does not just give it back… They will get something better because they will be motivated to remove the idols and images. This is not just turning back the clock – He has something better in store!Even when we wander away and fall short our Sovereign Lord gathers and restores us – what a wonderful Saviour!
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people and I will be their God. Eze11:19-20
This is the last gem from ch 11:* We have seen how leaders are held accountable and how the prophet is to speak out against the status quo.* Then we looked at the first and second parts of the three-fold promise of God’s mercy in spite of their failures. Firstly we saw that God promised that He Himself would be their sanctuary – that they would no longer have to cling to structures.Secondly we see God’s grace revealed: God promises the exiles that they still have a future – that they will return to the land of Israel again. These two promises leave us with a problem: If God was with them while they were in exile and even if He took them back to the promised land, they were still the same sinful people who would do their own thing and probably fall into the same traps of idolatry and disobedience, only landing up in exile again!The third, and most incredible part of this promise is that God will not just leave us to try and overcome our innate selfish sinfulness on our own, but He will transform us!!! A change of heart was needed and God is willing to do the necessary heart-transplant surgery.His promise is that He will change us from the inside out! Many religions work from the outside in. Ezekiel is an Old Testament pioneer in his understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. Ezekiel knew that you could take people out of exile, but that you also had to take the exile out of the people. He knew that there was no way that Israel would be able to live up to the holy nature of the Lord without significant change on the inside!The promise is the Holy Spirit who can transform individuals and communities. He takes away the hardness of heart and soul that can leave us cynical and critical. He gives us the ability to be compassionate, kind, and thoughtful. When the Spirit works in us we are attracted to the things of God instead of following our natural instinct which is to run and hide like Adam and Eve did in the garden. When the Holy Spirit moves in our hearts, the rules and laws summarise to the love of God and the love of neighbour and we are moved to these loves. The net result is that we can be God’s people from the inside-out! This is a much more powerful approach than the imposition from the outside-in! Ezekiel will have more to say about the Holy Spirit and as we look at these passages later on, we will begin to see how it works and how we open our hearts to His working. For now the wonder is that God does not leave us to struggle to be holy and good on our own: He comes to help us!
What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “The Fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge”?As surely as I live declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son – both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die. Eze18:2-4
I started this devotion last week and realised that I had bitten off more than I could chew! This will now be in two parts…These days there is a lot of talk about “generational curses.” Today many attribute physical illnesses like arthiritis, asthma and migraines to the fact that a grandparent was involved in spiritualism or something like that. Today many blame sin in their parents and grandparents for their own lack of spiritual growth or their ill physical health. Even in “pop psychology” there has been a trend toward laying the blame for our neuroses and problems at the door of our parents who were too strict or too lax, or too protective, or too busy, or whatever.The problem is that the Scriptures do indicate that the consequences of sin _can_ bridge generations. Part of the second commandment says: “For I the Lord Your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (Ex.20:5) From this has evolved a whole theology that desperately tries to blame something or someone for the bad things that happen to us. When we can’t cope with the sadness and grief that sometimes befalls us or those we love, the result is often a scapegoat theology. There are two important balancing issues when we look at the second commandment: The first is that the particular sin that God singles out here is idolatry and the worship of other gods. The second is even more significant. Who does God say are the ones on whom the sin of the parents and grandparents and great-grandparents is poured out?? Read carefully and say it with me. “Those … who…. hate…. God…..”Who are the hateful ones? The folk who originally are sinful, or the third or fourth generation? Ezekiel’s audience said it was their ancestors who were guilty! It was those who had gone before (and weren’t there to defend themselves!) who were the ones who hated God, and the exiles were the “innocent” victims! They therefore held out the idea that they (the “faithful”) were being punished by God for the sins of the “hateful”!Ezekiel’s response is typical of the fine balance we find in Scripture where difficult issues are held in creative tension. If the 2nd commandment is one side of the tension, then Ezekiel’s response to the Exiles is the other tug-of-war team… There is a balance to be kept.We may be a composite of our genes, our history, and our upbringing, but we also exercise our own unique choices. This play has a script that allows us to ad-lib and Ezekiel points out to the Exiles that their own ad-libbing was just as, if not more serious, than their ancestral legacy.What is Scripture’s response to those who would take the 2nd commandment and the issue of “generational curses” too far??? No longer will it be said: “The Fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge”More on this tomorrow…
Sour Grapes!…… – Part 2
