12/13/2017

The Core, Crux and Center of Christianity

The Bible. The Commands. Obedience. Faithfulness. Commitment. Loyalty. Fidelity. Yes, but is it the core, crux and center?

"Being a Christian means learning to love with God's love. But God's love is not a warm feeling in the pit of the stomach." Roberta C. Bondi.

"...the great intensity of the genuine religious life...engages and exhausts every single aspect of man... God claims our whole being for himself, not in the manner of a tyrant who wishes to exploit and annihilate us, but as a lover who deems us so precious that he will not tolerate the slightest capacity of our person going to waste. God delights in the utmost energizing of our being..." Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (Trappist monk). Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, 2012.

"Love your neighbor as yourself--this is the major principle of the Torah." Rabbi Akiva, second-century.

"What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. God and learn." Hillel (the great Jewish scholar a century before Christ).

"On three things stands the world--on the law, on the worship and on the works of love." Simon the Righteous.

A central point of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is that a renewed heart of love precedes all our actions.

"If we are sane ... we ought to fear sin more than sickness, sufferring, or death itself." Peter Kreeft.

The three most important words in the English language: "I love you." The second three most important words: "I don't know."

"The knowledge husband and wife have of each other includes a profound respect for the otherness of the other; based in love, each seeks to preserve the integrity of the other, allowing the other to be [who he or she is] without simply becoming an extension of the spouse. It is a knowledge that comes out of living together, responding to each other's daily interests and needs, being shaped by deep caring for the other. It is a transforming knowledge."

"It is in faithful self-giving (to others) that a person finds a fullness of certainty and security." John Paul II.

"The love in which we spend our lives in serving others will not give us the temporary happiness of romantic love stories, but, rather, the lasting, everyday, all-one's life-and-then-some happiness Jesus refers to as joy."

12/12/2017

The Most Important Word

Mission. Meaning. Mercy. Forgiveness. Humility. Grace. Yes, all very important words. But can it be the single most important word?

"Love, to be real, must cost--it must hurt--it must empty us of self." Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

"A fresh interpretation of love is needed in all sections of Protestatantism, an interpretation that shows that love is basically not an emotional but an ontological power, that it is the essence of life itself, namely, the dynamic reunion of that which is separated." Paul Tillich, The Protestant Era, 1948.

"The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards one's neighbor who lives at the roadside assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease." Mother Theresa.

"Is love a feeling? Is love an act? Is love an art? Is love voluntary or involuntary, or both? How is self-love related to love of neighbor? Does love extend to enemies? What is the relation of love to sexuality? Can love be commanded? Is love redemptive? Is love divine? Is divinity love? How does love form and inform our existence?" Carter Lindberg, Love: A Brief History Through Western Civilization, 2008.

"A definition of love is especially necessary because love ... is the point of everything. If we do not know what this love is ... then we do not know the point of everything. We only know the word. If we are to put all our eggs in love's basket, what could be more practical, more essential, than to know it is the right basket and not another?" Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You.

Love is the "superstar virtue of virtues" and has to be "the most watered down word in the English language." Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise, 2016. To define love better we must get past the conventional definitions of love, such as a term of endearment, a feeling of strong attachment or deep affection, sexual passion, or the beloved who is the object of such feelings.

"Agape describes a life-enhancing action that flows from God to humans (Rom 8:37; 2 Cor 9:7) and vice versa (Mt 22:37). The commandment to love regulates human conduct within the church: 'Love one another' (Jn 13:34; 1 Thess 4:9; 1 Pet 1:22; 1 Jn 3:11; 2 Jn 5); and husbands are commanded to love their wives (Eph 5:25, 28; Col 3:19). But those outside are to be loved: the neighbor (Rom 13:9) and enemies (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:28, 35)." William Klassen, Love (NT and Early Jewish Literature), 1992.

"Grandfathers are kind. Fathers are loving. Grandfathers say, 'Run along and have a good time.' Fathers say, 'But don't do this, and don't do that.' Grandfathers are compassionate, fathers are passionate. God is not called our Grandfather in Heaven. The most frequently heard saying in our lives today is precisely the philosophy of the grandfather: 'Have a nice day.'" Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You, 2004.

"God loves you immensely." Chiara Lubich.

"Love God and do whatever you please; for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved." Augustine.

"If you love God, you cannot fear him; if you fear God, you cannot love him." Old Serbian proverb.

"Religion is nothing else but love of God and man." William Penn.

12/11/2017

The Who Why When What and How of Love

  1. What is love? 1 John 4:8, 16.
  2. Who do you love? Matthew 22:37-39. John 13:34.
  3. When do you love? 1 Corinthians 13:7.
  4. Why do you love? 1 John 4:8, 16. Jeremiah 31:3.
  5. How do you love? 1 Corinthians 13:4.

12/05/2017

The beginning of a new world (Ezekiel 33)


Ezekiel was informed about the siege of Jerusalem in Eze 24:1-2. They had to wait almost 2 years -- the 18 months of the siege itself and a further 6 months before the news of its terrible ending arrived among the exiles (Eze 33:21-22). In between the announcement in ch. 24 and the arrival of the news in ch. 33 is the whole section of oracles against the nations (ch. 25-32). There is thus a literary as well as a chronological pause, marking the turning point of Ezekiel's ministry.

Ezekiel 33 sounds like we have heard all this before. Indeed there are major recapitulations of earlier messages. However, it does present a new context with a coherence among its somewhat diverse parts. It is structured rather like a see-saw: the central fulcrum is the arrival of the news (Eze 33:21-22) with 2 sections balanced on each side:
  1. The recommissioning of the prophet (33:1-9; 3:17-21): the renewal of Ezekiel's watchman responsibility. Be a watchman, hear the word (Eze 33:7).
  2. The responsibility of the hearers (33:10-20; ch. 18): a reminder of the ways of God with the wicked and the righteous. It's not fair (Eze 33:17, 20).
  3. The vindication and liberation of the prophet (33:21-22). Prophecy comes through.
  4. The extinction of false hopes (33:23-29): a repudiation of plausible but wrong (specious) theology and false expectations of those left behind in Judah after the fall of the city.
  5. The exposure of flattering attention (33:30-33): a reminder to Ezekiel of the fickleness of his listeners.

11/29/2017

The Egyptian Oracles (Ezekiel 29-32)


The book of Ezekiel contains seven oracles against Egypt -- more than any other country. Why would Ezekiel, a Judean prophet in Babylon, be bothered with a country 1,600 miles away?

Egypt in Ezekiel's time was a superpower in slow decline. At the height of power her sphere of influence had extended the whole way up to eastern Mediterranean, embracing Palestine and what is now Lebanon and western Syria. When the Babylonians replaced the Assyrians as the dominant force in Middle-Eastern military politics, Egypt allied herself with the Assyrians in order to stop the advance of the Babylonians. The result was a complex power-struggle, and the smaller states in the region -- Jerusalem/Judah -- had to choose their friends carefully. The chronology of Egypt and Babylon;s interactions up to Ezekiel's oracles are:
  • 605 BC - Babylonians defeat the Egyptian forces at Carchemish (Jer 46:2) and then press south.
  • 601 BC - Babylonian and Egyptian forces clash again with heavy losses on both sides.
  • 597 BC - Nebuchadnezzar subdues Jerusalem. Egypt stays neutral. Zedekiah is placed on the throne as vassal king by Nebuchadnezzar.
  • 589 BC - Judah under Zedekiah is in open rebellion against the Babylonians.
  • 588 (Jan) - The Babylonians advance to besiege Jerusalem.
  • 588 BC - The siege is lifted temporarily as the Babylonians redirect their efforts against the Egyptian relief forces (Zedekiah had asked the Egyptians for help). However the Egyptians are soon repulsed, and the Babylonians return to besiege the city.
  • 587 (Jul) - Jerusalem'[s walls are breached. The city and temple are burnt. The state of Judah comes to an end. The country is in ruins.
The Egyptian oracles in Ezekiel are unusual in that all but one of them are dated. Nearly half of the 13 dates given in the book are found in the Egyptian section. When arranged in chronological order, the oracles date are as follows:
  • 587 (Jan) 29:1-16.
  • 587 (Apr) 30:20-26.
  • 587 (Jan) 31:1-18.
  • 586/585 32:17-32.
  • 585 (Mar) 32:1-16.
  • 571 (Apr) 29:17-21.
  • The oracle in 30:1-19 is undated but its content is similar to the others.
Like Tyre, Egypt had much national pride. If Tyre was "new money," then Egypt was "old money." Her pride lay in that which she had inherited and seemingly would keep for ever. She was a vast country with considerable resources (especially the Nile). she had a marvelous imperial history, a sizable army and widespread political influence throughout the Middle East. Yet her confidence in her glorious past was misplaced. Her fate was to be humbled. Likewise, in this age, we should not let memories of past national glories (actual or otherwise) distort our perception of a nation's true needs. It is easy to feel confident that problems and disasters which occur to others can never happen to us. This kind of complacency is never realistic.
  1. Egypt: decline and fall (29:1-16).
  2. Nebuchadnezzar's reward (29:17-21).
  3. A dark day for Egypt (30:1-19).
  4. Pharaoh's broken arms (30:20-26).
  5. The lesson of the felled cedar for Egypt (31:1-18).
  6. Lament for Pharaoh (32:1-16).
  7. Egypt's descent to the domain of death (32:17-32).
Ezekiel 33
  1. The scope of accountability (33:1-20).
  2. Ezekiel regains his speech (33:21-22).
  3. Ezekiel's illegal possessions (33:23-33).
Prophecies of Restoration (Ezekiel 34-48)

The prophecies of Ezekiel 34-48 have an entirely different theme from the earlier ones. The oracles of Ezekiel 1-33 consist primarily of warnings of disaster that would befall the people of Israel or their neighbors. But the emphasis in Ezekiel 34-48 is on restoration and hope. Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed. The people had been driven into exile. But yet there is hope.

11/20/2017

Against Tyre (Ezekiel 26-28)


In geographical terms, Tyre was minute. In economic terms, she was highly significant. A substantial part of her strength lay in her seafaring ability. Her wealth stemmed from her extensive trading throughout the ancient world. Her people were famous for their business skills, which in turn led to her prosperity.

Tyre was an important seaport for the area which is now southern Lebanon (between Beirut to the north and Haifa to the south). The city had two harbors, one on an island just off the coast. Both her prowess and predicted downfall are described using marine allusions.

Tyre's relations with Israel had some economic factor. Hiram I supplied David with materials for building the palace at Jerusalem (2 Sa 5:11; 1 Ch 14:1). He also supplied Solomon with materials for the temple, Over a century later, king Ahad married Jezebel, a daughter of the king of Tyre (1 Ki 16:31). Through Jezebel the worship of the Tyrian god -- Baal Melqart -- was introduced into Israel.

Prior to the time of Ezekiel, Tyre had enjoyed a period of prosperity. However, Ezekiel, Jeremiah (25:22; 27:1-11) and Zechariah (9:2-7) all prophesied Tyre's suppression by the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Tyre (from 587 - 574 BC) was a hard campaign (Eze 29:18). The city eventually acknowledged Babylonian domination.

The oracles against Tyre (ch.26-28) and Egypt (ch.29-32) are instructive guides to the nature of national pride. Most people maintain some element of pride in and support for the advance of their nation. Tyre shows the arrogant confidence of self-made economic success. Her wealth was to her the sign that she was superior. She was prepared to support corrupt business practices in order to maintain that superiority. Israel's demise was simply seen as a business opportunity (Eze 26:2).

Tyre was condemned for these attitudes which are still prevalent in society today. We must not let the material success of our nation become its sole criterion of achievement.
  1. Self-satisfaction denounced (26:1-21). In the 12th year--586 BC (Eze 26:1), Tyre is rebuked for seeing the fall of Jerusalem as merely an event which will enhance her own prosperity (Eze 26:2). Therefore, God is against her and she will be pillaged and destroyed (26:3-6). Nebuchadnezzar would lay siege and bring about her downfall (Eze 26:7-14). The campaign was a difficult one (Eze 29:18); it lasted 13 years (587 - 574 BC). She will never be rebuilt (Eze 26:14). She will be dragged down to the pit and not return (26:19-21). Delight at the downfall of others is an emotion that Christians, and others, need to deal with as it is very pervasive, but not readily acknowledged.
  2. A lament (27:1-36). Tyre is likened to a marvelously-wrought merchant ship. She gloried and took great pride in her beauty (Eze 27:3-4; 16:15), being constructed from the finest materials (27:5-7). The suppliers of her timbers are her merchandise are her trading-partners. She employed many nations to build, operate and defend her (27:8-11). The extensive list of countries and products of highest quality and widest range gives a clear picture of why Tyre was famous for trading (27:12-25). Her links spread throughout most of the Mediterranean, N. Africa, Asia Minor and the Middle East. She employed foreigners in both industry and defense. Yet this ship of state was to be sunk (27:26-27); she will lose it all. Tyre would be overthrown. Her neighbors and trading partners will be appalled (27:28-36). She will be no more (Eze 27:36). Her demise not only affected her but also her local suppliers and services. Recession and economic collapse are some of the modern punishments a state may endure.
  3. Against arrogance (28:1-10). The achievement of economic wealth brought with it a sense of pride. Skill -> Wealth -> Pride (Eze 28:5). The king is depicted as believing he is as wise as a god (Eze 28:2). The prophecy warns that the penalty for such arrogance is both humiliating and final (28:7-10). It will be at the hands of Babylon, the most ruthless of nations (Eze 28:7). Since they practiced circumcision, her humiliation is to die the death of the uncircumcised (Eze 28:10). Examples of pride and subsequent fall are easy to find throughout history and today, even in the church.
  4. Expulsion from "paradise" (28:11-19). This lament depicts the rise and fall of the king, and hence of the city state itself. The imagery is strongly reminiscent of the Garden of Eden narrative. However there is no attempt to parallel the Genesis account closely. As is often the case in Ezekiel, metaphors are freely mixed, altered and adapted to suit the language of the prophecy. The poetic language serves to highlight the extent of the fall that Tyre experienced; it was like an expulsion from paradise. She who was perfect in beauty (Eze 28:12) dwelling in a paradise (Eze 28:13-14) and exhibiting blameless behavior (Eze 28:15a). But her widespread commercial activities led to oppression (Eze 28:16a). Her splendor made her conceited and corrupted her thinking (Eze 28:15b, 17).
  5. Prophecy against Sidon: "Know the Lord" (28:20-26). Sidon, Tyre's neighbor, would suffer due punishment as well. Notice the repeated phrase in a few verses (Eze 28:22, 23, 24, 26). 