What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “The Fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As surely as I live declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son – both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die. Eze18:2-4
Yesterday we started looking at difficult issue of “generational curses.” There are those who would hold that I may suffer from an ailment that doesn’t want to get better because it is the consequence of something evil that my ancestors up to a fourth generation had done. In the view of extreme forms of this kind of teaching, I may suffer for things I might not even know my ancestors did! Even prayer for healing cannot help because these ailments have a “legal right” to be there and until I renounce the failings of my predecessors, I cannot experience relief.This is a picture painted from only one of the many perspectives that the OT offers. When we were at school we did technical drawings and we had to do various kinds of drawings. One was called an Orthographic Projection. In this kind of represention you draw three views of the object and each view is in 2D: front, left, and top. If one were to draw a plain round pillar in orthographic representation then the top view is a circle and the front and left views are rectangles! The round column is not a rectangle or a circle, if we keep to only one perspective, an incomplete picture is formed!Why do things (especially bad things) happen to us? Are we the victims of fate, or are we completely free of the past? Scripture’s answer is a balanced one. We cannot ignore the legacy of brokenness that comes through our ancestry, culture, and structure, but there is also the reality of the darkness in us.But there are _other_ perspectives too… There is the perspective of national sin: that an individual may experience the brokeness that is the result of the nation’s sin. War is a good example. Pain can also be a warning and a wake-up call. Heartache can be the lifeboat that takes us to repentance and new faith. Suffering can build our faith, sharpen our focus, and refine our commitment.I am very concerned that modern society is stuck in the “scapegoat theology” I mentioned yesterday. Today we continually blame to the legacy of the “old dispensation” in this country as the cause of all ills. I am not denying the horrors and inequalities of the apartheid legacy, but is our myopic insistence that the problem is “back there” not the very thing that is blinding us to the fact that we are going to repeat that history in another form?Even individuals are in total denial about their own contribution to their difficulties. I met a smoker who with a shrug said that he could not give up, and that this must be a demon of nicotine that kept him bound. He simply refused to admit that he lacked the courage and discipline to do what he had to do.Ezekiel’s stance is that if our teeth are set on edge, we should not start with teeth that are furthest away when we look for traces of sour grapes. Rather than beginning with the past, let us look to the present first.
The word of Lord came to me: Son of man, I am about to take the desire of your eyes with a single blow; but you must not mourn, you must not weep, nor will you shed tears. Groan silently; you must not mourn your dead. Bind on your turban and put you sandals on your feet; do not cover your lip and do not eat common food. So I spoke to the people in the morning, and my wife died in the evening. And in the morning I did just as I was commanded. Then the people said to me, Will you not tell us what these things you are doing mean for us? Eze24:15-19
This is one of the hardest passages to process: Imagine the scene with me… Ezekiel is in exile in Babylon. He has a wife, and the marriage, judging by the people’s reaction, was fine.Jerusalem in Israel is about to fall and God tells Ezekiel that his wife is about to die and that he was not allowed to mourn her death. What was the purpose? The temple in Jerusalem was the desire of Israel’s eyes. They loved the temple, believed that its presence guaranteed their safety, and put all their hope in it. When the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed it was as if the nation had lost its wife. But there would not be time for them to mourn… The Babylonians were looting and pillaging, and rather than mourning, the people of the city were trying to escape into the countryside to hide from the Babylonian war-machine.Ezekiel’s wife died. Ezekiel does not mourn but mimes getting ready to flee. The people are shocked and scandalised! How can Ezekiel not mourn for his wife who was stood by him through all the weird and bizarre things that he has had to do as a prophet? Was she not there for him through thick and thin?But Ezekiel’s actions would powerfully communicate the tragedy and horror of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Ezekiel would bring the reality of the pain and heartache in Jerusalem home to the Jews in Babylon. He would do so at great personal cost.The aspects of this story that scandalise us revolve around some key questions:- Did God kill Ezekiel’s wife?- Was it fair of God to expect him not to mourn?- Wasn’t God being unreasonable?The truth is that we will all die at some point. The issue is not so much _that_ she died, but when she died. In God’s providence, the end of her earthly life came at the time that it was significant. The harder part was not being able to mourn publicly. It seems that God has always been willing to immerse the messenger in the message. Those who serve him are not impersonal bearers of official news. They are connected to and affected by the message they bear.Is this reasonable? Wasn’t God asking too much of Ezekiel?Well…- God did not _have_ to let His only Son die.- Not only could God not mourn when His Son died, but in addition to not mourning, God had to turn His face from His Son who experienced being separated from the Father so that we can be forgiven.Being a prophet or a messenger can be tough. Sometimes we have to do things that are tough. God does not ask us to do anything that He has not been willing to do for us.
Judgement on the Nations
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because Edom has acted with revenge against the house of Judah and has become grievously guilty and taken vengeance on them, therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will stretch out my hand against Edom, and I will kill man and beast in her, and I will make her desolate; from Teman to Dedan they will fall by the sword. I will take vengeance upon Edom at the hands of my people Israel. They will act in Edom according to my anger and fury; and they will know my vengeance, declares the Sovereign Lord. Eze25:12-14
Not exactly nice comforting inspiring devotional material is it?Working through OT material like Ezekiel is not a comfortable process. There are the passages of comfort and hope, the songs of faith and trust, and the texts that highlight God as Creator and Sustainer. But there are also warlike and “bloodthirsty” passages like this one that do not sit well with our picture of a loving and generous God. So what do we do with a passage like this? There are a few points that we must grasp:1. The OT often deals with nations. We tend to think in terms of of individuals. While God may be gracious and loving toward individuals, the nation of that individual may be guilty of gross abuse of power and privilege. Even though an individual may be “innocent”, he or she may be part of a nation that has been guilty of sin. And even the “good” people in an evil nation may share in the guilt because “evil flourishes when good men do nothing.”Ezekiel has seven chapters (25-32) that deal with the nations that surround Israel. Judgment _began_ with God’s people but the surrounding nations also had to answer to God for their misdeeds.2. Who were the Edomites? Do you remember Jacob and Esau and how Jacob deceived Esau to deprive him of his birthright and paternal blessing? Esau’s other name was Edom and his descendants were the Edomites. Since then there had been enmity between these two nations. The Edomites raided Judah while the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem. They killed the refugees coming from Jerusalem and they cheered for the Babylonians when they tore down the temple (Ps.137:7) In Ezekiel 35 we see the arrogance of the Edomites described in even more detail… They were – Treacherous: striking at a time of calamity- Expansionistic: Looking only to expand their own land and kingdom- Blasphemous, boastful, and arrogant3. In all the prophecies against Israel’s neighbours in ch.25-32, each section ends with a phrase to the effect: “Then they will know that I am the Lord…” or “Then they will know my vengeance.” The key issue is that God is holy and righteous. If a nation behaves in a way that is at loggerheads with His holiness, that nation will reap what it sows and they will understand that they are not greater than or immune to God’s justice.These three points help us understand the “bloodthirstiness” of passages like this one… The Edomites became arrogant and self-servingly opportunistic. God really just handed them over to the consequences of their actions. The Babylonians crushed this little nation like an irritating fly – they recognised the trouble an arrogant nation like this could cause and dealt with them.Ezekiel saw the Divine Hand of justice behind these events, and recorded the fate of some of the other nations so that we would understand that although God’s wheels of justice seem to turn slowly, even nations will answer to Him.