11/19/2017

Know that I am the Lord (Ezekiel 25-32)


Then the nations will know that I am the Lord. Ezekiel 25-32 begins a series of oracles against the foreign nations surrounding Israel. Egypt (ch. 29-32) and Tyre (ch. 26-28) receive the most attention, but this oracle concentrates on Judah's immediate neighbors: Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia (ch. 25). They had regarded the downfall of Judah with delight (Ammon) and derision (Moab); they had taken the opportunity to execute revenge on Judah (Edom and Philistia). Ezekiel's oracle warns that retribution will come.

It is easy to condemn these neighbors of Israel for their attitudes to her. Yet these attitudes can be ours too when trouble befalls one of our neighbors. Meanwhile God is the God of the whole earth and is ultimately in control of the fate of nations, as of individuals.
  1. Against aggression and revenge (25:1-17): Judah's four neighbors.
  2. Against economic arrogance (26:1-28:19): Tyre and Sidon.
  3. Against imperial delusions (29:1-32:32): Egypt.
  4. God and the nations: The message.
The heat of God's anger and the bitterness of his sarcasm targeted at Israel have been heard through Ezekiel (ch. 1-24). In a few months Ezekiel will embark upon a different and positive pastoral message and ministry (ch. 33-48). In the interim, to prepare for this transition, into the gap, is a portfolio of oracles spoken against various nations (ch. 25-32). They were delivered during or shortly after the siege of Jerusalem. So it is reasonably appropriate that they are inserted at this point in the book, in view of the historical context referred to in ch. 24 and 33. They fill the gap between the announcement of the beginning of the siege (Eze 24:2) and the news of its terrible end (Eze 33:21).

There are many similarities in Ezekiel 25-32 and comparable collections of oracles against the foreign nations in Amos 1-2, Isaiah 13-23 and Jeremiah 46-51. Such chapters are remarkably similar to the prophets attacking and condemning Israel. The same forms of speech are used, the same metaphors of courtroom justice, sometimes the same accusations of sins and crimes, the same ringing words of condemnation, the same declarations of coming doom and destruction, and above all, the same ultimate speaker: the Lord (Yahweh), the God of Israel. The prophets took the words and forms and language against Israel's enemies and turned them upon Israel itself--effectively saying that God was now treating Israel as his own enemy. Beginning with Amos (ch.1-2), the other prophets followed his example, using the oracle of woe upon the enemies of God, as their sharpest weapon against Israel itself.

Ammon. They gloated over the destruction of Israel and Judah. They will be plundered by the peoples of the east [nomadic tribes; Rabbah - capital of Ammon] (25:1-5). Because they rejoiced maliciously over Israel, they will be ruined (6-7).

Moab. Because they viewed Judah with contempt, they will be taken over by the people from the east (25:8-11).

Edom. Because they took revenge on Judah, they will suffer devastation at the hands of Israel (25:12-14).

Philistia. Because they took revenge on Judah, the Kerethites and the rest of the coastal peoples will be destroyed (25:15-17).

11/14/2017

Ezekiel 1-24 (Sep to Nov 2017)

  1. Ezekiel 1 (9/3/17) An Encounter with God (Ezekiel 1).
  2. Ezekiel 2 (9/10/17) A Spirit Driven Calling (Ezekiel 2-3a). Driven by a High Calling.
  3. Ezekiel 3 (9/17/17) The Crux of the Call (Ezekiel 3b). A Job Description with Strange Instructions and Restrictions.
  4. Ezekiel 4-7 (9/24/17) A Horrifying Message (Ezekiel 4-7).
  5. Ezekiel 8-9 (10/1/17) God's Glory Departs (Ezekiel 8-9).
  6. Ezekiel 10-11 (10/8/17) God's glory departs II (Ezekiel 10-11).
  7. Ezekiel 12-15 (10/15/17) False Bible Teachers and Idolators (Ezekiel 12-15).
  8. Ezekiel 16 (10/22/17) You Trusted in Your Beauty (Ezekiel 16).
  9. Ezekiel 16-19 (10/29/17) Face the Facts, Listen to the Truth (Ezekiel 15-19).
  10. Ezekiel 20-23 (11/5/17) Face the Facts about Your (His)Story (Ezekiel 20-23).
  11. Ezekiel 23-24 (11/12/17) The Whore, the Pit and the Wife Who Dies (Ezekiel 23-24, 16).

11/13/2017

Timeline of Israel and Judah (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel)

Ezekiel is easily the most bi_____ of all the prophets. He was struck d___ (Eze 3:26). He  a____ out his prophecies (ch. 4). He prophesied to the e_____. He insu____ and an_____ them with his ora____ and par_____ (ch. 16, 23). Ezekiel verses.

 

Isaiah prophesied around 740-700 BC, about 100 years before Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, and 160 years before Cyrus, king of Media and Persia, conquered Jerusalem and Babylon in 539 BC.

Ezekiel prophesied around 590-570 BC. A contemporary of Daniel, Ezekiel was exiled to Babylon in 597 BC (eight years after Daniel).

  • 930 BC:   Israel divided into E______ (capital S______) and J____ (capital J_______).
  • 722 BC:   No______ Israel (E_____) defeated by Assyria (Isa 7:8-9; 2 Ki 18:9-12).
    • [740-400 BC: Isaiah's ministry]
  • 605 BC:   First siege. Those exiled include Daniel.
    • [626-586 BC: Jeremiah's ministry]
  • 597 BC:   Second siege. Those exiled include Ezekiel (Jer 52:28).
    • [590-570 BC: Ezekiel's ministry]
  • 593 BC:   Ezekiel's call; he saw visions of God (Eze 1:1-2). He was stuck dumb (3:26).
  • 592 BC:   Ezekiel transported to Jerusalem in a vision (Eze 8:1, 3).
  • 588 BC:   King of Babylon laid final siege to Jerusalem (Eze 24:1-2).
  • 586 BC:   Jerusalem/temple destroyed (Eze 33:21). Ezekiel's mouth opened (33:22).






11/07/2017

Ezekiel's Wife Dies (Ezekiel 24)

Losing your wife, the delight of your eyes

Explain Ezekiel's emotional state when he knows that God took his wife in her youth in order to be a sign to the people.


"Son of man, with one blow I will take away your dearest treasure (the delight of your eyes). Yet you must not show any sorrow at her death. Do not weep; let there be no tears.
 17 Groan silently, but let there be no wailing at her grave…" (Ezekiel 24:16-17a, NLT).
Judgment (1-32): Oracles of doom
  • Jerusalem must fall (1-24)
  • Judah's enemies must fall (25-32)
Salvation (33-48): Oracles of good news
  • Jerusalem must be comforted. The gospel according to Ezekiel. The Messiah will come and save a remnant.
Face the Facts, Listen to the Truth (Ezekiel 15-19).
  • [Ezekiel 15 - A useless vineYou are useless.
  • [Ezekiel 16 - A nymphomaniac brideYou forgot God's grace and used your beauty for yourself/satisfaction (15).
  • [Ezekiel 17 - The eagle and the vineYou broke your oaths.
  • [Ezekiel 18 - Only the sinner needs to dieYou blame others and do not take responsibility.
  • [Ezekiel 19 - A lamentYour leadership sucks.
  • Ezeliel 20What you do. You make up your contrary to the facts and reality, to make yourself look good.
  • Ezeliel 21What God does. He sends Babylon as his sword of judgment.
  • Ezeliel 22Why God does it. They are corrupt beyond redemption.
  • Ezeliel 23Why it's fair. Their adulterous idolatrous hearts are insatiable and incurable.

11/04/2017

Ezekiel 23-24


Both Ezekiel 16 and 23 are oracles dominated by the language of prostitution and lewdness, with ch. 23 intensifying the sex-related imagery of ch. 16. But the theme of both chapters highlight the passion of God in the face of Israel's unfaithfulness to his covenant, expressed in their insatiable lust after other lovers. Ezekiel simply reinforces in the mind of his audience that when God's judgment falls in 586 BC on Jerusalem, their beloved city, that judgment is as deserved as was the demise of her sister Samaria in 721 BC.
  1. The community of faith stands in constant danger of forgetting God's grace and expending its energies in the satisfaction of its own cravings. When this occurs the people of God, vulnerable to the seductive appeal of other allegiances, often sell their soulds in their misguided pursuits. But God considers devotion to any other person or object adultery, the violation of the church's marriage covenant with him.
  2. In God's eyes adultery is an abhorrent evil, not only because it perverts the sex act but especially because it violates the covenant bond of marriage. Apart from the marital covenantal commitment, all sexual activity is prostitution, and rather than offering lasting satisfaction, illicit intimacy yields contempt and disgust. The fate of Jerusalem serves as a warning for the corporate faith community as well as for individual members that marital infidelity is self-destructive, and brings upon one the wrath of God.
  3. Only by the grace of God is one able to shake the patterns of sinful behavior established in one's youth. Sin is deeply ingrained in the human race, and unless the community of faith and individuals within that community retain a vital relationship with their covenant Lord, the temptation to see one's soul to satisfy the lusts of the flesh poses an ever present danger. In the hour of crisis, those who abandon their Savior for other allegiances may find no security in their claims to covenant partnership with him. God's passion burns for his people, but if they trample underfoot his grace, the cup of his fury will be poured out on them. Accordingly, hope is to be found only in abandoning one's sinful ways and casting oneself on God's mercy.
The Boiling Cauldron (Ezekiel 24:1-14) [Jerusalem as a cooking pot]
  1. Preamble (1-3a).
  2. The popular saying (3b-5).
  3. The dispute (6-8).
  4. The counterthesis (9-13).
  5. Conclusion (14).

The implications of this oracle for the people of God of any age are sobering. There is no security in tradition or position in the kingdom of God if the claims of privilege are not matched by love for God and one's fellow human beings. Singing songs about the promises of God is no substitute for obedience to him. Indeed, the true kingdom is often found among those whom the spiritual elite have written off. The message of Ezekiel is that there is hope for the rejected, but for those who make empty claims of status before God the prospects of an encounter with him are frightening.


The End of an Era (Ezekiel 24:15-27) [Ezekiel's wife dies]


This is the last of the judgment oracles in the first part of Ezekiel (ch. 1-24).

  1. The disturbing human propensity to transform legitimate religious symbols into idolatrous images. Ideally the city and its temple symbolized God's presence among his people. But instead of providing a place where they could come humbly for an encounter with him, it had become a source of cultural pride. Instead of the people finding their security in relationship with God, his residence had become the focus of their affections and the (false) basis of their hopes. The tragic events of 586 BC serve as a warning for all who are tempted to make the same mistake.
  2. Nothing, not even the temple, is more sacred to God than a sanctified people. For > 300 years Solomon's temple had stood as a magnificent symbol of God's glory and holiness. This was his earthly residence, the place he had chosen for his name to dwell. Through its service and ritual his sanctifying grace was dispensed to all who sought him in spirit and in truth. But formality had replaced authentic faith. The symbol had displaced the reality as the center of people's affections. Although the temple was as dear to God as Ezekiel's wife was to the prophet, not even the sanctuary was immune to his wrath. Not until the people had been sactified through the work of God's Spirit (36:16-38) could they expect him to resume his residence in their midst.
  3. The message of God is proclaimed most powerfully when it is incarnate in the life of the messenger. While few will be asked to go to the lengths of this remarkable prophet, the implications of this oracle for those who are called to be agents of God are staggering. The cost of bearing in their bodies the message they proclaim is often high. In an earlier age God had tested Abraham by demanding of his his son Isaac, but that story had a happy ending (Gen. 22). It will not always be that way. The call to divine service cost Ezekiel his wife, the delight of his eyes. Although the text is silent on the struggle that must have raged in the prophet's soul over God's absurd demand, this was no less a test of faith for him than the sacrifice of Isaac had been for the patriarch. He could have rebelled against this intrusion into his personal affairs, but he did not waver. In his reaction to his wife's death, he was a sign for his people. But in his response to the hand of God, he is a model for all who follow in his professional train.
The bitter experiences of life are not always signs of God's indignation toward the individual. Upon encountering a blind man, Jesus' disciples asked, "Who sinned..." to which Jesus replied, "Neither..." (Jn 9:1-4). Although it did not lessen Ezekiel's personal pain in walking through the valley of deepest darkness, the knowledge that God was not angry with him could offer some comfort. The prophet cold also take hope in knowing that his role as suffering servant would ultimately lead to the renewed knowledge of God among his people.

11/02/2017

History with an Attitude (Ezekiel 20; 20-24)