I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after His scattered flock when He is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Isarel, in the the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land , and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. Eze34:11-16
Ezekiel 1-24 were chapters that were written to convince those in Exile that Jerusalem and the temple would fall. Amongst these chapters of judgment there were clear strains of hope and clear theological guidelines to process the events that were coming.Chapters 25-32 are chapters that deal with the fate of the surrounding nations so that the Israelites would realise that although judgment begins with the house of God, it is God’s holy justice that is at stake and even heathen nations must answer to this justice.Chapters 33 onward are chapters that consolidate the hope of God’s promises to His people. They are chapters that emphasise God’s goodness and love. This is a section that clearly reveal God’s longing to restore and renew.Chapter 34 begins with an indictment on the leaders of the exiles who have behaved like hireling shepherds. They have been harsh, uncaring, self-serving and even brutal in their care for the sheep. Now God Himself promises to intervene…Linguistically this passage is interesting because Hebrew verbs contain the subject of the verb in the word. Where in English a sentence like “I run” needs two words, Hebrew has only one word “Run-I” because the subject, the “I” is locked up in the verb. When Hebrew then adds the subject as a separate word, then it is meant to emphasise the subject. The sentence than is “I run-I” and must be translated as “I myself run” or “I even I run!” Twice in this passage we have it emphasised that God is the subject of all these wonderful actons. He is no longer satisfied with hirelings – He will do the job. Jesus incarnation and His self-identification as the “Good Shepherd” is confirmation and ultimate proof of God’s desire in this regard.Sheep are easily scattered and easily get into trouble. Sheep are also very vulnerable and susceptible to danger. God will pursue the lost, the lonely, the scattered. Then He will bring them to safety and good pasture and bind up the sick and the broken. There is still a clear indication of Divine Justice in the warning that the abusive, bullying, arrogant sheep will be dealt with.It is a warm picture of provision, care, and love. It is a picture of grace and love. It has parallells in Ps.23 and with Jesus’ teaching. The poignant part of the passage is this “I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.” One can hear the heart of the Father breaking at the destruction of Jerusalem and the pain that it caused – there is a clear sense of the sorrow and tragedy of the day and Divine desire to restore even after they had brought pain on their own heads. For God it was a “day of clouds and darkness” – a rainy day – a sad day – a sorry day.This is the pastoral heart of God the Father.
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brough me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley: Bones that were very dry. He asked me: “Son of man, can these bones live?”I said, “O Sovereign Lord , You alone know.” Eze37:1-3
This is one of the most well-known and loved passages of Scripture. Ezekiel and the valley of bones that are reassembled and revitalised is a key image of restoration and renewal in the Old Testament. We hear it preached often and it stirs our hearts and spirits to be reminded that God is able to do the impossible and bring life out of death.There are some details that are worth noting along the way:1. Notice that the bones are many and very dry. When the bones are reassambled and revitalised, Ezekiel describes them as an army – not a crowd, not a multitude, but an army. It must have been obvious that this valley was the site of a battle badly lost – a site of great slaughter. They have been dead for a long time – the bones are dried out by the sun. A scene of devastating loss and failure.2. There are no graves. These bodies were left as food for the vultures, and to rot out in the open. This was the ultimate indignity for the Jew and this explains the whole sense of their loss of dignity and sense of defeat. It was a scene of desolation and disappointment.3. If the someone like Gary Larsen (cartoonist who draws the “Far side”) had to draw this scene, God would ask his question and you would see Exekiel thinking “I hate it when He asks these trick questions!”But is it a trick question? And is Ezekiel’s answer as evasive as it first appears?As Ezekiel faces this devastating, disappointing, and depressing scene he must answer God’s gentle question…Let’s look at the possible answers… (Both are exaggerated a little for effect!)He could have said, “Are You serious? No way Lord! There is no chance that these bones can live!” Or he could have answered, “Amen! Thank you Lord! I just know You want these bones to live! I’m going to claim it! I’m going to raise these bones from the dead in Your Name Lord! Hey bones! Listen up and get up! I command you to get up and live!”The first answer is the obvious one based on the facts. It is, however, a faithless answer that doesn’t leave room for the miracle that we know was to follow. It is a faithless, cynical, and sometimes even bitter answer that comes on our lips when we face devastation and desolation.The second answer is even more problematic. This answer is presumptious and manipulative. God has not yet indicated that it is His plan is to raise the bones. He simply opens the window to the possibility of the bones living. This second answer is the name-it-and-claim-it kind of faith that arrogantly assumes the monopoly on God’s will and assumes the knowledge of God’s plan and purpose.There is real wisdom that lies behind Ezekiel’s answer – His experience tells him that God _can_ but his humility warns him not to be the one who decides that God _must_! The rest of the passage shows that God does indeed bring life from the dead and restoration and renewal in the midst of disappointment and devastation. But the question God asks Ezekiel is a very important one. Ezekiel’s answer allowed God to be God. To answer “No” would make the situation into a god, and to answer “Yes” would have made Ezekiel a god-manipulator. How good are we at answering this question when we face devastation in our own lives?