Rewriting Sacred History (Ezekiel 20) [The pattern of history; Retelling history; History with an attitude; Know your history; History that screams, "You're a sinner"; Don't assume blessing; Don't assume security; The delusion of the exiles; Don't delude yourself]
  1. The call for Israel's arraignment (1-4).
  2. The indictment of Israel: The nations history of rebellion (5-31).
    1. Israel's rebellion in the distant past (5-26).
      • Phase I: Rebellion in Egypt (5-9).
      • Phase II: Rebellion in the desert (10-17).
      • Phase III: Rebellion in the desert: the second generation (18-26).
    2. Israel's rebellion in the recent past (27-31).
      • Phase IV: Rebellion in the land (27-29).
      • Phase V: Rebellion in exile (30-31).
  3. The future transformation of Israel (32-44).
      • Phase VI: Israel in the desert of the peoples (32-38).
    1. The transformation of Israel (39-40a).
    2. God's acceptance of Israel (40b-42).
    3. Israel's response to God's action (42-44).
The Avenging Sword of God (Ezekiel 21; 20:45-21:32) [Babylon as God's Sword of Judgment]
  1. The riddle of the sword (20:45-49; 21:1-7).
  2. The song of the sword (8-17).
  3. The agent of the sword (18-27).
  4. The taunt of the sword (28-32).
What is the theological significance in the quartet of oracles devoted to the sword of God?
  1. God becomes the enemy of those who claim to be his people but refuse to accept the responsibilities accompanying that privilege. The sword in Ezekiel 21 functions as a frightening instrument of providential fury unleashed against his own people -- the benefactors of his covenant. The notion or idea or utterance is divine wrath is reprehensible to many, that it should be directed at his own people in intolerable. But God's application of principle is not affected by human sentimentality. If "his people" spurn his grace, they cannot expect to be spared the fate of the wicked.
  2. The Lord is faithful to his word. This applies not only to his promises of presence and well-being, but also to his warnings of judgment for apostasy and infidelity (Lev 26; Deut 28). Parroting covenant promises is no substitute for obedience and offers no immunity from divine wrath. In the end the sword fell on the nation, precisely as Moses and Ezekiel had forewarned. Contra Ezekiel's contemporaries, this did not signify divine betrayal of covenant promises, but the rigorous fulfillment of its fine print.
  3. God can achieve his divine agenda through those who do not worship him. The achievement of the divine agenda is not bound by human definitions of propriety. In these oracles God's will was revealed through pagan divination and executed through pagan instruments. However, the end does not justify the means, nor does the commission offer immunity from divine scrutiny to the agent. Those charged with fulfilling God's commission must still account to him how they executed the charge.
Woe to the Bloody City (Ezekiel 22) [Judgment on Jerusalem's Sins]
  1. The indictment of Jerusalem - the bloody city (1-16).
    1. The call for Jerusalem's arraignment (1-2).
    2. The summons to Jerusalem (3).
    3. The announcement of the charges (4-5).
    4. The presentation of the evidence (6-12).
    5. The announcement of the sentence (13-16).
      1. A society that thrives on violence not only self-destructs but will also have to contend with God.
      2. Community leaders bear special responsibility for the maintenance of justice and the welfare of its citizenry.
      3. Knowledge of the will of God is no substitute for obedience to that will.
      4. Although humans may renege on their covenant commitments, God will not.
  2. The judgment of Jerusalem: In the smelter of God's wrath (17-22).
    • The nation may consider itself precious metal in God's sight, but this is a delusion. For the people to become what God wants them to be, they must be subjected again to the refiner's fire. This time, however, it is the fire of divine wrath, which is terrifying as painted in this oracle. Like the gardener who cuts off fruitless branches and casts it into the fire (Jn 15:1-11), it serves as a warning for all who claim security in divine election but refuse int heir lives to reflect the glory of the divine Elector. God's passion for a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special treasure, has not diminished (1 Pet 2:9).
  3. The rationale for the judgment of Jerusalem: The unmanned breach (23-31).
    1. The thesis statement (23-24).
    2. The crimes of Israel's leaders (25-29).
    3. God's response to the crimes of Israel's leaders (30-31).
      1. The call to leadership is primarily a call to responsibility, not privilege.But power has the baneful (deleterious, detrimental, harmful) tendency to transform noble lions and majestic wolves into cannibalistic beasts. The people of God are not immune from the temptation to exploit positions of power for personal advantage and thereby threaten the vitality of the community. Those who pervert "Thy kingdom come" to "My kingdom come" invite the wrath of God.
      2. Whatever responsibilities other leaders have, those called into divine service are charged with maintaining the sanctity of God. This is accomplished by the scrupulous personal observance of sacred-profane distinctions and the indoctrination of the people of God with the same sensitivity. The absence of such distinctions leads to theological and moral anarchy and, even more seriously, the desecration of the reputation of God.
      3. The survival of the church depends on the positive response of leaders to the call of God to stand in the breach. This call is not fulfilled by professional self-gratification or plastering decayed walls with reassuring pronouncements of peace. The breach is defended and the wrath of God averted with compelling appeals for repentance from sin and a new commitment to God.
O Oholah! O Oholibah! (Ezekiel 23) [Two adulterous sisters]
  • The opening formula (1).
  1. The introduction of the accused (2-4).
  2. The historical background of the case (5-35).
  3. The case against Oholah and Oholibah (36-49a).
  • The concluding formula (49b).
The Boiling Cauldron (Ezekiel 24:1-14) [Jerusalem as a cooking pot]
  1. Preamble (1-3a).
  2. The popular saying (3b-5).
  3. The dispute (6-8).
  4. The counterthesis (9-13).
  5. Conclusion (14).
The End of an Era (Ezekiel 24:15-27) [Ezekiel's wife dies]

11/01/2017

Don't Delude Yourself (Ezekiel 20)

Big Idea: If you think, you're basically OK, you're probably not.

Ezekiel continues to hammer away at the delusions that plagued his exilic audience. In the process he offers a corrective for many false perceptions held in our own time.
  1. God often interprets history quite differently from humans. This is especially true of one's own story, whether it be personal, congregational, denominational, or ecclesiastical. Those who claim to be the people of God have often idealized their past and been blinded by pride in their own election to deny or ignore the darker sides of their story. We may gloat over the cultural achievements of the Western church, but overlook the role that Christians played in violent crusades against "infidels," genocidal pogroms (massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group) against Jews, and dehumanizing enslavement of non-Europeans. At the denominational and congregational level we may hold high our orthodoxy, liturgy, evangelistic energy, and creativity, but avoid the weightier matters of covenant relationship: integrity, humility, honesty, compassion, self-sacrifice, and love. Ezekiel affirms again that one's subjective perceptions may be totally divorced from reality. In the end it will not matter how we have told our story, but only how God sees it.
  2. God desires that the world knows who he is; this is the primary motivation behind divine revelation (Eze 20:20, 26, 44, 7, 12). In our individualistic and hedonistic world it is difficult to understand, let alone accept, that the universe does not revolve around oneself. God, the source and sustainer of all things, is also the goal of all things (Col 1:16). When he intervenes in earthly affairs he does indeed respond to human needs, but the nature of his response is set by his own character. His reactions are never arbitrary or capricious (sudden mood changes), but driven by his internal consistency. We must never forget to be grateful that grace is a significant element in that character, and that in his struggle over human rebellion his justice is tempered by mercy. But even when he acts with compassion, his concern is the manifestation of his holiness.
  3. His divine reputation depends on the fate and welfare of his people. All of God's dealings with Israel were public -- before the eyes of the nations. Israel was to be the agent through whom the nations would come to know that he is God. Nothing has changed. Jesus reminded his disciples that their prayers should be different from the self-seeking petitions of the Gentiles (Mt 6:5-15). Concern for the sanctity of his name and the glory of his kingdom remains the mark of God's people (Eze 20:9, 14, 20).
  4. The experience of divine mercy drives true covenant people to their knees. Those with an overly optimistic view of the human condition tend to dismiss this text (esp. Eze 20:43-44) as a theological archaism (old-fashion), damaging to one's mental well-being. This only perpetuates our delusional optimism, like Ezekiel's audience. The good news of the gospel is not "there must be something truly wonderful about us since God can love us and accept us so readily." Rather the gospel is that there must be something truly wonderful about God! Yes, all human beings do have intrinsic dignity by virtue of our status as images of God, but notions of self-worth must be distinguished from ideas of worthiness. Our status as God's image provides the basis for his unique interest in us, but our fallen condition disqualifies us from claiming that status as a natural right. God did not express his love in Jesus in response to our worthiness, but to redeem us from our unworthiness. The fundamental problem with most of us is not deficient self-esteem but an inadequate divine-esteem. Ultimately God operates for his own name's sake (Eze 20:9, 14, 20). His investment in us relates to agendas far greater than ourselves. As we submit ourselves to God, we will treasure the grace with which he reaches out to us. Within this framework, the fundamental human pathology is not self-loathing but pride, an unhealthy and unrealistic self-esteem. It is from this arrogance that we, especially in the US, need deliverance.