Dem Bones – Part 2
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.'” Eze37:4-6
(This picks up where we left off yesterday…)Ezekiel’s answer to God’s question about the bones living was a humble and yet faith-filled response – He does not try to limit or manipulate and now God reveals His plan…The plan is renewal. The plan is restoration. We know the end result is a resurrected and revitalised army that really implies a restored and renewed nation. What is interesting is how God will bring it about.There are five parts to this process1- A word of hope2- A restructuring3- A realisation of need4- A prayer5- And a renewingThe first part of the restore-renew process is that Ezekiel must bring a word of hope. The Old Testament view of prophecy was not so much fortune-telling as it was truth-telling. The prophet would bring “God’s comment on current affairs” and this commentry could have future implications. There was a clear sense that the speaking of this prophetic word was what got the wheels in motion. The sureness that these events were going to happen lay in the fact that the prophet spoke about it.Ezekiel is given a concrete word of hope:1. God will give the bones breath and they will come to life.2. God will give the bones tendons, flesh, and skin3. God will breath into the bodies and give them life4. And they will know that He is the Lord.We will look at the fulfilment of this “prophetic programme” in the next few days. There are just 2 points to make here:Firstly, note how the process starts and ends with the breath. The Hebrew word for breath is “ruach” (with a soft “ch” at the end like the Afrikaans “g”) It means wind, breath, or Spirit and in the Old Testament is used to describe wind, the breath of life, and the Holy Spirit. Life begins with breath, and restoration and renewal both need breath.Secondly, this preaching of God’s plan and the hope of renewal is much more important than we think. Human beings need hope and the best place to get it from is God’s promises. Why did Ezekiel bother telling the bones what God was going to do? Did the bones have ears? Yet when it all seems hopeless, the first step is review God’s promises and remind ourselves of God’s intention and to clearly and wonderfully hear what God has planned for us. One of the first things we do when times are tough is to stop going to church, or if we do go, we fold our arms and close our ears. This is a very unfortunate choice! It cuts us off from the very hope that we desperately need to hear. Paul reminds us that “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” This preaching of God’s good plan is the fuel of faith and faith opens us up to the work of the Spirit. Renewal and Restoration always begin with the message of God’s loving plan.So, dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord!
Dem Bones – Part 3
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Eze37:7-8
Last time we saw that God gave Ezekiel the overview of what was going to happen in the valley of bones:1- A word of hope2- A restructuring3- A realisation of need4- A prayer5- And a renewingNow we see the execution of this Divine Plan.Ezekiel responds obediently. Do you think he felt silly preaching to a pile of dead bones? Sometimes sharing our faith can require similar courage. We can be so doubtful about our own abilities and skills… Can I really think that God can use me?? And then there are the doubts about those who listen… Will they respond? Will they listen? And what if, in terms of responsiveness they are much like the valley of bones?We are not told the content of Ezekiel’s message. We simply know that he was faithful to what he had been told. The emphasis was that it was God’s word – not Ezekiel’s. We tend to think that it is all about us when, in fact, it needs to be all about God.The results are fantastic! The bones R_eorganise, R_estructure, and R_elate. They Reorganise in the sense that each body’s bones which had been scattered by the vultures and hyhena’s etc. came together. Then the bodies Restructured – they begin to resemble bodies instead of piles of bones. Finally they Relate, they join up bone to bone – the relationships are restored.God’s Word can do the same in our lives. It brings the broken bits of our lives back together. It sorts out our priorities and values. It restores relationship. Whether the bodies are our lives or a picture of the church, this picture of Divine Restructuring is vital. The solid and regular preaching and teaching of the Word brings the best structure for the life that the breath will bring. We tend to emphasise the breath, but when breath comes into disorganised piles of bones it is not as helpful as when breath comes into structured and renewed lives.God’s Word contains the principles, values, and truth that we need for healthy bodies. How much attention do you pay to God’s Word? How much time do you give God to Reorganise your values, Restructure your priorities, and repair your Relationships? His Word is living and active!