References:

  1. Block, Daniel I. The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 1-24, NICOT (New International Commentary on the Old Testament). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1997.
  2. Wright, Christopher J.H. The Message of Ezekiel, BST (Bible Speaks Today). IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 2001.

10/31/2017

A Happy Marriage Requires Fighting (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Ephesians 6:10-20
  1. Strength for the conflict. In the Lord (Eph 6:10-11).
  2. Source of the conflict. Not flesh and blood (Eph 6:12).
  3. Strategy for the conquest. Full armor of God (Eph 6:13-20).
    • Truth (Eph 6:14a)
    • Righteousness (Eph 6:14b)
    • Gospel of peace (Eph 6:15)
    • Faith (Eph 6:16)
    • Salvation (Eph 6:17a)
    • Word of God (Eph 6:17b): Read the Bible together. Pray together.
Absolute truths regarding marriage
  1. God brought you together (Mt 19:6; Mk 10:9; Gen 2:24).
  2. Marriage is forever.
  3. God intends for you to be gentle and humble in heart (Mt 11:29; Rom 8:29).
"Conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29) is what God intends for you through marriage (and all of life).

What a happy marriage always needs (Rom 8:32)
  1. Love that is unconditional
  2. Forgiveness that is endless
  3. Grace that is ever present
Marriage is meant to mirror our relationship with God (between Christ and the church -- us)
  1. For richer or poorer
  2. In sickness or in health
  3. For better or worse
  4. (Whether cuter or less cute, more handsome or more ugly, fatter or thinner!)
  5. ...till death do us part.

"...be content [satisfied] with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake [abandon] you'" (Heb 13:5; Dt 31:6).

10/27/2017

Face the Truth and Accept Rebuke (Ezekiel 15-19)

You did not remember, yet I will remember: "...you did not remember the days of your youth..." (Eze 16:22, 43) "Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth... Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed... So I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign Lord" (Eze 16:60-63)

Face the truth (Accept rebuke); Useless, Faithless, Lustful, Presumption and Deserving of Judgment
  • [Ezekiel 15 - A useless vine] You are useless. Why is Jerusalem like a useless vine (Eze 15:8)?
  • [Ezekiel 16 - A nymphomaniac bride] You forgot God's grace and used your beauty for yourself. What is the problem with forgetting your past and how you once were (Eze 16:22, 43)?
  • [Ezekiel 17 - The eagle and the vine] You broke your oaths. How important is it that you keep your oaths and your promises (Eze 17:18)?
  • [Ezekiel 18 - Only the sinner needs to die] You blame others and do not take responsibility. What happens when you blame others (Eze 18:2)?
  • [Ezekiel 19 - A lament] Your leadership sucks. What may be some causes of bad or failed leadership?
A Lament for the Dynasty of David (Ezekiel 19)
  1. Presumption. The promises of God to the ancestors are no guarantee of divine blessing for their descendants. Ezekiel 18 affirms that children die for their own sins; they do not inherit the guilt of their parents. God had promised to bless Jacob/Isreal (Gen 49:8-12), and then narrowed this privilege to the house of David (2 Samuel 7). After four centuries of uninterrupted rule, the dynasty was governing the people as if by divine right, without any sense of accountablity to the people of God. For such leaders, the promises of David count for nothing.
  2. Servanthood. The call to leadership is a call to servanthood. Ezekiel 19:3, 6 is a sharp indictment of the exploitative behavior of Israel's kings. Much of the responsibility for the fall of Judah/Israel would rest on their shoulders. According to Moses, leaders serve by divine appointment for the good of the people (Dt 17:14-20). The last kings of Judah were not the only ones who had betrayed their calling. Sadly, the history of the world and of the church is strewn with the victims of monarchical excesses. Solomon--the wisest of Israel's kings--demonstrated himself the consummate fool by disregarding Torah. So are all who use divine election as an excuse for high-handed rule. Government exists for the people. People do not exist for the government.
  3. Commitment. The presence of God's chosen representative is no substitute for personal commitment to him. The people of Judah, even the exiles, continued to look on the ruling members of the dynasty as sure signs of divine favor, a kind of good luck charm. So long as a Davidide sat on the throne, God's protection was sure. They failed to realize that none of the divine promises was automatic; all are contingent. Without submission to the will of God of both leader and led, shepherd and sheep, pastor and congregant, any claim to security with God is a delusion.
References:
  1. Block, Daniel I. The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 1-24, NICOT (New International Commentary on the Old Testament). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1997.
  2. Wright, Christopher J.H. The Message of Ezekiel, BST (Bible Speaks Today). IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 2001.

References:

  1. Block, Daniel I. The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 1-24, NICOT (New International Commentary on the Old Testament). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1997.
  2. Wright, Christopher J.H. The Message of Ezekiel, BST (Bible Speaks Today). IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 2001.

10/26/2017

Encouragement, Idolatry, Beauty, Responsibility (Ezekiel 13, 14, 16, 18)

  • [Eze 13:19, 22-23] When is encouragement wrong or bad?
  • [Eze 14:3] When happens when you set up idols in your heart?
  • [Eze 16:15] When others see your beauty, do they lust after your beauty or do they long for the God and Giver of your beauty?
  • [Eze 18:2-4] Why is it always wrong to blame God and others (such as parents, the church)?
"The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them" (Eze 18:20).

# Why does blaming others and God prevent us from experiencing peace and joy?

The complaint of the exiles (Eze 18:2) encapsulates two fundamental human tendencies that are apparent in fallen humanity since the fall of man: (1) blame others and (2) blame God. Man would do anything but accept personal responsibility for sins committed.

# Why is it bad and wrong to blame others and God?
  1. I dismiss or diminish my own personal responsibility. Then there is no real need to apologize or repent. But without repentance there can be no forgiveness and salvation. Thus blaming others provides a specious (superficially plausible but false) sense of security (I didn't really do anything wrong, it is his/her/their fault), and it blocks us from repentance and forgiveness, from peace and joy.
  2. I make myself a victim rather than acknowledge that I'm a sinner. Blaming others and the victim mentality provides the perfect logic to unrepentance: "I'm the injured party here. Others and God have to get their act together."
The mantra today is "I am not to blame. It is someone else's fault (directly or indirectly)." So we blame the following:
  • our genes,
  • our environment,
  • our upbringing,
  • government failures, corrupt self-serving politicians,
  • psychological stress.
We find the fault and blame with anything and anyone but ourselves and our own choices and actions. We also blame God. We encounter the popular perversity of people blaming the God they don't believe exists for allowing or causing things that he should have stopped or never allowed. But such blame-shifting tactics were unacceptable to Ezekiel then, and unacceptable to God then and now. Every generation and every individual needs to face up to take responsibility for their own sin, and to recognize that in God's justice, only the wicked will ultimately perish under his wrath and judgment, whatever the outward appearances to the contrary.


10/25/2017

The Gospel and Religion


Binary to make a point: Religion (wrongly understood and poorly communicated) says, "Live like this." The Gospel says, "You can't!" Religion says, "You better..." The Gospel says, "Freedom." Religion says, "Obey." The Gospel says, "Believe." Religion says, "Conform." The Gospel says, "Be transformed." Religion says, "Work." The Gospel says, "Rest." Religion says, "Do." The Gospel says, "Be." Religion says, "Change." The Gospel says, "Respond." Religion says, "Disgrace." The Gospel says, "Grace." Religion is about rules. The Gospel is about Jesus.

10/22/2017

Know One Thing - John Wesley

Wesley's famous declaration: "I want to know one thing -- the way to Heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri" [man of one book]. Standard Sermons, ed. Edward H. Sugden, 2 vols. (London: Epworth Press, 1921), 1:31-32.

10/20/2017

Sobering Truth about the Church


Over the centuries the Church has done enough to make any critical person want to leave it. Its history of violent crusades, pogroms, power struggles, oppression, excommunications, executions, manipulation of people and ideas, and constantly recurring divisions is there for everyone to see and be appalled by.
 
Can we believe that this is the same Church that carries in its center the Word of God and the sacraments of God's healing love? Can we trust that in the midst of all its human brokenness the Church presents the broken body of Christ to the world as food for eternal life? Can we acknowledge that where sin is abundant grace is superabundant, and that where promises are broken over and again God's promise stands unshaken?

Henri Nouwen

10/19/2017

Only the One Who Sins Dies (Ezekiel 18)

Big idea: The Individual is ALWAYS Responsible

"For everyone (all souls) belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one (soul/person) who sins is the one who will die" (Eze 18:4).

Ezekiel 18 contain one of the most profound, moving and influential reflections on the relationship between God's justice and human freedom. It is one of the most powerful and robust evangelistic appeals in the OT, where Ezekiel skillfully, carefully and passionately articulates his reasons and logic together with a heart felt pastoral concern for his contemporaries. It is rich and complex with several levels of meanings related to the questions the exiles were raising (Eze 18:2, 19, 25, 29). It probably reflects an actual disputation that Ezekiel had with his hearers, possibly on more than one occasion. This all begins with a common, well known saying not only among the exiles, but also back in Isreal (Eze 18:2; Jer 31:29-30).

To those who presume on the grace of God, it sends a stern warning; to those who despair of life, it offers hope. In both respects it provides a healthy corrective in approaching human evil and suffering that would absolve the individual of responsibility for his or her own life and destiny. In chapter 18, Ezekiel firmly and strongly and repeatedly repudiates and refutes the following:
  1. Blaming others for his or her fate (Eze 18:2). To be sure, parents need to always be reminded that God holds them responsible for the welfare of their children (Exo 20:5). But children may not absolve themselves of personal responsibility for their own destiny. It is NOT inevitable that death is destined for the children of the wicked, nor is life promised for the children of the righteous. Rather each individual dies for his or her own sin, and lives by his or her own righteousness. Each person is master of his or her own destiny.
  2. Eternal destiny or condemnation is already determined by one's past choices and decisions. Death for the wicked and life for the righteous can be arrested at any time. No one can bank on an abundance of past good deeds to ensure their future well-being, nor do they need to despair that an abundance of past evil will condemn them in the future. The appeal to "repent and live" (Eze 18:30, 32b; 14:6) assumes real personal freedom to determine at any time one's own conduct and also the destiny that God decrees for a person.
  3. Blaming and accusing God for being unfair (Eze 18:25, 29), unscrupulous, capricious and unpredictable. God's moral universe runs according to fixed rules. It includes the following:
    1. The person who sins dies for his or her own sin (Eze 18:4b, 20a).
    2. Righteousness is expressed primarily by right action (rather than credal assent) (Eze 18:5-9).
    3. Those in authority and with means will be held accountable for the way they treat the weak and marginalized.
    4. A person's past behavior need not determine his or her future well-being (Eze 18:21-22).
    5. God is on the side of life for all, rather than death for any (Eze 18:23, 32).
  4. God is primarily bent on judgment and death (Eze 18:23, 32). The gospel is crystal clear that God promises hope and that he stands on the side of life, not death, while also warning of judgment. To be warned is not only to remind one of the poeril of one's course but also to be directed to the way of escape. God's mercy and grace move him to plead with men and women to accept that way, to repent of their sin and find life in him.
  5. Bible teachers/leaders proclaiming what people want to hear. People in despair need a message of hope. Those wrapped in self-pity and in their own misery need a vision of God's mercy. The leader/teacher must lead the way against the teaching of cheap grace and it's counterpart work righteousness. One's appreciation for grace is directly proportional to one's consciousness of sin. No teacher or leader does anyone any favors by promoting a sense of well-being when one is governed by the law of sin and death (cheap grace/work righteousness). For them there is no substitute for a call for repentance.
  6. God's covenant with his people (Israel) is over. For those in exile its benefits have been suspended. But underlying God's passionate appeal for the nation's corporate repentance and revival is his commitment to his people. God has given his word (promise) and he longs for the day when they will reciprocate and respond.

10/12/2017

A Harlot, Whore and Prostitute (Ezekiel 16)

Big idea: God blesses you with every possible blessing under heaven, but you use and abuse his blessing for yourself like a brazen prostitute!

"But you trusted in your beauty 
and played the whore..." (Eze 16:15, ESV).

In this one chapter (16), Israel is called a harlot, whore or prostitute some 21 times, and together with sexually explicit verbal graphics (Ez 16:25, 26, 36) is jarring and highly disturbing. Yet in all her promiscuity she was never "satisfied" (Ez 16:28-29). Ezekiel wants it to be very clear that Israel does not stand accused of just a single act of adultery (which is bad enough), but of prolonged, addictively repeated, insatiable promiscuity with multiple partners. It is an explicit and terrible indictment of "unrestrained nymphomaniacal adventures."
  1. The rescue: grace and generosity (1-14).
    1. Grace (1-7): God delivers the infant from its bloody death and decrees that it shall live -- though nothing in the condition of the infant deserved or compelled the gift of life.
    2. Generosity (8-14): God adds an outpouring of generosity -- in addition to pure grace.
  2. The response: ungrateful and unnatural (15-34).
    1. Religious prostitution (16-22).
    2. Political prostitution (23-34).
  3. The repudiation: terrifying and terminal (16:35-43; 23:22-49).
  4. Two ugly sisters (16:44-63; 23:1-49).
    • The surprise of restoration (16:53-63).
The lurid allegories of Ezekiel 16 and 23 must qualify as the chapters in the Bible (2nd perhaps only to the genealogies in 1 Chronicles) least likely to be read aloud in church and preached from. They are long, lewd and their language is graphically pornographic. They evoke images of the most vulgar sexual depravity and the most horrendous graphic violence. They are in short shocking.

Shocking is also what they were intended to be when they emerged from the mouth of this young son of a priest, who must himself have been utterly appalled at what he was being given to say as God;s spokesman. Would the holy God want me to use such sexually vulgar language?? It is difficult to imagine Ezekiel pouring out this torrent of prophetic lewdness (prurience) without excruciating embarrassment and abhorrence.

Ezekiel claimed that his lips had never been defiled by unclean food (Eze 4:14). What must it have felt like to have his lips defiled by such unclean language? Especially if his wife was listening. Most English translations tone down the offensive coarseness of some of the original expressions of sexual lust and obscene behavior used in these chapters. If they offend our eyes and ears today -- we who are accustomed to a barrage of such language and images in the media -- what must they have done to Ezekiel's first hearers in their own language?

This is not a matter of gratuitous bad taste, or evidence of some sick perversion to add to the catalogue of Ezekiel's other alleged personality disorders. Rather, these are deliberate shock tactics on a scale probably unsurpassed in the entire Bible (the whole arsenal of prophetic assault and battery weapons).