Dem Bones – Part 4
Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live'” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; and they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army. Eze37:9-10
We have seen the how the word of God affected the piles of bones. The bones were Reorganised, Restructured, and the Relationships were restored. Unfortunately this was not enough: Verse 8 ends on the sad note – “There was no breath in them.” There is form and structure, but no life. Three exciting things happen to bring vibrant and dynamic life to the bones.1. God prompts Ezekiel to pray for revival. Today a lot is made about prayer for revival. This is a good thing. I am concerned though that sometimes the message I read between the lines is that we are doing God a big favour by praying. Octavius Winslow says “He inspires prayer, loves prayer, listens to prayer, answers prayer;” We so easily forget that our tendency, when it comes to the things of God, is to hide in the garden when God comes walking. The fact _that_ we pray is because God _inpires_ and _prompts_ and _invites_ us to pray.2. Ezekiel prays for the renewal of the army. He is praying for Revival. That the Holy Spirit would quicken the bodies and souls of the army before him. Because His prayer is at the invitation of God, he can PROPHESY with the full assurance that his prayer is in the will of God. This is not a cheap “name-it-and-claim-it” kind of prayer, but a prayer that comes from the full conviction that he is co-operating with in the will of God the Father.3. The Hebrew word for “breath” is ‘Ruach’ it is also the word for the Holy Spirit. As Ezekiel invokes the Holy Spirit at God’s invitation, the Spirit moves beautifully, powerfully, and dramatically to bring life and resurrection to His people. So often we as people and churches are structured, connected, and ordered but the dynamic and vibrant life of the Spirit is lacking. There is no vitality or intimacy in our relationship with God and faith is but a mere spark and passion is lukewarm. The Holy Spirit brings dramatic and vibrant life to the church and to our personal lives. Ezekiel’s vision reminds us that we can boldly ask for the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit.
Dem Bones – Part 5
Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them. I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord. Eze37:11-14
After giving Ezekiel the vision of the dry bones being brought to life, the Lord now makes the meaning quite clear and explicit.While we have covered most aspects of this amazing passage already, but here are a few points that should not be lost:1. Ezekiel is called “Son of Man” three times in this passage. It is in fact God’s way of addressing Ezekiel throughout the whole book. Some Bible translations render it as “mortal man” and this probably is more faithful to the original intent of the Hebrew. It is a put-you-in-your-place way of addressing Ezekiel to emphasise God’s divinity and awesome holiness in stark contrast to Ezekiel’s humanity and frail sinfulness. We should always remember that we are not “on par” with God. Ezekiel should not think himself better than the bones because he gets to prophesy to them, he should be aware that he too is frail…2. God’s actions are placed in direct contrast to the hopeless cynicism of the Israelites. The rekindling of hope is one of Ezekiel’s prime tasks. We are so often guilty of being very very cynical and we lose hope very easily indeed. God calls us to be people of hope. This is not easy, but it is very much needed in our society today. Hope does not come from “the power of positive thinking” but a clear choice to hang on to God with all our might.3. Restoration, renewal, and resurrection are God’s fingerprints. He is able to bring new life, new hope, and new beginnings. When we see it we “will know that He is the Lord!” Let’s take time to praise Him!