So what was the shock intended to achieve? In the early years of the exile, Ezekiel's contemporaries were for the most part still convinced that they were being treated unfairly by God. Their story was not ending the way it should. They were supposed to be the elect people of God who had given them guarantees at several points in their glorious past and that he would always defend them. What had happened now must be some kind of temporary setback, a mere technical hitch in the divine management of affairs, which God will soon correct.

Thus, Ezekiel's ultimate purpose was to bring the exiles to recognize the truth about their sad situation and thus drive them to genuine repentance. That was impossible as long as they cherished false ideas about their past as well as their present. And it was doubly difficult as long as there was still hope because Jerusalem was still standing. Somehow Ezekiel had to get across the certainty that Jerusalem was doomed, and that such a fate was utterly deserved, fully explicable and long overdue. He had already acted out this message with great personal suffering for over a year (ch. 4-5). He had exposed what was going on in the heart of Jerusalem itself (ch. 8). But still the people clung in hope to their glorious history. So Ezekiel will revisit that history and retell the story in a thoroughly revisionist way...by choosing the literary device of allegory -- that is a deliberately constructed story in which it is clearly understood by teller and hearer alike that the language is symbolic and refers to some reality other than the characters and plot of the allegory itself.

Ezekiel's shocking allegory is the dynamite necessary to explode a whole set of false religious assumptions -- like demolishing an unsafe building and clearing the site before any reconstruction can be planted. He goes back over Israel's history to show that it constituted one long story of God's grace -- from its earliest beginnings to the present day -- only to be followed by Israel's repeated rebellion, followed by declared but suspended punishment.

Ezekiel's attempts here are not just fairy stories. What he is daring to touch here is the grand national epic of Israel, the story above all stories by which they understood themselves and the rest of the world. As human beings we live by stories -- the grand ones such as Israel's, by which we have received our cultural identity and our basic assumptive worldview, and the lesser ones that tell us who we are in our own smaller context of family and society. You don't tamper with the stories without upsetting people!

Israel knew their story more than most. Their whole sense of identity and their whole understanding of the world and the universe was dependent on the way they understood God to have acted in the past. At the time of the late monarchy, that story of Israel was that Israel was indestructible, Jerusalem was inviolable, the covenant was unbreakable and that all would be well, come hell or Nebuchadnezzar. But Ezekiel dares to tell the story that demands a very different ending -- all will NOT be well. Jesus did the same with the parable of the tenants in the vineyard, by giving the story of Israel a very different flavor and with a very different and unfavorable ending from the official version. This galvanized those determined to do away with him (Mt 21:33-46). You cannot tamper with stories and get away with it!
  • What are some (false) assumptions that we might have about ourselves or our church?
  • Do you have any false assumptions about yourself (or your church), which you cannot bear to hear, and adamantly refuse to hear about?

10/07/2017

Heart of Flesh (Ezekiel 36:26)

"I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. From all your defilement and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart; I will implant a new spirit within you. I will remove the stone heart from your body; I will give you a heart of flesh. I will implant my Spirit within you. I will cause you to walk in my decrees, so you will diligently observe my laws. ... You will be my people, And I will bet your God" (Ezekiel 36:25-28).

What will God do for his people?
  1. Cleanse (25). God will purify Israel of its defilement ('to be clean" repeated 3x). This cleansing mixes the metaphors of priestly cleansing rituals and blood sprinkling ceremonies. It is God's direct cathartic actions, removing the defilement caused by the people's idolatry and other violations of God's covenant. In this context it is not simply an external ceremonial cleansing accompanying the internal renewal (26-27) but a wholesale cleansing from sin performed by God, a necessary precondition to normalizing the spiritual relationship between God and his people.
  2. Replace (26). God will remove Israel's fossilized heart and replace it with a sensitive fleshly organ (Eze 11:19). Heart (leb) and spirit (ruah) represent the person's internal locus of emotion, will and thought. Like Jesus (Mt 15:17-20), Ezekiel recognized the problem of rebellion and sin against God to be more deeply ingrained than mere external acts. Ezekiel describes the heart as stone, which speaks of coldness, insensitivity, incorrigibility, and even lifelessness (Nabal in 1 Sam 25:37). Ezekiel knew this well having had to deal with the obduracy of his people from the time of his call (2:4-11; 3:4-11).  But God has been struggling with this problem for centuries. The present solution is more radical than the circumcision of the heart (Dt 30:6-8). The only answer is the removal of the petrified organ and its replacement with a warm, sensitive and responsive heart off flesh. Concomitant with the heart transplant, God will infuse his people with a new spirit, his Spirit. Seemingly the juxtaposing of ruah and leb suggests that they are synonymous. However the synonymity is seldom exact in Hebrew parallelism. Here the new heart is given to the Israelites, but the spirit is placed within them. The provision of the new heart involves the removal of the hard heart and its replacement with a heart of flesh, the source of which is unspecified. But the new spirit placed within is identified as God's ruah (27), which animates and vilifies the recipients. The subject, not developed here is afforded full blown exposition later (37:1-14). 
  3. Walk and act (27). God will cause his people to be obedient to himself. "I will make that you walk in my statutes and observe my covenant standards and act [accordingly]." God will no longer gamble with Israel as he did in old times, and Israel rebelled against him; in the future--no more experiments! God will put his spirit into them, he will alter their hearts (and minds) and make it impossible for them to be anything but obedient to his rules and his commandments. The declaration abandons all hope that Israel, in her present condition, can achieve the ideals of covenant relationship originally intended by God. The status quo can be altered only by direct divine intervention.
  4. Renew (28). God will renew his covenant with his people. Ezekiel climaxes God's restorative with the announcement of the fulfillment of God's ancient ideal: a transformed people living in their homeland, covenantally related to their divine Lord. Jeremiah and Ezekiel obviously have the same covenant renewal in mind (Jer 31:33). But what Jeremiah attributes to the divine Torah, Ezekiel ascribes to the infusion of the divine ruah. With the restoration of these relationships, not only have ancient Near Eastern perceptions of normal relations among deity, people, and land been satisfied; but God's name has also been sanctified and his own ancient ideal for the nation is finally achieved.
The only solution for the fallen human race is a fundamental cleansing, a heart transplant, an infusion of the divine Spirit. It is tempting to imagine that social ills can be healed by economic, social, educational and political programs or regime change. But Ezekiel's radical theocentricity finds the answer in God alone. Yes, efforts to advance and improve social must be lauded. But to propose these as the answer for a person's needs without reference to the fundamental problem--the depravity of the human soul--is to continue the idolatry of the Israelites. What is needed in our day is a dramatic reversal and return to the biblical heart imagery, and to a recognition that the required transformation can be achieved only by the gracious act of God. Only God can remove our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh; new life comes only by the infusion of his Spirit.

The future of Israel rests in the eternal immutable promises of God. In 586 BC the nation saw all their hopes and aspirations dashed. To the exiles all God's promises regarding their status as his covenant people, their title to their ancestral homeland, the right of the Davidic dynasty to rule, and the residence of God in Zion seemed in vain. But Ezekiel reassures his people that God has not forgotten his covenant; the ancient promises still stand. Therefore, the population must be regathered, their hearts transformed, and their community returned to the homeland, there to