Measure up the Temple
…I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. The man said to me, Son of Man, look with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the house of Israel everything you see. Eze40:3-4
This is how the last 8 chapters of Ezekiel start. What follows is a detailed measuring out of a visionary temple. There are various opinions as to the meaning of this measuring. Some see it as a prophecy of a temple to come. But the rebuilding of the temple after the return from exile was not according to this design, and nor was the upgrading of the temple by Herod influenced by this vision. Some see it as the end-times temple, but the centrality of sacrifice is out of place when one remembers that Jesus sacrificed for once and for all on the cross. There is no more need for the sacrifice of animals which is a key feature of the temple we find measured out here.The best argument that we can offer is that this is not really a physical building but the ideal of worship for we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. This section then is about the believer and the church. The measuring is about the certainty of possession. The fantastic dimensions are pointers toward the holiness and glory of God. The gates are symbolic of our free access to God, and the emphasis on sacrifice is a stark reminder of God’s holiness and points toward the One who would make the ultimate sacrifice. The vision continues to measure out the land for the tribes of Israel. What is significant is that each tribe gets an equal allotment of land. In the first division of land in the book of Joshua, the division seems arbitrary and even unfair. Now all the tribes get an equal slice of the pie. Again, our best interpretation is that this is symbolic of people’s equal worth in God’s sight.But why nearly 8 chapters of measurements, allotments, and descriptions? Couldn’t the concepts have been communicated much more easily? Good teachers will tell you that conceptual learning is slower and often less effective than visually based learning. The pictures are worth thousands of words and God doesn’t only speak to our logical rational minds, but to our hearts, emotions, and even our imaginations. The measurements and the layout of this fantastic temple are designed to kick-start our imaginations and fill us with a sense of wonder. What could God be doing? How great and awesome are His plans! We don’t fully understand what He is doing, but it sure looks exciting.The exiles had been brow-beaten and bludgeoned in submission by their stay at the Rivers of Babylon. According to Psalm 137 they were not able to “sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.” Ezekiel’s vision is about hope. It is about beginning to dream again. It is about a God who knows what we need.
The man brought me back to the entance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east… As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured of 1000 cubits and led me through water that was ankle-deep, he measured of another 1000 cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep, … water that was waist-deep, …water that was deep enough to swim in… Eze47:1-12
This is a fantastic vision. A river flowing from the visionary temple that got deeper and deeper until it was too great to cross. The river then flows through the desert areas of Israel and brings life and hope wherever it goes. Trees, plants and fish abound wherever the river flows and even the Dead Sea comes alive at the incredible touch of God’s river.Many have seen a literal fulfilment of this prophecy in the incredible pioneering work the Jews have done with irrigation in Palestine. They have literally greened the desert. But much more is meant here. Legend has it that on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the priests poured a jug of water over the altar in the temple. There was a special channel that would transport the water from the altar so that it would pour out on the east side of the temple. Jesus was at the feast of Tabernacles and maybe it was at this point that He said this: “Whoever is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water shall flow from within him.” John goes on to add an explanation: “By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.” (John 7:37-39)Ezekiel’s vision is of a wonderful transformation of those who know and love God. The river of His Spirit will flow from us in an ever-deepening experience of God’s love, grace, and power. The river flowing from us and from the church will bring life to those who are dry and broken and in need of His revitalising touch.The question is are we paddling in the “shallows” of God’s love or are we ready to wade into the depths of His amazing grace?
The Name of the City
And the name of the city from that day forward will be:”The Lord is There.” Eze48:35
This is the last verse of the prophecy of Ezekiel. This is how the 8 chapters of Ezekiel’s visionary temple and city is brought to a close and this is the conclusion of the ministry of this prophet.The Lord is there…We have already concluded that the city Ezekiel has seen is a spiritual one. It _may_ point toward the end of time, but it is more likely that it is describing God’s presence in believers and the wonder of the Kingdom of God.The Lord is there…Ezekiel looks forward to a time where there is no separation between God and His people. Where people may know and enjoy fellowship with God. The vision of the river flowing from the temple has prepared us for the wonderful truth that God would dwell in us by the power of His Holy Spirit. The Lord is there…The exiles mourned the loss of the temple in Jerusalem. They thought they were cut off from God. Ezekiel’s visionary ministry reminded them that God is not bound in buildings but is sovereignly free to move where He pleases and that it pleases God to live in our hearts by the working of the Holy Spirit. The Lord is there…You and I wonder where God is and what He is doing. We mourn our own sin and we trap God in buildings, doctrines, rituals, and traditions. He, however, is sovereignly free and will live in us as we open our hearts and respond to Him.———————————————————————Hope you’ve enjoyed the ecstasies of Ezekiel!———————————————————————